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NewScientist Moves the Goal Posts
- Challenge to "terms of use" forces change
by Dave Smith

September 19, 2009
For a long time now many people have alleged NewScientist hides behind its "terms of use" to censor out comments which pose serious challenges to its regular commentators. Not only has this been found to be accurate, a recent challenge caused NewScientist to make significant changes to its "terms of use" so that the editors could continue their censorship in the secure knowledge that future challenges will not see the light of day.

Whilst such allegations are usually written off as a dose of "sour grapes" from people who have had irrelevant or outright stupid comments removed, I often wondered myself why it was that NewScientist had so many posts marked "This comment breached our terms of use and has been removed." Could NewScientist attract such a high proportion of nonsense posts, or was there something a little more to it than that?

When a person unknown to me and not connected in any way to Thunderbolts wrote to me in frustration that this had happend to him with regard to some postings he made in relation to black holes and the EU perspective, I thought it time to investigate.
... Dave Smith, I finally found your e-mail, you and I have never communicated, perhaps this would interest you.  Thanks!

If you do write a new blog, I wonder if you'd address NewScientistSpace.com irritating habit of deleting any posts that contradicts their 'sacred dogma'. ...
- J.P. Private email Sep 04.
To which I responded, in part:
I've often wondered about their "This comment breached our terms of use and has been removed" antics.  Whilst I've thought they may actually be censoring out valid arguments, I don't have any proof of same.  Do you know of any actual posts which have been removed for their content rather than breaches of their terms of use?  That is, have you had any comments censored out personally?
In response, JP directed me to this thread at NewScientist, which NOW contains these gems:
Seems Unlikely
Mon Aug 17 17:49:27 BST 2009 by Nate

It seems unlikely that a star would just fall directly into a black hole, as if black holes were out there sneaking around on their gravitational tip-toes and stars were lying about, napping.
Seems Unlikely
Mon Aug 17 18:05:56 BST 2009 by Graham

Agreed. This doesn't seem to explain how black holes form in the first place either. Also the current theory of black hole formation conforms to other theories about star formations.
Seems Unlikely
Mon Aug 17 19:25:09 BST 2009 by SewerRat

In the case of a binary pair (black hole and regular star), their orbit about the barycentre would gradually reduce to thepoint wherethe blackhole would be siphoning off the other star's outer layers. That would lead to a more rapid depletion of orbit until the black hole eventually finds its way into the star. That would be a mutual motion as they pulled each other together. Nothing magical about any of that. It is the coalescence model that's been around for years.
Seems Unlikely
Mon Aug 17 19:29:46 BST 2009 by SewerRat

Addendum: In addition, this is where a good source of gravity waves is thought to arise. It has nothing to do with black hole formation, per se. That probably happened millions of years prior. A black hole in this mass range would be the result of a big star going supernova at the end of its life and collapsing in on itself to from a singularity.
This comment breached our terms of use and has been removed.
The comment which had breached their "terms of use" was this:
Seems Unlikely
Mon Aug 17 22:43:54 BST 2009 by J.P.

If I may copy Dr. Jeremy Dunning Davies post on last week's latest "Black Hole" story:
Follow Up To 'common Sense In Science?'
Thu Aug 13 16:33:19 BST 2009 by Jeremy Dunning-Davies

The original idea of black holes is very closely linked with the singularity appearing in the expression commonly referred to as Schwarzschild's solution of the Einstein field equations. However, if you look at Schwarzschild's original article or at Loinger's translation, you will see immediately that the said singularity does not appear in the original. The r in Schwarzschild's original paper is, in fact, the r of polar coordinates and that system has, as usual for polar coordinates, just the one singularity at r = 0. The r in the popular version of the solution is not the r of polar coordinates. Further details of this and other aspects of the incorrectness of much of accepted black hole theory may be found in Exploding a Myth, a short book on this and other problems in physics written by myself. Always remember that, as another correspondent said, black holes are purely theoretical entities; not one has been successfully identified beyond all reasonable doubt. See, for example Science 27th Aug., 2004, vol. 305, p. 1238. Do black holes exist?

Maybe, maybe not. In the meantime, it is imperative for all except science fiction writers to retain open minds on this and other topics until a definitive conclusion is reached. By definitive is meant one based purely on hard scientific fact, not one based on self interest and a desire to appease the godfathers of the status quo. Remember the words of the truly great Richard Feynman and follow his advice. Also, as one originally trained as a mathematician, I would urge all to be wary of mathematical theories until they are shown to describe actual physical fact exactly. Where physics is concerned, mathematics is simply a tool; a useful tool but still a tool. It is the physics which must remain all important...

The references to Schwarzschild's original paper and to the translation by Loinger are included. I would suggest you check out Loinger's translation which may be found at arXiv:physics/9905030

# # #
You're welcome to read a paper co-authored by Dr. Dunning-Davies here:


In addition, here is an English translation of the original paper:

Now, above in my private communication to JP I used the term "censored out" in the form of a query, which has now surely been vindicated. Why else should NewScientist remove the above remarks, quotes of Dr. Jeremy Dunning-Davies? The input was relevant to the thread, presented properly and contained nothing which would have contravened their "terms of use" (cached copy - old terms of use) at the time. The only possibility was that, in those terms of use, there was this clause:
... Messages may be removed if they:
- Contain links to other websites which break our Editorial Guidelines.
Considering this was a (slim) possibility (after all, the arXiv could hardly break anyone's guidelines), I searched their site for their Editorial Guidelines, but to no avail. So I used their "Contact Us" form to enquire where I may be able to access same, so as to not inadvertently break their rules.

After receiving no answer for several days, I rang NewScientist's Editorial office at 2:55 BST on September 9, and made a verbal enquiry. I was told by their staff member "Beth" that Henry Gomm (Editorial Office Manager) was away for a couple of days, but that he was aware of my enquiry and had not realized there were no Editorial Guidelines available on site, and that he would get back to me once he had "worked out what to do" about it.

So what did they do about it? They moved the goalposts! Instead of supplying their Editorial Guidelines as requested, they totally re-vamped their "terms of use" (new terms of use), removing the Editorial Guidelines clause and changing most of the others. They also, quite significantly, added:
New Scientist reserves the right to edit, move or delete any message, or terminate membership, at any time, for any reason. The editor's decision about the suitability of all comments is final.
Whilst the above is a typical disclaimer usually used to avoid having to respond to unreasonable enquiries, it did not exist at the time the first enquiries were made. When J.P. wrote to NewScientist about some of the posts of his which they censored out, he was given this line in response, even though his enquiry referred to a time when the earlier terms of use were in force, which this clause was not part of.

When J.P. had made the comments he was enquiring about, the clause the above replaced simply read “We reserve the right to remove off-topic comments or threads”. As J.P's comments were on topic, they should have been allowed to remain, and any legal challenge would of course be upheld, but who could be bothered or has the funds to mount such a challenge for the sake of comments on a comments board?

As for the post of Dr. Dunning-Davies which NewScientist removed, I enquired myself as to why it was deleted:
Considering that Dr. Jeremy Dunning-Davies is a retired Professor of Physics trained as a mathematician with a PhD in physics, with many published peer-reviewed papers to his credit and who lectured in physics for a good portion of his professional career at Hull University, what part of his post, referred to by J.P., was in contravention of the terms of use in force at the time of the posting?  Even without knowledge of his qualifications there is nothing in the post which seems out of place within the context of the thread concerned, in fact it's the first one which actually addresses some of the science of black holes.
Of course, I've had no response from NewScientist, though I wrote directly to Henry Gomm as one Managing Editor to another. I guess he has no professional integrity, and will continue to censor intelligent and probing comments from the NewScientist comments whilst leaving the inane and non-consequential ones in place.

I have in my files many more examples of such actions, by far too much to put in one Thunderblog. However I have no intention of allowing this sleeping dog to lie, and am in the (slow) process of creating a new website which will "out" many of the internet's "Closet Inquisitors" who deserve to be shamed.

Dave Smith.
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