I Have Been Putting on my Shoes

elephanttrunkThe Internet does not forget. This is, arguably, the single most important techno-sociological change that we, as individuals, corporations, celebrities and politicians, have had to learn over the past decade. And it is a lesson that appears not to have sunk in at all. Everything we do on the web, whether that be browsing, blogging, twittering or updating Facebook statuses, leaves a trail. And once that trail is set, there is no Internet equivalent of kicking leaves over it to hide what you have been saying and doing.

Before the Internet, we could deny what we said in many parts of our lives. We could rely on fallible memories; we could even bluster, lie and obfuscate. And no-one could call us out. I would be first to admit, this may not be a bad thing in all circumstances. A world that was quick to forget could also be naturally forgiving. Our mistakes of the past could be allowed to quietly fade. And often that is a necessary human thing. But now with so many of social, professional and corporate interactions being mediated by the internet, plausible deniability, and a faith in an ephemeral collective memory, is no longer an option when we say something that we may later regret.

As a blogger, I quickly realised that many of the people I write about quickly try to cover their tracks. They take down web pages, edit them and change their story in an attempt to minimise embarrassment and stop further criticism, or even legal actions. Remarkable examples include the McTimoney Chiropractic Association who tried to hide the web sites of their entire membership in order to avoid complaints regarding their unsubstantiated claims. And the Abha Light Foundation, who knowing that their use of homeopathic sugar pills to treat people with AIDS and malaria causes fury amongst people with a sense of ethics, communicate with their supporters through private emails – but made the mistake of using a mass marketing emailer organisation that  leaves a copy of each mail on the public Internet.

Part of my blogging routine, therefore, is to capture and preserve pages that I write about. I do this to ensure the integrity of my references, but also to prevent deniability, or even to protect myself should someone wish to “get legal”.

Occasionally, this habit pays off.

Last week, homeopath John Benneth has written a number of blog posts screaming in delight that he has caught me out as being a liar. THE BLACK LIAR and the lies he tells screams the headline.

The back story is that I wrote about how Benneth had been invited to Cambridge University at the request of Nobel laureate Brian Josephson. I argued that such an invitation was unwise, as it gave respectability to ideas that were completely unscientific and absurd and used in defense of dangerous quackery. Josephson is a supporter of many mystical beliefs, such as ESP and the paranormal, but I suggested that Benneth’s talk on the memory of water could have real consequences for people’s health, and as such, circumspection was required. It should also have been clear, after some brief Googling, that Benneth was a deeply unpleasant character with some quite offensive beliefs.

After the talk, Brian Josephson posted a defense of his reasons for allowing the talk and did appear to show some reservations about it. He said that,

This talk was an experiment, somewhat of a gamble perhaps. John Benneth is an ‘enthusiast’ for homeopathy, not a scientist, and what he said in the seminar might well have made him (and myself) look foolish.

Josephson went on to say that Benneth showed a “failure to understand particular scientific issues”, and that there were “clear deficiencies in the presentation”. Nonetheless, Josephson went on to defend the decision to host the talk as it led to ‘open-minded’ discussion between a few of his colleagues.

So, in Benneth’s blog, he rages against me. He says that,

Stooges for the pharmacetuical[sic] companies went to work on me. One in particular, an Englishman I think, is such a prevaricator he has even given himself a nickname in French. Le Canard Noir.

The teller of black lies.

His name is Andy Lewis.

Benneth claims that he has only recently got around to checking what Josephson said about his talk. And when he goes to Josephson’s web page about the talk, he cannot find any of the ‘damning’ quotes I use in my blog post. Benneth then concludes that I had invented it all,

It was so skillfully done that it sounded like something Josephson had indeed said in the past, such as the part of conferring with a colleague, and other things that were paraphrases of actual quotes, but twisted into maligning statements.

This, I think, is what Lewis prides himself on, the facility to create false statements.

Benneth, sensing a great victory against the “pharmaceutical funded” skeptics writes another post trumpeting his perceived goal against me. He now calls me a ‘disease’ in his post entitled, The Disease Only Homeopathy Can Cure.

It’s like pederasty. In homoepathy[sic] they think they’ve found an innocent child to molest. They thinkn they can bully it with threats & lies.

Classy stuff.

For completeness, I really have to quote him some more so you can get a full appraisal of his venom.

The name of this flat out fabricator is a sleezy little punk who slimed his way out of Soho, found a used lap top.

In a symptom of le canard noir, an article here about Florence Nightingale, that tracks back to a most unfortunate eponym for a recent collaboration against the innocent child, some anti-homeopathy blogger known for his fabrications says he don’t think homeopaths check out sources.

Poke into the past, it’s just another lie in a long string of lyings. Know it. This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time le canard noir got caught in a bold faced lie. He can’t help it. He‘s been sued for it more than once, and he always loses. Boo hoo. And as always, he get‘s booted off the old website, has to scrounge up a new one.

Homeopaths come in to gloat and add their own comments. The well known (in homeopathic circles) Dutch ‘agrohomeopath’ Vaikunthanath das Kaviraj comments,

He has been convicted as proven by others and is but a failed parking attendant[sic].

and

As for convicted, explain to us how Andy lost his job. Through a criminal conviction, which is in the records of the court. No wonder he cannot find any other employment than with the skeptics, who get funded by convicted criminals like GSK, Pfizer and other assorted crooks.

Where does Kaviraj gets this stuff from, who knows? Their fantasy world knows no limits. I must admit, the ‘failed parking attendant’ thing hurt. It is now dogma in the world of homeopathy that their critics are paid pharmaceutical company shills. It is not true and they do not have the slightest reasonable evidence to support this.

If John Benneth was a man of honour and integrity, he would now immediately publish a comprehensive apology.

But seriously, just quickly to put this to bed, I used the website Freezepage to capture Brian Josephson’s site as I wrote about it. Here is the captured original page. You can compare it with the page today. Quite simply, Josephson updated his page and removed the elements that were most critical of Benneth. Why Josephson has done this, I do not know. It is not important. But I am not a liar and Benneth fails to check his sources properly.

If John Benneth was a man of honour and integrity, he would now immediately publish on his site a comprehensive apology, take down the misleading and incorrect posts about me, ask his friend Kaviraj to apologise too, and to undertake not to repeat these claims.

I am not holding my breath.

Let’s be clear. Benneth’s barely coherent and foaming rantings are just not important. No seriously minded person visiting his site would believe anything being said there. Benneth is obviously a confused, angry and deluded individual. People have suggested that I could sue for libel. That would be ridiculous and place far too much prominence on what he says. (I also have very strong feelings about the current state of English libel laws that mean I would find such a move very difficult.) But, of course, I reserve the right to change my mind about that in the future.

But there are important points about this minor episode.

Firstly, it just re-emphasises again how wrong Brian Josephson was to have anything to do with this man. Enough said about that.

Secondly, it puts in the spotlight a mindless and aggressive significant faction of homeopaths who now feel the only way to respond to legitimate concerns about what they do is to violently attack. These are people who can only see conspiracies, lies and corruption. They are incapable of engaging in debate, considering the issues raised, and behaving in acceptable ways. They are locked in active ignorance and united in their error.  Even Brian Josephson, in defense of his talk, resorted to claiming the criticism of this talk was down to a conspiracy: “someone did not want the lecture to take place and organised a campaign against it”. The conspiratorial thinking amongst homeopaths even extends into the medical homeopaths who are desperately defending their use of these sugar pills within the NHS. There must be many ordinary homeopaths (I hope) who despair at their leadership who constantly rail against the evils of medicine (such as Steve Scrutton of the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths) or the director of the Society of Homeopaths, William Alderson, who spends their money placing misleading and disparaging adverts in mainstream magazines.

Whilst the mainstream leadership of the homeopathy trade align themselves with the likes of Benneth, we can be sure that their trade will be consigned to oblivion.

And thirdly, and importantly, we should be reminded of the nature of the medium of the Internet. As bloggers, we should take the extra two minutes to ensure our sources as secured in a way that will not allow deniability and for people to make false allegations against you. And in general, we always hesitate before pressing Enter to remember that what we write on blogs, twitter or comments sections is always going to remain cached somewhere, copied and saved – often without human intervention.

And if we are caught out? There is no hope in relying on the delete button. Our integrity in this age does not depend on hiding our mistakes, but by coming clean. If we make a mistake on our blogs, as is inevitable, the best practice is of course to admit the error, correct, and make that transparent. On the web, the greater sin is not making an error, but to be caught trying to cover your tracks.

On this theme…

46 Comments on I Have Been Putting on my Shoes

  1. An excellent rebuttal to Benneth’s deluded rantings.

    It seem to be increasingly common for the MO of quacks simply to throw tantrums and insults when someone dares to question their particular beloved woo. The latest one on some blogs is to call us BIGOTS. The capitals provide extra force to their argument, apparently.

  2. Benneth and Kaviraj really are unpleasant and deluded characters, with some very strange ideas about how the world is supposed to work.

    Well done for your restraint and occupation of the moral high ground.

  3. Andy.. What on Earth is Kaviraj blattering about when he taks of you as a failed parking attendant? Has he misinterpreted something in the past or simply made the whole thing up?

    • Lenny – it is my experience, that quacks are so quick to want to confirm their prejudices that the slightest evidence is taken as proof. A little while ago, a convicted criminal quack tried to libel me for what he thought was my part in his downfall. He made a number of bizarre and offensive claims and issued a press release. Kaviraj’s claims bear some resemblance, although I cannot be sure this is the source. Anyway, the person making those claims now has a criminal record and a suspended sentence hanging over him.

      This would not be the first time people have tried to smear me. Some have tried to associate me with communist revolutionaries, others with industrial misinformation campaigns. When your core beliefs are so challenged, I think hiding behind such inventions is a good way to be able to deny the arguments. The homeopaths have perfected this art of denial.

  4. Good stuff.

    Of course, Benneth could have simply asked Josephson whether he’d actually said what you’d quoted him as saying. The fact he apparently didn’t even bother doing even this tiny piece of “research” speaks volumes.

    I expect Benneth’s apology will arrive at the same time as Terminalia.

  5. Andy, do you happen to remember the lengthy (200-odd) comment thread in Ian Brooks’ NatureBlogs post, where His Craziness John Benneth descended with all his signature rantings? Brian Josephson was there too, making pro-homeopathy noises with copious name-dropping (actually, he dropped hints-to-names in a cloak-and-dagger fashion), and evading – as much as he could – any pointed questions from the commentors, including Stephen Curry. Even then, Josephson refused to directly comment on Benneth’s deranged babblings, using prodigious circumlocution as a shield. I remember it had surprised me to no end, because – despite his cuckoo ideas – Josephson is a Nobel-winning physicist. But now, I see the light; no, let me rephrase that. I smell fish, quite rotten, too, in his specific removal of his own critical comments about Benneth.

    If Benneth is the best champion the homeoquacks can come up with, perhaps the sane and rational have less to worry than previously thought.

  6. Does anyone know if none/some/all homeopaths take their own meds for serious ills instead of Big Pharma proven cures? I’ve seen no data either way and weight self reporting fairly low.

    • Of course, the truth is that most of us aren’t really ill. When homs do get ill they often use their pills as an adjunct to real medicine.

      I think a few crazies really do try to treat their cancer with homeopathy alone. But, when they die they blame the disease not their stupidity.

  7. ‘or the director of the Society of Homeopaths, William Alderson’

    William Alderson resigned as a director of the SoH in early November soon after the ad appeared in the New Statesman. Maybe a 15 page ASA complaint against him had something to do with it?

  8. Having read the original post I think that raving posts like the one that has, justifiably, caused you hurt, actually do more to damage Homeopathy than all the scientific evidence put together. I believe that there are well-meaning people out there who do believe in nonsense like homeopathy, and I hope they distance themselves from a post that just smacks of vitriol.

  9. Hey Andy Pandy, stealin kid’s candy, it’s me,the man o yer dreams, Dr. John Benneth, your friend, your best friend, your ONLY friend.
    Now, Andy, you’re quite right, Josepshon did say those things about me, and more. He said my videos are socially unaceptable, and if I didn’t change the name of the one comparing you to Rudolph Hess he wouldn’t take me to lunch at Trinity College, a lunch which was quite excellent I might add.
    Aferwards we went downstairs and we had a very good coffee (for England) in little white cups.
    But listen, Andy, let me help you put this all in perspective
    First, thank you very much for all the publicity, I very much enjoy reading about myself, and the funny little comments you make about me, my favorite subject.
    You might ask yourself one question though. If what he said was relevant, then why did he take it down? If this isn’;t a diversion, why aren’t you addressing material points of the presentation, that contrary to your lies, liquid water can indeed structure due to hydrogen bonding, and clathrates are the proof of it. Google “water clusters.”
    Now let’s get on to a little bsiness here. Take note of the latest johnbenneth wordpress blog, NO BEDSIDE MANNER REQUIRED. It’s all about you, Andy, what a compulsive mythomaniac you are. It talks about what you can’t talk about, not honestly at least, what confounds your lies about homeoapthy: It’s about tests of homeopathic substances on non human subjects, specifically biochemical tests.
    Don’t think we don’t know what kind of little game it is you’re trying to play here. Josephson isn’t the only material scientist who’s drunk the Krystal Kool Aid. We know how our remedies work, and I think you have a pretty good idea of it too, as well your little pea brain can figger, you’re just in too deep now to say any different.
    And I doubt you even have the honesty to tell anyone the correct time and these are all nice little diversions from what’s really going on.
    Let’s talk more, anytime I have time, maybe I can help you with that little problem of yours . .
    Dr. John Benneth
    PS: Really, Andy, I’m sorry I upset you, you can take the gun away from your head now.

    • Mr Benneth.

      Firstly, it is interesting that after accusing me of dishonesty, fabricating evidence and being a liar in the most vitriolic way, and having been proved to be completely wrong, you feel no need to offer an apology, but instead come on here with childish name calling. People can draw their own conclusions from that.

      Secondly, you do not upset me. You amuse me – slightly.

      Thirdly, I only write about your rant as it allows me the opportunity to discuss much broader issues, such as the need to preserve sources when blogging – and how you appear to represent a major faction in homeopathy, and quackery in general, that is unable to engage in debate about the consequences of their beliefs and show an absolute insighlessness into their behaviour.

      Finally, and for those interested. I have responded in full to the sorts of beliefs you have about water memory – and you have not engaged with these arguments at all.

      Please see here…

      The Futility of Finding Physical Explanations for Homeopathy

      It would be good if you and other homeopaths actually discussed these points, but I can predict that, if you respond at all, it will be by name calling and appeals to authority.

      And, there is no such word as ‘figger’. Now, that offends me.

  10. Oh, is the lying Andy now hurt? Come on you boys, go and comfort him, and preach to the choirboys like good catholic priests.

    And Andy, if you think that what I have said about you is wrong, well I found it plastered all over the internet. So why don’t you go and complain to the originators of the information, instead of complaining about the postman who brought the news to you?

    But as usual, you have no answers and think that whining and dining with your sycophants here is the way to pamper your ego.

    You are being financed by convicted criminals, being on the board of the “skeptics” club and its ill-informed magazine, as well as all your ill-informed blogs. Those convicted criminals are GSK, Aventis and Pfizer. Your “boss” Colquhoun, that cackling turkey, gets his money from the same source. We shall plaster that information also all over the net, and inform the general public you consort with criminals and accept their stolen money.

    Then you have more to play the poor cry-baby and can ask your “friends” to console you as they do here for you poor Andy. It is time you grow some balls, Andy, and go get a haircut and some real job, instead of conspiring to destroy the livelihood of people by blackballing them. You might discover that such is illegal. If you think you can dish it out, you gotta be able to take it.

    • Kaviraj. Can you supply one URL from all those “plastered all over the Internet” that substantiates your claims about me being a convicted criminal and a parking attendant?

      Just one URL will do.

    • I find it odd (but not at all surprising) that you people just keep saying Andy is lying but never actually back it up with anything aside from your conjecture.

      Your comment resembles that of a 10 year old (and I dare say my younger brother of that age could respond better). Maybe most of the scientific community is wrong about homeopathy; it certainly seems to have done something to you.

      • I’m not surprised that those people back what they say with anything, they’re homeopaths, and homeopathy is rather well known for its inability to back its claims up.

        By the same token, they do the same thing to truth as they do to their “remedies”: dilute it till not a single shred of the original remains.

    • Kaviraj – you seem to be under the impression that Prof Colquhoun receives funding from GSK, Aventis and Pfizer. This is not the case. Patrick Holford had the same mistaken impression as you. Prof Colquhoun’s research has never been funded by the drug industry, but always by the Medical Research Council or by the Wellcome Trust. See also here and here.

      Would you like to retract your false statement and apologise to Prof Colquhoun? Seems to me that would be the classy thing to do…

      • Andy is known for his long flowing locks and boyish good looks. Try to form a mental picture of Little Lord Fauntleroy with his teeth sunk deeply into the ankle of a homeopath.

        Does that help?

    • *sigh* Did Kaviraj even read John Benneth’s comment from 7:32am?

      BENNETH (in his original post): Andy Lewis is a liar! Prof Josephson didn’t say those things about me! Liar liar!
      ANDY LEWIS: Prof Josephson did say those things. Here is the proof.
      BENNETH (in comment above): Okay, Prof Josephson did say those things. I won’t apologise but will instead call you names.
      KAVIRAJ: Andy Lewis is a liar!

      No he isn’t. Benneth conceded this. Gracelessly, but he conceded it.

  11. Kaviraj,

    “some real job”,”conspiring to destroy the livelihood of people by blackballing them”.

    Physician heal thyself.

  12. When does one draw a line under these interactions? Kaviraj and Benneth sound, quite honestly, dangerously unhinged. Their arguments are utter nonsense to anyone even slightly less deluded than themselves, and I am really rather disturbed by the tone of their writings.

    OK, we all know that the H-bonded structures in water only exist for tiny fractions of a second (it’s like saying traffic has a structure because it keeps aggregating at red lights, and to some extent this is correct, but that doesn’t mean it has a ‘memory’ of a car that went through there six months ago!), and just because something is pasted all over the internet, doesn’t make it true. I know 10 year olds that have sussed that out. They have no new arguments, and won’t acknowledge that the old arguments have been refuted ad nauseum. The trouble is that trying to show the scientific implausibility of homeopathy only plays into their hands (oh, you don’t like it because you can’t explain how it works!), and this detracts from the fact that it doesn’t work. We’re being side tracked; How it doesn’t work is irrelevant. It has been shown beyond (reasonable) doubt that it doesn’t work. And as for the argument that many anecdotes = proof:

    Go back a few hundred years and you would have found millions of people who were utterly convinced that the sun went around the earth, you could of collected thousands of pieces of anecdotal evidence to support this theory (look, there it goes… up… round… and now down! Bleedin’ obvious mate!). Were they right? No.

    These ranters are doing more damage to the cause of alt med than the rational ever could. These are the people the government wishes to appease by saying they won’t rule out homeopathy on the NHS (leaving up to GPs), despite their acknowledgement that it is nonsense, as the UK has a ‘diverse population’. This really should be pointed out to them.

    I think no supporter of engagement, free debate or open mindedness would have a problem with drawing a line under talking at these people. To persist is utter folly.

    For what it’s worth, I am not in the clutches of any pharma, convicted or otherwise (I detest much of what they do, and I understand the bad things they do far better than Kaviraj and Benneth); I just think.

  13. If you argue with idiots the only, and best possible, outcome is that you win an argument with an idiot. Where’s the achievement in that?

    By all means refute, ask for proof and sources, correct their lies and misinformation, but I’d recommend against actually getting in to a debate.

    They really are a bunch of spitting and gnashing, rolling-eyed loonies; and deserve only to be treated that way.

    Gil.

      • I think the more appropriate quote for Andy to consider is:
        “Never argue with an idiot, they will drag you down to their level, and defeat you with experience!”
        — Dilbert’s rules of order

  14. John Benneth really sounds like he needs psychiatric help. Rather than further enraging or picking fun, is there a therapist who could engage?

    • I have suggest this pressing need, only to be blasted with viciously offensive invented insane lies about me and my dead wife, topped off with truly bizarre insults about my name (perfect infant-school playground stuff) and my chosen manner of dress.
      Andy has asked Benneth what it would take for him to apologise to me. No response yet. It might be another femto-pology such as above, or it might be another truly insane infantile display, as above.

      If “Doctor” Benneth is not severely mentally disturbed, then he is a brilliant actor.

      He desperately needs professional mental health care, right now. Before he hurts either himself, or someone else.
      That much is glaringly obvious to most adults.

  15. I find myself wondering if these people ever actually read their comments back to themselves. Do they ever notice how truly childish and inane they appear?

    Surely if they had real arguments, they would present them and discuss them, rather than resort to name-calling and insults? But of course – their lack of actual arguments and discussion points are their biggest problem.

    Something that always amused me about J.Benneth? My blog (linked above) is small, TINY, and read by perhaps four, maybe five people (and I admit, I’ve not updated it since July) but still – when I wrote an article about Homeopathy? Benneth decided to come along and leave one of his inordinately elaborate and tl:dr comments.

    He simply couldn’t leave well enough alone, apparently. There was my tiny little, rarely-read blog, but he STILL felt the need to come and argue his case. He’s really THAT insecure about the whole thing. Which amuses me to no end.

  16. I’ve now read this post and the links/discussions it references and have one overriding thought…..

    If people like Benneth and Kaviraj ever turned out to be right, I’ll be happy to have not been on their side in the debate.

    Agressive and bullying even to people who inoffensively question them on their theories. They make me weep for the human spirit.

    Jonathan

    • Jonathan, no need to weep. I’d be very surprised indeed if they were discovered to be human. Certainly, their behaviour here reminds me more of monkeys throwing their own sloppy turds at the wall.

      I apologise to monkeys everywhere.

  17. Mr Duck thankyou very much for the link to the Freezepage site. I have bookmarked it safely in my Sceptic folder and shall be sure to use it.

    BTW the internet does forget. When Google took over the usenet archive quite some history was unfortunately lost in the mists of time. Doubtless some of the best posts of my misspent early adulthood amongst them 😉

  18. Do we not have a responsibility to the wider public? We clearly see Benneth and Kaviraj are seriously ill. Does anybody know if we could have them detained(for their own and our safety) under the mental health act?

  19. Well, I am sorry to hear that Nobel Laureates are hanging out with Quacks– but I couldn’t be happier that this website exists…
    And I have to ask– does anyone feel overtly baffled that anyone with a brain in their skull could even be capable of being so reasonable. I mean, we all know that there are charlatans out there who do it on purpose, but for those who don’t (and it is arguable that these people even exist, however some of them must mean well)… how do they know their right? Do they ever doubt themselves, do they lie awake at nights wondering if they are in fact wrong? Just wondering what it is like inside these peoples’ minds, I guess.

  20. Have a look at Benneth’s blog.

    It’s gone amazingly quiet there. It seems there was a flurry of activity after a link from PZ Myers’ Paryngula blog caused a load of people to go and visit Benneth’s site. Unfortunately for Benneth they mostly wanted to post corrections to his frothing lunacy and he has stopped blocking most posts.

    It really does seem he can’t take the heat, so silences his opponents and then declares victory.

    It’s obviously something in homeopathy that so consistently creates this pattern of behaviour in its adherents.

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