Hard News by Russell Brown


Fear, authority and ... Judy Bailey?

Fans of Ben Goldacre may be familiar with The Daily Mail ongoing oncological ontology project, whereby the paper of the fearful and underachieving middle class breathlessly reports on things that give you cancer, from soup to sun cream. And sometime, things that cure cancer. Like laughing.

Well, fact fans: I've got news for you. The man behind the all-time classic of its kind --- How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer – is coming to New Zealand.

He's part of a bill announced by your friends and mine, Family First, for August's Fifth Annual Focus on the Family Conference, where he's billed as the author of Spoilt Generation: Why restoring authority will make our children and society happier, and will talk about "the real effect of TV, media and social networking."

To be fair, Sigman's website these days says of his controversial paper, Well Connected?

This paper has been misrepresented by many news reports as claiming that social networking causes cancer or disease. This is not true. The paper addresses the extent to which time online may be displacing face-to-face contact, and that lack of social connection is associated with physiological changes, increased incidence of illness and higher premature mortality.

This is a valid and important area of study. But, as Goldacre showed, in handing Sigman his ass first on BBC Newsnight, then in a Bad Science blog post, where he wrote that Sigman "cherry picked the evidence in his rather fanciful essay, selectively only mentioning the evidence that supports his case, and ignoring the evidence that goes against it," Sigman isn't really the guy you'd want doing it.

Evidence to which might be added two iterations of the World Internet Project surveys for New Zealand, which have shown none of the social decomposition claimed by Sigman – but, rather, significant self-reported improvements in family, community and cultural identification for various groups, including Maori and Pacific Islanders.

Previous greatest hits for Sigman include 2007's claim that watching television could trigger early puberty in girls. And his latest in the Mail is a call for children to be banned from touching computers before the age of nine.

But this from last year's Guardian profile will presumably be a good part of his appeal to Family First:

His own disciplinary methods are wacky, to say the least: they include pushing a frozen salmon down the trousers of his sons when they're naughty, and – where one sibling has bullied another – allowing the victim to decide where the aggressor should be poked ("back, belly or foot") and how many times.

It's with the use of smacking as a behaviour modification method that Sigman is most contentious. He tells the story of his two-year-old son running into the road, being knocked down and ending up in hospital – but how, far from learning his lesson, he ran out into the road again, forcing Sigman to give him "a whack on his backside, accompanied by a good shaking". Did it work? "Well, he never ran in the road again." But was it the whack that did it? "I'll never know. It could have been the emotional upset, or my disapproval, the aversive stimulus of my voice. But I've not lost sleep over it."

Of course he hasn't.

So who else is on the bill? There's Australian proponent of "anti-choice feminism", Melinda Tankard Reist. Unbelief.org sums her up thus:

Still a comparatively young woman, Tankard Reist has developed one of the best conservative Christian networks in Australia and finds herself at home in both Catholic and evangelical Protestant circles. Her aggressive independence defies easy categorisation and has even opened doors into one wing of the feminist movement. Through her work with Brian Harradine, she has substantial experience in the federal parliamentary milieu and now seems to be building an international audience.

So she's a bit of a rockstar. Just don't ask her about all those lesbians she shares a publishing imprint with.

There's also Tuhoe Isaac, the former leader of King Country Mongrel Mob chapter who found God and now appears to do genuinely good work with the people the rest of us have abandoned.

And Judy Bailey, speaking on behalf of the Brainwave Trust. Judy Bailey?

I'm sure it'll all be awesome. They even have a special rate for couples. But only married couples, mind.


And, just for a little balance, some good stuff about the internet …

One thing I like about the Webstock people is that they shoot for the Moon and then set about getting there. I remember some years ago when they had the idea of a 24-hour shindig where web professionals compete to build websites for charities. That's now known as Full Code Press, and it happened over the weekend. Australia's Codaroos beat out the Code Blacks and Team USA in the judges' assessment. Well, the Aussies need to win something at the moment …

I'm particularly proud to note that CactusLab's Matt Buchanan and PA's Hadyn Green were in the Code Blacks' lineup. Their tweets over the weekend were funny as all hell.

Also, you can see last week's Media7 celebration of The Independent online. This week's show will feature 3 News reporter Melissa Davies, who has been covering Pete Bethune's trial in Japan, and another topic, related to the movie industry, that's still being finalised. Let me know if you'd like to attend the recording tomorrow from 5pm-ish.

And finally, what the internet is really for. Ann-Margret singing 'Saturday Night' with the Bay City Rollers in front of an audience of hyped-up pensioners some time in the 70s. Spookily great:

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