Sunday, December 30, 2012

David Quinn, Politeness and the One-Sided Conversation

David Quinn has written recently on the need to move away from insults in online discourse. It's one of those likely rare topics on which we agree - I find insults lazy, tawdry and generally counterproductive. If your strongest argument is your belief that your opponent is a 'toerag' you have little in the ways of convincing material and your efforts will most likely weaken the cause you support.

He's published a Twitter 'code of conduct' which I read with interest:
"Twitter Code of Conduct needed. 1; no abusive language. 2; address arguments 3; assume the good faith of the other person"
I'm not in a position to promulgate how Twitter is best used, but I was heartened a little to see that these three rules match neatly how I tend to interact online. I slip from time to time; I'm human after all, but I find my most popular posts and most interesting conversations flow from a beginning of engaging with someone of different views using evidence, reason and polite language.

I've written about David Quinn's work with vaccine denial groups before, and the fact that his message is unpopular with women. I've also wondered aloud why the Iona Institute benefits from charitable tax status but I've neither insulted him personally nor used foul language. It came as some surprise to me to find out I was blocked:

Let's be charitable. Quinn does come in for some regrettable abuse online and my blocking may have been in error - collateral damage of sorts while blocking others. I was heartened to see some Christian anti-abortion friends tweet to Quinn to vouch for my (generally) good character. This did not result in an immediate unblocking, but again, let's be charitable. I do not know how far Quinn's technical skills extend and he may have been using a mobile device at the time.

What did follow were three tweets directed to me. Absent the ability to respond via Twitter I'll address each question as best I can here.

@GeoffsShorts You're hilarious. Come to one of my talks and see the mix of men/women there.

It's nice to be referred to as hilarious - I do occasionally engender a chortle. And I thank Quinn for his invitation. I couldn't immediately see a listing of future talks on the Iona Institute's website, but I'd be happy to attend, assuming no prior commitment.

Addendum February 21st, 2013: Quinn never contacted me with details of his next meetup, but I see he posted footage. There are no clear shots of all those attending but I'll let this image give you a rough guide to the gender balance:
Priest addresses middle-aged men, no women visible.
From an earlier talk, there's a panned shot of the audience at 19:10.

@GeoffsShorts Also, of those who are on twitter to follow politics, what is the male/female ratio?

Hmm. Tricky. The only fair way I can think of doing this is to pull the followers of every TD in the country and check each one. More accurate would be to check each former candidate too. Running gender stats is automated, of course, but I check each entry by hand to confirm so it's a time consuming process. I could try, say, @PoliticsIE, but their gender stats may be skewed by other factors.

But what can be made of this request? It rather implies Quinn considers the Iona Institute a political lobbying organisation. If so his next step should be to register with the Standards in Public Office Commission, as all organisations raising funds for political lobbying must.

Secondly, is ensuring doctors have the legal clarity required to perform lifesaving procedures really a political issue? Rather than politics I may be better served checking what percentage of fertile Irish women on Twitter would like to have clear access to all potentially required lifesaving treatments. I don't have a script to hand for that, but I'm willing to take an educated guess that it will be quite a clear majority.

Thirdly, is there an acceptable level of lack of engagement with half of Irish society? Twitter has a female majority overall; globally tweeters are 64% women which makes the low showing all the more concerning. I sense a somewhat cavalier "women aren't interested in politics" tone in Quinn's response which I do not welcome - especially given the time he devotes to issues which primarily affect women.

@GeoffsShorts Finally, I wonder what % of say, Atheist Ireland's followers are men?

I'm mildly curious too, but I'm not immediately clear of the relevance. (A brief disclaimer - I'm an ordinary member of Atheist Ireland, nothing more, and do not speak on their behalf.) While Atheist Ireland seeks a secular society and opposes laws justified primarily by religious beliefs it has no official position on abortion. They have made efforts to locate an anti-abortion atheist for an Atheists in the Pub session.

My discussion of Quinn's lack of appeal to women was motivated primarily by the inordinate amount of media time he has garnered on the subject of safe and legal access to medically necessary abortions. It is quite odd that he would seek to compare himself to a group that has hardly been troubled unduly by requests to appear on air.

Perhaps my blocking has a benefit of sorts. I enjoy Twitter but the character limit can be rather stifling, and this post has allowed me express my thoughts more fully. Perhaps Quinn would like to respond via his own blog?

A final note - please be polite. By all means ask Quinn why his organisation has charitable tax status, why he works with anti vaccine folk and why he speaks so much on issues primarily affecting women - these are valid questions which have not been answered fully. Insults are, quite frankly, boring.


Auntie Dote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Auntie Dote said...

I also retweeted @davquinn's Twitter rules of conduct.

They strike me as good rules as well, for those interested in genuine dialogue of the sort we badly need on all sorts of issues.

In particular, 2. address the argument and 3. assume good faith of others, strike me as the rules MOST productive ones in this context.

I look forward to seeing them in action in the future.

Jill said...

I'm not sure that the type of woman who would agree with Mr. Quinn's opinions is the type of woman who would most likely be on twitter in the first place. I have no facts to back this up, just a general hunch. Regardless, the fact that most of Iona's for DQ's followers on twitter are women proves nothing about women's views on either. It merely suggests.

As for vaccines: As I have said before it is grossly irresponsible for any group to suggest that vaccines are linked to autism. They are not. It has been studied exhaustively and the only paper that declared a link was debunked as complete nonsense. It does not need to be studied further and continuing this debate in the name of anything is really upsetting. I can think of nothing else in fact that has saved more lives than vaccines. As a prolife person across the spectrum, this is very very important to me.

That being out there, if a prolife individual has concerns about a vaccine because it was made with cells from an aborted fetus that is understandable. In addition, it gets tricky for all of us when we partner or cooperate with another organization. So far as I can tell HLI is not making anti-vaccines a large part of their platform. I do not currently see anything to as such on the frontpage of their website and in searching the site for "vaccines" I did not come up with any links claiming a connection to autism. I am hardly a computer whiz or particularly observent so I might easily have missed something here and would appreciate if anyone notes something to point it out. Unless I'm missing something big about the Iona Institute as well it seems it partners with HLI as two groups opposed to abortion. As a general principle, when groups partner there probably will be some differences of opinions. If they shared the same opinion on every issue they dealt with, there would be no need for two groups in the first place. The most visible autism charity in the USA (based solely on my opinion as both physician and average media engaged citizen) seems to be Autism Speaks. It encourages vaccines but still on it's websites states that in some rare circumstances vaccines can trigger autism. This statement is not supported by science at all. Jenny McCarthy's group Generation Rescue is very visible because of her celebrity, and she is quite outspoken about there being a link between autism and vaccines. Should I not consume anything by the celebrities who support either organization (and the good work they do in terms of supporting families with autistic children and linking them to local resources)? Jenny McCarthy and Lance Armstrong co-hosted the Ante Up for Autism benefit a few years ago for the Talk About Curing Autism charity. This charity consistently calls for more research into autism/vaccines and supports the work of Mr. Wakefield (who wrote the now debunked study that appeared in The Lancet.) Does this discredit the LIVESTRONG organization as a result? (Of note, I do not believe Armstrong went specifically as a representative of LIVESTRONG, but he is synonymous with his charity. This was also pre-scandal.) Panera is a popular baker/breakfast place here that I frequent a lot. It donates money to Autism Speaks. Merrill Lynch is a financial planning company I have used before that donates to TACA. Am I know complicit in their actions. Honestly probably, but I hope my greater point is at least considered. For any group or individual this is a tough thing to navigate.

Jill said...

Finally I wanted to address one final point. Geoff you wrote "My discussion of Quinn's lack of appeal to women was motivated primarily by the inordinate amount of media time he has garnered on the subject of safe and legal access to medically necessary abortions."
I am not Irish, I have never seen Mr. Quinn speak and have never interacted with the man beyond reading a few tweets and some of his columns. I also live and work in health care in a country where abortion is legal. By abortion, I mean the direct ending of the life of the fetus with that as the intended goal of the action (although as Auntie Dote and I have discussed before, I can understand that is maybe not what those involved would consider their motivation). However, with that definition, I take exception to the fact that abortion is ever medically "necessary". When the life of the mother is at stake, every effort should be made to save her life regardless of the effects on the child/fetus. At times that does mean the child will have to be delivered pre-viability for instance, or that a diseased uterus with fetus inside will need to be surgically removed. When the health of the mother is the issue, every medical technology can be exhausted to maintain the health of both mother and child. There is an entire speciality of medicine here to this end called Maternal Fetal Medicine - I'm sure Ireland has something similar. At times the health of the mother becomes the life of the mother - we trust doctors with this all the time truthfully. If the law in Ireland needs to be changed to clarify this then by all means. If the Irish decide they want abortion then again, by all means. It's not my debate. But I will maintain that abortion (again as defined above) is never medically necessary.

Geoff - I think I saw Mr. Quinn tell you to go to one of his talks? Perhaps you could go, meet him in person and invite him to do something like this?

Cheers all (and please forgive my lack of eloquence - there's a reason I went into science).
This blog really makes me think - well done Geoff!

Jill said...

Apparently I was too verbose for only one comment! Sorry.

Jill said...

Apologies all - I was looking at not