January 4, 2015

Freethought Blogs Shows Integrity

Avicenna
Avicenna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As you may have heard, there was another incident of plagiarism in the atheist blogosphere (after the CJ Werleman incident). This one involved a blogger on the Freethought Blogs network who bloged under the name of Avicenna Last (A Million Gods). After Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) received information pointing to plagiarism uncovered by individuals on the Slymepit forum and decided to post it on his blog, it was clear that Freethought Blogs was going to have to do something. PZ Myers had already gone on record defending Avicenna and attempting to blame the entire incident on "trolls." Freethought Blogs could either follow PZ's lead and attempt to defend the indefensible or they could expel Avicenna from their network. I'm happy to see that they did the latter.

I have disagreed with the positions advocated by some of the bloggers on the Freethought Blogs network, and I have been disappointed with how some of these bloggers and their supporters treat others. In spite of this - or maybe because of it - I wanted to say that I think they got this one right. Given that some of them were on record taking strong stances against plagiarism, I believe that expelling Avicenna was the right thing to do. Based on Ed Brayton's (Dispatches From the Culture Wars) announcement of this decision, it sounds like it was a personally difficult one to make. I can empathize with that. It can't be an easy thing to do when a friend is involved. I commend Ed and the others for making such a difficult yet principled decision. It shows ethical integrity.

I'd also like to say that I was wrong here. I assumed that Freethought Blogs would opt for the route down which PZ had already started: circling the wagons, blaming critics of the network, and defending blatant plagiarism. This was a mistake on my part. I misjudged those with the authority to make this decision (i.e., members of the Freethought Blogs executive council). My biases got the better of me, and it is clear that I was wrong. I will try to be more charitable moving forward.

I see that some critics of the Freethought Blogs network are having a hard time letting this one go. They are insisting that action should have been taken sooner, that nothing would have happened if Hemant hadn't have decided to post what he did, that expelling Avicenna isn't good enough, and so on. I don't find any of this particularly relevant now, nor do I believe that it detracts from the fact that Freethought Blogs did the right thing here. Again, I think their decision was the correct one, I appreciate that they made it, and I feel bad about misjudging them.

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