Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bureau of Investigative Journalism - New ideas, old habits?

This post is a venture away from the usual (and more recently intermittent) blogposts about dodgy quacks, silly products and efforts by deluded people who like to think the laws of physics, chemistry and biology are merely 'guidelines'.

On this blogpost, I'll mainly be behaving badly and stamping my feet with childish impetulence.

It appears (note: appears) that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) have done some excellent investigative journalism (for that is their name) and released this story about the Ideal Spine Centre in Canterbury. From another angle it appears (note again: appears) that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have gone onto Google, found my blogpost written in 2008 about the very same Ideal Spine Centre and used one of my blogposts as fill out for a story about a Thinking Is Dangerous quack favourite.

It is my thought that the first opinion is possible, but (as I'll try and show later) very doubtful, whereas the second is very reasonable. Very reasonable indeed.

Some backstory - firstly, the TBIJ's history and raison d'etre can be found here. [That's a link to information on their website - you can almost smell the irony]. Secondly, the story itself is a bit of a corker and the overarching good out of the whole thing is that the suspicious goings on at The Ideal Spine Centre in Canterbury are being exposed to a wider audience.

For instance, Dr Farthing, or to give him his full medical title, Mr Farthing, has a disclaimer on his website
"Dr. Farthing is not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor"
. No, no. He is a 'wellness' Doctor. Welcome to Quack Comedy central. Throw in an Advertising Standards Authority adjudication and the blogpost wrote itself.

Interestingly, the blogpost also has the record for the most comments of (I think) any blog on this site. TiD was (if I recall rightly) the only blog at the time that ran the story. [Less common now, I reckon, due to number of bloggers around and also the immediate 140 char blogs that can disseminate news and nonsense so efficiently via Twitter, but in the heady days of 2008 - surely the golden age of blogging - terrific blogpost fodder was as abundant as Passenger Pigeons]. This point is important, as it meant that anyone searching for The Ideal Spine Centre or its details found either the Ideal Spine Centre's website, or mine.

It is not my plan (nor have I the time) to put in a factual blow by blow account of the similarities in the two posts, because although I would like to do all the worthy things that a wounded e-martyr could do, I'm not sure it would change or help anything.

As such, here is my succinct treatisette.

A google search of "Ideal Spine Centre" (without quotes), "Christian Farthing" (again without quotes) and a number of other searches brought my blogpost up consistently as the 3rd result on Google, underneath the Ideal Spine Centre's own webpage. (This has changed slightly due to TBIJ coverage, but it is still 3rd/4th/5th etc).

I want you to imagine you have a snippet of information leaked to you by a local who wants you to run a story on The Ideal Spine Centre. Being part of TBIJ you begin to journalistically investigate and so, run a google search. You find the first post outwith of the Centre's own website to be a blogpost providing the whole backstory to your leaked tidbit.

Do you:
a) ignore it and go and find the exact same information from primary sources?
b) Read it and use it to find all the primary sources are beautifully linked and excellently expounded with dynamic wit, contact the blogger and ask permission to use it or at the very least link to it?
c) Read it and use it to find all the primary sources are beautifully linked and excellently expounded with dynamic wit and use the information without any reference or hat-tip.

It is up to you to answer the question to your own satisfaction.

(I would have thought if they had done some digging they would have found a myriad of dubious things not on my blogpost, like the disgraceful website NHS Health Resource (Yes - NHS! which apparently stands for the Nationwide Health Service), but a quick look at shows the Ideal Spine Centre is the registrant. But maybe they didn't look hard enough or think that it was worth mentioning. And it wasn't on my blogpost. I'm just saying.)

But there are two issues here:

1. The concern about whether or not material was lifted from a blog and used without a hat-tip.

2. The response by TBIJ when I enquired about it.

They are very separate and although the first may be a misunderstanding, the second shows TBIJ in my mind to be no better than their tabloid dead-tree main stream media counterpricks.

When I first noted the similarities, I satisfied myself that I wasn't being too silly and precious about a 3.5 year old blogpost and wrote a very measured and polite comment on TBIJ website. Other comments that were after mine have since appeared, but mine have been censored. This is the sort of thing people like Nadine Dorries does to ensure no critical comment appears on her blog [if you want to satisfy yourself of my non-hypocrisy, please check the myriad of anti-Dr*T comments on this site].

I then contacted them on Twitter (@TBIJ) - once again, I twut a few times with no response.

I then emailed the author of the article, Melanie Newman, outlining my concerns.

I was told my blog was a third party collation of information she already had. I immediately emailed her back thanking her, and asking if she had read my blog before writing her article. I finished the email saying that I felt cooperation was a much stronger force than individualism, and we had the joint end goal of getting the story exposed.

No response.

A day later I sent a reminder but like The Sundays' song, here is where the story ends. No engagement. No response. Ignoreland.

Conversation dead. So it goes.

This (in my limited understanding of intertubery) is how people who don't 'get' the transition between main stream media and online bloggery operate. I don't know if Melanie will have a change of heart and engage (I'd dearly like that to happen) or whether they'll publish my comment in a few days or whether next month I'll get a tweet from them. In any case, to me at least, they've demonstrated they haven't adapted yet to online life, and (more embarrassingly I'm sure) they can't handle a wimpy part-time blogger politely whinging, without freezing up and closing rank.

I'm writing this all just to document the event and to suggest in passing that bloggers (what blog for free out of pastime, pleasure, provocation or petulance) will always be different from people who write stuff on the intertubes and get paid for it.

I'd also be interested to know if I am a lone moaner, or if this is a recurring behavioural pattern.

Post Script - The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's Policy on stealing stories is here. They're happy enough for you to do that, providing you link to them and all the links to the story. That's a really good policy.

Hat-tip to the Whitstable Skeptic.

EDITED TO ADD (Tues 22nd Nov): The BIJ page now has a link to the my blogpost. After a lot of helpful retweets of this blog on Twitter, I got an email from the Editor saying they wouldn't link to the blog as there was no need to, as the journalist "couldn't recall" reading my blog.

After a few exchanges I gave him a phone. It wasn't a very pleasant conversation, (due seemingly to me being sad, pathetic, aggressive and not understanding nuance) but we got a compromise in the end - a tiny link on the BIJ webpage, which was all that was requested right at the very start. They could have avoided the whole blown-up event by taking this extremely small step in the first place.

I asked why my comments had been censored on the BIJ article - it seems the Editor does not like anyone making any negative reference to their journalists on comments (I didn't) despite there being a pretty negative one there right now from an angry chiropractor. Ho hum.

Maybe it was a good thing, maybe it wasn't, but perhaps there's at least one more journalist that will keep a more accurate history of their sources from now on. ENDS


  1. What a co-incidence. I came back to this blog to look for any news about Farthing about whom I remain concerned for many reasons, not least his promotion of chiropractic to treat young children and babies for an impossible number of syndromes (I'm a child-care professional). What presently infuriates me is the promotion of this quackery by mutual reviews by practioners on review sites. If you believed reviews on sites like Qype you'd think Farthing was superhuman. Having made a carefully written but negative review pointing out facts (not a doctor, struck off chiropractor)etc, I was pleased to see it up on the Qype site, and magically, on Farthings site. Only to disappear. I complained and it's taken a week to get an answer. They say my comments are slanderous (I think they (Qype) mean libellous) and thus removed. I've complained again explaining all my remarks are in the public domain, on the net and verifyable. I'm furious. This business operates to part vulnerable people from their money without any evidence of efficacy and review sites of all kinds seem to act as free adverts. yours, A Whitstable Skeptic.

  2. Is that the same Bureau who's chief just resigned over the child-sex/BBC Newsnight/Lord .... false allegation storm - Bit of a shower aren't they!!