This is NOT how to campaign for sense in science

I’ve blogged previously about Simon Singh being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for libel, in a case that debases both science and the libel laws of our glorious land. So far, so good.

An update email from the campaign today asks me to sign a fresh online petition. “Sense About Science has joined forces with Index on Censorship and English PEN and their goal is to reach 100,000 or more signatories in order to help politicians appreciate the level of public support for libel reform.” Brill! Point me at it!

It’s at Fired with enthusiasm I go there and hit the “Sign the petition” button. I fill in my details and hit the “Sign now” button to record my total opposition to the ludicrous law that lets dogma triumph over facts.

… And rather than feel a smug glow of righteousness, I get presented with a pre-filled in letter to my MP (his identity presumably gleaned from my post code). There is a note at the top saying “[Please put your address here – MPs often do not respond otherwise]”, and a button at the end saying “Send the message”. Nothing about the petition that I thought I was signing.

Hang on, hang on. This is not what I signed up for. (a) I don’t believe MPs pay any attention to a form letter, even if it has been individualised with the addresses of their constituents. And (b) how do they know I haven’t already written to Dr Harris? Maybe I don’t want to spam the poor man with duplicate messages. But actually signing the petition (if I haven’t already: there is nothing to say either way) seems to lie beyond that “Send the message” button.

So, no, I won’t, sorry. This is completely the wrong way to do it. This is a petition about transparency, for Pete’s sake. So be transparent! Have a button marked “sign the petition”, and have it sign the effing petition. Don’t lower yourself to the level of the opposition. Stop trying to be clever. Don’t try to orchestrate our campaigning for us.

The email also asked us to “please spread the word by blogging, twittering, Facebooking and emailing”. Glad to oblige.