Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Get Caught Blogging Without A License

Free speech is found on many walls in France

Apparently, bloggers are not allowed to give free advice without a license.  At least not in North Carolina.  If I dare tell you what exercise has cured my lower back pain, or which juicing recipe gives me the most energy, or – I guess – what a parent should do about a mouthy teenager in the house, then I just might receive a “cease and desist” warning from some bureacrat in that state.  (So quick – if you’re a reader in N.C., dim your screen in case Big Brother is reading over your shoulder.)

Blogger Steve Cooksey has been writing about the wonders of the Paleo diet ever since he began following it to lose weight and reduce his diabetes risk.  In other words, he tried to eat like a caveman with a clean diet of mean and leafy green vegetables, i.e., a fairly gluten-free diet.  However, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition, alerted by someone about this lone voice crying in the wilderness (uhm, Cooksey and about a million other blogs, newsletters, magazines, and books on the subject), concluded he was counseling without a license.  You can read columnist George Will’s detailed explanation of the issue here.

While they expect him to have a Ph.D or other certification in order to continue his blog, Cooksey has sued on behalf of his free speech rights.

In light of this frightening Internet development, I’ve had to think long and hard about what topics I should avoid so that I don’t come under attack by any government board in my own home state.

Advice about growing older

I’ve enjoyed talking about what I’ve learned as I travel through my midlife.  However, since I’m not a licensed gerontologist I’ll refrain from telling you how to improve your memory, exercise your body, or anything that might make you live longer or feel better.  Anything I’ve learned from all the midlife blogs or health reports I read while searching for that magic pill to combat old age I’ll keep to myself.  I’ll let them be the ones to pay the lawyer fees when someone comes to shut them down for counseling without proper credentials. 


I was about to write a post about fall gardening.  Whew, glad I saw the consequences of suggesting fall plants like the white anemone “Windflower” if you want something to fill a large space where nothing else will continue blooming until frost.  Because I don’t have a “Master Gardener” certificate or a degree in horticulture you might have filled your garden with plants just on my say-so and then, if I didn’t say “water regularly” in my post, suffered a tremendous loss – perhaps even been traumatized – when nothing popped out of the ground in the spring.


DISCLAIMER: I am not now nor ever have been a licensed family counselor or psychologist.  Therefore, if I say a single word about how I survived any parenting crisis, DO NOT take it as any suggestion that you should follow suit.  After all, every child is different so there is NEVER EVER any resemblance between what I experience as a parent and what you might experience so DO NOT LISTEN TO ME.  In fact, if you see that I’m writing about being a parent, shut down the internet immediately unless you are impelled to set rules for your own children that were influence by anything I might have said and then when your kid winds up living in your basement until he’s 33 playing retro-style PlayStation games all night long you try to sue me for giving faulty parenting advice – don’t say I didn’t warn you that I’m not a licensed child psychologist.

Book Reviews

Oh, wait.  This is something I could probably talk about because I spent many years as an undergraduate and graduate student in English departments writing about literature until I perfected the grand art of givingtheteacherwhatshewanted.  Even though I might eat raw squid before reading a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can talk ad nauseum (because that’s what he does to me) about why he’s a great American author and why everybody else should read him.  I even have a few degrees thrown on a bookshelf somewhere to prove how many hours of my life had been devoted to learning this skill.

Just because you read tons and tons of books in your life doesn’t mean that you are in any way qualified to report on them.  I suspect next North Carolina will be going after Goodreads, demanding its member list to check for those reviewing without the requisite university training that I have.  So I guess it’s decided – this blog will change immediately to one strictly devoted to book reviews and pictures of France.  I think I’m safe with that.

I could try to create some blog posts about the constitutional right to free speech – especially about sharing recipes online (it’s not like he’s writing about how to cook meth, which I’m sure the Nutrition board could find somewhere online if it tried).  However, I might be required to prove I have a J.D. degree in constitutional law, so I’ll just shut up and leave it up to you.  Do you think this is really a matter of safety that bloggers show proof of expertise.  Or, do you think the Dietetics/Nutrition Board is trying to protect its turf?  What kind of restrictions (if any) should bloggers have?  Share your thoughts in the comments box.

On a related note:
I confine myself to myself

The cause is hidden

This summer I visited a chateau that’s the embodiment of the idea of free speech.  When Comte De Bussy-Rabutin displeased King Louis XIV for writing about many of the nefarious doings happening at court he was banished to his family property in the Burgundy region.  He was forbidden to publish any more books, so his home became his story.  He filled the wall with murals and sayings expounding on his life philosophies.  He also amassed a portrait collection of his many mistresses and other celebrities of his day.  On the frames he painted extensive editorial comments, none too complimentary, about them.  The king could not silence him as long as he lived.

Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin


Nadine Feldman said...

This is scary stuff. I love sharing what works for me, and I resent the level of intrusion into our right to free speech. I can understand it if someone is representing themselves to be something they're not (like a doctor, for example), but what's next? We can't have a cup of coffee with a friend and talk about Weight Watchers without having to look over our shoulders? We have GOT to get corporate involvement out of our government.

Anonymous said...

This is terrible, Julie. Is it only happening in North Carolina?
Censorship of any kind is bad, but this is draconic and stupid simultaneously. People's blogs are their private journals. They write what they want. Only idiots could demand credentials from a blogger. What about Twitter? Do they need credentials too to write 140 words?
I like it that you write about such a troubling issue with your customary sense of humor. BTW: Do you have credentials as a humorist?

Julie Farrar said...

I never quite figured out why they singled him out. For example, tons of blogs have been started by people dealing with food allergies, presenting recipes, treatments they've found, food sources, etc. Why not them? (and I'm not picking on them - just an example)

Laird Sapir said...

Ok, this actually makes me want to start posting advice about all sorts of things I'm unqualified to give advice about. I think we should all protest by declaring a national day of Unprofessionally Unsolicited Advice. Let em send cease and desist letters....


Ellen Gregory said...

Seriously! I have no words, but I wanted to comment and share your pain.

Patricia Caviglia said...

Every once in a while, stupid rears its ugly head and gives someone a chance to rebuttal brilliantly.

Jennifer L. Oliver said...

Well, I went to his blog. Looked around a little. Yes, he does give recipes. But he also has a couple of blogs that are aimed right at the nutritional and medical industries, claiming they are pushing unhealthy food to diabetics. (
Whether this is true or not, isn't really the case. He had links listed like "Here is 19 million reasons why the American Diabetes Ass. promotes a drug inducing meal plan." He gives these reasons why, but he has no evidence of "drug inducing meal plans" other than what he believes to be a better and healthier diet. No credentials to say he really knows what he's talking about - just his opinions. I mean, he makes some extreme accusations in this blog.
"The medical industry of course also wants you to eat some sugary fruit or drink a sugar laden glass of juice."
He has no proof of this but yet that can be conceived as slanderous towards the medical, nutritional industries.
"The two groups whose responsibility it is to protect us all and diabetics … give companies and the medical industry ‘cover’ while they pimp their drug inducing foods."
That's quite an accusation. Especially when the only proof he gives is a nutritional panel from a Frosted Flakes box and a snippet from the Kellogg’s ‘diabetes friendly’ website "promoting it’s drug inducing cereals…as ‘diabetic friendly’. :("

The blogger is claiming this "drug inducing diet" is bad. But the fact is, he gives no credentials as to why his "research" should be valid. Other than that he believes it to be so. And don't get me wrong - he very well may be on to something. His information might be correct, but because he has no credentials, these things can only be stated as personal experiences and opinions. But they are stated as conspiratorial attacks.
Which is probably why he got smacked with a cease and desist.

The Paleo diet does work, I've seen the results via a good friend of mine. He has MS and is wheelchair bound - with use of only one hand. According to him, it is a healthy option. But then again, this guy is a doctor.
But he freely admits not everyone has the same chemical make up and dietary needs. Therefore what works for one person, may not work the same for others.
So I don't think its necessarily the WHAT of this guys blog, but rather HOW he states his information.
I mean, when you discuss options that worked for with parenting, you aren't going after any agency stating they are marketing unhealthy information to the masses.

As bloggers, we do have to be concerned about HOW we state things. Words are powerful, and they can be used in the wrong way.
Freedom of speech is something I stand firmly behind.
If we choose words wisely, the same message can be sent without seeming like an attack.

Julie Farrar said...

I agree with you, Jennifer, about his habit of claiming his "research" is more "true" than standard medical/nutritional research. There are so many blogs out there doing the same thing for lower back pain, migraines, weight loss, etc. I guess what bothers me is the authorities are focusing just on him. And trying to "protect" everyone who is prone to making irrational or impulsive choices through ignorance. You just can't do it. What if I gave parenting advice talking up the benefits of corporal punishment (it worked for me as a kid, so you should try it). I could rail on all those government authorities who would call it "child abuse."

I'm definitely an advocate of reasoned argument rather than disparaging those with whom I disagree, but I don't think I'd shut down a website because I don't like how it uses language (except of course in real cases of libel, child pornography, incitement to violence, etc.)

And Laird, I like the idea of a National Day of Unsolicited Advice.

Jennifer L. Oliver said...

I don't know, Julie. I'd like to see the actual "cease and desist" warning because I have a feeling it covered more than just the "counseling without a license" issue.
That may be the part he is falling back on, but I can say that many of his claims on that one post could fall under libel because he doesn't have the evidence or credentials to be seen as an expert in nutrition.
Of course, it could just be me trying to hold on to my denial that the world is turning in to such a place where this kind of censorship could be allowed. Yeah, I'm probably in denial. lol

Julie Farrar said...

But, Jennifer, how are they going to stop every blog out there that's like this. And how are the extreme things he's saying different than extreme things one political party says about another this election season - or the things various cable/radio pundits say. Is every harsh statement a case for libel.

I wish the world were more reasonable and civil, as you do. But since we can't stop all speech that disparages the ideas of others, I would think a better attack for the Nutrition board would be to educate about Paleo diet. If they weigh in on the subject, then their response will show up in google searches -- the modern equivalent of "fair and balanced sources" for people investigating the subject.

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

Nancy MacMillan said...

Thank you both for your research and thoughts into this matter. It is scary to think it may come to this, but we can make a difference in "how we word" an issue or topic we disagree upon. Filtering our words will be key. Bravo for bringing this to light.

Kim Griffin said...

It does seem that free speech is under attack lately.

Wow. I hope the guy wins his lawsuit and preserves his right to write whatever the heck he wants.

If he doesn't win, that is frightening.

Tami Clayton said...

Censorship like this is ridiculous. I really don't understand why resources are poured into this type of thing. I realize not everyone is capable of or willing to put the effort into discerning fact from fiction, but I find it insulting to my intelligence to have things like this happen for my supposed "protection".

Rhonda Hopkins said...

I agree with Jennifer. I think they probably cited him for more than just counseling without a license - which can get you in serious trouble all on it's own. Like big fines and jail time in some states.

I'm very careful about putting a disclaimer on my website and individual posts when I talk about anything relating to parenting, child custody or family court. What info I give is from my experience and I let people know that up front and that I'm not an attorney, etc.

I think as long as you're stating your opinions and showing what your experience has been without saying this is the right and only way and everyone else if full of baloney, then you're probably okay.

As for going after everyone else - this guy was brought to their attention by someone. I doubt they have someone sitting there scouring the internet looking for people to send letters to.

Annette Gendler said...

Interesting discussion. For me, this goes back to whether it is an individual's responsibility to make sense of what s/he reads, and to recognize in what capacity someone is blogging, or whether we give that responsibility to the government, in which case it's up to some bureaucrat to decide what we can blog about and what not.

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