What a Piece of Work

Stephen, commenting on Neil Harding’s Jeremy Clarkson post tries to reason with the unreasonable. Like me, Stephen is an erstwhile Labour supporter. When talking about data sharing he raises, perhaps, the most important issue regarding the matter; that of consent:

An essential aspect of this debate about data sharing is consent, the consent of the person who owns the data, that is, the person whose data it is. I don’t object to all data sharing but I do object to data sharing without my explicit consent. Contradict me if I am wrong, but I think your view is that consent is irrelevant. Perhaps you could study this story.

He points to this story that demonstrates what can happen when consent is not obtained:

Cancer registries use confidential patient data in research to combat disease but it includes names, addresses and other personal information held on case notes.

The drawbacks of this data-sharing are highlighted by the case of a junior doctor with a rare disease.

She received upsetting and intrusive phone calls about her illness from researchers. When she complained, she was suspended by her employer and even now is bound by a gagging order from publishing her case. She’s been legally gagged by a hospital trust and she’s not able to be identified because of a court order.

Frankly, reading it, I was horrified. Not only has this woman’s private information been shared without her consent; she was subjected to unwanted phone calls by researchers and when she complained, she was punished for it. This case has been dragging on for five years and the court has found in her favour. Whatever the detail of the case, it does demonstrate an appallingly cavalier attitude towards patient confidentiality and an utter contempt for privacy.

According to the High Court statement her private medical details, in fully identifiable form, were disseminated widely for the purposes of research and passed to her employers despite her withholding consent.

Private medical details in fully identifiable form.” This is fucking outrageous by any reasonable standards.

Of course, it was the issue of consent that was the crux of Stephen’s perfectly reasonable point. Shall we go back to that and see how things develop?

Neil’s response:

My second thought is ‘what a miserable bitch’ in refusing for her data to be used to help others suffering from cancer (says a lot about her sympathy for others – some doctor!). Of course it is her right to be a seIfish miserable person I admit, but still doesn’t alter the fact she is not acting very community spirited.

My god! What a fucking evil, misanthropic, cold-hearted bastard. I always knew that Neil was a totalitarian at heart; that he has no respect for personal privacy; that he is blinded by New Labour dogma and demonstrates a staggering ignorance of historical precedent; this I already knew, just as trying to reason with him is like repeatedly beating one’s own head with a lump of two-by-two (which is why I tend to avoid commenting on his blog these days). However, despite this, I had always regarded him as nothing worse than a bit of a buffoon, but otherwise relatively harmless (providing he is never given the opportunity to exercise his politics for real), but this really stoops to an all-time low; this is nothing short of Stalinist. He has no humanity.

So, there you have it, the “community” is more important than privacy, human dignity and patient confidentiality. Indeed, the individual is expected to sacrifice all of these for the good of the community in Hardingworld.

Yet, without these things, the community cannot claim to be civilised. Without consent freely given, sacrifice is meaningless.


Updates: Via DK, Dr Aubrey Blumsohn has more on this case. He uses the BMJ as his source. Unfortunately, unless you are a subscriber or want to pay for the article, you can only access a snippet of the text. Dr Blumsohn gives a précis the facts of the case, though.

On the matter of facts, Harding comments further:

I have tried to find out some more info on this case – from what I have found it suggests there is a lot more to it. Without detailed knowledge of what actually happened it is difficult to say what happened and what didn’t.

Irrelevant. The court found in Dr Z’s favour and the employer has unreservedly apologised. Nothing more to add to that.

This is what I believe happened. She did give consent (maybe without realising – small print on a contract she signed). When contacted by a researcher (they were not trying to hide the fact they were using her data) she went ballistic (understandably maybe because of her condition).

So, in the absence of the facts – or despite them – Neil simply makes it up to suit his argument. This is a piece of fiction.

They apologised and agreed not to contact her again but she refused to do her job properly until they destroyed some important research that contained her data.

Where is the source for this? Oh, that’s right, there isn’t one. Neil made it up.

They pointed out that she initially had given permission and the costs would be very high to both the programme results and financially. She continued to not do her job properly and was disrupting her employers work which led to her dismissal.

Evidence of this? Oh, that’s right when people have false allegations made about them, this translates in Harding speak to disrupting her employers. You really are an egregious, poisonous little cunt, Neil. And that’s word I rarely use, but your behaviour here is so utterly reprehensible, so morally bankrupt, that it is the only word that fits. Every reasonable person I know who has seen this is horrified because they understand how they would feel if their private medical notes were disseminated without consent.

Though the courts took her side in this, morally she is not in the right as much as one would assume from the way the story is originally written. Both parties agreed to details being made confidential for obvious reasons (there is no-one being gagged). She took the substantial compensation, the research data was destroyed (putting back cancer research by years) and refused the offer of her old job back. End of story.

You snivelling, malignant, evil little shit. She is entirely morally right – which part of “made false allegations” and “unreservedly apologised” do you not understand? What part of “informed consent” do you not understand?

According to Dr Blumsohn, who gets his information from the BMJ (as opposed to Neil’s imagination) there is, indeed, a gagging order, something reiterated in the Channel 4 account. Which are we to take seriously – two independent reports giving the same account or Neil, a known liar?

Neil Harding; unredeemable, obnoxious little sociopath.


Update: The Ferret Fancier has more of the BMJ article. This from Dr Z is the crux of the matter for me:

I raised concerns relating to unethical research practices which threatened patient confidentiality and were being conducted in breach of the law.

Unethical research practices” and “…in breach of the law” are crucial phrases. However, as far as statist bullies like Harding are concerned, ethics and the law are irrelevant…


  1. Only just seen this post.

    As I mentioned in my overview post on Collectivism & Individualism just before New Year, I hit upon the idea of setting up a blog dedicated to develop[ing] a greater appreciation of and understanding of the basis of collectivist ideas. I am hoping that it will grow into a collaborative effort.

    I set up a blog and called it ‘Collective Interest’, but I haven’t done anything more with it since then. Also I realise the design looks a bit rubbish but it’s really just a placeholder for now.

    This seems as good a place to start and try and get it going as any. Are you interested? Would you like to sign up as an author and repost this there?

    Ian (QuestionThat)

  2. OK, thanks for that. It’s off to a good start!

    If there’s anyone else you know (I reckon I can think of some people) who would be interested in ‘Collective Interest’, would you be so kind as to give them a nod, and let’s see if we can take this forward.

  3. I know – that was, without doubt one of the most repugnant things he’s come out with. I see that he thinks it is “trivial”. Dense doesn’t even begin to describe him.

    I agree with your statement; these evil bastards need to be resisted at every opportunity. We cannot make the Neils of this world understand the need for privacy, nor can we make them understand humanity. Nor, for that matter can we instil in them the basics of human empathy, compassion and understanding, because they have none; they are the Borg.

    Therefore, we have to make life as difficult as possible for them and make damn sure they never achieve their nasty objectives.

    Neil didn’t like it when I suggested that he was the type of useful idiot who enabled Stalin’s purges or the Nazi concentration camps, yet his every utterance confirms my analysis. Yes, one nasty piece of work…

  4. This comment from Liz over at DK’s is worth noting:

    I met Harding at a conference on democracy a couple of years back. Before that, I’d assumed he was actively malicious, and was writing some of the really unpleasant stuff he churns out out of a sense of mischief and nastiness. I think I was wrong. Meeting him in person suggested that sadly, he just isn’t very clever, doesn’t think very hard, and has more chips on his shoulder than is healthy or normal.

    It does tend to make sense. Not malicious, just very stupid. It does explain the inability to follow reasoning and logic. It doesn’t, however, lessen the offence caused by his latest comments. Nothing justifies that.

  5. You’ve omitted the next paragraph (where I went on to be gratuitously unpleasant about Harding). It’s very, very seldom that someone on the internet manages to wind me up to such a degree that I’m actively rude about them – whether this says more about me or about Harding, I’m not sure.

    I miss Chris Lightfoot, who twigged to the fact that Neil is just hopelessly dim long before I did, and without having to meet him first.

  6. Liz, yes, I did – I selected that passage because it made a very good point. Feel free to be as gratuitously rude as you like, though – it’s open season at the moment.

    I’m not sure that being rude about Neil, following his recent comments, says anything about you – the response everywhere it has been discussed (including on his own blog) is unanimously critical. And quite rightly. Dim or not, he went beyond the pale.

  7. Thanks for giving this story a bit more publicity. I haven’t been on Neil’s site for over a week – there’s only so much shit I can eat – so I wasn’t aware of the sequel to this story. I don’t think Neil is nasty, he just doesn’t think his positions through at all. But what makes people like him dangerous is that he subordinates ordinary human decency to his political principles. In our society that isn’t too bad; in a totalitarian society, it leads to otherwise ordinary people committing acts of appalling barbarity.

  8. Stephen, you’re quite right. I am like Liz, it isn’t often someone winds me up quite like this. I’ll indulge in some hyperbolic language when eviscerating politicians for effect and to make a point, but this was genuinely misanthropic and I was genuinely shocked by it. I am inclined to agree with both Liz and you that this is a consequence of Neil being hard of thinking and having subsumed his basic humanity in deference to his politics. He cannot see people as individuals – indeed like Polly Toynbee and David Blunkett he sees individualism as dangerous subversion.

    I did once point out to him that his thinking is what enables otherwise decent, ordinary people (such as him) to become concentration camp guards. He pooh-poohed it, naturally, but those people weren’t born monsters, they weren’t special people, they were ordinary people who were convinced that they were doing the right thing.

    There’s a quote – can’t think who said it; that the worst atrocities are committed by good men doing evil things… or something like that.

    Update Found it:

    “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

    Steven Weinberg

    So not exactly apt, but it seems to fit in there somewhere… Probably because political belief without reason or question can be just as religious as any faith.

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