Blindly fighting on

I had an interesting one during the week when someone made an assertion about the place I came from and I pointed out – politely – that they were wrong. I added I was from there.

My normal reaction when I’m the person making an assertion about Italy, and an Italian says “well actually…” is to assume I might be wrong. What seems to be increasingly evident is that most people assume they have nothing left to learn. The response I got was “this is a joke right, because based on other information I have which is entirely irrelevant and inadequate to the debate this is completely wrong, include major league misunderstanding of language”.

The social media scene in Ireland was upended by an argument on Twitter, primarily, about comments which Rosanna Davison may or may not have made regarding gluten and a number of illnesses. In one respect, it was, in an era of celebrity trumping all, gratifying to see a significant number of people pointing out that she was wrong.

But…it doesn’t really end there. At least one commentator took the view “so what if she said something stupid

Reaction is kind of ridiculous though. Who cares what she says about it, really

and at least one commentator suggested that this was pretty much bullying.

Remember a real person reads all those tweets

So it’s bullying to point out someone who is not a qualified doctor, who talks about her “qualification in nutritional therapy” is making assertions, in the field of health, which are wrong. And Harbison worries about Rosanna. What about all the people who a) are coeliac and know a whole pile more about it that she appears to and b) all the people with rheumatoid arthritis who really don’t need this misinformation becoming widespread. If nothing else, people start having to constantly field well meaning ignorance of the lines “you should…” and “why don’t you try this I read it in the Sindo once, you know Rosanna Davison, she has some kind of qualification in nutrition, so she knows what she is talking about….”

This is a sad state of affairs. Much of the commentary – from people who were deeply angry with her – was still unfailingly clear and polite. It is not bullying to point out someone is wrong. Davison’s response was to block commentary on twitter from experts in the field. This is the classic action of someone who doesn’t want to learn they are wrong.

And it is extremely important to point out when someone says something wrong, and potentially damaging in the field of health because it goes to the heart of keeping people healthy.

So an argument around a piece of history in one small town might be unimportant but there are subjects where it is not so unimportant.

At no point in their lives does anybody know everything about everything. It is entirely possible that one of the most useful skills we could pass on to people is learning to recognise when a) they are wrong and b) have something to learn from others.

In the meantime, XKCD will continue to provide one of the most accurate reflections of interactive discussions online today.

Duty Calls by the inimitable Randall Munro

In the meantime it’s worth nothing that Davison has made a statement suggesting the comments disputed are not in her book, she doesn’t really believe them and she has been misquoted.

On a wider note, I wonder how much the need our media has to sell newspapers has allowed themselves to abdicate their responsibility in terms of information gatekeeping. Put simply while it’s hard to prevent misinformation getting to the web courtesy of the democratisation of access to broadcast, one of the selling points of the newspapers was, in theory, that they were supposed to be better than that. But that is a debate for another day.