Private email, public mob

May 13, 2010

In your article "He didn't see that coming, or did he?" (29 April), a private matter between Brian Josephson and I was brought into the public domain in an improper, unhelpful and misleading manner.

The fuss stemmed from a private email that I wrote to Josephson regarding a conference that I am co-organising with Mike Towler. The email was an attempt to address a complex organisational problem. It was not a literal statement of my views about the paranormal, nor did it accurately convey Josephson's association with the conference. For the record: I am not in principle opposed to the careful and scientific investigation of alleged anomalies, whatever they may be.

Some ask why I apparently "disinvited" a participant - a step that would normally be a breach of basic etiquette, and about which the recipient could reasonably complain (privately) to the organisers. However, certain alleged "invitees" were never formally invited. Furthermore, the conference is not about the paranormal.

Some are trying to portray this episode as a sinister attempt to suppress radical ideas, while others see fit to make comments without knowing the full facts. In my view, these matters are the business of the conference organisers, no one else.

Josephson posted my email in full on his website (the details have now been removed). This encouraged a storm of protest from his associates in the form of a large volume of emails sent to all the conference participants and dozens of others, plus postings on various websites.

The internet is an evolving medium and one can query the suitability of standard constraints in this context. However, I suggest that we all take a deep breath and ask ourselves if it is wise to blur the distinction between private and public correspondence in this manner.

If my attitude seems old-fashioned, I can recommend a book by Lee Siegel, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

Antony Valentini, Imperial College London.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest