Tuesday 18 February 2014

HRC-backed? [Updated: Crampton's been trolled]

I'd interpreted New Zealand's Health Research Council's logo being all over the conference materials for the anti-sugar Fizz-2030 conference as indicating HRC support for the conference. Typically agencies exercise pretty strict control over the use of their branding and have to give permission for such uses.

In comments in my prior post, HRC Chief Exec Robin Olds corrected things, noting that while they have provided research grants to some of the people who were presenting, they were not supporting the conference. The conference's materials were up on the HRC website, but I expect that HRC mirrors a whole lot of health-related conference materials.

The HRC's logo being on the conference materials intrigued the NZ Taxpayers' Federation, though. Jordan Williams put out an OIA request. Robin Olds replied that,
"The HRC has never funded FIZZ, nor has it ever received a funding request (for research or otherwise from FIZZ. The HRC has funded research by individuals who identify themselves (on the website) as members of FIZZ. Such funding is through contracts with their host institution, for example the University of Auckland and the University of Otago."
In response to Jordan's asking what other support the Council has provided FIZZ, HRC replied "The HRC has provided no support to FIZZ."

Now that can't be entirely right, because HRC hosts FIZZ's materials on its website. Here's the conference programme, on the HRC website, link working as of 18 February. Here is a flyer advertising the conference keynote speakers, on the HRC website. Both of these have the HRC logo on them. This is why I thought that HRC was backing the conference: hosting the conference's materials on your website with your own logo on the conference's materials is a pretty strong signal of support. But, it's also possible that HRC just mirrors anything in that space and that FIZZ put the logo on without HRC's knowing about it. In that case, it's entirely possible for Olds honestly to reply that they didn't provide any support to FIZZ - he might not have known that the conference materials are mirrored on the HRC website, or he might not have interpreted hosting those materials as constituting support over and above the identical support HRC gives to other health-related conferences.

This version is supported by an email that the Taxpayers' Union reports that Robin Olds sent to the Taxpayers' Union:
“In a phone call to the conference organiser we pointed out that using our logo was inappropriate, given that [Fizz] did not seek our permission, and that some appeared to interpret the logo as the HRC endorsing the conference."
If the Taxpayers' Union is accurately reporting the email, then HRC is not supporting the conference and FIZZ was being a bit naughty in using the HRC logo.

And all of that makes this twitter exchange really interesting. [Update: I'm growing increasingly sure that @Fizz2030 is a parody account and that I have been successfully trolled. Kudos to whomever's done it. Details at the end of the post.]

I've pasted a screenshot at the bottom of the post in case anybody deletes anything. [Update: FIZZ reiterated its HRC backing in a couple other tweets.]

The Chief Exec of the HRC said they have never funded FIZZ and have provided no other support to FIZZ. FIZZ, on its Twitter account, says they have HRC/HPA/MOH backing for the FIZZ 2030 conference.

Now it's possible that FIZZ has just interpreted, for example, enthusiastic kudos from some in HRC (possible, I have no clue) as constituting HRC backing for the conference. Or maybe they've interpreted HRC's hosting of the conference materials as backing. But if it's something more than that, well, there's something interesting here. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

It's also odd that FIZZ's twitter rep interprets these questions as an attempt to shut down the conference. It would be pretty much impossible to stop the conference, unless they somehow managed to annoy the conference host, Auckland Uni, in the process. But even then it would be pretty rare for a conference to be canned at the last minute.

UPDATE: I no longer believe that Fizz2030 is the official Twitter account for the Fizz group's conference. In that case, there's no conflict in stories; I've just been successfully and magnificently trolled. Here's the evidence on either side:

Real: The account has 29 followers and include a bunch of folks affiliated with Fizz. @JustWaterNZ, Dr. Robyn Toomath, public health physicians, the Heart Foundation, and some media folks. Other folks on their side have been interacting with them as though they're real.

Fake: No link to their twitter account on the FIZZ website. When I scroll back through their account, I see some exchanges that are simply implausible. It's hard to tell what's parody any longer in this kind of space. Most of the tweets would be plausible either from a real account or a parody account; these have to be parody. Kudos to @JaninePaynter, whose radar seemed sharper than mine.

I'm rather sure I've been trolled. And magnificently. Excellent job, but you'll likely want to put "Parody Account" in your headers to avoid issues.

Update 2: @JaninePaynter reports she's had confirmation it's parody. Here is the list of some of @Fizz2030's followers as of 18 February, many of whom also must have reckoned that @Fizz2030 passed the Turing test (but some of whom might just follow-back by default).

I also think it's pretty funny that the trolling got caught not because of their over-the-top anti-sugar tweets, but rather because @JaninePayner's radar turned on when FIZZ tweeted "Support growing for tax on SSBs despite attacks on us by @TaxpayersUnion @EricCrampton @CarrickGraham", and mine turned on when they tweeted that their financial backing was none of anybody's business. 


  1. I see the programme and flyer at the FIZZ website now have the logo of Le Va, a private organisation, in the place of the HRC logo. http://www.fizz.org.nz/content/symposium-sugary-drink-free-pacific-2030-feb-2014

  2. Ha! So now FIZZ has the correct version, and the version that has the non-compliant HRC logo is only hosted on the HRC website?

    Note the substantial update above: I'm pretty sure the FIZZ twitter account is parody. A magnificent trolling job though.

  3. Poe's Law strikes again!

  4. Not sure why you think that such dishonest and unethical behaviour is "magnificent". What kind of academic are you? Dirty??

  5. It was so well executed that people on both sides were fooled for a while. Even bastards can be magnificent.

  6. Gordon Williams is the most annoying little so-and-so. He feels so entitled to posture and do the "important" underhand work for his free marketeer friends. Why doesn't he go and do something useful with his life?