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Martin Robbins
Writer and talker for The Guardian, Strange Quarks and other places.
Writer and talker for The Guardian, Strange Quarks and other places.

Martin's posts

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Ten nerdy Valentine's Day poems wot I wroted on Twitter earlier!

Roses are red / Violets are blue / But I can't love you if / You confuse 'whom' and 'who' #englishlove

Roses are Red / We are the Borg / Resistance is Futile / We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. #borglove

Roses are red / Lilies are orange / I'm making you this poem / But wtf rhymes with 'orange'?! #lovepoemfail

Roses are red / Daffodils are Yellow / "I Love you" in binary / annoyingly doesn't end in 'zero' #robotlovepoemfail

Seven is red / Fourteen is blue / Synaesthesia's beautiful / And so are you #biologylovepoems

Deoxyribo- / -nucleic acid / your genome's impressive / but your face makes me flaccid #biologyantilovepoems

You have two Xs / And I have XY / If only you weren't / Drosophilidae #biologylovepoems


Volcanoes are red / oceans are blue / geology rocks / did the Earth move for you? #romanticsciencepoetry

Neptune is blue / Jupiter's beige / I lost my cock / to an anthropophage #romanticpoetry

The Mystery of the Haunted Taxi Radio

Last night I took a taxi home from the station.

"What the fuck is this on the radio?" asked the taxi driver.

"I don't know", I replied.

"I didn't put this on!" raged the taxi driver, "it keeps changing station of its own accord!"

I opened my mouth to offer an explanation, but before I could get a word out he continued, telling me that he had the same problem with his TV at home.

"It keeps changing channel", he told me. "It's the mother-in-law what does it."

I was midway into a forced polite chuckle - my usual response to cab drivers ranting in a politically-incorrect way about women or Arabs or whatever - when he added "we've got her ashes by the fireplace. Anything on the telly she don't like, off it goes."

Erk.. I aborted my chuckle into a mild coughing fit. "Oh, I see," I said, cringing.

Cue five minutes of awkward silence, while I tried to work out if it would be polite or not to point out that the coiled cord of his CB radio mouthpiece was wrapped around the frequency dial of the radio...

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The Daily Mail's "Murderers" headline was still wrong

Most civilized nations have the presumption of innocence enshrined in their legal system; you are innocent until proven guilty. It's a concept at least as old as the Romans, and I imagine most of the people I follow on Twitter believe it's a pretty solid foundation for our justice system today. Why then have so many taken to praising the Daily Mail for supposedly 'getting it right' over Stephen Lawrence? (see e.g.!/TomChivers/status/154217723210117121 or!/fleetstreetfox/status/154213076072267777)

To say the Mail 'got it right' is beyond generous for a start. The famous "Murderers" headline named five men, of whom two have now been found guilty. Three remain innocent in the eyes of the law. You might think they did it, maybe they did, maybe some time in the future a further trial with new evidence will confirm it, but for now they remain innocent.

The assertion of people like FleetStreetFox (e.;g.!/fleetstreetfox/status/154257844399648769) is that the Mail should be vindicated because their campaign led to a good result - the reopening of the case and the eventual conviction of two men. It's a superficially pleasing argument, but falls apart when you realize that what it's essentially saying is a combination of "the stopped clock was right once today, so we should be happy to trust the stopped clock" and "hey, if the justice system fails the tabloids can do the job." No, and no.

Firstly, Dacre acted as judge, jury and executioner, declared five men guilty, and merrily risked ruining their lives (not to mention their prospects of a fair trial) on what he concedes was a "gamble". He demanded that they pay large sums of money fighting a powerful media company in the libel courts in order to prove their innocence. That to me is a pretty perverse and unfair form of justice system to fall back on, even if it does produce the odd hit.

Secondly, you can't just point at the wins while studiously ignoring the failures. Two of the five people named by Dacre have been convicted, but it remains possible that three others have been wrongly smeared. And that's just if you count this case. Rebecca Leighton, a nurse, was cleared of involvement in the deaths of patients, but smeared as an 'angel of death' by tabloids who raked through her Facebook profile obsessed with finding anything that might look incriminating ( Chris Jefferies won six-figure libel damages after taking eight newspapers to court - The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express - for their demonization of him after the murder of Joanna Yeates (

This isn't to say that journalists shouldn't pursue these cases - far from it! There was some excellent investigative journalism in the case of Stephen Lawrence, some of it in the Mail, and it's fair to point out that the paper's campaign did much to keep the case alive. Part of good journalism though should be responsibility to the facts and to the basic principles of justice. It was right to campaign, it was right to highlight serious questions about the case and the evidence, but it was not right to declare five people to be murderers without a fair trial.

Like a lynch mob, the tabloids may well spot the occasional Gary Dobson or David Norris, but they are also likely to smear the Chris Jefferies and Rebecca Leighton's of this world. That's precisely why we hold onto idea like the presumption of innocence and fair trials, rather than letting Paul Dacre - or the mob - decide. The legal system is not perfect. Justice will fail from time-to-time, and journalists should challenge and fight to expose those failures, but I don't want to live in a world where tabloid newspapers are allowed to act as a kangeroo court. Cherry-picked positive data points are not going to change my mind.

Burzynski Clinic Backs Stephens and Will Pursue Bloggers

Just got this follow up for the Burzynski lawyer. As I thought, he was straight with me, but the situation behind the scenes seems very confused. In any case, the below seems pretty clear now... I've not seen the press release, and I'm out of the country s will just post this as is...

"The clinic issued a press release on the blogosphere issue which was sent to your paper.  It covers the relationship between it and Marc Stephens It turns out some of the issues are more complicated that I had first thought. But the bottom line is that the clinic did hire Marc Stephens and one of his main tasks was to stop the dissemination of false and misleading information, and he initiated contact with at least some of these web sites with the knowledge of the clinic. As stated in the press release, the clinic is still going to pursue having these web sites remove misstatements or misleading omissions of fact. For the time being, these bloggers have managed to make this about threats by the Burzynski clinic rather than whether the information on these sites is truthful, accurate and fair. We're hoping that somewhere down the line, the media will focus of these issues."

Burzynski Lawyer Distances Clinic From Threats to Bloggers

I've just received a response from Rick Jaffe, the real attorney for the Burzynski clinic. Here's a part of it relating to Marc Stephens, the person claiming to represent the clinic who has threatened Rhys Morgan and Andy Lewis, among others:

"On the Marc Stephens thing, that's what I need to look into and see what happened. What I can tell you now is that I believe that he is not a clinic employee but is an independent contractor doing web marketing, the exact scope of which I'm not sure of right now." [...] "I can also tell you that based on my limited current information, no one at the clinic approved of or had advance knowledge that he would be sending a google map picture of a high school kid's house to him."

This is a bit of a late response, but of course it was Thanksgiving weekend in the US. First impression is that it stacks up quite well with what else we know so far, but others with more time will comment I'm sure!

He's promised to find out more and get back to me. I'll blog more on this when I can...

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Depressing 'view-from-nowhere' fail from the BBC this. I'm really hoping people put a lot more complaints in to them.

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How the BBC's dark forces of political correctness threaten the Christian era

The BBC haven't banned AD/BC, but outraged Christians seem perplexed and annoyed by the idea of personal choice.

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My latest at the Grauniad...
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