Mark Lynas makes a complaint about what he describes as possible censorship related to the release of his new book The God Species. Apparently, it got pulled from Amazon.com in the UK. He writes:
Starting some time on Friday morning a strange note appeared on the Amazon.co.uk page selling The God Species paperback. This read that the book had been withdrawn from sale “because a customer recently told us that the item he or she received was not as described”. Since then Amazon has stopped selling the book, and despite attempts by my publisher to resolve the situation the book is still not on sale.
and goes on to say:
I now understand that Amazon is likely to have removed the book from sale because its automated systems received a number of similar complaints about the book. So a relatively small number of people, perhaps as few as five, can conspire to get a new work taken off Amazon’s web site. Amazon says it will quickly examine whether the complaints are justified but in the meantime potential customers arriving at its web site will be told the book is unavailable. The book’s reputation will be damaged because of the natural assumption that there is indeed something wrong with it that obliges Amazon to remove it from sale. Even if Amazon puts the book back on Monday afternoon, damage has been done.
Well, maybe. The Streisand effect is now kicking in. For example, I was not aware of this new book until I received tips on it being “censored”. And, Lucia has now weighed in, uncritically. The Guardian has made an issue out of it too.
While Lynas has recently come to terms with his previous erroneous views on greens, Wow, Lynas tells it like it is. for which I applaud him, he is also known for doing outrageous things to get attention, such as doing a pie in the face to Bjørn Lomborg at his book signing for The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book that doesn’t seem to be that different from The God Species based on the description.
So, given Lynas past behavior, I can’t tell if what we are seeing is “censorship”, or if it is simply a cleverly staged faux takedown (easy to do anonymously online these days) to kick in The Streisand effect thus making thousands more people aware of his new book, and perhaps buy it later? People often want what they can’t have more than something they can get anywhere. What better way to boost sales than to make the book look taboo and then get media to start hollering about it as the New Statesman has done?
So, as I said, given that Lynas in the past has tried to shut down Bjørn Lomborg’s book signing, a form of censorship itself, I can’t take his claims at face value. We’ll see how it plays out.
Hopefully, either way, Amazon will adjust their policy to prevent such problems in the future, no matter what the motive. Perhaps taking a “innocent until proven guilty” stance on product removal might be more productive.
Added clarification: For hardware, software, appliances, etc, I can see the point of such a policy to limit liability and damage to customers. But, we are talking about a book with the opinions of an author, and who offers a warranty with opinion? If we allowed such things, we’d have takedowns daily of newspaper articles worldwide where the catchy headline doesn’t quite match the body of the text.
Hopefully Amazon will implement a separate policy on book sales to prevent such problems and cries of censorship in the future.
h/t to Barry Woods
UPDATE: Within 6 hours of this posting, the restriction has been removed, so much for Mr. Lynas brief worry of “censorship” from Amazon.
OTOH, his website at http://www.marklynas.org/ now returns a “403 error” – forbidden, which checks out from two different networks and the three different browsers I have access to.