Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies, 8.11

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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25 Comments

  1. Great… so extremists now have veto power over any book published in the United States by virtue of their being insane? Someone please keep this news from Pat Robertson and co. or they’ll start getting ideas…

    Also, that ghost was pretty lame. How can they be sure it was the ghost of a former student and not a time-traveling ghost from another planet who is here to fight all other ghosts until there is only one ghost left standing? I think my interpretation is just as plausible :/

  2. As far as I’m concerned, a publisher has every right to decide for themselves what works they want to have their names attached to. I’m not going to praise or condemn Random House for their decision.

    Any publisher who eventually publishes this book would be smart to know what they’re getting into. And that’s a fight that Random house probably felt that they weren’t really in a position for right now. It’s a business decision. Nothing more.

  3. Speaking of ghosts, Yahoo.com was running a similar headline all morning. Something to the effect of ‘Ghosthunters Investigate Graveyard’. I didn’t click it, partially because it was only available as a video instead of a full story, which is annoying, and also because it was probably ridiculous bullcrap. I can’t believe Yahoo would run that as a HEADLINE, right next to the whole Russia-war-thingy.

    BTW, where the hell is the article about the invisibility cloak technology? That totally deserves to be mentioned here. Could you imagine how cool the world would be with invisible Skepchicks running around everywhere?

  4. Random House is of course perfectly within their rights to decide not to publish this book. I just find it irritating that they have to base this decision on how some people who live 9000 miles from here might react. And I don’t want to see a future where Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer can’t get large scale distribution because some people in Pakistan find atheism to be horribly offensive.

  5. True. In a perfect world, they shouldn’t find themselves in a position where they have to deny a manuscript on those grounds. But we can’t make the mistake of assuming we live in a perfect world. All we can do is strive toward that perfect world as best we can, and choose our battles wisely.

  6. Ooxman said, “BTW, where the hell is the article about the invisibility cloak technology?”

    I just submitted a link about that. Ars Technica just ran “New meta-material doesn’t actually render anything invisible”, which strikes me as a headline worthy of The Onion.

  7. Yes, Random House is “in their rights” to do what they want, but I don’t think that means we shouldn’t speak our minds about their decision. Why does the most irrational group of extremists get to dictate the best course of business? I think we should speak up and let Random House know there is an even larger group of rational consumers who disapprove of their decision, and will make their own purchasing decisions accordingly. Stay quiet, and nothing changes, and those who yell the loudest get to push their own policies on every one else.

  8. It’s a sad, sad day when someone openly concedes victory to terrorists like that. Yes, it’s their right to do so, I suppose… but every person who caves is directly responsible for every threat issued in the future. They only do it because it works.

  9. Some other publisher could very well pick up the book, and have a million best seller on their hands. And Random House would be kicking themselves for not taking the chance. But I’m sure they weighed that risk too.

    There’s also the chance that the eventual publisher could have their corporate headquarters raised to the ground by an angry mob. OK, maybe that’s not a very likely scenario here in the West, but Random House would be all like “whoa, dodged that bullet.”

    OK, OK, it’s the mob’s fault, not the publisher’s. But that’s easy to say when you’re being burned in effigy while standing amidst the scorched ruins of your former HQ.

    They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It can’t be an easy call, but it’s their call to make. Unless any of us happen to own a publishing company, all we can do is bitch and moan about it.

    … or, you know, buy the book when it is occasionally published.

  10. I can think of about 20 more likely explanations for the security camera footage than, “it’s a ghost!” The first one that comes to mind is a fly crawling on the camera housing. I love how none of the people they talked to are in any way experts who might have been able to suggest reasonable explanations. Am I supposed to be impressed by the fact that the school PR director can’t figure it out?

  11. Absolutely right, JSug. Plus, it doesn’t seem to be an image of any object–it clearly looks like a moving shadow. In roughly human height/width proportions, but even that isn’t clear because we don’t know where the object is or where the light is coming from.
    The shadow doesn’t move like a person. It moves like the shadow of a stationary object with the light moving behind it.
    All those people jumping from a globular shadow to a human are disappointing. The teacher/coach who makes the leap to ghost is worse.

  12. At one point, the shadow clearly looked like an ostrich. If that one lady thinks it’s the ghost of a former student, how does she explain that it looks like an ostrich?

    Maybe it’s the ghost of an ostrich that was dissected by a biology class :D

  13. Peregrine: “But we can’t make the mistake of assuming we live in a perfect world. All we can do is strive toward that perfect world as best we can, and choose our battles wisely.”

    Yes, that is all we can do. However, we aren’t doing that when we sit on our buns keeping our mouths shut while terrorists dictate what we should put in our newspapers or what books we should release…

    I could, of course, come with a few comments about violent muslims here, but after Wafergate I think I’ll just stick to saying that this is what comes of religion…

  14. OK, what would you have done in Random House’s position? Would you have just gone ahead and published the book for no other reason than because it might offend someone? That’s not showing good corporate responsibility.

    Maybe I would have made a different decision in their place. Maybe most of us would have. But keep in mind that as a corporate big wig, you don’t answer to just the consumer, and you don’t answer to the religious population of the countries you distribute books too. But you do answer to your board of directors, shareholders, and the company policy advisers.

    What’s your decision making process in this case?

    Is it a case of the publisher being afraid of backlash from a particular religious group? Is it a case of the story simply not being good enough? Is it a case of the story being contrary to the company’s mission statement?

    Are we now required to publish something, regardless of quality assurance and all those other corporate buzz words, just because it’s potentially offensive, and because we have a duty to uphold the right to freedom of speech?

    Obviously, we don’t have access to the manuscript, so we can’t pass judgment on whether or not Random House was acting responsibly in choosing not to publish the book, or just being chicken-shit.

    Maybe it’s all just a case of everyone complaining about the weather, but nobody doing anything about it.

  15. Did you read the story linked? Random House spelled out their reasons in plain English, and those reasons are fears of violent reprisal from radical Muslims. We know it was good enough, because the publisher had already accepted the work, paid the author, and were going to publish it today. They pulled it pretty much at the last possible minute. Not for quality, not for corporate mission statements, but because Islamic terrorists have frightened them sufficiently.

  16. Yeah, I bring up a lot of hypothetical stuff, but yes, I did read the article.

    Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry said in a statement the company received “cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

    Cautionary advice. They didn’t say they received a direct threat. Osama bin Laden did not make a new video declaring a fatwa on them if they published the book. They received cautionary advice. Maybe they spoke with someone from the Muslim community who suggested it might not be a good idea. Maybe it wasn’t even a Muslim who gave them the advice. Maybe it was a clerk in the mailroom who said to his boss one day “are you sure about this?”

    He added: “In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.”

    They sat down in the board room and had a long involved meeting about it with several company executives and representatives.

    You’re right. It’s in plain English.

  17. You misread what I said. I didn’t say anyone directly threatened them, I said they were frightened by terrorists. There’s a difference there. That difference is the terrorist victory. They don’t have to directly threaten people to get their way anymore. Just the idea that it might upset them prevents the book from being published.

    He added: “In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.”

    See that? Bold the part that actually has bearing on the discussion of why they did it, because it was never about how they came to the decision.

  18. I don’t suppose they’re going to give out any further clarification that I’d find useful, and truth be told, I’m not really that interested in defending their corporate policies. Unless, of course, they wanted to publish one of my manuscripts… :)

    I’m just killing time until my boss gets back and gives me something more useful to do.

    But I’d suppose it really depends on how credible the concern is. In North America, I’d imagine many Muslims might be angry, but would take it in stride. As Solitas pointed out, American Muslims didn’t react hardly at all to PZ’s adventures in relic desecration. At least not publicly. As idealistic as I can be, I must admit that I was as surprised as anyone at that.

    So in that case, it’s a clear overreaction. But other places in the world, where Random House likely has a corporate presence, and speech isn’t quite as free as we enjoy, it’s a very serious consideration.

    Maybe it’s a stupid idea to let terrorists dictate your business decisions. But on the other side of the coin, it’s also stupid to go golfing in a lightening storm.

  19. JesusDressup.com has been around for ages. You can buy a refrigerator magnet version of it at:
    http://www.normalbobsmith.com/store/magnets.html

    If you notice, there is a link to email the owner of the site on the dress up game. On his main site he posts a selection of the hate and fan mail he gets, as of tonight he is at 379 pages of hate mail, and 36 pages of fan mail. His page is http://normalbobsmith.com

    The hate mail pages are both amusing and depressing at the same time.

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