This week PZ Myers seemed to finally be acting responsibly, announcing that FreeThought Blogs was setting up a new complaints department, with a dedicated customer service email address. He then revealed that this post was a joke, intended to mock the idea that FreeThought Blogs would do such a thing.
He added that there is no authority within FreeThought Blogs to police what any blogger writes. But the network recently expelled blogger Avicenna after receiving complaints of repeated plagiarism. So, unless that announcement was also a joke, there is an authority within FreeThought Blogs to police ethical breaches by bloggers.
PZ’s original post seemed to be a positive step in proactively welcoming and addressing such complaints in a structured way.
Instead, his second post has demonstrated, yet again, PZ’s steady drift from the principles of justice that he regularly demands of others, and his increasing irrelevancy, other than as a hindrance, to those of us who are trying to actually promote atheism, reason, compassion and justice.
The Customer Service Email Address
Although PZ’s initial announcement was phrased somewhat flippantly, the underlying message was welcome. Coming soon after it had expelled Avicenna, it seemed that FreeThought Blogs was finally beginning to practice some principles of justice in a structured way.
Naturally, I had some questions about the nature of the new complaints department. Would it operate with transparency and accountability? Would people with a conflict of interest be expected to recuse themselves from investigating complaints?
Would its procedures meet the natural justice principles of hearing all of the evidence, respecting the right to a fair hearing of the person complaining and the person being complained about, avoiding bias, and only forming a judgement after all the facts have been considered?
If so, it could have provided a mechanism for addressing, within the network, my complaint that PZ Myers has made the defamatory allegation that I defend, provide a haven for and support rapists, and that the evidence for this claim is that people who comment on my blog also post on the Slymepit forum.
More importantly, it could have been a first step towards PZ taking responsibility for his unjust behaviour to the many people he has misrepresented, smeared and insulted, going back to at least 2006 when Ed Brayton, who is now FreeThought Blogs manager, had said that PZ’s M.O. is to start personal attacks then pretend to be above it all and clam up when criticised.
The idea that Customer Service is a Joke
Sadly, it was not to be. The following day, PZ announced that the post about the Complaints Department was, and I quote:
“intended as a joke — we don’t have such a thing — to mock the idea that we do have such a thing. We don’t.”
Yes, you read that correctly. FreeThought Blogs not only does not have a complaints department, but PZ literally thinks it is a joke that they might have one. And this is a blog network that claims to promote justice.
Can you imagine PZ’s reaction if any of the organisations that he complains about responded by announcing a dedicated customer service email address and then saying that it was a joke, intended to mock the idea that they might have one?
PZ titled his second post “That joke didn’t quite work out as intended,” and he seemed surprised that some people took him seriously and responded to the email address. This shows how removed from reality PZ is. Why on earth would anyone believe that an organisation announcing a complaints department, with a customer service email address, would be a joke?
Perhaps one plausible reason might be that, for whatever reason, they knew that PZ would consider this perfectly normal ethical procedure to be something that he would never do, even (or perhaps particularly) in the immediate aftermath of a complaint that had led to a blogger being removed from the network.
“Here’s the full story on authorities at FtB. There ain’t any… So once someone is in here, they are completely independent — no one tells them when to blog or what to blog or what words to use. Ed doesn’t police anyone else’s blog, I’m not telling anyone else what to write, and no one is ordering us around. We figure once someone is let in, they get a bit of space and are free to write what they want, or not write, or even leave…
“Which means that if you write to me and complain about Greta, or write to Ophelia and complain about Ed, or otherwise try to find some higher authority that you can call down upon one of the bloggers here, it doesn’t exist. We really are equals.
“We do have some rules, but they’re very general. We have an admissions committee that screens people before we give them a blog — we learned a lesson from Thunderf00t, that the time to regulate bloggers is before they get a space and begin to shit all over the network. We also formed an executive committee to deal with network wide crises…like a deranged blogger who is shitting all over the network. But otherwise, nope, no one here meddles in anyone else’s blog.”
The removal of Avicenna from FreeThought Blogs
The trouble with PZ’s “full story” as cited above is that it isn’t true.
Just a few short weeks ago, FreeThought Blogs manager Ed Brayton received a complaint from Hemant Mehta about the plagiarism of Avicenna, and Ed recommended that the Executive Committee expel Avicenna from the network, which it duly did.
Avicenna’s plagiarism wasn’t “a network crisis… like a deranged blogger who is shitting all over the network” which is what PZ describes as the only time the executive committee would act, and by which he is clearly referring to his opinion of former network blogger ThunderF00t. On the contrary, Avicenna was, and remains, a friend of both PZ and Ed, and his plagiarism was confined to his own blog.
“Then I got an email from Hemant Mehta, someone I also hold in high esteem and consider a friend, and he told me that he’d been looking into the evidence and found a powerful case for plagiarism, whether a result of intention or lack of concern for attribution. I emailed Avi and said, in essence, that you have to address this publicly and you have to tell the truth, whatever that is. I’m glad to see that he has now done so. Hemant also published the evidence he had found and he’s right, the case is pretty unassailable. All of this happened while I slept. When I woke up this morning, I looked at both Hemant and Avi’s posts about it and immediately decided to take the matter to the executive committee and recommend his expulsion from the network. The committee agreed.”
“Avi has been taking shortcuts, cutting and pasting blocks of text without attribution. This is a network of writers. Plagiarism is not a forgivable sin here. After reviewing the incidents, and getting Avi’s explanation, we’ve had to conclude that these were not a few one-off accidents, but part of a long term pattern of slipshod writing. For that reason, we have had to regretfully remove Avicenna from our network.”
So, unless the announcement of the removal of Avicenna was also a joke, it seems that there is an Executive Committee that can receive and act upon complaints about ethical breaches by individual FreeThought Bloggers who are posting on their own blogs. So why would PZ think it is a joke to facilitate people making other complaints, including about him?
Also, FreeThought Blogs manager Ed Brayton has yet to respond to my three emails during the past month. I’ll return to that later.