Monday, August 22, 2011

Censorship causes Blindness: A Valuable Public Servant has been Silenced

I was shocked to learn that one of my favorite cyberfriends, René Najera, aka “EpiRen,” has received a gag order, prohibiting him from tweeting or blogging about public health issues, after a complaint by an aggressive anti-vax tweeter, “cigaRhett,” Rhett Daniels. I won’t rehash the whole unfortunate drama, as the back story is well-described by Liz Ditz, with many subsequent flavorful comments.

I did, however, want to call my reader’s attention to this, particularly since there is currently a heated debate about the value of anonymity on-line. EpiRen’s harassment is a perfect example of the benefits of anonymity—more poignant since he blogged under his own name. Ren was careful to “clarify that none of the views presented in this blog (or anywhere else, really) represent the views of any of Ren's employers. Got it? Good.” Yet cigaRhett complained to Ren’s superiors, prompting them to threaten his continued employment.

It makes me feel ill that Rene has been bullied into silence. Maybe it’s sort of PTSD from similar past events in Cumberland. As I posted in Liz Ditz’s comments, Ren’s Epi Night School has taught me more about epidemiology than anything I learned either in med school or during my Infectious Diseases fellowship. He has a fine gift as a teacher, and the rare talent of being able to explain difficult topics in an engaging manner. The Daily Ren is a valuable news source and helps me keep up to date in my practice. EpiRen’s tweets are similarly an ongoing, real-time source of public health information, and he curates information from multiple sites I would otherwise overlook. Ren writes with humor and with passion about public health. He has been an ardent proponent of vaccinations. I have grown to find a sense of community as he and I and the #HandHygeine Team joust with the #pathogenposse. From my perspective, EpiRen and “The Germ Guy,” JATetro are the lynchpins of my staying current on public health, and this team is much more engaging than just reading CDC or CIDRAP reports.

Yesterday, the new EpiRen posted,

“Last day to print out or cache your favorite posts of the Epi Times. It goes down permanently at midnight tonight.”

As of last night, EpiRen has closed his sites. What a shame.

The response from Ren’s cyberfriends has been heartwarming, and perhaps good will come of this travesty:
anarchic_teapot provided further background perspective with Malevolent stupidity never sleeps.

The Skeptical Lawyer has joined the fray with an excellent post, “Lessons from EpiRen: do public employees have free speech rights?

PZ Myers, “Pharyngula,” has characterized cigaRhett’s posts as those of a litigious bully, who now, having been confronted, is attempting to erase his tracks on the internet. But the best characterization of the bullying behavior comes from Rhett Daniels' own threatening words.

A seasoned veteran of similar wars, Orac, has written about the consequences of blogging under one's own name. This is a timely issue, given the move by Google+ and ScienceBlogs to prohibit anonymity.Before “#Epigate” happened, the need for anonymity was carefully explained by Skepchick in her post, Does Google+ hate women? I highly recommend her article for valuable perspective.

My initial reaction to the breaking news was to want to enlist William Raillant-Clark and Kyle VanderBeek to help, given their recent success with getting internet troll David Mabus’ violent threats to scientists and atheists to be taken seriously by Montreal police. But EpiRen asked to not have a large internet outpouring to his employers and discouraged action.

I’ve been heartened by the support for EpiRen and free speech. I hope that EpiRen’s employers take to heart Skeptical Lawyer’s comments about transparency. And I would tell them that René Najera’s posts as EpiRen are not just frivolous social banter. EpiRen provides important, real-time news and an outstanding tutorial series on epidemiology.

As I was rereading the Epi Times last night, I noted an apt quote. To paraphrase Cesar Chavez, “Let us remember those who have been silenced by injustice; For they have given us life.


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:50 PM

    “Let us remember those who have been silenced by injustice”

    How poignant!