Toynbee snaps

In the Guardian's website, Polly 'nosepegs' Toynbee uses her platform to have a rant at her critics.

Perhaps it's a coincidence that this coincides with the launch of Factchecking Pollyana, a website devoted to pointing out the factual errors in her articles (with sources).

Whilst I'm 100% supportive of her complaints about the lack of civility which she might have seen - the email from someone by the name of Birchall sounds horrible, I don't hold with the majority of her points here. Indeed, she singles out Tim Worstall for criticism as he comments a lot - the man writes for a living - it's what he does, he's a freelance journalist.

He replies on the website saying:

Well, let's see, I do actually post with my real name. So that's one point in my favour perhaps? I'm not, as noted above a pendant: and I think you know my view of the world from some of the emails which we have exchanged....some of which you have indeed answered.

She also rails against those who use pseudonyms, saying 'Are you men or women?' Many people use pseudonyms so the words speak for themselves. Many use them to seperate different aspects of their lives. In my case, people who know me socially know the pseudonym - and I use the pseudonym all over the place (including on the guardian website), so there IS an online identity. What would it add to the WORDS if I were Jane Doe or John Smith? Surely counterargument should be based on the words, not based upon who is saying them?

The Devil's Kitchen covers these points, and others, rather well.

In the comments to Toynbee's article, there are several good comments:

rarely read any authors who I always agree with or who I always disagree with. Reading someone who you generally disagree with is a good exercise because it helps define your views further, either one way or the other. It may help you understand the motivations of those you disagree with or you may actually find that your own arguments have a few holes in them that you hadn't previously considered.

Another commenter points out that part of the reason people post pseudonymously on the Guardian site is that:

At the moment we are asked only to "Pick a memorable name that you are happy for other Guardian Unlimited readers to see." It seems to me that your gripe is with the Guardian and not with the many well-mannered respondents who contribute positively yet anonymously to the debate on these pages.

A perfect case in point about the facts not always being in place, under the current system it seems that hardly anyone would be justified in posting in Polly's eyes. If there were profiles, I would not give full details, but would give a link back to this site - which contains more detail than a name could give.

'Mr Eugenides' sums it up really well (his website is here - that link was found it two seconds on google):

It should go without saying that emails like that of Ian Birchall are disgusting and totally beyond the pale and should be condemned unreservedly. As for the substantive of your post, it's not at all uncommon, as I do, to blog anonymously. Given that I am not a well-known or famous person it would make terribly little difference if I did use my real name.


As for my likes, dislikes, political viewpoints, prejudices and pet hates, all this would be be more open if clicking on my username linked you to my blog or gave you access to a user profile with further biographical details, my email address and so on. It would also be rather convenient for me. That it does not do so (so far as I am aware) is down to the Comment is Free IT people, not me. In the absence of a hyperlink or searchable user profile, people have no means of identifying themselves or fleshing out their standpoint except for a username, be it real (Tim Worstall) or pseudonymous (Mr Eugenides). Change that. Speak to the CiF editor. Allow our usernames to come alive, to act as links to blogs or email addresses, profiles, even photos. I'm all for that.

As for buying your publication, as it happens I do buy it once or twice per week. The idea, though, that the validity of my point of view bears any relation at all to how much I put in the Guardian's coffers: no, no, no. That the site is called "Comment is Free" should really be a clue.

Mr. Eugenides also points his website at this Toynbee post.

Philton says:

The second interesting thing is the blurring of the distinction between abuse and offense. Abuse I'm against (see above) although I feel we just need to put up with it, but offense is a little more tricky isn't it. Personally I'm all in favour of offensive/shocking ideas - every new idea worth fighting for (including democracy itself) was considered offensive at its inception and, therefore, to try and say that some comments are not legitimate becuase they are offensive simply invites the shutting down of debate and defeats the objective of a site entitled [comment is free].

The problem with a number of Guardian writers is that they have really bought into the victim culture that argues that if something hurts ones feelings, because it is 'offensive'or even just upsetting, then it is not legitimate as it is causing 'hurt' and must be banned.

For the record, on this site I will always try and give sources and reasons, at least when making the sorts of posts that need such things. I won't always be right, and sometimes I will err in my interpretation or tone. However, I will listen to reasoned argument, and do change my mind as a result. If shown to be wrong I will admit and correct the error. In the meantime if I have an issue with a position taken by another, I will argue that point civilly (mainly as to argue with incivility diminishes my point).

As for Polly Toynbee, my main gripe is that I wish that the Factchecking Pollyana site wasn't needed. (Oh, and the nosepegs thing annoyed me).

To quote from one of her 'nosepeg' articles last year:

There is a political point to this: if Tony Blair wins, it will be a strong reminder of how many voted Labour despite their passionate opposition to the war. It will be a reminder that many people voted Labour knowing Tony Blair would not stay long.

Well, we're 12 months on, Tony's majority was slashed to a 'mere' 60-odd (getting a majority in England despite coming second place in the popular vote) and despite recent pressures, Tony is still here - and I for one would be surprised if he left before the latter half of 2006, or more likely 2007.