Stephen Fry was right…

I’ve recently been reminded of a comment made by Britain’s only remaining National Treasure, Stephen Fry, in the Guardian a while ago.

“I don’t know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining,”

There’s also a similar piece by David Mitchell that expresses the same sort of view.

Let me say straight away that I’m not referring to the comments posted on this blog recently. I always enjoy reading the threads on here, even if – or perhaps actually because – they fly off at unpredictable tangents from the main point of the original item. I would never have imagined that Bob Kirshner’s guest post would have led to an in-depth discussion of lavatory seats, for example. I disagree with quite a lot of the opinions expressed, but it’s actually quite nice to give people the opportunity to get something off their chest, as long as they remain civilised – which they usually do.

So please keep commenting on here, and please don’t be scared to look at the comments either. Some of them may indeed be weird, but they’re not going to disturb your piece of mind. Stephen Fry and David Mitchell were referring   to the sort of stuff you often see on higher-profile sites, especially newspapers, where the online comments are filled with  drivel so moronic that it’s actually depressing to think that there are people lurking out there capable of writing it. These guys (Mitchell and Fry) are in the public eye and so they attract a great deal of comment themselves, much of it staggering in its inanity and abusiveness.

One might have expected a bit better from the readership of the Times Higher, an organ which I thought was read by academics and university-based professionals who presumably must have received some sort of education themselves before gaining employment that involves attempting to educate others. However, the comments following the piece I blogged about recently contains, as well as  some sensible reactions (both for and against my actions),  a few that are just puerile and others that barely conceal the writer’s bigotry. Clearly not everyone who works in a university is either articulate or rational. But then I knew that already.

One particular commenter, the presumably pseudonymous John Fitzpatrick, states

As for Coles, what an effete and bitchy little man he has exposed himself as. How he can face his students and colleagues after that is simply amazing.

Amazing it may be, but I certainly can and do face my students and colleagues, although I usually refrain from exposing myself. I’m sure they don’t all agree with what I did, but my conscience is clear. I don’t have the luxury of anonymity anyway.

The Times Higher asked me to contact them if I felt any of the comments were defamatory or abusive so they could remove them, but I replied to say I thought it was better to leave them all there whatever they said. In their own way, they speak  eloquently  for the very point of view they are trying to oppose…

21 Responses to “Stephen Fry was right…”

  1. Let me get this straight—Stephen Fry a) complains about the banalities of (some aspects of) the internet and b) is using Twitter? 🙂 I am not a Luddite, but do try to separate the sublime from the ridiculous with regard to new technology.

  2. telescoper Says:

    I use Twitter, although I’m a relatively recent convert. It has its limitations but is actually very useful. Moreover the 140 character limit for a Tweet is a valuable corrective to my natural tendency to excessive verbosity.

  3. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Having a degree or indeed working at a university is no guarantee against being bigoted and narrow minded.

  4. Although I haven’t followed all the comments and links from the original post, I do remember seeing that comment from Fitzpatrick in the THE and couldn’t believe what I read. I also hope the comment remains there and some time in the future will be used so show that even in 2010 bigotry still existed in a so-called developed country. Let’s hope that’s not too far in the future.


  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    Is Twitter for twits?

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton, Not specifically, but some use it. It’s actually for tweeties.

      The 140 character limit for a tweet requires you be quite creative, especially if, like me, you insist on proper spelling and punctuation!

      I’m constantly being ribbed for the fact that my blog posts are far too long (average length >1000 words). Perhaps there should be something in between twitter and blogs. I suggest it be called Blotter.


  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Or a Twog.

    Your blog posts are supposedly too long for what/whom? Does WordPress have a limit – or do you simply mean that your posts are longer than posts at most other blogs? (To which the reply, of course, is that this is YOUR blog.)


  7. telescoper Says:

    What I meant is that mine are longer than most blogs. If wordpress has a limit, though, even I haven’t reached it!

    It’s not really relevant, but I think they should set up a version of the National Lottery to raise funds for Alcoholics Anonymous. They could call it Blotto.

  8. I don’t know if it’s still true, but Donald Knuth once claimed that he had no email address, his reason being that email is good if one wants to stay on top of things, but he wanted to get to the bottom of things. I find newsgroups more functional than blogs (same software and “look and feel” for all, I only see what I haven’t already seen, I see the number of new posts in each group at a glance, I can be automatically asked to subscribe to new groups etc), but do read blogs since many people use them instead of newsgroups. (In other words, why not just a group called alt.blogs.telescoper?) Of course, if one reads newsgroups via a WWW interface, there isn’t much difference. Anyway, it does take some effort to stay current on interesting blogs. Assuming there are interesting tweets, it seems like the effort to stay current would outweigh the gain in information.

  9. Steve Warren Says:

    Stephen Fry the only remaining National Treasure? Please add 5 more or I shall report you to your university as in need of rest and recuperation.

    • telescoper Says:


      I can’t think of 5 more. Not since Humph died anyway. Please feel free to add them yourself or, preferably, report me to my university. I could do with a holiday. We’ve had a whole week of teaching so far.


  10. Steve Warren Says:

    So no dinner party with Alan Bennett, Phil Tufnell, Brian May, Ronnie Corbett, or Melvyn Bragg?

  11. There is something about Stephen Fry though.

    Ronnie Corbett is a national treasure and although Brian May is a rocking guitarist I wouldn’t say he’s a national treasure exactly.

    How do you define a national treasure? Yes Fry stands up and says one thing but then still uses Twitter. At the #140Conf in November he talked about celebritism and various other bits and they all made sense. There are papers that use Twitter as some kind of information feed – i think they pay someone to watch certain twitter feeds for information because it’s cheaper than sending someone out to experience the different things.

    • telescoper Says:

      Concerning the title of this post, a friend of mine recently commented that Stephen Fry is always right: it’s the 4th Law of Thermodynamics.

  12. Have you ever wondered how they make Galaxy chocolate so smooth?

  13. telescoper Says:


  14. Anton Garrett Says:


    As a chocoholic I have wondered. I expect that it is simply a few more quality ingredients, and comparative reading of a few wrappers will tell you. Galaxy is not smoother than top-end brands of milk chocolate for which Switzerland and especially Belgium are known.

    More serious chocolate conoisseurs disdain milk chocolate in favour of dark, but I don’t.


  15. telescoper Says:

    I don’t like chocolate.

  16. Anton Garrett Says:

    Great, I’ll have yours.

  17. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Garth Godsman, Alice Sheppard, Alice Sheppard, Nathan Letts, James Channing and others. James Channing said: Stephen Fry was right… « In the Dark: Stephen Fry and David Mitchell were referring to the sort of stuff you often… […]

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