Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Paula Rothermel and the apparently defamatory statements

Readers of this blog will know that I try wherever possible to avoid making defamatory statements about people. After Paula Rothermel's extraordinary email yesterday, I contacted her and asked which references she felt were defamatory. Her reply is worth repeating in full;

"Most of them are defamatory I believe. I have asked for the removal of all defamatory and other references to me immediately."

In other words, she wants me to remove all references to her from this blog! Imagine if Graham Badman became so sensitive when home education was being discussed and that every time he was mentioned on the Internet or had his figures questioned, he began threatening legal action. This would be of course be outrageous. So is this attempt to stifle debate on home education. Actually, the whole thing is a bit of a mare's nest. Yesterday afternoon Paula Rothermel was relaxing in Gerlafingen and, being at a loose end, decided to google her own name. She was disgusted to find that the first page that came up had several pieces from this blog on it and thought it worth trying to bluff me into removing them. The fool! Does she not realise that this sort of thing just serves to draw attention to the original statements?

Just to remind readers, I drew attention a few months ago to the fact that Paula Rothermel's research was based upon very small samples. Some of the results of this research were so strange that it had me scratching my head in bewilderment. When I looked into the matter, I found that nearly all the tests had actually been carried out not by Dr. Rothermel herself, but by the parents. This did not seem to be generally known and so I examined and talked about the implications. A few days later, on November 11th 2009, the doctoral thesis upon which all this was based was removed from Rothermel's website. I suggested that this may have been connected with the fact that I was inviting people to check there for themselves what I was saying.

I cannot for the life of me see how this can be thought defamatory, but of course there is a remedy in the courts if anybody really feels that it is so. I spoke to a friend of mine who is a reporter on one of the Sunday broadsheets and he was more than a little staggered to hear about this threat. I have a suspicion that these matters will soon be receiving an even wider audience than my little blog!

For those who wish to look into the methodology of Paula Rothermel's research for themselves, it may be found here;



  1. It's called the Streisand effect.

    I thought you said that research had been removed from her web site though. I do recall looking for it the first time you mentioned it and not being able to find it, but now you have a link to it.

  2. The link on Paula Rothermel's website which showed the thesis has been removed. The thing itself is still in cyberspace of course. Fortunately, I know the location. You are right, this is the Streisand Effect. Or, as a solicitor for whom I once worked told me, when challenging what you see as defamatory statements, be sure that you do not simply invite the repetition of the statements you are objecting to! The reason this is so important is that Paula Rothermel's research is quoted absolutely everywhere in connection with home education. It is very important that it is accessible and open to free discussion. When academics attempt to prevent people from seeing or talking about their work, you know at once that something fishy is going on.

  3. CiaranG

    Nothing leaves the internet, removing a link but leaving the file in the same location makes it accessible. Even if you take it off your server somebody somewhere will have cached it.

    I didn't see anything that I would consider defamatory on this blog. Criticism is not defamatory by default.

    To be honest sitting from the comfort zone of not getting legal shots across my bows it does look rather like a game of chicken has been set in motion.

    That looks so bad, it really does. Anybody who has full confidence in their work and therefore confident that it can stand up to scrutiny shouldn't need to resort to this.


  4. I believe Paula pulled the link to her thesis because she didn't want it used as a political football.
    While Simon may not have said anything actually defamatory, he has been having a go at Paula by repeatedly misrepresenting her research, here and elsewhere, including in a least two national newspapers, for a long time. I'd be fed up if I was her.

    Sarah, have you seen what Simon does when he's accused of things (like lying for profit) that he's freely admitted to in the past? Things he has, actually, done? He throws a paddy, gets very personal, sometimes even sends private emails to his critics (which is why so many people post anonymously here) and deletes his own work from his blog.

  5. Anonymous, I am a little puzzled.In which national newspapers have I been attacking,or even mentioning, Paula Rothermel? Are you quite sure that you are not getting me muddled up with somebody else. I'm sure that I would remember if I had written about Paula Rothermel in a newspaper. As for misrepresenting her research here, could you give me an example of this? I doubt that I have done so, but am quite open to being persuaded. The problem with pulling the thesis is that it has been quoted left right and centre by those who feel that it supports their point of view. As soon as I point out what I see as flaws, it is withdrawn.

    As I have remarked before, when academics threaten legal action against those who discuss their work and also try and prevent people from looking at the work, it raises the liveliest suspicions. Those who opposed Graham Badman's idea were quoting extensively from Paula Rothermel's thesis. I did not notice anybody objecting at that stage to the thesis being used as a political football. The problem seems to have started when I began quoting from it.

  6. Sarah - I'm aware of how servers work, I'd just assumed that if someone intended to remove something from their server, they would actually do so, rather than just unlink it. You should probably be explaining this to Paula, not me. ;)

    The index for the whole thing is here by the way, for those who want to read it in full rather than just the section Simon linked. Probably best to download it all, because it's possible the whole thing may be removed. While Google's cache will retain a copy for a short time, that can be prevented, and archive.org for some reason does not index that site at all.

    I must say, having now been able to read it, that I'm glad I did. Whatever you think about the statistical significance of it (and I do tend to agree with Simon on that) the commentary and anecdotal evidence contained within is fascinating, particularly as it relates to the nature of the tests and the children's responses to them. I would say that though, because it reinforced my views on the utter pointlessness of this kind of testing in the first place.

    As a political football (that apparently some people are allowed to play with, but not others) I'm not really interested in it. But as an insightful if somewhat anecdotal bit of research, I'd say it's recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the subject.