Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submitlogin
Amazon Pulls Books That Promote Unscientific Autism ‘Cures’ (www.nytimes.com)
171 points by tareqak 10 days ago | hide | past | web | 315 comments | favorite

It’s not censorship, it’s curating a storefront. The laws that protect us from actual censorship also protect Amazon’s right to make choices about what they sell. I don’t like that WalMart refuses to stock anything short of the nebulous American concept of “family friendly” yet I respect their right to make that choice. I have the choice to not do business with them.

>censorship: the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

Friendly reminder that the definition of censorship is not limited to the government.

The books they've banned may indeed be misinformation, but lets not push even more misinformation by denying simple dictionary definitions that seem politically unacceptable.

Then every website in the world censors information by filtering out spam. Why does nobody weep for the poor spammers who just want to sell you cheap Viagra? No doubt Amazon has been "censoring" their reviews in this way since the beginning. Where's the outrage?

Removing books from a "book" marketplace, that do not break any laws, aren't lewd or pornographic, and simply present alternative information on a subject, is not on the same level as spam.

Censorship is censorship. It doesn't need to be a political body to make it so.

In the 80's, the idea of the corporate ran dystopian future where a megalomaniac controlled society through his mega corporation was seen as scary future.

Now we get the usual boot licking going on every time this topic is brought up as Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and Google (Alphabet) actually put into practice real censorship and attempt to control the majority of online communication, ideas, and a good piece of all information over the internet.

What a turn for the worse we've taken as a society.

Cry me a river. If the authors want to sell their books, they can open up their own website, set up a table at the local flea market, rent a store space and stock it with all the quackery they want. Amazon is not the only sales outlet in the world. Nobody is stopping them from selling anything.

Amazon is not obligated to carry their merchandise any more than they would be obligated to carry any Amazon branded products in their own stores.

If anything, whenever Amazon is mentioned here, people come in to complain that they need to do more to remove garbage products from their website. Here's a garbage product that literally kills people when they use it. If it were a toaster, it would be yanked from the shelves and the manufacturer would be getting sued for wrongful death.

I don't disagree in the slightest that they should explore all avenues for sale.

Answer this question to satiate my curiosity, what if Stripe and Paypal refuse to process credit card payments for these authors?

What if Square refuses to swipe cards at the flea market for the author?

Well said

Why do you distinguish lewdness and pornography from fake science. Your metric for classifying various forms of content honestly just renders your argument rather hypocritical.

> Removing books from a "book" marketplace, that do not break any laws, aren't lewd or pornographic, and simply present alternative information on a subject, is not on the same level as spam.

Huh? Why would you make an exception for pornography in your definition of censorship? Porn is like the most obvious textbook example of censorship.

At least this is a blanket category, not hand-picked example.

> aren't lewd or pornographic

What's wrong with something that's lewd or pornographic? It's far better than quackery.

Payment processors will cut you off and it doesn't fit with their Family Friendly™️ image.

It's still taboo for a lot of people unfortunately.

> present alternative information

Like shouting "fire" in a crowded auditorium that is in fact not on fire? Let's call it what it is: we're talking about lying about things that can and will literally kill people.

Why should Amazon be expected to provide a platform for that?

You can do that if you want, "fire in a movie theater" was an argument in an overturned Supreme Court ruling.

Lying and fraud requires intent to deceive. You need to prove that.

What literally kills people when they get an alternative opinion or simply information about vaccinations... which is the raison du jour, but the not the only information being blocked by these companies.

What happens when the prevailing opinion in the future becomes that raising boys as boys is dangerous for their health? Girls as girls? Promoting religion to your children seen as dangerous to popular thought? Do we continue down this path and start banning literature on how to raise children properly, the bible? After all, it may disagree with YOUR OWN held opinion, so it must be removed, for the safety of the children, right?

We are entering the territory of cheering on the thought police, where you disregard your own faculties and off load all of your exposure to information and decision making to a highly select group of people, with their own biases, much of it monetarily motivated.

Do you understand what I'm saying to you?

> Now we get the usual boot licking going on every time this topic is brought up as Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and Google (Alphabet) [...]

That's funny, because every time that I'm here lately I seem to see a pile of upvoted stories and comments about how [insert big company here] is committing [atrocity here]. Sometimes its true, but often its backed by little evidence other than someone's opinion.

I'm not convinced that things are nearly so imbalanced as you are making them sound.

Of course they're not, that's why the poster is resorting to such hyperbolic language and emotional anchoring.

> Removing books from a "book" marketplace, that do not break any laws, aren't lewd or pornographic, and simply present alternative information on a subject, is not on the same level as spam.

From the Article: 'Wired magazine noted that Amazon is crowded with titles promoting unproven treatments for autism that include “sex, yoga, camel milk, electroconvulsive therapy, and veganism.”'

Removing books that contain outright lies isn't censorship. It's simple denying a platform for bald-faced liars to profit off misleading the public.

>alternative information

The phrase your looking for is "dangerous lies"

Claims that forcing children to drink bleach will cure autism are far beyond "alternative information".

Removing a book for breaking a law is censorship. Removing a book for being lewd or pornographic is censorship. What makes those instances of censorship acceptable, and removing books peddling harmful claims masquerading as science unacceptable?

Removing a book is censorship. Not carrying a broad category of books is a policy. E.g. if they didn't carry any book on autism, this would be a strange decision, but within their competence. Judging a single book is not.

I'm not seeing why censoring lewd material is fine, while censoring books that falsely claim to cure autism is wrong. They all seem like arbitrary places to draw the line.

> What a turn for the worse we've taken as a society.

Perhaps it's a game of whack-a-mole and censorship trying to suppress vaccine misinformation, but the anti-vax movement is an actual real danger to society, and misinformation was cited as one of the problems in recent testimony before Congress by a teen who defied his parents’ anti-vaccination beliefs: "The sources which spread misinformation should be the primary concern of the American people." [1]

Fortunately this teen learned to think on his own ("learning to find credible research and information is fundamental to finding truth in a world of misleading facts and false views").

Ideally, I'd want everyone to learn to think critically, and to combat misinformation with information. I don't like the slippery slope of censorship either. But I also can't stand the fact that my children live in a world with kids who aren't vaccinated.

So I hesitatingly applaud Amazon here.

[1] https://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Lindenberger.pdf

Because scale matters

No one lives a purely deontological or purely consequentialist life. At some point, senior members of a society are responsible, indeed accountable, for using their influence to impose standards for the good of that society.

I operate a Little Free Library that is a net source of books (people in the neighborhood drop off boxes of books). This has had a number of effects I didn't foresee:

1) we have learned who visits seeking books (usually kids and their moms), a demographic I certainly want to encourage reading in, so we load the stock toward that demographic.

2) rarely we acquire some really great books.

3) Occasionally we get books that give me unintended insight about who's in my neighborhood, not in a good way. I throw them out. I have no problem with Mr. Bezos doing what amounts to the same.

We're not talking about censorship of valid information. It's censorship of invalid information. That's just good methodology.

>We're not talking about censorship of valid information. It's censorship of invalid information.

Might be a good idea to stock more history books in your library because that is precisely the same hubristic logic used by authoritarians throughout all time.

Ever so many of mankind's greatest scientific discoveries and moral progressions were deemed "invalid information" by "senior members of society", which is why the great thinkers of the Enlightenment fought for freedom of speech, thought, and information. It seems we no longer truly value those things as we are increasingly relying upon corporations to decide for us what is true and what isn't.

We're not throwing anyone in jail, no one's liberty is being compromised. As for the great thinkers of the enlightenment, I think you would find them squarely in the camp of both not putting people in jail, while at the same time supporting the actions of private citizens to suppress scientifically invalid information.

* "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." ― Benjamin Franklin

* "Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition." - Adam Smith

* "Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn." ― Benjamin Franklin

* "It is difficult to free fools from the chains their revere." - Voltaire

* "We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter." - Diderot

* "That Politics may be Reduced to a Science" - title of 1741 essay by Hume.

* "One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant." - Locke

* "The supreme mystery of despotism, its prop and stay, is to keep men in a state of deception" - Spinoza

Shall I go on?

None of those quotes imply tacit support for mass censorship, and if you were aware of their actual historical context you'd realize it's quite the opposite. You are clearly ignorant of how many of those thinkers were persecuted and censored by "senior members of society" because their ideas were deemed "invalid information"-- which is why so many people had to give their lives so that we could inherent their wisdom. Allowing people to say things we disagree with is essential to real intellectual progress.

Here's a good starting point if you'd like to learn more:


"I operate a Little Free Library that is a net source of books (people in the neighborhood drop off boxes of books)."

Quite OT, but I've thought about doing this - how do you do this, practically speaking? Do you have a cupboard in the front of your house or do people actually come inside? Have you ever had to deal with vandalism? In what climate do you live, and what sort of infrastructure do you have?

Well, they have a good site for starters:


We live in Southern California and even we get rain. So using a plan is a good idea simply for the value that they've thought of things like eaves and sills. You need to commit to repainting every year or so, maintaining the caulk, etc.

it's the details and maintenance that make it. Ours looks good years on. One in the area is starting to look janky because they were too fancy with their first paint job and now it is in the dire need of paint. Another is just collection of rotten plywood at this point.

Go inside your house! Letting the neighbours in your house to grab books. You are the most generous, kindhearted person in the world if you really are thinking of doing it this way.

It's a very big bird house on a pole in front of your house, just in front of the sidewalk. It's got a door with a window on it, so people can see the books. I live in a region with a cold climate and there are 7 or 8 exactly like what I'm describing in my neighbourhood. I don't personally have one but my wife wants to build one in the spring. Doesn't seem to be much of a vandalism magnet when they look so gosh-darn cute.

"Go inside your house! Letting the neighbours in your house to grab books."

Well I was thinking more of a 'we're open Saturday mornings only' kind of deal, I can assure you I am far from the most generous, kindhearted person in the world :)

"I live in a region with a cold climate and there are 7 or 8 exactly like what I'm describing in my neighbourhood."

Does it work OK in rain and cold? It only gets to -10 C here so not even that cold, but it seems it would be hard to build the cute ones (like, all the results when Google Image searching 'little library') in a waterproof way.

Then again, I'm probably overthinking it and getting stuck in analysis paralysis like I usually do...

Friendly reminder that the definition of censorship is not limited to the government.

This isn't a reminder, it's an assertion that uses rhetoric to make itself sound more factual.

Why do you think censorship can only be done by a government?

That is a very broad definition, of course. Am I engaging in censorship by selecting only a small handful of books to have in my home?

I think Amazon's action concerns people bc it's strong position in the book market. It's very different from your own private action. I'm not saying Amazon should be forced to sell the book.

That is precisely my point. The extremely broad definition cited above is far too broad to match people's actual usage of the word "censorship."

they're also pulling "political" books. Mostly alt-right types.

Yes, by refusing to watch a certain TV show or listen to some band you think is good, that is a kind of censorship, but not one really significant enough to transcend the concept of taste.

I think the thing that irks people is that they are doing a whole show and dance about how they pulled the books. If they just kept silent and pulled it using the same qualifer it uses for janky cellphone chargers and contaminated dog food, no one would care. The problem is that Amazon's marketing department would very much so prefer that you do care, enough so that you keep using them for toilet paper and HDMI cables.

It may be curation - but let’s not forget Amazon started with the premise that they could serve the long tail. Bezos used to talk about how terrible it was that a physical book store would have such limited selection.

They doubled down on this strategy with their on demand printing service - bypassing traditional publishing gate keepers.

When someone dispenses with long-standing policy it is noteworthy.

When Bezos talked about the limited selection of physical bookstores, I doubt that he was lamenting them not having enough garbage books available. I assume he was referring to there being way more good books than would fit in a physical bookstore.

Then why start a self publishing service for people who couldn’t get past the editors of even the trashiest publishers?

There's a difference between being willing to help people writing stuff too awkward to market to earn them advances find their audience and helping people help other people to die...

Because why have scale if you don't leverage it.

You can support the long-tail without facilitating people harming themselves or their children with demonstrable misinformation.

There's long tail and long tail. Amazon can still sell books about how to repair and maintain a 1936-era WLW Crosley Radio without also selling books informing the unfortunate gullible about how to "treat" their children's autism by DIY at-home electoconvulsion therapy.

Sure - but they didn’t have editorial review before. This is a dramatic change of policy for them.

Due to a long history - books in particular are seen as a bellweather of a societies attitudes towards censorship.

I agree it's not censorship in the First Amendment sense, but as a large corporation approaches monopoly status I think we should be less tolerant of "curation", even if we happen to agree with it in specific cases.

I'm with you on this one - Amazon is approaching the status of a public utility, at which point it should be subject to higher standards.

As much as I'm pained to be standing up for these anti-vaccination nuts, it's the thin end of the wedge.

Note that in the UK making false claims about cancer cures is a criminal offence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_Act_1939

IANAL, but I don't believe that there are any US laws that would require Amazon to sell a product. If they sold real estate, or operated restaurants or whatever, they couldn't discriminate over race, gender, religion, etc. But I believe that they could decline to sell products that catered to some protected class.

Precisely. Maybe we shouldn't be focusing on Amazon's alleged "censorship", but rather on what makes us react to it in a rather similar way as if the government did the same thing.

The choice of not doing business with someone ceases to be a meaningful choice when it's the only viable alternative. One could argue that Amazon is not the only viable alternative and that argument is, strictly speaking, correct. However, this isn't a binary situation -- one day we have plenty of equally viable alternatives and the next day it's just Amazon -- but rather a continuum.

TL;DR: Amazon pulling stuff from their store is only a bad thing when taken together with not having a meaningful alternative. The latter is a bigger problem than the former.

> It’s not censorship, it’s curating a storefront.

When your storefront is 83% of the market[1], and you restrict choice, it's time for you to be broken up.

[1] - https://www.retaildive.com/news/apple-takes-a-page-out-of-am...

It is definitely censorship. They are making a moral decision about what content they will allow to be sold through their system. If you own movie theaters and decide not to show films linked to Communists, you are censoring.

Wal Mart censors people too - if you don't comply with their morals, you can't promote yourself in their stores.

While it is the definition of censorship, does that mean it has the negative connotation of the term? I don't see Wal Mart selling any pornography either, and I can't remember the last time I saw a Bollywood film or a 2 man student art film in my local movie theater - are those censorship's negative?

Definitions are useless, what one needs is a notion: a smallest working model of censorship. If a store doesn't have a particular book, it can be to a multitude of reasons. But what if one removes an existing book from a library? The book is not physically different from others, nor does it carry some unusual associated costs, it could be standing happily there for many more years. So why it's singled out? Because of what it contains? This is where we call it censorship. (Note that what exactly it contains is irrelevant.)

In this case the book as a product is not different from a trillion of other Amazon products. What makes it different is its content. So yes, this is censorship.

The Bollywood/2 man student films aren't censorship - they're a lack of perceived audience. If there was an audience for those, the theaters would show them. The pornography thing - maybe? There's an argument to be made that allowing freedom of choice would be a net positive.

Yet, when a bakery wants to "curate" what cakes they bake, thats a civil rights infringement, isn't it?

If there were an extensive history of phony-Autism-cure-peddlers kicked to death on the pavement by assailants screaming phony-Autism-cure-related slurs into the cold night air, while the responsible authorities looked the other way or even took part in the brutality... then, perhaps, these situations would be comparable.

That was not what cakes they bake, that was which customers they sell to. They were happy to sell wedding cakes to straight couples.

If Amazon started saying "we won't sell these books to gay people" then, yeah that would be a problem.

No, in the cake lawsuit the owner was happy to sell the cake to the gay couple. He just refuses to make a customized cake for the wedding.


"Masterpiece's owner Jack Phillips, who is a Christian, declined their cake request, informing the couple that he did not create wedding cakes for marriages of gay couples owing to his Christian religious beliefs, although the couple could purchase other baked goods in the store. "

All wedding cakes are customized cakes. Most people don't buy an off-the-shelf generic cake for a wedding. A wedding cake is understood to be made especially for the occasion.

"Most people don't buy" <- until that says "all people", you've shot your own point in the foot.

There's a distinction, the cakes are both custom-made and religiously themed.

Say a baker hand-makes dog-shaped cakes, among other cakes. The baker loves dogs. A client comes in and tells him he hates dogs and wants to order a cake for the purpose of ritually defiling it.

Would the baker be wrong in refusing to fulfill this order?

The difference is, "dog-hater" is not a protected class as defined by public accommodation laws, so they would not have any grounds for a lawsuit. Sexual orientation is, at least in some states.

Legally, the baker would not be "wrong" in your scenario, though in my opinion they would at least be foolish. Defiling a cake does not harm a dog and once the customer pays for, it is their property to do whatever they want with.

How about if your dog-hater were driving late at night, they got tired and pulled over into a motel. They're signing in for a room and the topic of dogs comes up for whatever reason. They mention that they hate dogs and the motel owner says "Get out, we don't allow no dog-haters in here". Are they right to do that? Legally, again, they could, though they couldn't on the basis of sexual orientation (in some states) or race, religion, national origin (everywhere).

The Supreme Court has already sided with the baker on the basis of the cake being an artistic expression, so it's a moot point now.

To the contrary, the supreme court justified the baker.

Forced creation is as bad as forced speech.

It's entirely dependent on the reason behind the decision. Here are the limited designs we have: show book - No, we don't allow customization.

Not to mention, there's no need, as a customer, to inform the baker the purpose of the cake. Doesn't matter if you're taking it to a wedding, or using it as a prank. They make cake, you want cake.

You're equating serving a customer with buying from a publisher.

Bakeries can and do curate what cakes they bake. If they don't want to make carrot cake, or anything with fondant decorations, they are free to do so. Which part of that confuses you?

It is censorship. Just not government censorship. I wish people would stop trying to defend censorship with that trope. They have a legal right to sell what they want on their platform but that doesn't mean it's right. Especially when Amazon has turned itself into a near monopoly.

And considering their humble and rather "anti-censorship" beginnings, it's rather disappointing to see what amazon has become. Seems like another case of you die a hero or you live long enough to be a villian.

Amazon has a monopoly. It's censorship.

If they were not a monopolist, then they could claim curation.

Once you achieve monopoly status, you can't claim to be a simple business anymore.

I don’t really think Amazon has a monopoly. They control 5% of all retail, and like 50% of e-commerce. It’s far from a winner take all point too, I think there will be a lot of fragmentation in the next few years with niche sellers like Etsy becoming more popular.

This is an article from 2014:


At that time, they controlled 65% plus of the online book market. Do you think it is less now?

They basically have no competition. A monopoly does not require 100%. For example, the Sherman Antitrust Act defines it as 75%. But, it's obvious that they are a monopolist in this area.

This morning while looking for a book I went to 2 sites, only one of which was Amazon.

Flag on the field: assertion without supporting evidence and with obvious counterexamples (Wal-Mart, Alibaba, etc.) close at hand. Ten yard penalty, repeat first down.

Please stop with the football jokes, you can point out a fallacy without trying to get referee status out of it.

Tip of the iceberg. I just searched Amazon for "cure for cancer" and the first result is "Curing Cancer with Carrots." The cover features a carrot wearing a lab coat and stethoscope, and it has 168 customer reviews, 89% of them 5 star.

Almost all of the nonfiction books and videos on the first search result page promote similar "cures," with only one book based on medical research at spot #8 (The Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer) and a book about the engineer who invented the universal microscope (The Cancer Cure That Worked: 50 Years of Suppression)

People should be able to share their personal stories, but Amazon and other tech companies have a responsibility to society, too. Claims like these can have real life and death outcomes. It's not enough to shrug and blame the algorithm because more people click on a book with a carrot on the front cover.

Exactly. It shows Amazon is making a bad precedent. If Amazon removes books deemed to be unscientific, does this mean books have not been removed are deemed to be scientific? Should Amazon has a science department to validate all medical books?

> If Amazon removes books deemed to be unscientific, does this mean books have not been removed are deemed to be scientific?

An allegory: I'm currently using Craigslist to look for an apartment in San Francisco. I frequently encounter posts which are obviously scammy. I disregard them because I know that Craigslist can't possibly have the resources to police all its listings.

That said, I still appreciate it when they take the time to remove a scammy post. And I don't by any stretch of the imagination think that the listings I find on Craigslist have been endorsed by Craigslist.

Spot-checking and removing garbage posts from Craigslist (or books from Amazon) may be a never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole, but it's still better than letting those platforms turn into the Wild West.

Nowhere at all is Amazon saying the books where removed for being unscientific, Amazon only removed them without making a public statemented about it; the word "unscientific" was only brought up by this article and similar ones.

Edit: I wrote the original post in a fit of pique, and I regret it.

Steve Jobs was one of these people.

And? I'm not clear on what that changes.

Ignoring the the moral bankruptcy of the argument to begin with, he's someone who most people would consider a societal "loss" despite his views around alternative medicine.

I think the major difference is that he didn't push his views about alternative medicine on others, at least as far as I'm aware.

We would have felt differently about him if he had published a book titled "iCancer: How I Beat The Disease Using Alternative Medicine".

The parent was making a pointing out that we lost a really bright person to what's currently considered to be pseudoscience.

I've seen a number of people portraying this censorship (as I had feared) as "proving them right", or making people wonder "what are they hiding?", further fueling the anti-vax fire.

You just can't win. Hopefully this is only an initial reaction and will eventually die down.

Personally, I don't know how I feel about normalizing censorship. Freedom of information is a large part of how we reached the peak of our current civilization. How long before this goes too far?

However, any organization that proliferates plagues should be labeled as a terrorist organization. The anti-vax community is like a terrorist organization with "good" intentions, and they're just regular misinformed people all around us. Very tricky situation indeed..

Keep in mind that access to information is one just one component of education. Curation of information is just as important.

One of the things that sets a good bookstore apart from a bad bookstore is their curation of their inventory. One of the thing that sets a good school apart from a bad one is their curation of classes and instructors. Hell, curation is the most valuable service a non-information related store provides.

I don't think this really applies in this case -- Amazon happily sells lots of books that are full of crap; they have every book by Trudeau, and I lose a little respect for any bookseller that carries a one of them.

But in general, I think the focus on access to information sometimes makes people forget the value of curation.

> You just can't win.

You can but it requires identifying and fixing the actual problem instead of trying to cover it in layer after layer of bandaids.

The problem with this issue, as it is with many other issues, isn't the availability of information, it's that a significant portion of the populous lacks the skills necessary to process information and reason about it. It shouldn't be surprising that limiting access to information does nothing to fix this problem, at best it just pushes it out of sight, thus out of mind.

>>Freedom of information is a large part of how we reached the peak of our current civilization.

This is one hell of an assertion, and needs substantial evidence to prove.

It seems obvious to me. The printing press is often regarded as the foundation of modern civilization.

Printing press allows the spread of ideas. It doesn't guarantee or imply the free spread of ideas. Many countries with printing presses tightly control what ideas can be printed.

You just can't win.

Nope. You think you just need to win the argument about vaccinations. No, you need to win the argument about how to think like a rational adult, whether you're thinking about breakfast or whether to vaccinate your kids.

Personally, I don't know how I feel about normalizing censorship.

I know how I feel about stores that refuse to sell what they feel are defective products.

> you need to win the argument about how to think like a rational adult

I was watching the flat earther special on netflix last night and I was thinking, that although its ridiculous to believe in these things, society needs people who are distrustful and challenge science/popular consensus etc... thats also part of being a rational adult.

I use to believe fat was bad for me, I need orthotics for my feet, babies need to be bottle fed in sleep in a separate crib, I need to be on all sorts of medications instead of eating healthy etc... but thats just because I was butt owned by what societies consensus was.

I watched the same documentary. They go beyond skepticism into the denial of evidence before their very eyes.

They made a big to-do about purchasing a highly accurate gyroscope to be able to prove their assertions about the flatness of the world.

When their experiment blew up in their faces and confirmed everything they thought to be false, they simply moved on saying [to paraphrase]: we won't stop until we find proof that we're right. Then they followed through a number of other failed experiments (failed in their parlance == proving their theories wrong).

These are not skeptics, as it were. Now a mind that explored these experiments and changed their mind based on the evidence, sure. That said—they're mostly harmless.

That's not what these books were doing, though. They were actively promoting some pretty unhealthy, potentially very dangerous, methods on helpless children.

Pretty clear line to me there.

I totally agree with this. You should question if the world is actually a sphere (most people don't), but once your gyroscope says its not you should move on.

And we used to think Newton knew everything there was to know about gravity until Einstein proposed a new theory.

In the marketplace of ideas, some are going to be really, really bad, just like products. But over time they go out of business, just like the idea of witch trials or human sacrifice to appease the gods. It's just that for those of us that don't agree it seems to take forever because we already know it's a bad idea -- what's taking them so long?

The real problem is not the bad ideas themselves, but that when people think they know how to pick the good ideas from the bad ones and are OK silencing the bad ideas with force instead of debate. See: Galileo.

Society needs skeptics, this is true. But they need to be skeptics who value rational thinking, the scientific method, and peer-reviewed research.

It adds no value to society for someone to say "I don't trust the experts who have spent their lives studying this subject, and also I refuse to take the time to become an expert myself so that my opinion is an informed one."

Challenge science and popular consensus all you want, but do it with evidence and research, not with scare tactics and appeals to bias.

Vaccinations is an argument that I need to win even though I don't want to have it. My mom is currently going through chemo for cancer: she has no immune system, not having deadly disease going around can save her life. My wife and I are talking about having a kid: for those first years not having disease going around is life or death. (vaccines do nothing until the baby is 12-18 months old)

That's a bit extreme to call "anti-vax" as a "terrorist organization" "proliferating plagues". This is why we are having problems having a sensible debate in this country. Every side paints the other side as extremists.

I think it is easy to get distracted about whether or not Amazon has "the right" to do this.

The argument for private businesses making their own choices is strong, the argument for them being an effective monopoly is strong, I'm sure many other arguments are strong.

What occurs to me, and especially after listening to the second Joe Rogan/Jack Dorsey and co interview, is two dimensions of critically important inquiry:

- What effect do policies and procedures like this have? How are they perceived? What are the unintended consequences? What are the limits and conditions surround the erection and enforcement of these policies? What is likely to be the next set of things removed? What are the forces that guide the decision making of the organization removing content?

- What kind of world do we want to live in? Do these actions move us closer to that world, once all relevant and foreseeable consequences are taken in to account? What ability or mechanism exists to change course if the policy doesn't have the intended effect? Is there a way books can be reinstated?

The reality, as I see it, is the policies surrounding content moderation have tremendous future impact potential for culture and human experience.

We should make sure there is a broad and deep debate, not arbitrary action that takes its validity merely by existing. That's called "might makes right."

I don't know whether I agree.

The world is full of shitty materials and content. Should Amazon, or other intermediaries, be allowed such interferences?

Has any judge ordered such material not to be sold?

Private, yes. Government, no. Amazon is courageously admitting that ignorance is still ignorance and that they have the right not to comply with ignorance.

Dangerous, anti-science literature was on the top of their own charts, and ignoring that has moral implications. Amazon has decided indulging populist fervor and the "wisdom of crowds" does not rank higher than protecting general welfare where they have an influence.

Why should I trust Amazon's assessment of whether or not those books constituted "ignorance"?

(Think carefully. Most people will "want" to answer the seemingly-closely-related question "Why do you think these books are 'ignorance'?", but that is not the same question!)

You're not under any obligation to. Amazon isn't really a monopoly. The only "sin" they've committed is refusing to cooperate with the implications and consequences of listing pseudoscience on their own best seller list amid a public health crisis rooted in populist ignorance.

> Amazon isn't really a monopoly.

I would completely agree with what you said about the rights of the private companies if Amazon was a regular market player. But even you qualified above statement. Even though Amazon is not really a monopoly, it is pretty close for small scale book selling. That is, it has such a dominant market share that its decision not to sell a book can be a death sentence for a small book publisher. Thus they should be super careful when culling titles by content -- next time they might pull <insert your favorite hot topic> and there will be no recourse either.

> Why should I trust Amazon's assessment of whether or not those books constituted "ignorance"?

Why do you have to trust Amazon's assessment? You don't have to trust my assessment of anything, either. Nor I yours. So why are you debating whether or not you should trust Amazon's?

I don't agree with plenty of things corporations do. I'm confused on what point you're trying to make?

edit: This is a question if it's not clear. Please answer.

You probably shouldn't trust anyone but your own.

But it is not Amazon's duty to prepare such books in store just in case you want to assess ignorance level of certain works. They are tens of millions of books out there, are we going to blame search engine to not presented all of them to you in order to be, not biased, and supporting freedom of speech/expression/searchability? Probably not.

Sure, you shouldn't, but everyone does - just like they trust Facebook, Google, et al. The only difference in this instance is they're telling you how they influenced your experience. Mostly they just do it quietly. :)

It’s not Amazon’s assessment. It’s science’s. Amazon is simply going along for the ride, deferring to those who have spent their lives researching the issue at hand.

You’re under no obligation to accept science’s assessment of the facts. But if you choose to reject it, be ready to do a better job of making your case than the scientific community has done making theirs. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

They're unscientific. It's not Amazon's assessment, it's a filtering based off the assessment of science-backed research.

On the subject of thinking carefully... are you being forced to accept Amazon's assessment?

I personally am not and do not at the moment [1], but one of the reasons I'm strongly in favor of a whole lotta anti-trust action is that such decisions have out-sized marketing impact in the current environment.

I also observe that the censorship frontier is moving quickly and taking a lot of ground in the past couple of years, and while I may not be forced to accept it today, the trend is heading strongly in a direction of yes, outright forcing me to accept a very Amazon-like decision about what should and should not be censored. It's strong enough that I feel it's acceptable for me to not just ignore these facts.

[1]: I mean this globally about Amazon's gestalt opinion, not this specific case. One of my kids is diagnosed autistic and the other has the doctor's scratching their heads and kinda headed in that direction, and my wife and I have both looked at the "autism community", and steered hard away from it. There's all sorts of things wrong in there, at least on the loudest side of it. While I have no specific knowledge of the books in question, my priors have no problem accepting the idea that they are full of stupid and dangerous advice.

I think most people want to answer "Don't buy from Amazon".

Should Freud's books be pulled too for being unscientific?

Freud's books aren't currently inflaming a public health crisis. That being said, if Amazon felt as such, they could do it for whatever reason they felt. Or not do it. The point is that if they're not a monopoly, private or public, the argument that populism supercedes their property rights is a very poor one.

Freud's books when they came out were wildly inflammatory. I'm not really arguing against Amazon's right to not publish, I'm trying to figure out when it is acceptable for people to censor ideas so others will not discover them, and on what basis something should be deemed 'ignorant' given the complication that each individual is subject to the ignorance of their time.

> I’m trying to figure out when it is acceptable for people to censor ideas so others will not discover them

Perhaps when not doing so would perpetuate the resurgence of a life-threatening disease that, until 20 years ago, was virtually eliminated in the US?

> each individual is subject to the ignorance of their time.

True. They are also subject to the responsibility to think rationally and use the provable, reproducible evidence at their disposal to make decisions. Especially when those decisions have life-or-death implications not only for their children, but others’ children as well.

Your question would be better directed to Amazon's buyers, as it's their store and they get to decide what they do and do not sell.

You’re making a false equivalency. Freud’s books were once considered science and are, at a minimum, of historical value.

These are not scientific. They are not necessary for historical purposes or archiving. They are purely malicious words made to ruin people’s lives for profit...

OK. So now amazon decide to ban something you agree with? What then?

Then it will become "the government should make laws to stop private businesses from doing that," like it always does. People who defend censorship with the private business argument are often arguing in bad faith, because they don't really support the rights of private businesses, they're just using that angle to convince those that do.

I would say:

Private, yes, until it has been shown to harm the public good to do so.

Government, no, until it has been shown to harm the public good to not do so.

Sure, but just what is "anti-science"?

What Amazon said:

> Mr. Huseman also said in the letter that Amazon had conducted a review of anti-vaccination books and “found categorizations that were not consistent with our customers’ expectations.” The company, he said, was “actively working to resolve this.”

That is, Amazon doesn't want to piss off its customers. So basically they are in fact "indulging populist fervor and the 'wisdom of crowds'".

Edit: Here, Amazon is arguably pulling hazardous books. But I'm reminded how the tobacco industry accused its critics of promoting "junk science" and being "anti-science". As did many firms that were polluting the environment. And those who deny anthropogenic global climate change.

Define anti-science literature.

As we steamroll at full speed into the Brave New World, does any book, piece of art, or piece of literature that goes against current popular thought become "anti-science literature" and thus promoted for removal.

Plenty of people could make an argument that implementing communism is just good rational and logical policy and thinking, and anyone not wishing to do so is illogical, irrational, and anti-science, therefore we simply remove any literature relating to human freedom, free markets, or the constitution. Does that solve the problem?

How about books on biology that clearly make a distinction between male and female genders. When the political transgender movement becomes locked in, do we simply ban all books that expose two genders as "anti-science literature"?

> Define anti-science literature.

Anti (preposition): opposed to, or against.

Science (noun): the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Literature (noun): books and writings published on a particular subject.

>As we steamroll at full speed into the Brave New World, does any book, piece of art, or piece of literature that goes against current popular thought become "anti-science literature" and thus promoted for removal.

No. It is not true that any book, piece of art or literature can or will be deemed "anti-science literature". It is also not true that Amazon's ability to curate its own platform - an ability it has always had, and has always shared with every private enterprise, and has, with all other platforms, exercised before, represents a dangerous precedent towards the wholesale societal censorship of everything that "goes against current thought." Further, it is not the case that the books in question merely represent "wrongthink," making their removal an example of such. And also, we are not steamrolling into the Brave New World.

Bringing up Brave New World, 1984 or Martin Niemoller's poem in on the internet should be considered signs of pseudointellectual poserdom.

>Plenty of people could make an argument that implementing communism is just good rational (...)


We live in a society. Society is run by human beings capable of perceiving nuance and applying rationality and discretion to their decisions. The fact that an equivalence can be made, does not mean that all equivalences must be made. Amazon choosing to remove these books from their platform does not lead to the slippery slope of removing all literature related to human freedom, free markets and the constitution.

>How about books on biology that clearly make a distinction between male and female genders. (...)

Again: no.

Shouldn't a merchant be able to decide for themselves which products they want to carry or not carry on their shelves (both physical and digital)?

Is the alternative that a merchant should be forced to carry a product against their will?

In theory yes but if a private institution has a lot of market power like amazon has they can effectively shape the public discourse with their censorship. Which indicates to me that big operations are dangerous for democracy.

Then maybe we should cancel big television or news networks.

Nowadays, every one of them are not even pretending they are unbiased, how is that better than take down 2 books selling pseudo science? And do we need a democratic process to decide whether certain treatment is acceptable?

That smells suspiciously close to the anti-vaxxer argument.

Amazon doesn't sell Nazi flags. Is that censorship, and does that keep such flags from public discourse?

You are making a straw-man argument. Nobody here is claiming Amazon should be forced to sell a Book. The concern is whether it is a right thing for Amazon to do, not whether Amazon has the Right to do it.

Here is what the grandparent comment said:

> Should Amazon, or other intermediaries, be allowed such interferences?

It's not a strawman to read that, then ask:

> Shouldn't a merchant be able to decide for themselves which products they want to carry or not carry on their shelves (both physical and digital)?

> Is the alternative that a merchant should be forced to carry a product against their will?

edit: formatting

Of course they should be able to, but that's not what OP asked.

Sorry, I misread OP. People treat "should do" and "should be able to do" frequently as the same thing in these cases (Twitter and "free speech" is another such case).

Amazon sells surgery manuals: https://www.amazon.com/Washington-Manual-Surgery-Lippincott-...

If they carried a surgery manual that told its readers that the proper procedure for a tonsillectomy involved removing the spleen, it would be wrong to sell it.

Refusing to sell a book that tells its readers that autism can be cured by drinking camel milk or bathing in chlorine dioxide is not wrong, it is the correct and moral stance.

If they sold a car repair manual that told its readers the proper way to fix a clogged fuel injector was to stuff bananas into the throttle body, I would expect that Amazon would refuse to sell it once it was brought to their attention.

I don't understand the cries of "censorship!"

What's the measure of harm?

They sell a ton of self-help books, ... if the advice isn't scientifically beneficial then do those books get dropped? Drinking camel milk is probably not harming people (unless they have an allergy/intolerance, but that's besides the point).

Do people with investing systems have to prove they work?

No, I don't want to see people harming themselves or their kids with bad advice.

> Drinking camel milk is probably not harming people (unless they have an allergy/intolerance, but that's besides the point).

Drinking camel milk with the presumption that it will cure cancer is comparatively harmful, given the end result as contrasted to actually being treated for cancer with medicine.

> Do people with investing systems have to prove they work?

The analogy in this case would be an investing system that provably does not work under even the most casual inspection, like "set your money on fire and bury the ashes and it will grow a money tree".

Back in the days of physical bookstores, it was not possible to offer every available book for sale. Some person at Barnes and Noble or Your Local Bookshop, would have to review which books they would have in the store, and which they would not. They would use a variety of factors, mostly how likely they thought it was the book would sell, but certainly they were free to use their judgement in whatever other way they liked to determine which books they offered for sale.

This curation was a part of the value the bookstore provided. Nobody ever demanded that they be forced to sell every single book in existence, or even that they explain why they did or didn't want to sell a particular book. Why should Amazon be any different?

If Joe Crackpot wants to sell his book online, he can make a website with a shopping cart and offer it for sale himself. He has no standing to demand Amazon's assistance in selling it.

Literally all intermediaries are making these decisions all the time. If I cook up some homemade ketchup in my bathtup, should I be able to force Giant to stock it on their shelves? Does Bloomingdale's have to stock their racks with whatever rags any aspiring fashionista sews together? Should Best Buy be forced to stock my homemade Fitbit that I soldered together in the garage?

No, of course not. They have people whose entire job it is to wade through all the available products and find the best ones to sell. There's nothing wrong with that.

Yeah, this is a bit hairy. On the one hand it's dubious information, on the other hand it goes against free speech and Amazon becomes arbiter of what is right and wrong, allowed and disallowed. I don't think this should be Amazon's job.

In this case, one can make the case this is the right decision, but the same decision later on may result in the wrong decision.

Should they go against conspiracy theorists? JFK, whatever.

I think it is allowed, it is private company anyway. This is not a free speech debate. Amazon can choose not to sell something and it is entirely their rights to not offer service to certain people, as a sellers' platform.

Platforms can censor content however they like. Amazon isn’t a government entity and has no responsibility to provide a platform for free speech. Why would they?

> Has any judge ordered such material not to be sold?

No, and it is beside the point. What you are asking for is that the government should order Amazon to sell snake oil.

If we want to say that companies that have gotten to a size should be regulated like the government, then we should create clear cutoffs for when that is, because the short working memory of the public isn't sufficient to decide these matters.

Otherwise, curation is something that I'd definitely pay for, something consumers definitely want.

>Has any judge ordered such material not to be sold?

You'd like judges to be able to force merchants to stock specific books?

Amazon is private company and they are free to choose what they want to allow on their platform. Apparently they don't allow pornography which is a lot less harmful than these books. Authors are free to sell their snake oil on their own.

However, when government forces Amazon to remove these books or force them to sell these book, then we have a serious problem.

I agree with everybody that says that these books are dangerous and removing is probably a net positive in the short term.

However, I worry in the long term that we are normalizing censorship of ideas. It is not just simply a case of book stores not having enough shelf space so they had to make editorial choices. Amazon, for all practical purposes has no limits on the number of books it can stock. In addition, successfully getting Amazon to do this will embolden people to pressure other book sellers as well. In addition, there is no appeal to obscenity or legal fraud as the reason. The book is being banned simply because we do not like the ideas it promotes.

I'd say there's a fine line between "free speech" and "dangerous medical advice". Looking at a paragraph from the article:

>“Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” recommends that autistic children drink and bathe in chlorine dioxide, a compound often referred to as “Miracle Mineral Solution.” In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration described it as “a potent bleach used for stripping textiles and industrial water treatment” that “can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”

That's dangerous, plain and simple. I have no problem with a merchant on Amazon that sells rat droppings in a jar, provided they make it very clear what they're selling: rat droppings in a jar. If they start claiming that consuming rat droppings will cure lymphoma, however, then we've got a problem.

I would much prefer if amazon was neutral middleman and the question whether something should be censored or not is decided by law.

Fraudulently selling rat droppings as a cure is very different from selling a book claiming rat droppings are a cure. Governments deciding what is correct science and what is heresy have a poor track record.

The government hasn't decided anything. Amazon is a private business not a government. Regardless of which side of the debate we fall on here I think it's important to keep that distinction in mind.

What if Amazon puts a notice "This book contains advice deemed to be extremely dangerous by the American Medical Association"?

"However, I worry in the long term that we are normalizing censorship of ideas"

You can stop worrying. Silicon Valley/FAANG has simply come out on the "censorship" side, strongly and unambiguously. It's not "long term", it's here, now.

Always they have reasons. Sometimes even good reasons. But the censorship debate has never been about whether or not someone thinks they have good reasons to censor something. That's always been just taken as a given, because it's so obviously true.

I think we are on a very dangerous path if we are giving private institutions vast censorship power they have through their dominant market position. Where will the censorship stop? And if this gets more acceptable they will censor mainly for their own purposes and not for the general good.

>Where will the censorship stop?

Believe it or not, not everything is a slippery slope to a boot stomping on a human face forever.

Not really. Order it from a local bookshop, direct from publisher or author.

It's still a million miles from the old days when book shops, even the largest could only carry a tiny fraction of what was available. Even then there were fringe shops that sold plenty of conspiracy and alternative views that main publishers, wholesalers and retailers wouldn't touch.

And when activists launch a boycott on said publisher, small bookstore or author, using the fact that the book is not sold on Amazon as precedent that there is something wrong with the content?

Not just run of the mill private institutions either, a company that has a monopoly on the distribution of books.

This Atlantic article has their market share of all book sales at 65% in 2014. I wonder if that number has risen since then.


I really don't like the idea that media distribution companies like Amazon are expected to promote some ideas and censor others. All the books have a review/synopsis on their page selected by Amazon. They can simply put a review there that the book is pseudoscience.


You don't promote pseudoscience books for the same reason you don't promote TB, Ebola and leprosy.

It's a book, not vial of disease.

Now that Amazon has begun pulling books, they have set a precedent that dooms them to continue doing so to the potentially many thousands of others with bad information. This is acknowledgement that they have a responsibility as a marketplace for the information contained in the books they sell.

So books that promote unscientific cures are not allowed now? Interesting.

"And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up" -- The Holy Bible (James 5:15)


I think a reasonable argument can be made that the books they pulled are entirely about unscientific cures and the Bible is about much more than just the line you quoted.

Where do you draw the line though?

The comment you responded to literally gave an argument about where the line could be drawn. Do you not agree? I see this "where do you draw the line?" question asked a lot, and it seems that the usual intended purpose of it is to somehow give weight to the idea that it's too hard to draw a line somewhere and therefore we should maybe not even make the attempt. The fact is that there is an entire legal system we have set up to "draw the lines" on a huge number of ethical issues, and on top of that we have a whole world of extralegal organizational policies that can be argued back and forth. If you think there should not be any laws or policies concerning public safety on a particular issue, make an argument for it. Just because it is difficult to write policy or laws that take into account the right balance of freedom and safety doesn't mean we give up entirely.

It's hard to say. What's not hard to say is that crap like “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” belongs on the other side of the line.

Stuff like this baffles me. Like, yes, it's hard to say where you draw the line between patriotism (good) and nationalism (bad), but no one (who is also sane) wonders where you draw the line when discussing Hitler.

(Yes, I know about Godwin's law. I'm not being hyperbolic here, I think this is a good comparison.)

Wherever you have the most positive impact for your customers. Removing the bible from Amazon wont stop idiots from abusing it, the bible already has reach that exceeds Amazon. Removing pseudoscience health books from Amazon delegitimizes those books and reduces the harms they cause.

Wherever you want. That's the beauty of being a private commerce platform like Amazon. It is your platform, you can do anything your heart desires, including remove products you don't like.

Taken by themselves these words seem to be talking about curing physical disease, but the words that follow, "and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him", speak expressly of a spiritual effect on the receiver. Also relevant is that most of the New Testament epistles are about the condition of the soul (as believed), and not a workout and health guide for the condition of the body.

Think we're overdue some scientific validation of the effectiveness, or otherwise, of this alternative cure. :)

The key difference here is that the Bible as a whole has plenty of material to the effect of "don't expect God to make all your worldly problems go away", consistently enough that all major Christian denominations hold that faith healing isn't something you can depend on.

What is the definition of "sick" there? Is it "mad mood" or is it "cancer"? Does it specify? No, it doesn't. So it's not the same thing.

This is complicated. Anti-vax, flat earth and other ideologies masked as science have turned into virus', distributed over social. At the same time, people with all sorts of ideologies are shouting down facts they don't agree with.

Scientists researching potential behavior and psychological treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome are being targeted on Twitter so aggressively that many are giving up on the research, and some journals are pulling their findings (1). What happens when these people scream until Amazon pulls books about it? A whole field of helpful research could be burried for decades.

These ideological battles used to be local. Now they are global and it's causing real harm. We've discussed this previously. (2)

“Any information system of sufficient complexity will inevitably become infected with viruses - viruses generated from within itself.”

(1) https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/science-... (2) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19280858

This is censorship, and it's a slippery slope.

IMHO the right way to go about this, would be for amazon to attach a letter to the cover of the book saying something like: "We're sorry you bought this book, but we do believe in your right to choose what you do with your time and money, so we have not removed this book from our store. FYI, according to (insert number of) scientists and XYZ peered reviewed papers, the vast majority of the content of this book has been certified to be false and you should seriously question the author's recommendations before acting on them, as they may pose health risks. If you require further information, here's some websites & books that provide what is widely considered to be factual information on the matter".

Why is it Amazon's responsibility to carry a product they don't want to, then independently supplement that product with their own editorializing?

It's a bad product which they don't want to carry. They're a store. It's their prerogative to simply not sell that product.

When a company gets that big, powerful and influential it can't just do whatever it wants anymore. From a European perspective I'd say this is an issue of freedom for society.

This simply opens up a place in the market for uncensored book sales. If I want an honest search of the web I don't go to Google because they heavily censor and bias their search results. If I want to peruse the true set of literature on a particular topic I don't go to Amazon for the same reasons. I really don't see this "safe space" strategy paying off for these major tech brands. The holier-than-thou internet simply makes itself irrelevant. People can tell the difference between an honest retrieval of information versus a heavily censored retrieval of information in accordance with some ideological canon.

If the "ideological canon" is that they only offer information that is consistent with observable reality, I don't have a problem with that.

"Consensus" particularly in complex empirical areas (e.g. are eggs healthy?) is observably in constant flux with various strategic actors exerting heavy influence. For any question more complex than pure math there is always uncertainty and strategic bias.

I very much doubt there is any flux around whether or not forcing your child to drink bleach will cure their autism.

Personally, I am glad there are strategic actors exerting heavy influence on the "don't force your child to drink bleach" agenda. You can add me to the list: don't force your child to drink bleach. Ok?

Thats fine but I get to decide if I want to buy a book about drinking bleach to cure autism, Amazon doesn't decide it for me.

But you don't get to decide whether mixing bleach into your kids' Yoo-Hoo is in their best interest. Because it empirically isn't. A parent who tried to do this would be justifiably arrested on child endangerment charges, and no amount of "parents' rights" kvetching would negate that. And if some parent went on to write a book boosting this idea, Amazon would be roundly condemned if it knowingly allowed that book to be sold on its platform.

Fine, so buy it somewhere else. Better think long and hard about the legalities of giving anyone bleach to drink, though.

Amazon has no power over whether or not you buy it. They only decide whether or not they sell it. If you want to contact the author or publisher or another bookseller and purchase it, please explain how Amazon is preventing you from doing that?

I did a quick search on Amazon for pornography. Nothing. Pretty sure there never has been.

Amazon (and pretty much everyone else) has been censoring stuff from the start. This act is not a radical change in policy, it's a tiny shift in where they draw the line.

I'm constantly baffled at how upset everyone gets in cases like this. I could see it when, for example, Tumblr started cracking down on stuff. But 99% of these cases involve companies that have always engaged in censorship (or curation or picking and choosing or whatever you want to call it) and are just making some adjustments.

This was just mentioned on the Joe Rogan podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dodsGp37M50

I forget the exact time it was mentioned, but it's in the first half somewhere. The author he's talking to mentions that his book is #20 when you search for autism because the first 19 were of the kind mentioned in this article. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the driver of this.

Next is getting rid of all the supplements that don't work for anything they're advertised for.

That would be all of them.

Slight tangent: Could Autism even be curable?

Obviously not by scammers/snake oil salesman, I'm talking legitimate science. From my understanding Autism is largely genetic[0], so without the ability to re-write someone's DNA (and the potential ramifications that could have), I don't know if a cure like that could ever exist.

Although I guess Epigenetics[1] could be an interesting avenue of study.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_autism

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics_of_autism

Myopia is typically genetic but is can treated or cured (to a large degree) in a number of ways. Just because something is genetic doesn't mean that there is not treatment to effectively 'cure' it. The problem with autism is that we know so little about what causes it on bio-mechanical level that medical treatment is well beyond us. That may change in the future, but for now, there is nothing we can do.

I'm not sure comparing eyeglasses to problems within formation of the brain is a very strong comparison. We haven't really cured anything like autism that I know of.

But I agree we're a very long way away from curing something like autism, particularly if it required altering DNA/gene expression.

The comparison is apt to the point I was making: that it is not the genetic nature of autism that makes it difficult to treat but our ignorance of its mechanisms (perhaps also the nature of the mechanisms themselves.) I think that you're confusing the etiology of the thing with the thing itself. Just as there is no reason to suspect that gene therapy would be necessary, there is no reason to suspect that it would be helpful in a person who has already developed autism.

Censorship is always touted as an absolute bad thing but in a world where a large segment of the population is ignorant of basic knowledge but has a voice due to the Internet, there doesn't appear to be another option. Like flat-earthers or hardcore religious people, there is no logic in the world that can change their minds. You simply have to block them. Especially, at least, when these things have the ability to harm others.

> ..chiding the company about the failure of its algorithms to “distinguish quality information from misinformation or misleading information.”

Out of curiosity, what "process or set of rules to be followed in calculations" would give that result?

(I hope my asking this doesn't mean I'm deluded too.)

> I hope my asking this doesn't mean I'm deluded too.

But if it somehow does, then perhaps more chiding will produce an algorithm which can prove that too.. cause I have doubts.

Before we roll out the censorship talking points, it is worth being clear on a couple of details, I think:

1. Amazon have removed two books out of hundreds (probably orders of magnitude more) of anti-vax books.

2. The books they removed do not seem to be primarily anti-vax, but quack medical advice on treating autism.

3. The only one we have details of recommended bathing your autistic child in industrial bleach.

Slippery slope arguments are one thing, but selling books advising how to abuse vulnerable children, is probably a libertarian argument to far for most.

I suppose it's a matter of specifying your success criteria. If you goal is simply to not have an autistic child, then industrial bleach does wonders.

In all seriousness, no punishment is severe enough for those willingly harming innocent children. If only we could force them to experience the pain and terror they caused with their own body.

>3. The only one we have details of recommended bathing your autistic child in industrial bleach.

What the fuck? These weren't parody books were they? I just can't believe that was published in a book seriously promoting autism cures...that's so fucked...there's people out there stupid enough to follow that advice...

I'm totally fine with this. Sell your books in a store that specializes in conspiracy theories along with the anti-vax, flat-earther, anti-gmo, essential oil and anti-global warming people.

Given the number of wacky yet effective treatments that western medicine has uncovered by accident I’d be more inclined to let people explore the information out there as they desire.

Although uncovered under different circumstances Lorenzo’s oil is an interesting case, cannabinoids for cancer patients are another.

Everybody thinks modern medicine is like CSI because a few people know how to use CRISPR. The reality for many people with common diseases is that the doctors a taking shots in the dark. In layman’s terms they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

I have far too much personal experience with such things to be blinded by the fancy motion graphics and splashy headlines. Being sick is a total shit show of incompetence.

Why are people so concerned about autism, aren't there much worse conditions? I know many genius people that would probably fall into the spectrum if ever tested. They are typically obsessed with some field of research and develop deep insight, which is valuable in an increasingly specialized society.

Your "typically" is based on media showing few cases of highly functional people with autism. They do not show the rest.

For every autistic savant you see, there's a dozen that you don't see that have severe communication and other mental issues and will never be able to survive and function as an adult without high levels of living assistance.

As offensive as it is, the stereotype you see on reddit and YouTube comments of people with autism yelling "RREEEEEEEE" is sometimes a true one.

1. A letter went from CA politician Adam Schiff to Jeff Bezos ‘chiding’ him. It’s state interference.

The question is..would amazon have pulled those books if Adam Schiff didn’t chide Jeff Bezos?

2. It’s not about Autism. It’s about protecting Vaccines.

Every pharmaceutical drug comes with warnings and side effects. But it makes tons of dollars. Placebos don’t.

3. We live in a world where ..thanks to Monsanto..you can find Glyohosate in mother’s breast milk. And that’s ok. Because. Science.

I am a woman. The tampons we use contains dioxin. So. Really. Colour me a cynic. The govt doesn’t care.

This from CA where homeless people are allowed to live and freeze and shit and shoot up on the streets. And given clean needles to shoot up safely. $600 million dollars and no solution for the problem.

Sometimes ‘problems’ are profitable. I see this drama and outrage as protection of Big Pharma. There is a tiny fringe population that accepts these books as gospel. There is nothing you can do to change them. This is merely a dry run for censorship and more of a prep for nanny state installation.

I hope this isn’t encouraged.

Everyone talking about free speech and censorship needs to hold the fuck on for a second... because context is about to play a huge part in this:

If I was selling arsenic on amazon and labeling it as a cure for cancer would Amazon be in violation of our right to free speech for pulling it? If I was selling mentos, but labeling them birth control, would that be censorship if amazon pulled it?

This is supposed to be medicine and it’s fucking lies. This is safety and soundness, it will hurt you or your children.

If I’m selling you a cure for something, and that cure is BOTH harmful and does not work, then shutting me down isn’t censorship that’s fucking public safety. It’s even responsible for fuck’s sake.

I don't hate the outcome, I just wish this was being done the "right way." The author and publisher should be held liable for the content and be made to pay for the damages they've caused. We have a court system for determining when someone is peddling lies and harming people. Is it too much to ask that we lean on our agreed upon institutions instead of making corporations elevate themselves to a less transparent, less democratic, worse version of our courts?

Is it too much to ask a company that provides a platform for commerce to just be a platform for commerce?

>I don't hate the outcome, I just wish this was being done the "right way."

So your saying the right way is to force amazon to continue selling this book? That the sole remedy at Law is when people are injured then they can sue the author?

That’s not how products liability works. If I’m injured by a defective product, my legal remedy is against everyone in the stream of commerce...manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers, etc... they would all be jointly and severally liable for my damages, meaning I can collect 100% of my award for damages from any of the parties found liable.

Ideas aren't products. There's a difference between books and physical products that you ingest (such as arsenic or mentos). The GP's argument uses a false equivalency.

A book isn't just ideas though. If it's sold and presented by a retailer that you trust (Amazon), then those words carry a lot more weight for the readers than the ideas would on their own.

Bullshit. A book is just ideas that have been written down.

And the argument that buying it on Amazon gives it more credibility is so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud.

> So your saying the right way is to force amazon to continue selling this book?

Possibly yes. When a publisher choses to sell through Amazon I assume that includes some form of legal agreement between the two parties. This idea that "They're a private company, they can do what they want" is wrong if they have some kind of agreement to sell the book.

The fact that we've been letting the tech giants get away with putting vague language into their terms of service and using that as a justification for arbitrarily enforcing or even changing the rules is bullshit. These catch-all provisions that let companies "do whatever they want" would never have stood up in court in the past. They are undermining our ability to conduct business and are being abused to stifle competition.

I’m no fan of big tech companies, but I am a fan of constitutional right for parties to contract.

There is no catch all Amazon can do whatever they want provision, but certainly the have the contractual right to stop carrying the book at anytime without notice. Just as if you are selling your book through traditional brick and mortar they could always stop selling/carrying your book (maybe there could be exceptions if they did it on the basis of discrimination against a protected class).

Trust me I wouldn’t even put amazon to allow others to sell a counterfeit of your book/product, which the law would provide a remedy for...but they have no contractual obligation to carry your book/product.

And how much time would that take? 1 day? 1 week? 1 year? 1 decade?

We are not robots, we don't have to strictly follow the "protocol" for every decision we need to make. We are humans and sometimes we need to use what we call the "common sense".

Of course that common sense is always subjected to the judgment of a person and that judgment can be biased towards something sometimes. But in this case the judgment is straightforward: there is no cure for autism. Period.

We can’t treat large corporations like government institutions, even if they have the power of them these days. IANAL, but if amazon doesn’t want to be held liable for the contents of these books in some inevitable tort case I think it’s entirely their judgement call to remove these books as a private entity. These writers aren’t a protected class.

It’s very difficult to sue someone in the US over the content of their book. Free speech was written into the constitution and then extended by the Supreme Court into a near absolute right unlike that in other western countries.

Giving medical advice, much like legal advice, opens you up to liability.

Not a lawyer. But as far as I know, only if you are providing medical services. I don't think a book would rise to that level. If it did, no professionals would ever write about medical issues for fear of being sued when their hypothesis don't work, or have side effects.

Now, if you were a health care provider and told your patients to read this book and do everything it tells you, you could probably sue the doctor. But not the author.

At an interpersonal level yes, but if you publish the same bad advice in a book you're fine.

There are tons of exceptions though. Most applicably to this conversation speech that can threaten or cause physical harm is not protected.

There's the famous example that yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is not protected speech. Threatening someone with violence is not protected, nor is telling someone to jump in a lake if they can't swim.

There are also laws around giving bad advice, which is what legal and medical malpractice is about.

Fire in a crowded theater is a famous exception. It’s also from a 1919 case that was subsequently overruled as the Supreme Court broaded free speech protections after WW2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schenck_v._United_States

Suppose you have 1000 such books today. Suppose each court case takes 1 year to resolve with 100% success probability (far, far too optimistic of an assumption). Suppose Amazon goes to court, and 1 year from now, all these books are taken down.

In the meantime, within that year, 1000 more authors create books like this. By the end of the year you have 1000 resolved cases and 1000 new cases. This can continue forever, with the result that 1000 books are always available for sale.

You might say, the authors could be penalized so as to scare new authors away from this. However, the probability that a court will impose sufficiently large fines on the authors is close to zero. Even if they did, many authors could be (or claim to be) based abroad and therefore (in practice) cannot be fined by the US court system.

Do you have any solution to this problem that doesn't involve Amazon acting without a court decision?

If someone sees a problem with my example, please let me know. I am not trying to impose my views on anyone, I'm genuinely trying to understand the mechanisms at play, the concerns, and the possible solutions.

I don't see a problem. A court decision is preceded by a fair argument between two parties. Any other way is gravitating toward the way of bolsheviks snatching the power and shooting who they believed were cause of evil. (Which was fast and very efficient; do you like it?) The point is not to achieve the desired outcome quickly, but to deal with situation in the right way.

You're right that the faster you try to solve a problem, the more likely you are to solve it badly. Where is the right trade off?

At one extreme lie revolutionary fanatics destroying lives. At the other, a gigantic bureaucracy that watches passively while the lives it's supposed to protect are being destroyed.

IMO the answer depends on the nature of the problem. It would be unwise to require a court order before police is allowed to shoot down an armed assailant killing people in the street. It would be unwise to allow police without a court order to break into any house they suspect of illicit activities.

I don't have a strong argument about this particular situation. I can comfortably argue that the courts will not solve the problem at all. But you can respond that solving the problem through private corporations puts us on a dangerous path. You can say that the fix is so dangerous that it's better to leave this problem alone despite the deaths it causes. I would admit that your criticism is valid.

Ultimately, it seems the choice here will be completely subjective, based on personal preferences about the importance of free speech versus the importance of saving human lives, and other similar factors. I cannot see a realistic solution that most reasonable people will be comfortable with.

Words cannot cause physical harm.

If your doctor gives you advice, which if followed, caused you physical harm, not only have they opened themselves up to a malpractice lawsuit, their advice caused harm.

Ok but this isn't censorship related.

...and how is that "company that provides a platform for commerce" supposed to protect its business, if it is not allowed to sever ties with entities that it deems to harm its own brand and reputation?

You seem to be opining for a kind of libertarian idealism and at the same time asking Amazon to be "socially responsible". How is it supposed to work?

You can't claim that Mentos cure or treat cancer and market them. You could sell Mentos as a "dietary supplement" and even say that it "supports system health" if you have any data about it, no matter how bad. If you are a doctor, you can actually treat people with cancer using Mentos, but you can't market it without approval (good luck with those lawsuits, though!). Books don't cure, prevent, diagnose, or treat disease, so they aren't under the purview of the FDA.

The real problem here is the dominant market position Amazon has. People figure if Amazon bans something, the book will be completely inaccessible. This is sometimes true. Nobody freaked out when their local indie bookstore didn't have "Mein Kampf" and "Middle Eastern Terrorist Bomb Designs" (it's real!) in stock because they figured they could just get it somewhere else if they really wanted to. Whatever you think about this, one company having over 60% market share in books (higher in some categories) is concerning. I have been using https://www.alibris.com lately.

Could you clarify your point a bit? When you (correctly) say that the books aren't under the purview of the FDA, do you imply that you would prefer if they remained available on Amazon? If so, how would you respond to the concern that such books cause a lot of suffering to a lot of people?

The parent comment seems to believe that the FDA would have some jurisdiction over the content.

It's not up to me what people read and write, or what Amazon puts on their website. Amazon has the right to choose what they sell, just as the author has the right to publish their book. In this particular case, besides Amazon's action, there could be civil suits against the author (look up Paladin Press), and even FTC actions depending on the exact claims made by the book.

How would you respond to the concern that this is not the only book that people believe has caused suffering? For example, how about Aquinas, or Marx, or Hume, or Foucault, or the Anarchist Cookbook or hell, Hugh Hefner? Books don't leap off of shelves and hit people, causing them injuries. A person, subject to the law and with their pre-existing moral system, must, having read the contents of the book, perform some action to their self or others to cause suffering.

But this was a book, not arsenic being sold to cure a disease. Telling whatever bogus claims in a book doesn't do any harm per se: surely harm can only happen if someone is stupid enough to actually believe the claims.

And the people who don't happen to think about cross-checking information with a couple of other sources before digesting it will surely suffer from the lack of that very habit eventually.

If the same did apply to everything we'd have to shut down most of internet and reduce the selection of non-fiction books only to cover academic publications to be on the safe side.

Free speech v. public safety is a touchy subject that pits the moral pillars of liberty/oppression against care/harm. However, before we lose ourselves to moral outrage for one side or the other, consider that, with Judea Pearl's (somewhat) recently work on causality, there might actually be a "correct" solution to when the government (or government-like entity) should intervene to "protect the public interest" or do nothing and "encourage free speech"

Namely, we can use the idea of calculating the "probably of necessity" v. "probably of sufficiency" from Pearl's section on counterfactuals to calculate causation.

Taking your arsenic merchant example, for instance, if you publicly release information that "arsenic in large doses is good for you" to the public, we would consider the counterfactual statements

- "would large portions of public have taken arsenic had you NOT released such a statement"

- "would large portions of the public refrained from taking arsenic had you released such a statement"

Notice that, in both statements, we require a model of public behavior that is contextually dependent on things like "how educated the general public is", "how common is it to take arsenic", "how much harm does arsenic actually do" etc., most of which can be determined and agreed to beforehand. Given that we, as a society, can come to agree on a model of ourselves (lol probably not easy), we can directly calculate the necessity and sufficiency values, which would allow authority to make "just" feeling decisions

I think you are conflating two unrelated distinct things in a very dangerous way. A book is at best a tool to influence your decision making. A physical object (like arsenic) is something that is acquired after you have gone through a decision making process. Misrepresentation in physical space causes people to misexecute possibly sound plans. Misrepresentations in idea space cause unsound plans to be made.

I think regulations that prevent bad executions of sound ideas are OK (and desirable), this rules out things like people busing mislabeled arsenic. Regulations that try to protect people from bad ideas are misplaced idealism and tend to end very very poorly for the societies involved.

I am confused, because free speech/freedom from censorship only applies to that which is oppressed by the Government, not private companies.

If I operate my own public library and remove a book from there because of its contents it is censorship. It doesn't matter whether I'm totally within my rights to do that (I am) and what exactly the book contents are.

Legally in the US, yeah.

But should that be the case?

That's not true. Free speech as a concept is speech free from censorship, period, not just censorship by government fiat.

Look, you can disagree with that, but I'm not sure why you would. The entire concept is that two ideas, presented before a reasoning audience, can be examined and the one that is better will be likely to be adopted. This is impossible to do if one of the ideas is never presented as it is censored.

The right outcome here is for the author to get sued, not a unilateral ban of books where Amazon is judge, jury, and executioner. Before you know it, Amazon will be banning books that Jeff Bezos doesn't like, and while it is within its rights to do so (unfortunately), that would not be a good outcome at all, for anybody.

A retailer deciding not to buy and sell particular books is not a ban any more than a consumer choosing not to buy the book is.

(If Amazon is so intractably dominant in book sales that it needs utility-like regulation, that's a different issue, but when it isn't subject to such regulation it is irrational to expect it to act like a utility.)

No it isn't. Litigation in slow and expensive, and the targets of such litigation would just turn around and whine they're being oppressed by the courts were they to lose.

There is a well-developed legal system in the US and other countries for dealing with dangerous and fraudulent medical advice. The fact that this book can be legally sold is evidence that it either falls on the right side of the law or else nobody has pursued these legal claims.

This is attempting to bypass this system by going straight to centralized censorship.

This is not censorship, books are still legal to buy in the US. It is one (biggest) merchant refusing to sell these books. They are putting people's safety ahead of their profit margins too. Perhaps they fear lawsuits arising from selling these book. But it is their choice, and right choice.

Yep, the publisher can set up their own little shop and sell through on a website. The right to free speech is not the right to rent someone else’s megaphone.

Hmm, up to a point, but Amazon own the biggest marketplace; Facebook own the biggest forum; etc.. They have unique positions, with far greater powers than single governments. I don't think arguments such as yours work for supranational organisations.

It's like saying people have the right to protest, but then saying they're not allowed to use a vehicle to get to a protest, in theory you're not interfering but in practice you prevent exercise of their rights.

In the U.S., false statements of fact are not protected under the First Amendment. [0]


So, even if you consider Amazon liable for the protection of free speech (I don’t), this doesn’t really qualify.

This is definitely censorship, it just isn't censorship by the government.

The action of Amazon is censorship. That the book is available from other venues is irrelevant. E.g. in Soviet Union certain banned books were distributed outside of official channels (shipped from abroad or re-typed on typewriters); they were thus somewhat available, but would you say they were not censored out in general?

The problem is it is really hard to have standing. The victims are children: their parents are supposed to protect them in this case, but the parents are being mislead... Teenagers could perhaps sue, but I suspect austic kids are less likely to attempt this even if they could.

An action by Amazon is not centralized to anything. They’re a private company and not a monopoly. They can choose to sell or not sell anything they please. Centralized censorship would be the government or an unavoidable private monopoly decreeing that this book shall be unavailable.

What if Amazon began censoring authors of color?

What if Amazon gave every new baby chocolate eclairs?

They can do that. And people can choose to not shop there if they do.

They could not refuse business based on race in the US.

Yes, it appears that Amazon preemptively removed the book, after weighing the brand damage potentially caused by a social media attack or other pressure versus the expected profit from its sales. Or, they considered the possibility of being made a party to a court action. In other words, it's likely simply a business decision based on the tenor of the times.

Lots of cussing in your comments, you must be passionate about this topic for a particular reason. Passion is good, but the word choice degrades the discourse and implies emotion over reason.

Anyway, perhaps a better approach is to label such books as 'unproven', 'pseudoscience', or even fiction, but continue to sell them. The idea of banning books because of their subject is a very slippery slope.

FWIW there are tons of other inaccurate, unproven, pseudoscience, or fiction books out there that are also damaging to public health. For example, any dieting book that promotes anything aside from caloric reduction for fat loss is basically fiction, and obesity is by far the largest public health crisis to face the USA with 80% of adults impacted. Would you recommend banning those books as well?

So true. Further Das Kapital is still for sale on Amazon, even though when put into practice it routinely kills millions.

Relevant to this topic: trolls and bots amplify the online vaccine debate, eg https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2018.3045...

This is censorship. Two wrongs don't make a right.


I am seeing numerous comments claiming this is not censorship when it most definitely is. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship

> Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient". Censorship can be conducted by a government, private institutions, and corporations.

From Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/censorship), where there is no mention of 'censorship' being a government-specific concept:

> the institution, system, or practice of censoring

From Oxford (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/censorship), where again there is no mention of 'censorship' being a government-specific concept:

> The suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

We know Amazon is a private corporation. That's irrelevant, as such actions are censorship regardless. So please stop repeating the false claim that this isn't censorship because Amazon can do whatever it wants as a private entity.


Proponents of free speech are pro free speech as a general concept and principle, beyond what protections are afforded under American law today. The idea of free speech predates the existence of the United States. Free speech is hugely valuable to defend, because what society finds acceptable or unacceptable is very much subjective and changes with time/location/culture/setting/leadership/etc. Having an open exchange of ideas is good and necessary for the long-term health and stability of society. Furthermore, making available ideas that challenge current understanding is necessary if we care about being a collectively truth-seeking society.

Free societies are durable over the long term when they protect these rights at all times, for all people, for all ideologies. As a rule of thumb, if the speech in question is not advocating for direct physical violence, it should be permitted. Getting into the business of censoring indirect or non-physical harm (and similarly, judging what is scientific/pseudo-scientific/unscientific) is a huge slippery slope. We could frame virtually any idea as having some downstream negative externality and suggest that it should be disallowed. For example, capitalism, socialism, and communism could all be attacked in this manner. Should books on those topic be dropped?

On the topic of health: our current scientific understanding is not bulletproof. It may never fully be. Look at how much our understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet has changed, just over the last 100 years of human existence. During that time, various individuals (e.g. scientists), companies, governments (via agencies like the FDA), and other institutions expressed high-degrees of confidence in beliefs that went on to be disproved over time. It would be a mistake to only allow ideas with broad scientific consensus today. People should be allowed to decide for themselves which institutions and parties and ideas to trust, and to what extent. Large platforms (privately-owned or otherwise) should not get in the way of that access if we want to maintain liquidity of information exchange.


Large privately-owned platforms carry so much discourse across today's society, that censorship and deplatforming in those spaces has the same impact as governmental censorship, for most intents and purposes. Even if these corporations do not constitute what we might traditionally call a "monopoly", they control a large-enough share of traffic to have significant impact when they take artificial actions. That sizable impact is exactly why they are being targeted (not just on this topic but others) by activists or other agents pushing for deplatforming/censorship favorable to their causes.

The big risk is this: when only a few entities funnel so much societal discourse or control our communication infrastructure or process payments, those entities making arbitrary decisions about who they serve has similar impacts/risks to the government imposing similar restrictions through the law. These companies should not act as a thought police and should not impose their own personal governance above what is minimally required by the law. Nor should they rely on the judgment of an angry mob to make decisions.

dictionaries are descriptive, not authoritative. whether this counts as censorship or not will always be up to debate.

I'd see these as all being applications of speech; amazon is making a statement about these books by putting them in the store front. Folks like Donald Trump or Sean hannity have lots of influence, but we don't prevent them from speaking because of it.

> dictionaries are descriptive, not authoritative. whether this counts as censorship or not will always be up to debate.

I don't think I agree with this claim about dictionaries being "descriptive". The word 'censorship' exists already, and it has a definition that is unambiguous. The role of these definitions is so that we can all communicate efficiently using a word that is a placeholder for that full definition, knowing that we have common agreement on the definition since we're using the same language.

The folks scoping 'censorship' to just governments are redefining the term in a manner that serves their own views, and are eroding a preexisting definition to avoid the connotation it carries. That seems like waging rhetorical warfare in bad faith, rather than holding a meaningful discussion.

> amazon is making a statement about these books by putting them in the store front

Amazon isn't making a 'statement' by putting books in the storefront. They aren't evaluating each and every product or reading/fact-checking all the content of everything they carry. Amazon is performing very basic market activities, in a stoic and impersonal manner. These activities include things like fulfillment, payment processing, catalogs, recommendations based on customer behavior (e.g. purchases), reviews, etc. These are impersonal and low-level activities, and are by no means "making a statement".

All definitions are ambiguous. It's useless to argue over them. We need to argue about real things in the real world. To do that we need to name them, point them out. It's easy for things like cows or planes; for things like censorship we need to zero in on a minimal model that showcases censorship.

For example, if I remove a book from my private library because of its contents, is it censorship? I don't think so. What if this is my library, but opened to a public, even to some small community? In this case I think this is censorship. What if the whole community decided the book should be removed? Again, it's not censorship. What if only the elders of the community came to the decision? It seems more like censorship again. What if we removed the book because it's damaged or, say, radioactive? Not censorship.

See, it doesn't matter if I'm a "big player" or something like that, or whether I have rights to do what I do, or what the book contains. All I have to do is to have some people to restrict access to a book or something like that to another group of people because of the contents of the book.

We shouldn’t censor them because that has side effects when any sort of mechanism is introduced.

However two laws should be made:

1. Not vaccinating your kids should be classified as a child protection offence (unless there is medical basis from a panel, not one quack). Kids are confiscated, vaccinated and put into state care after one warning.

2. Promoting non NHS / FDA etc approved medical advice should be a criminal offence and ends up with the publisher, author, owners being chucked in jail.

The latter covers bullshit like homeopathy and Chinese herbal medicine as well.

There’s no place for any of this in 2019. We should actively shame anyone partaking in this.

Re: #2

I think you'll have trouble regulating speech criticizing a federal agency, even if it is pure quackery. And I hope it stays that way.

The NHS and FDA are not infallible. They’ve perpetuated the myth that fat is unhealthy at massive public cost over decades. So it’d be illegal to promote the ketogenic diet, since the FDA sources encourage eating a low fat diet?

My kids are vaccinated, but doing this is just going to make suspicious people more suspicious. They’ll try even harder to avoid vaccinating by avoiding all daycares and home schooling. It’s turning into a rallying cry against the government.

These children would not be much better off in foster care, where their risk of being abused would be much higher. These law changes would go from a private company shutting down speech to the government suddenly enforcing limits on the second amendment. Bad ideas need to be argued against, not brutally silenced. People will keep thinking the taboo thought, there will just no longer be a way of reaching them.

Hmm. First heading in the NHS fat guidance is "Why we need some fat", then a breakdown of what and why https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/different-fats-nutriti... . A very balanced and well written document. As for a keto diet, it has a number of well documented and researched side effects the proponents forget to mention such as cognitive issues. On diets, most people are looking for ideologies rather than facts and those are easy to sell.

Fuck suspicious people. They're idiots. And you should point at them and make it known. Not only are they idiots but they are actively harming someone and that's a prime violation of the ethic of reciprocity. To allow harm to continue is as bad. Seriously bad. I know someone who's parents skipped the MMR vaccine, they got measles, lost their hearing permanently. That was totally avoidable and physical harm came to someone. Actual life-long disability. And there are LOTS of people who go through this.

If you put your arrogant self-interest in front of logic, data and research then the child will come to harm one day.

Throwing people in jail is more censorious than a large company just declining to stock the book.

Hurting people is worse than all of those things.

I'm not sure what hurt you are referring to.

> Not vaccinating your kids should be classified as a child protection offence (unless there is medical basis from a panel, not one quack). Kids are confiscated, vaccinated and put into state care after one warning

Great, once you pass that law you'll have drug companies lobbying to get their vaccine listed on your "must inject by age X or get your kids taken away" list. Imagine the revenue for every kid in the country being mandated to inject your vaccine.

Usually, our attempt to bring risk to 0 brings tyranny close to 100.

The scenes of the government dragging a kid out of their parent's grasp and injecting a needle into their arms is straight out of any stereotypical dystopian novel.

Yes, it can be frustrating fighting disinformation, but patience and kindness is almost always better in the long run IMO than force and punishment.

I understand the desire to eliminate unnecessary risk, but getting everyone vaccinated and respecting individual freedom is not an easy task. Our country is more vaccinated than it's ever been, but the last few % might take longer than most people would like.

People who set their kids up to be plague carriers are treading perilously close negligent abuse of a child. There are medical reasons not to vaccinate some kids, and there are evidentiary standards to determine whether those reasons apply.

Yes, it can be frustrating fighting disinformation, but patience and kindness is almost always better in the long run IMO than force and punishment.

There are disease outbreaks taking place right now and people making anti-vaccination speeches to rallies of supporters in the middle of the area where the disease outbreak is taking place. I'm really all out of patience and kindness when people are deliberately incubating highly communicable diseases.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_hYgFWehDY < PBS newshour report from a week ago including footage from one such rally.

I view these people with the same enthusiasm that I would view someone pouring gasoline on the walls of a building structure.

I understand the desire to eliminate unnecessary risk

Disease outbreaks are real. You are describing vaccination as equivalent to a scene from a dystopian novel, asking us to get upset about an imaginary ill.

And I ask you this question: is it morally acceptable to allow someone to harm someone else?

That by itself is a complex question. Most people consider violent self defense to be OK.

People's ability to buy alcohol is a safety risk. Many crimes and fatal accidents involve alcohol. Do we force everyone to stop drinking alcohol?

I can't think of a government policy that has implemented 100% adoption without tyranny. I'm all for as close to 100% as we can get, but I don't want to lose our values of freedom and respect to get there.

The anti vaxxers would love vaccines mandated by law. It would be the quickest route to an entire population turning anti-vax and setting back humanity by 100 years.

But I am all for banning bullshit claims made by ineffectual remedies.

If that happens, it'll be the greatest evolutionary step we have made for hundreds of years.

I call bullshit.

In my country child vaccination is mandated by law (parent may be cited if they don't do it, citations are handed very reluctantly, sometimes not at all).

What recently happened (Nov 2018) was small measles outbreak - MMR vaccine sold out so fast extra emergency shipments were made to pharmacies.

Banning snake oil is never a part of a free society. People have a right to delude themselves. Imagine having a child with autism, you are overwhelmed by it, you are unwilling to accept what the doctors tell you.

Who is Amazon, or anyone, to tell someone that they can't explore every avenue, and read whatever they want to deal with that grief? Think about the cathartic experience of reading this book and getting momentary hope that there's an answer to a problem that you've been told is unsolvable. It's psychologically like playing the lottery.

> Banning snake oil is never a part of a free society

I mean, sure. But not every trader must therefore carry and sell snake oil. The same free society gives them that choice.

> Who is Amazon, or anyone, to tell someone that they can't explore every avenue, and read whatever they want to deal with that grief?

All they seem to be saying is that they won't be selling it to you? You are certainly free to explore every avenue on your own. But does everyone have to help you with that?

I'm not saying they should have to, but I am saying that they ought to.

I think freedom and free speech are good things. Don't you?

id say amazon not carrying an item is a application of free speech.

publisher is saying "this is how you cure autism" and amazon is saying "no, that isn't"

for amazon to leave it up would be to not use their freedom, which is bad because using free speech is good.

>Banning snake oil is never a part of a free society. People have a right to delude themselves. Imagine having a child with autism, you are overwhelmed by it, you are unwilling to accept what the doctors tell you.

I don't agree with you because parents are making decisions for their children - if it was your decision to put it in your own body, perhaps. But the State has an obligation to defend the rights of children, and in this case if they need to step in to prevent parents poisoning their kids they should do so.

Well I'll admit I'm a little unorthodox here, but nothing is more naturally obvious to me than the idea that children belong to their parents, and I don't think there's a lot of middle ground, and I think society has gone much too far in taking away the right of parents to decide anything and everything for their children.

Nothing happens in a bubble. If a parent doesn't want to vaccinate or wants to give their kid marijuana, that's just a data point within the spectrum of the type of decisions that this parent will make for their child over the years. So we draw a few lines in the sand -- you have to vaccinate, you have to send them to school for 8 hours times 9 months a year, you can't give them XYZ to treat their autism, where does it end? Are vegan parents who force their children to be vegan dangerous and child abusing?

Besides, the fact that a parent reads a book does not imply that they will act on it. Maybe they know in the back of their mind that it's all bullshit, but for an hour a night before bed, they get some comfort out of the fantasy.

The slippery slope argument is pretty lame. Where's the line? Parents shouldn't be allowed to harm their children. There's the line right there.

Is the vegan diet harmful to the child? Probably not, but you'll have your child taken away if your child is malnourished.

> Parents shouldn't be allowed to harm their children.

But not getting them vaccinated doesn't harm their children...

...provided that everyone else around their children is vaccinated.

But when that population drops low enough...then herd immunity stops working. Then their children get sick, and other children may also get sick, etc.

So a parent not harming their children is increasing the risk to other parent's children that they will be harmed. Should parents be allowed to stochastically harm other parent's children?

Nobody can prove it in the individual case - but statistically it can be shown to cause such harm...

None of that brings into the discussion that such unvaccinated children could become sick and pass it on to other immunocompromised individuals (adults and children)...

>...where does it end?

Nice slippery slope fallacy.

It worries me that we seem to equate Amazon with society.

Why is this such a pain point whenever an internet discussion of freedom comes up? Free speech and freedom are principles. These principles inspired the guarantees the Constitution claimed to make. But that does not mean that the government is the sole arbiter of freedom. The fact that Amazon bans a book means that Amazon does not appreciate the value of freedom and free speech, in the same sense that when the government limits speech, it means they do not value free speech and freedom.

Freedom isn't just with respect to government. When Amazon filters books you can buy, that does mean we have less freedom, especially when Amazon is a filter through which we are able to purchase most goods. No, your first amendment rights haven't been violated. But yes, we have less freedom.

That's not what my pain point is. My pain point is that Amazon has grown to the point where this is the same kind of concern as if the government did the same thing.

See my other comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19393433

Seems like you just want your freedoms to trample over Amazon's freedoms. Why? Because they're big?

You put your personal interpretation of the general principle of freedom of speech above actual rights and freedoms. Nothing noble about that.

Where have I said that the government should step in and change Amazon and make them host these books? I haven't said that. All I've said is that Amazon should take a principled stance.

Problem is, your interpretation of freedom of speech principles is very disagreeable.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact