Friday, December 02, 2005

Anti-Smoking Advocate Calls for Censorship of this Blog

In an email sent directly to me, an anti-smoking advocate has called for censorship of my expression of my opinions - in the form of a peer-review process for my blog articles before I post them.

"While I pass no judgment on the accuracy of anything you say--I do not have the time to review every detail, I am concerned about your work for a different reason than scientific accuracy. ... Many who look to your site for information ... are not able to devote the whole of their day to detailed analysis of as many tobacco related studies/matters as you devour and critique, nor are they able to respond to all your thoughts... However, each time your written views raise the slightest doubt about the appropriateness of some tobacco control activity/ position, or the accuracy/integrity of tobacco research, you cause serious pause. With your postings available to the public, your work can easily send a message that harms tobacco control efforts even if you do not intend this.

I believe a slightly different approach in your work would serve you well. First, you could hold your criticism until after the proponents of matters of concern to you are given time for explanation or corrective action. This would enable you to carry out your work without creating public disputes, unduly burdening everyone's reading needs, or risking unintended support for tobacco.

Second, you could invite a peer review before posting your thoughts on your blog."

The Rest of the Story

What's most interesting to me about this charming note is the reason why this advocate suggests that the expression of my views need to be censored or otherwise controlled. It's not that my views are inappropriate, inaccurate, or scientifically unsound, it's simply that:
  • they run counter to his or her opinions;
  • he or she doesn't want to take the time to actually read what I have to say; and therefore
  • a roadblock needs to be set up to block me from expressing my opinions until some sort of control system or review can be put in place.
What country does this advocate think we are living in? Is he or she familiar with something called the First Amendment?

I have heard of a fair number of attacks on bloggers, including some pretty harsh criticism of their work, but this is the first I've heard of someone suggesting that a blog needs to be peer-reviewed before it is published.

Apparently, the need for peer review is there even when I raise "the slightest doubt" about what the tobacco control movement, or any particular group within it, is doing.

Now I can't even have slight doubts about what we are doing in tobacco control without having to be controlled and the expression of my opinions suppressed or regulated.

I thought that tobacco control was supposed to be about regulating tobacco products, not regulating free speech and free expression of one's opinions.

I'm glad to hear that my blog articles are causing serious pause, because I think they should, given what I see going on in the tobacco control field. But the appropriate response is not to ask for me to withhold my opinions; I think the appropriate response would be to do something about it.

One option is to try to change the way things are being done, if the advocate finds my arguments compelling. Another option is to completely ignore me. Yet another is to vigorously disagree and express opposition to my opinions. But censorship of my expression of my opinions is not a valid option, at least not in this country.

The suggestion about holding my opinions to myself until after the actions in question can be explained to me is particularly charming. I guess I should also hold back my opinions about the war in Iraq until after it is resolved and the President has a chance to explain why we needed to sacrifice all those American lives.

Or more directly, I guess I should have waited for the Attorney General to call me on the phone to discuss why the Department of Justice changed its proposed smoking cessation remedy before I posted my opinion about the change in that remedy.

God forbid I should ever have the desire to criticize federal tobacco policy. I'll be waiting by the telephone for years before President Bush has the decency to call me so that I can then go ahead and post on my blog.

Actually, I kind of like the idea of a peer review process for my blog. It would make it the first blog to be peer-reviewed and maybe I could advertise it that way. Any volunteers to serve on the peer review committee?

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