Monday, April 29, 2013

censorship in the UK

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has banned this ad:

according to this report in the Guardian, and I'm having a huge problem with this decision. The posters don't show anything at all apart from the drink, just words, and (as the ad slogan itself suggests) any associations are purely in the mind of the beholder.

If we've reached the point of not being allowed to use words that have several meanings because some readers may associate them with a meaning that they themselves will then find offensive, I think we've arrived in a kafkaesque nightmare of censorship. If people are offended by their own thoughts, it should be their own problem, right?

To use a visual analogy, if looking at a lighthouse makes you think of male genitalia, that doesn't give you the right to ask for images of lighthouses to be banned. The association is exclusively your own problem.

And that's essentially the point that the ad itself tried to make in a playful way. Clearly some people at the organisation in charge of such things were unable to grasp this subtle philosophical point.

Monday, April 22, 2013

imaginary maladies

During the preparations for the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, controversies have raged over the broadening of diagnostic definitions. Critics have argued that the new manual, due to be published in May, will turn more people than ever into psychiatric patients.

So I wheeled out Moliere's imaginary invalid and investigated whether the shrinks are letting normality shrink away into oblivion. The resulting feature has now come out in Current Biology:

Has the manual gone mental?

Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 8, R295-R298, 22 April 2013 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.009

Free access to the

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Hoy Función

A stage production of Moliere's Le malade imaginaire in Argentina, via Flickr.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

online culture

Why is tumblr like ancient Egypt? How do you recognise if a twitter user is part of a specific tribe? Will edit wars on Wikipedia end in peace deals or carry on forever? And why have some social networks turned into ghost towns?

All these questions and more are addressed in my feature on the cultural evolution of online social networks, which is out now in Current Biology:

What makes people click?

Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 7, R255-R258, 8 April 2013

Free access to

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Twitter users grouped into tribes, annotated with words typically used by each group. Graphic: John Bryden, Sebastian Funk and Vincent Jansen

Monday, April 08, 2013

beer and spinach

In the round-up of German pieces published in April we have serious reports on teeth and on artificial enzymes, and not so serious ones on beer and spinach. The latter made the cover of Nachrichten:

Chemie in unserer Zeit 47, p 74
Neuartige Enzyme

Nachrichten aus der Chemie 61, p 407
Chiralität und Reinheit des Bieres

Nachrichten aus der Chemie 61, pp432-433
Spinat macht Skeptiker stark

Nachrichten aus der Chemie 61, pp440-442
Wie das Krokodil zu Zähnen kam

All on restricted access I'm afraid, but I'll be happy to send pdf reprints.