Dean Burnett Profile picture
22 Jan, 45 tweets, 10 min read
This has come up a few times lately

But it suddenly dawned on me that I'm not employed by the Guardian any more, so can be more honest about how this went down

It's a very strong example of how 'the media' can look after 'their own' so vigorously, no matter the consequences

I've also been accused of some pretty far-out things by Hari fans in the intervening time, like I 'violated an embargo' or 'orchestrated a campaign' against him, as well as the usual 'big pharma shill' stuff.

All BS

Here, from my perspective, is what happened

In Autumn 2017, I received an email, via my work account (still had Psychiatry lecturer day job then) offering me an advance copy of a new book all about depression, by one Jhoann Harri (name misspelled on purpose because of name searchers and honestly who has the time?)

Publicist said I might be interested as I work in the area of mental health (correct)

She said Hari's new book was all about depression and, while some of his claims may be controversial, they're definitely interesting and thought provoking (incorrect)

My reaction was "Hari... isn't he that columnist who got done for massive plagiarism and sneakily attacking his critics?" I figured I'd be incredibly annoyed by any claims he had about mental health, so didn't want to:

A) Be stressed for no reason
B) Waste a book

Ergo, I ignored the offer, went back to work. Didn't think about it again at all, until January the next year, when the Guardian, who I worked for, published a very big excerpt from it and promoted it enthusiastically

This was alarming

By this point, for better or worse, I was sort of a go-to guy for anything Mental Health related at the Guardian. Because I'd covered it a lot before, and been asked multiple times to tackle/rebut dubious MH claims published elsewhere

Guardian had even focussed on Mental Health charities in their annual drive just a year or two before

And then, they published Hari's claims, uncontested. They also published a glowing book review, which praised his efforts

This was alarming, in so many ways

My issues with Hari's claims are all in my response piece…

And also, the follow-up I wrote after many people contacted me to say they'd been on the verge of stopping their meds cold-turkey after reading Hari's claims

But what I didn't reveal at the time, because professionalism, was just how much resistance there was behind the scenes wrt getting my counterarguments published

It was genuinely disconcerting

My own editor, who is lovely and brilliant, tried to talk me out of it.

Apparently, she was at Uni with Hari. She knows he 'means well'. I could be put in touch with him, so he can explain. A copy of his book could be sent to me, so I could 'better understand' etc.

I called bullshit on that right away. That's never been how I've done things before. About 40% of all my articles were calling out someone else's dangerous public claims, it had never once been insisted on them having the pre-emptive chance to 'explain' or talk me down

And I wasn't going to suddenly make an exception for a known plagiarist who engages in immoral practices making genuinely-dangerous claims about mental health that could (and did) put very vulnerable people at risk. Just because he's old mates with the behind-the-scenes gang

That's why I got to the point where I felt I had to write something in the first place. I expected the usual types who attack cynical ethically-dubious attention-seekers making dodgy self-aggrandising claims to do the same here. But no. Not a bit of it

Instead, from what I could see, a lot of the 'right on' crew were celebrating Hari's 'return'

Saw many a 'hooray, he's back!' tweet, as if he'd been off on a sabbatical, not drummed out of the industry for breaking the most important rules and doubling down on it

Seemed like Harri was allowed a free pass to say whatever he liked, no matter how dangerous/cynical/inaccurate, nor how much it endangered vulnerable people

Because he was 'part of the gang'. That's how it looked, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

Thing is, far as I was concerned, I was a random geek with a moderately popular blog. It shouldn't fall to me to be the first one to call out dangerous claims in a major publication. But regardless, that's essentially how it panned out. So I did.

I wasn't the only one, or even the first, to publicly take issue with Hari's claims, for the record. Many others did, even more thoroughly. But I seemed to become the figurehead for the backlash. Maybe because I did it in the Guardian, the same platform

But my suspicion of Hari's glowing coverage isn't just based on the public responses from people who, let's be honest, really should know a lot better. A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff really reinforced this view

One thing in particular

After I published my rebuttal to Harri's claims, I was informed that he'd read it, and was not at all happy about it

Fine by me, he wasn't meant to be. He knows where I am if he wants to take issue with my arguments and concerns

But oh no, he was sneakier than that...

The evening I was messaged by a Guardian contact, saying Harii wasn't happy, had written a response to me on his own site, and insisted there be a link to this at the end of my article

The editors had put this in my piece for him, and were messaging to say "Hope this is OK"

I replied saying this absolutely, categorically, fundamentally was NOT OK, and in fact, because I had the access to do so, had already gone into my article and deleted the 'updates', because that was outrageous and I wasn't having it.

Many are criticised in the Guardian. Film/music/book/comedy/TV. If those criticised got in touch and angrily insisted the original piece be retroactively altered to drive traffic to their own site explaining why it's wrong, they'd be told to go piss up a rope. Rightly

But apparently, this doesn't apply when a known (and largely unapologetic) plagiarist has a strop when his dangerous claims are criticised by someone with a much smaller reach. Then it's entirely reasonable to do what he wants. Because he's 'one of the gang'

Didn't stop there either. My reaction must have been pretty forceful, as nobody at the Guardian tried to change my piece again, but Harri still kept trying it on

Had a follow up message the next day, saying Harri had now included a link to my article critiquing his claims in the response on his site, so could I know do the same for him


Seriously, what the actual?

The fact that Harri'd included a link to the thing he's replying to in the response he'd written... apparently, I owe him for that?

He genuinely expected to be rewarded, that he was being magnanimous, for citing his sources. Rather than it being the absolute bare minimum

Obviously, I said no. I am categorically not including a link to a response to my critique, in someone else's site, just because he linked to the thing he's talking about. That's not how anything works

And yes, this did end up in the surreal situation of me, the freelance self-taught science blogger, explaining journalistic standards and ethics, to the trained people running a major media platform. Those things are still relevant, even if it is your 'mate', or a colleague

Harri himself really didn't react well to this. He publicly referenced the pushback since, but on here at least, never referred to me by name, only ever as 'a Guardian Blogger', which is all kinds of cynical shite

For the record, in this dispute about dangerous claims about mental health

Harri = Journalist, interviewer, known to use unethical practices/falsehoods

Me = PhD neuroscientist, 6+ years lecturing about psychology/psychiatry at the time

I was 'envious' according to some

But my main concern is; Harri was very much not someone who should have been given a major platform to make dangerous claims about mental health

Not only was he given one, he was applauded, encouraged, and protected, by people who should categorically have known better

Because he was 'part of the gang'. And if nothing else, modern life has provided countless examples of how that approach usually ends disastrously.

This isn't me being sore because I've never felt I was part of any powerful 'gang, by the way. Promise.

This isn't an attack on the Guardian, for the record. Plenty of others were 100% on my side and sickened by the Harri love-fest. And the Guardian got me where I am today, and I'll never not be grateful for that.

But then, the whole point of this thread was about the need to call someone out when they're in the wrong, even if you like them. So would be somewhat hypocritical if I didn't do exactly that.

Thing is, whatever you think of the Guardian, how much worse are other, bigger platforms? The ones run by government cronies and billionaire's sycophants from the same old boys network? How much worse is being indulged there because people have the right school tie etc?

Genuinely makes me shudder to think. Our media is in a very unhealthy state, and we have a lot of British traditions to thank for that, I'd say.

Not sure what to do about it, but flagging it up seems like a helpful step.

On a personal note, if you've read and appreciated this thread, please consider ordering my new book Psycho-Logical, all about the actual science of #MentalHealth…

I basically wrote it as a counter to Harri's one (but he's not in it at all)

Bit cynical to tag a book plug on the end I know, but let's face it, I've got to promote it somehow, and it's not like I'll ever get into the Guardian again after this 🙃

Doesn't matter. I'd do it all again



One of the results of the Hari debacle was getting angry emails from his supporters

One tried to goad me into admitting I was a big pharma shill by asking me 'probing' questions in a formal style

I had a lot of responding, so saved some answers

He never replied 😧
Alternatively, there was the Hari supporter who said I'd lied about him, violated his book embargo, and I should be worried because 'the internet keeps receipts'

I asked to see said receipts, as all that never happened

Doing so meant I was a bully and abuser, apparently. FFS
How Long Should You Keep Taking Antidepressants? For as Long as You NEED To…

If anyone just started following me due to being spooked by the stuff Hari said about antidepressants, here's a piece I did to combat such pill-shaming

For @cosmicshambles
This popular thread I did helps explain why, for all the talk of 'cancel culture', there's also a very powerful 'anti-cancel culture', where those who have platforms must *never* have them taken away, regardless of whether they deserve/cause harm via them
Note: the very-astute 'anti cancel culture' observation isn't mine, saw a tweet about it recently, but for the life of me can't find it now
This approach, where those who are 'part of the gang' amongst the rich and powerful are forever protected from any consequences for their self-serving BS, is a big part of the mess we're in today IMHO.

Admittedly, this is hardly a new observation

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23 Jan
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FWIW though, my thread was never meant as an all-out condemnation of the Guardian. Yeah, they really ballsed up here, but you know what? I still got my rebuttal published, and nobody else was giving a random Welsh science nerd clown his own blog on a major platform

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Seeing this picture doing the rounds lately, the one of Johnson 'Doing Science'

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Boris Johnson, with your face like a bee-stung scarecrow
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