Hemant Mehta Did Not “Endorse” a Hate Forum

April 9, 2015

As I’ve announced, I’m leaving CFI in December. Wish I could say that in the seven years I’ve been with CFI as president, the level of discourse in the atheist/skeptic community has improved. But I can’t say that. If anything, it may have become worse.

I’m not referring here just to the vile, hateful language, combined with puerile insults, one finds all too often on blogs and tweets. These are lamentable; indeed, sometimes there are literally nauseating. There is also the more serious problem of false attributions and distortions of others’ statements.

Case in point is a blog post that appeared yesterday on the Skepchick site. (I happened to read it this morning because I saw a reference to it on Twitter.) The blog post is entitled “The Friendly Atheist Endorses a Hate Forum.” I was taken aback when I saw this because although I do not know Hemant Mehta (a/k/a “The Friendly Atheist”) that well, I found it surprising that Hemant would endorse a hate forum. Also, when I read the body of the Skepchick blog post, the passage cited did not seem to support an attribution of endorsement of The Slymepit, the forum in question.

So I read Hemant’s post. There is nothing in that post that can be properly characterized, by any imaginative to stretch of the English language, as an endorsement of The Slymepit. The sole relevant paragraph in Hemant’s post is as follows:

“As for Myers himself, he responsed on Twitter with a sarcastic “Oh no! I’ve been disowned by the slymepit!”… in other words, associating Atheist Ireland with an online forum that frequently criticizes and mocks him and is populated by people he deems trolls (even though they correctly uncovered plagiarism on his blog network). In other words, he didn’t care.”

There is nothing resembling an endorsement contained within that paragraph. Admittedly, Hemant did not denounce The Slymepit in a way that Rebecca Watson, the author of the Skepchick blog post would have liked, but a characterization of a person, group, website, and so forth in objective, relatively neutral language does not constitute an “endorsement.” If I describe Ted Cruz as “a conservative politician” that does not imply I endorse Cruz simply because others might, with some justification, describe Cruz as “an extreme right-wing theocrat and homophobe.”

Those who hold prominent positions within the atheist or skeptic communities, whether as leaders or writers— and I think it’s fair to say Ms. Watson regards herself as a prominent writer— have an obligation to be as accurate as possible in their comments and observations. In particular, they should refrain from unwarranted accusations. Ms. Watson should rephrase the title of her blog post and apologize to Hemant Mehta. It's not an easy thing to apologize (as I know, and Ms. Watson knows I know), but unquestionably it's the right thing to do here.

In closing, I’m going to anticipate what I know some will say: that I am commenting on the Watson piece because she and I have a “history,” to which I have just made an allusion. That’s not the case. As indicated, my reading of her latest post was entirely fortuitous. But, in any event, let me take this opportunity to acknowledge what is obviously true, namely that Ms. Watson is an intelligent person who has made some significant contributions to the cause of skepticism, and her writings are sometimes interesting and insightful. But her latest blog post does her no credit. Acknowledging her mistake and setting the record straight would.

I also recognize that this is just one blog post out of hundreds published recently, some undoubtedly with worse misstatements. But reform has to start somewhere.

Comments:

#1 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 11:27am

Actually, Ron, yes, there is an endorsement in there. It isn’t the world’s most broad or ringing endorsement, but the idea that it’s somehow strange to call the people who have spent nearly four years now harassing me, Rebecca Watson, and other outspoken feminists “trolls” is saying we should take them more seriously than that. Saying we should do that because they uncovered plagiarism in those many years of obsessive scrutiny of their targets is saying they have value.

#2 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 11:29am

Also, we can see you. Starting with the person you compared to North Korea then had to apologize to is not just “somewhere”.

#3 WhyThaHeckNot on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 11:56am

Um… NO. I expect better from you, sir! Whether you’ve tendered your resignation or not, you have a responsibility to educate yourself on a matter before simply spouting the nonsense popular among the good ole boys network.

Mehta’s parenthetical endorsement is just that, an endorsement. Miscategorizing a forum, created explicitly to harass and intimidate women as some sort of guardian of literature is unconscionable!This is just the latest hit in Meta’s ongoing “unfriendly” treatment of women.

#4 Lady Mondegreen (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 11:58am

Ron, of all the things you could have focused on here—you chose to chide Rebecca Watson for her choice of words.

The Slymepit is a hate site. They don’t just mock Rebecca, PZ and others—obsessively and ruthlessly. They’ve fought every attempt to make this movement more inclusive; to speak truth to power; they spread lies and disinformation. The forum welcomes sexists and racists (see PZ’s post today.)

Hemant chose to whitewash that. And you’re following suit. Why?

Perhaps because PZ Myers punches up, not down—he makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

#5 Edward Gemmer (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 11:59am

An endorsement has to include some sort of approving phrase, like “I endorse the Slymepit” or “Visit the Slymepit,” or even “I like the Slymepit.”

Acknowledging the Slymepit exists is not an endorsement.

#6 lmao (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:02pm

when you have the facts on your side then you don’t have to lie.

#7 Tigzy (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:07pm

Well said, Mr Lindsay. Even if the Slymepit were a hate forum, it’s still not an endorsement. Not that it matters, as we all know the hate doesn’t come from the Pit, but from ‘the other side’, as it were.

I mean, this -

‘Also, we can see you. Starting with the person you compared to North Korea then had to apologize to is not just “somewhere”.’

- what the hell is that, Stef? It may not have been your intent, but it looks as creepy as hell

#8 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:11pm

“[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore should not be deemed trolls by anyone].”

—Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on Ebay

#9 Edward Gemmer (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:13pm

Yes, if you add a bunch of words to what Mehta actually said, he also endorsed Ted Cruz for president.

#10 Steersman on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:18pm

Stephanie (#8):

Way to go to put words into other people’s mouths. Which qualifies as strawmanning at best, and more like egregious intellectual dishonesty.

That last bit - “therefore should not be deemed trolls” - is only your inference, not at all what Hemant said.

#11 Jeremy Mullins (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:18pm

Nice work putting in words that weren’t even implied.  Where I’m from, we call that strawmanning.

#12 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:20pm

Well, thanks for agreeing it’s an endorsement, but all I did was invert the structure of what he said to make it more straightforward for you. The hardest part to follow is understanding that “even though” wouldn’t be in the statement unless the information following it made the action surprising, and that’s not hard. I added nothing.

#13 Astrokid on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:27pm

I hope nobody tweeted this article to Melody Hensley.

#14 Minnow (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:29pm

You didn’t merely invert? You rewrote it. I am finding it hard to believe you are in earnest.

#15 Tigzy (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:31pm

Stephanie Zvan.

Do you not ever stop to wonder why you so frequently have to employ so many sophistries, distortions and stretches-of-definition to serve your cause?

#16 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:31pm

Feel free to try to come up with a different inversion that properly parses “even though”, keeps it sensical, and isn’t an endorsement by your standards. Have fun!

#17 allison (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:32pm

Sorry, Steph, but disagreement ≠ harassment. As a woman I feel far more “safe” at the slymepit than at freethoughtblogs. You don’t speak for me.

#18 Jacques Cuze (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:33pm

What he wrote

“In other words, associating Atheist Ireland with an online forum that frequently criticizes and mocks him and is populated by people he deems trolls (even though they correctly uncovered plagiarism on his blog network). “

Your misrepresentation

“[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore should not be deemed trolls by anyone].”

My take is Mehta is suggesting to the reader he believes there is evidence Myers is wrong that the pit is trolls, but in no way is he saying no one should consider them trolls. Mehta may be telling the reader he does not believe the pit is trolls, but he is certainly not telling the reader they must believe that as well. Mostly this is a statement by Mehta to his reader of of “ymmv”, endorsing not the pit, but skepticism, empiricism, and take a look for yourself.

That is hardly an endorsement, but I suspect an analyst of your calibre knows that already.

#19 Edward Gemmer (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:34pm

Stephanie Zvan Stole a Goat

“All I did was [steal a goat] to make it more straightforward for you.”

-Stephanie Zvan

#20 Iamcuriousblue on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:35pm

I’m glad to see you standing up to this kind of thing Mr. Lindsay, especially in light of the flack that you’ll inevitably getting from both inside and outside of CFI. Kudos to you!

One thing that needs to be made clear, and is implicit in several of the comments already made, is that the existence Slymepit is nothing less than obsession on the part of a number of people in the FTB and Skepchick communities. An obsession that goes back several years now and even predates the existence of the forum itself (back when “the Slymepit” was merely a discussion thread on Abby Smith’s blog), and is out all proportion to the size or relative influence of the Slymepit forum.

This obsession with shutting down certain critics has included demands *that other forums* ban certain commenters simply because they’re persona non grata on Freethoughblogs. It has led to some very nasty treatment of previously uninvolved bloggers, notably Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland, who’s defensiveness is understandable when one takes the extremely nasty accusations lobbed against him by PZ Myers, based merely on who he allows to comment on his blog.

Basically, this rhetoric about “the Slymepit” amounts to an extremely ill-conceived “no platform” campaign against a number of people (and I count myself among these) often based on nothing more than strong dissent toward the views espoused on Pharyngula and related blogs. If they don’t want certain commenters on their blogs, that’s absolutely their right. But they have no right to start an atheist community-wide purge of individuals who’s views they don’t happen to like.

This obsessive campaign on the part of the certain members of the FTB and Skepchick communities needs to stop. Expect further backlash until it does stop.

#21 Jonathan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:35pm

“[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore should not be deemed trolls by anyone].”

—Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on Ebay”

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet-

Abraham Lincoln.

#22 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:39pm

allison, if you feel comfortable at the slime pit, by all means, hang out there, but this is not simply disagreement:

#23 Trent Rademacher (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:40pm

Stephanie says: “I added nothing. “
Apart from the bit he didn’t say.

#24 Iamcuriousblue on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:43pm

I should also add - I think it’s fortuitous that this is coming to a head at the same time as renewed attention to the behavior of Scientology. Because there’s strong parallels between how the FTB/Skepchick crowd and the Church of Scientology go after dissenters. “Slymepitters” are merely the “suppressive persons” of the secular community.

#25 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:45pm

Well, I’d log in and add the links for my prior comment, but my log in has both been previously taken and isn’t available for login. If you’re willing to look, search for the following at Almost Diamonds: “What Is More Important Than Peace? (NSFW)”, “What Happens at the Slime Pit…”, and “In Which I Falsely Report a Rape”.

#26 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:47pm

Nobody wants to create the actual inverted statement, huh? I guess I’m not surprised. Maybe Ron will take it up after having accused me on Twitter of not responding to the the merits of his post, about an hour after I did in my first comment here.

#27 Trent Rademacher (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:48pm

First she invents quotes and then she plugs her blog.
Stephanie, is their a limit to the awesome craic you are treating us to tonight?

#28 Jacques Cuze (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:50pm

I can’t get behind the praise for Ronald saying this.

Basically CFI, AA have been aware of this for years. They claim to represent Skepticism, Rationality, (Atheism) with the mission

“The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”

They ask for donations, play around in Washington as lawyers and lobbyists, and yet they can’t make a clear statement about the defamation and abuse in their community.

They basically have to be goaded into it by Irish skeptics who have faced months of defamatory attacks, and even then the sole statement comes from an outgoing leader and the statement is the mildest of rebukes clad in complimentary language.

This is not the sign of an organization that can effectively lobby or stand as role models for Skeptics (or Atheists).

Had CFI stood up years ago for the principles that Ronald Lindsay surely holds, how much less pain would have been inflicted?

Feh.

#29 Burrito (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:52pm

Steph, you put words into peoples’ mouths and then thank others for agreeing with you. I mean, just how wholly disingenuous can a person be? This seems to be a common tactic of your corner of the world where I believe it is referred to as “doubling down” when other people do it.

My guess is that, in this instance, your vindictive goal is to smear Mehta because you think he smeared your friend. How awfully grown up of you.

Let me give you my own take:
[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [because uncovering plagiarism is what PZ deems “trolling”].

You see? Easy… It’s not difficult to get from A to B in my text. But you’d need to be infinitely uncharitable to make the deduction your camp has done and deem it an endorsement.

#30 Antifreeze1100 (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:52pm

Except PZ explicitly condemned the Slyme Pit as trolls in HIS RESPONSE to their uncovering of plagiarism (see his “Farewell, Avicenna” post). As far as I am aware, that incident was one of Hemant’s few (only?) prior involvements with (and commentaries on) the Slyme Pit. So his “even though…” phrasing may not even be any kind of general absolution of the Pit for its detective work in one particular incident. In context, it’s far more likely to be fair condemnation of PZ’s ridiculous ad hominem responses to criticism, even when the evidence is against him. Either way, it ain’t endorsement, regardless of whether or not one agrees that the Pit is a “hate site”.

#31 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:56pm

Burrito, you lost “even though” in your inversion.

#32 Kirbmarc (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 12:59pm

Stephanie Zvan: “Nobody wants to create the actual inverted statement, huh? I guess I’m not surprised.”

Easy:

“[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore their status as trolls is in doubt].”

Not an endorsement, just not a complete rejection.

Just like saying, for example “Lincoln is deemed by many an anti-racist hero , even though he at times expressed some admittedly racist thoughts” doesn’t mean “and therefore none should believe he’s anti-racist hero”.

I think you might have a bias in favor of Manichean thinking, where a not explicit rejection is an endorsement.

The world is rarely black and white, though. There are almost always some grey areas.

#33 Burrito (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:00pm

Steph, I just copy/pasta your own words.

Wow…, you guys… you guys…

#34 Minnow (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:03pm

Stephanie zvan,  I get the impression that you may not be using your native language but you did not merely invert the quote which would be easy enough to do likee this: ‘Even though they correctly identified plagiarism on his blog network,  Myers deems the slymepit,  an online forum that frequently criticises and mocks him, to be populated by trolls.

You don’t have to make anything up.

#35 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:03pm

Burrito, you really didn’t, but if you can’t tell the difference, there’s clearly no point in continuing to discuss it.

Kirbmarc, so you’re saying that Hemant was expressing surprise that PZ called the slime pit trolls even though it remained vaguely possible that they weren’t? I don’t think so.

#36 Edward Gemmer (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:05pm

While it’s fun to use this logic to put all sorts of crazy words in someone’s mouth, at the end of the day:

1. Mehta did not endorse the Slymepit.

2. The arguments that he did make no sense.

Hard to get around these facts, but it’s fun to watch people try.

#37 Antifreeze1100 (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:07pm

How about: “Even [WHEN the slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on his blog network, he deems [them] trolls.”

#38 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:07pm

Minnow, why would “even though” need to be used in that sentence unless identifying plagiarism made one exempt from being called a troll?

#39 Donnie (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:09pm

Good bye Mr. Lindsay.  Assuming there will be another Women in Secularism conferende, i,can look forward to not hearing another unwelcoming so each by you.

Now, once CFI gets rid of Mr. “I post revenge porn” Radford, I might consider that CFI stands up for humanistic values and worth supporting.

Until that time, I will support individuals who are making the skeptic / atheist community safe for all.  The Slymepit was organized to harash, lie, distort, stalk, and silence outspoken women.

The Slymepit is the Worm Tongue of our movement.  Hemant calling the Slymepit “not trolls” is equivalent to him providing secular forced-birthers his blog in an uncritical manner without providing the same uncritical access to his platform.

#40 Minnow (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:11pm

It was used presumably because it expressed his meaning.  In English ’ Even though’ contains no implication of exemption. He thought he was guilty even though he had an alibi,  still means he thought him guilty.

#41 Tigzy (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:12pm

Furthermore, Hemant Mehta has already clarified his position as regards an endorsement of the Pit:

‘Godless Mom ‏@godless_mom 21h21 hours ago

Scoured your post about Myers & can’t, for life of me, find an endorsement of slymepit. Is this a joke? @hemantmehta pic.twitter.com/orZbxdYX8K’

‘Hemant Mehta
‏@hemantmehta

.@godless_mom I can’t find an endorsement either. Makes sense since I wouldn’t give one. Easier for them to lie, I guess.’

So that’s that. His own words: it’s not an endorsement. End of.

#42 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:17pm

“In English ’ Even though’ contains no implication of exemption.” Minnow, that’s the funniest thing anyone’s said all day. It’s also entirely wrong.

#43 Trent Rademacher (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:24pm

[This comment has been removed by the moderator for violation of our comments policy. See centerforinquiry.net/blogs/about]

#44 Minnow (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:26pm

It isn’t wrong. It is a balancing phrase. These things can be hard to grasp in a second language, you have mtvdympathy, but it doesn’t mean what you think it does. If I say ‘he is considered a brute even though he is kind to his dog’ there us no implication that ‘he’ is exempt from the accusation if brutishness.

#45 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:29pm

Minnow, English is my first language, and I write professionally. Go check out a dictionary or thesaurus.

#46 Invité (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:32pm

I’ve always had a hard time understanding why an outspoken (and accomplished) woman, Dr. Abbie Smith, would take the time to set up a forum devoted to silencing outspoken women. Could it be that there is perhaps more to the story than simple, base, animalistic hatred for women? Or do you think Smith, an active, working scientist, would set up a forum designed to harass some bloggers, just because some of them happen to be women? And from what I can tell PZ Myers seems to be their favoured target. Their mockery and trolling of FTB can’t just be caused by misogyny.

#47 Submariner (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:37pm

Ms. Zvan brilliantly has everyone stepping and fetching in a psychic semantics game of read the authors mind over these two words. Words which even she leaves out of her initial rephrasing.

““[The slime pit] correctly uncovered plagiarism on [PZ Myers’] blog network [and therefore should not be deemed trolls by anyone].””

This really should take place at JREF where Ms Zvan can be eligible for the $1,000,000 prize for mind reading.

The more MS Zvan can lob this red herring about, the less focus is placed on the extremely poor charity (or outright falsehood)levied by Ms. Watson.

#48 Billie from Ockham (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:40pm

Minnow -

If you do end up taking Stephanie Zvan’s advice and check out a dictionary, please be sure to start reading at the letter B, else you might come across the definition of a word starting with “ath” that will cause you great damage.

#49 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:42pm

Submariner, see comment #12.

#50 Steersman on Thursday April 09, 2015 at 1:44pm

Stephanie (#16):

Feel free to try to come up with a different inversion that properly parses “even though”, keeps it sensical, and isn’t an endorsement by your standards. Have fun!

I know many in the FTB crowd have an aversion to dictionaries (maybe their mothers were harassed by travelling encyclopedia salesmen), but consider:

Even if and even though are used to introduce subordinate clauses. …. Even though has a similar meaning to ‘although’, but is more emphatic:

He went to work even though he was unwell.
I was always afraid of him, even though he was kind to me.

Translating the analogy to Hemant’s “by people [PZ] deems trolls even though [people in the SlymePit] correctly uncovered plagiarism …”, it means that Hemant wasn’t insisting that all in the SlymePit were not trolls, only that some “uncovered plagiarism”. Bit of a stretch to see how that qualifies as an “endorsement” of the entire website. Except maybe in the delusional.

Rather clear proof that your inference that “identifying plagiarism made one exempt from being called a troll” is so much moonshine – being charitable.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.