7/9/10

The Truth about Tom Johnson

7/31--Update here.

If you are not following this dust-up, don't try. It will eat up your entire morning, and some of your afternoon.  But I am following it, and it just got more interesting.

So we have a guy, now known as William, who wants to do battle with the new atheists, and defend Chris Mooney, and evidently he feels small and powerless.  So he goes Oz on everyone, and pretends to be someone else--not one great and powerful wizard, but rather he looks for power in numbers.  He sends multiple personae (Milton C., bilbo, etc) to The Intersection where they defend Mooney and castigate his critics.  Later on, he starts a blog, You're Not Helping, where he pretends to be a "we" and creates sock puppets to comment on and support everything he says.  All strange, but all true.

When all this comes to light and William confesses, he starts listing all his sock puppets, and includes one "Tom Johnson", who caused quite a stir at the Intersection back in October 2009 by telling a story about how he'd witnessed religion-bashing at a conservation meeting.  Just a sock puppet, William now says. That comes as a shock to Chris Mooney, because Chris had checked him out, identified him as real student X, and used his story as supporting evidence in a post of his own.

When William decommissioned Tom Johnson, there was much excitement at various anti-Mooney blogs.  It wasn't just schadenfreude--Chris Mooney has been duped! Ha Ha!--but there was a new round of a popular game called "pin something on Chris Mooney."  It was biased of him to believe in the crazy stories of a sock puppet.  He must have done a very shabby job of checking him out.

Now, that struck me as very premature, but now I see just how premature.   It turns out that William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets.  Tom Johnson was for real, as Chris learned by checking him out thoroughly in 2009. Mooney knew then and knows now who he is, and I do too, because I've seen the correspondence and other corroborating evidence. 

Not only does Chris know the identity of Tom Johnson, but I think he's being a bit modest about what he had reason to believe in 2009.  The student provided ample well-corroborated detail that made it clear he could have witnessed just what he said he'd witnessed. Granted, "William's" credibility is zero right now, so who really knows what he witnessed? But at the time William/Tom Johnson/X sent that email, back in October 2009, his story were believable.

No doubt, the accusations will continue, and get stranger and stranger. But from my perspective, case closed.

Correction 7/29: My first comment here --after gussnarp's question--was rushed and garbled because I had to get to a horse show (!).   The comment reduced this post to 8 points, but I badly misstated one or two of them, in my hurry to get out the door. The post itself, and my 6:19, 7:23,  and 10:45 comments, say what I had to say more clearly.  Now that more is publicly known about the student, I imagine they are all now easier to comprehend.

60 comments:

Faust said...

I am glad you take the time to follow these things for me :)

gussnarp said...

I'm really confused, because what you've said here contradicts what Chris is saying. Chris seems to be saying that the individual whose comment he posted is who he said he was when he posted it, but that individual is also the puppeteer behind the sock puppets. You are saying he is not. Can you clarify?

Joseph Smidt said...

I'm also glad you are following this through.

Though Tom/William/Whatever is the one most at fault it is incredible how many accusations are being laid out on Chris Mooney, making it sound as if he makes claims only knowing half the stories, when these same critics *hypocritically* obviously only know half the story themselves.

To criticize Chris for failing at "basic journalism" looks pretty bad when you find yourself making a bunch of accusations based on... poor journalism.

Ophelia Benson said...

This makes no sense. It may seem to make sense to you, because you're familiar with what Mooney has shown you, but it makes no sense without that.

Furthermore, the original story was not that Tom Johnson was a student, it was that he was "a scientist."

There's a third thing, of course, which you know very well. Your friend Mooney is happy to ban me from commenting while allowing and leaving in place comments that say I am lying about the arguments in Unscientific America. This means I have no ability to say "I am not lying." This is very dirty. The side you have chosen is not as righteous as you obviously think.

Travis said...

Likewise I am confused, you say there is evidence the story is true, but in his post Chris says

"In light of all this, there’s no reason to trust the story that “Tom Johnson” originally told on this blog."

A statement that makes it sound like that evidence is hardly compelling.

Jean Kazez said...

Ophelia, Obviously, I do think I'm on the righteous side or I wouldn't have put myself in the line of fire.

About the banning business. Look, either I have to be honest and a bit brutal, or you're going to keep thinking I'm just ignoring things and being biased. My guess about why you got banned (I don't know the truth) is because you didn't just criticize M&K, like PZ Myers did, and Russell Blackford did, etc., but you were relentless about it, constantly demanding answers to your questions, as if they owed you answers. I know there are lots of people who love your doggedness, and I suppose I like it too when I think you're doggedly attacking the right person (like that tiresome Nicholas Beale, way back when), but the person under fire just can't find it all that loveable. So I don't think you're banning is a crime for which Chris and Sheril owe you an apology.

Bruce Gorton said...

A few basic flaws here:

The story you are telling doesn't make sense. The original Tom Johnson was billed as a scientist - yet here you say student.

The story has changed a fundemental detail - not a good sign.

Even without that, even accepting the basic argument that Tom is really Tom...

Your argument seems to be that because you can verify this guy exists, what he is telling you is true.

So, say you can verify is really that person, okay, good for you, but that testimony has gone entirely uncorroborated.

Unusually so because you would think such behaviour would be at least mentioned somewhere by any Christians encountering it on campus.

I mean, as it is described, that doesn't sound normal to me.

Which is to say even before this whole William business the whole thing needed to be treated with caution.

So far as I can see you and Mooney, and possibly the whole accomodationist crew are maybe suffering from a bit of cognative dissonance.

Ophelia Benson said...

Jean, I already know you think that, you said as much last summer. I agree that it's a motivation of sorts, but not such a good one that it excuses shutting me up while allowing comments calling me a liar.

The "etc" about X, don't forget, also includes a storm of sexist shit thrown at me. One of the female socks called me a useless putrid twat, then some of the other female socks joined in mocking the idea that there was any misogyny going on. I'm not a bit sure X deserves to have his career protected.

IM said...

"These posts appear to be truthful."

So in other words, he lied about a lot of things but the anecdote he told Mooney is the truth?

Is the truth or could have been the truth? That is he could have been at such a meeting at a certain place and time?

Bruce Gorton said...

(7) Why did X dispossess Tom Johnson, calling him just another sock puppet? I think it's because there's too much truth there, and he feared being found out. Smarter thing would have been for him to say he had nothing to do with Tom Johnson.

Umm, so in order to protect his secret identity, he made a fool of someone who knows what it is in a manner which is highly damaging to that person, is what you are saying?

Seriously?

gussnarp said...

Ah, well that at least clears up my confusion. To me when you said: "It turns out that William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets.", that meant that Tom Johnson was not really associated with William/X. That isn't what you meant at all. I think it's a stretch to say he's over confessing or lying about that. Tom Johnson appears to be a false identity used by X to promote the same opinions at the intersection that all of X's other identities were promoting, thus a sock puppet. This is really just semantics, but in this case it leads to some confusion.

jaranath said...

Jean: thank you, I just finished drastic similar questions. Chris' explanation of this was very confusing....

In light of your answers, could you please characterize the evidence confirming X as Tom? Did you/Chris call him at his place of work? Did you meet him and he matched his company/school/whatever's web photo? I don't know if those are the best examples, but you get what I mean. I don't want to see the actual evidence if identity is such a huge concern, but surely it's harmless to explain what you/Chris did to confirm identity?

Also...how does X being Tom support the plausibility of his claim? It's the claim itself that's implausible, I'd have the same reaction regardless of who made it to me. Was there any verification of the actual claim? Again, if so, could you characterize it? And do you have any better idea what a "conservation meeting" IS?

Feynmaniac said...

Question: Was "William"/"Tom Johnson" an undergrad, a grad student, or something else? What field was he in?

Jean Kazez said...

Folks--Believe it or not, I have to go watch my daughter perform in a horse show, but quickly...

Bruce, Some students call themselves whatever they're learning to be. That's the answer to the question about "scientist" and "student."

Jerry, I think that in the material X sent to Chris to verify his identity, there's a great deal of detail that adds credibility to his testimony about what he witnessed. No tape recordings or videos or anything, but there are facts about X that make the whole thing more believable than it would otherwise be. You have to just imagine what I mean, because I can't give details.

Jerry Coyne said...

Ah, here's what "William" himself says at:
http://thebuddhaisnotserious.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/the-curious-case-of-the-youre-not-helping-blog/#comment-526

_________

“Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false.
_________

So the incident was bogus--fabricated. End of story. To say that "the student provided ample well-corrobotated detil that made it clear he could have witnessed just what he said he'd witnessed" contradicts what the student said himself.

I don't believe that the incident occurred. I think it was fabricated out of whole cloth because the student wanted it to be true. And, apparently, so do you and Chris Mooney.

Ophelia Benson said...

Well, never mind all these pesky holes in the story - you and Chris can discuss them when he invites you to do a Point of Inquiry, eh Jean? Then all this "line of fire" stuff will be worth it. Plus you'll be like a total martyr-hero kind of thing.

Scote said...

So, you claim:

"William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets.  Tom Johnson was for real,"

But you also say

"(1) X posted as Tom Johnson. These posts appear to be truthful. So what Tom Johnson says about himself is true of X. Chris knows that based on email and a lot other evidence, including talking to X on the phone.

(2) X also engaged in sock puppetry at the Intersection, calling himself Milton C, bilbo, etc.

(3) X also created YNH, with all its lies, etc.

(7) Why did X dispossess Tom Johnson, calling him just another sock puppet? I think it's because there's too much truth there, and he feared being found out. Smarter thing would have been for him to say he had nothing to do with Tom Johnson."


In other words, "Tom Johnson" really was another of "William's" many on-line identities, aka, sock puppets. I can't get why you are trying to play some kind of semantic game which falsely implied that Tom Johnson wasn't one of "William's" many identities used for the purpose of trying to seem like many people rather than one to increase his credibility.


"(6) Why not divulge? Because I think it would be very damaging to X's career, and while he did very stupid things, I don't think messing up his career is a punishment that fits the crime. "

If anybody messed up "Tom Johnson's" future career it is "Tom Johnson." Are you really going to suggest that you and Chris Mooney should conspire to keep the identity of this admitted fabulist secret? Don't you think the scientific community nor the community at large deserves to be able to cross index his name and give his papers and claims a second, closer look based on his extensive history of lying? Or do you think you should cover for known liars who set up entire websites for the purpose of lying to falsely smear overt atheist scientists?

If "Tom Johnson" is over 18 then I think your excuses fall short.

Ophelia Benson said...

Why not divulge? Because I think it would be very damaging to X's career, and while he did very stupid things, I don't think messing up his career is a punishment that fits the crime.

Really. Singling out a woman for a non-stop torrent of sexist abuse is just "stupid" and not worth messing up a guy's career.

I'm not a bit sure of that.

MK said...

"If anybody messed up "Tom Johnson's" future career it is "Tom Johnson." Are you really going to suggest that you and Chris Mooney should conspire to keep the identity of this admitted fabulist secret? Don't you think the scientific community nor the community at large deserves to be able to cross index his name and give his papers and claims a second, closer look based on his extensive history of lying? Or do you think you should cover for known liars who set up entire websites for the purpose of lying to falsely smear overt atheist scientists?"

Completely agree with you Scote. His actions should at least result with him getting a degree.

How would you feel if he went into for instance medical research with this kind of history.

MK said...

Correction: His actions should at least result with him NOT getting a degree.

MK said...

Correction: His actions should at least result with him NOT getting a degree.

Anonymous said...

"Jerry, I think that in the material X sent to Chris to verify his identity, there's a great deal of detail that adds credibility to his testimony about what he witnessed. No tape recordings or videos or anything, but there are facts about X that make the whole thing more believable than it would otherwise be. You have to just imagine what I mean, because I can't give details."

So we're just suppose to believe a story told by a known liar with nothing but 'if you saw it, you'd believe it'? Oh and this information that happens to vindicate Mooney is only known by Mooney and his friends?

Scote said...

I don't know about that MK. I think "Tom Johnson" should be exposed to clear up the vagueness and confusion about this incident, and so that we can all take what he says with a grain of salt.. I don't know if that should affect his degree. That would depend on whether he specifically violated school policies at school, or did something wrong academically that would merit such drastic actions. Perhaps he did and those details are in the correspondence? Anyway, I'm generally against the encroachment of schools into our private lives, so I'm very cautious about the idea that this incident should have any direct consequence to his degree track. I was, for instance, very much against BYU when it rescinded the degree of a man who made very tame calendar of Hunky Mormon Missionaries. Likewise I was against a school who rescinded the educational degree track of a woman who's photo appeared on the net, showing her holding and opaque plastic cup with what *might have been* alcohol. And I'd likely be equally quick to defend even a lying liar like "Tom Johnson" from direct consequences at school if he didn't do anything wrong academically. Indirect consequences he deserves, to be sure, but direct consequences would only be justified by specific circumstances.

Bruce Gorton said...

http://www.badscience.net/2010/07/yeah-well-you-can-prove-anything-with-science/

I think that pretty much clears up the confusion.

jaranath said...

I still don't see the problem, Jean. You can say it's not recordings, but you can't say what type it is? If it was, for instance, newspaper clippings, or Tom's account of what others told him, or emails sent to him by others about the event, or...? This sort of thing would be sensitive? Because based on what little we know, I can't see how it would be convincing at all. And I have to agree with Jerry Coyne that Tom's statements seen to gut this whole thing. It doesn't sound like there was a meeting at all...that at best, he assembled an imaginary story loosely based on various general comments overheard from other students.

We go from an allegedly genuine event he witnessed to a series of secondhand anecdotes, from unidentified people, which weren't about a specific meeting, hammered into a fictional event by a chronic liar. And that adds credibility to his testimony?

MK said...

"That would depend on whether he specifically violated school policies at school, or did something wrong academically that would merit such drastic actions."

You mean apart from setting up a website with bunch of sock puppets to smear people?

Well, ethical principles were broken. That would be under school rules.

I'll repeat: what if he goes into medical research?

Hitch said...

Frankly I wished this would just have been a clear non-partisan account of what the state of affairs is.

But it's not, so it's not as helpful as it could have been.

I still have open questions that have nothing to do with schadenfreude or idenities, but the way people prepare to stone-wall, I guess that's about it, right?

Matt Penfold said...

Jean,

First, evidence you refuse to reveal is not evidence. It is hearsay. Please do not confuse the two.

Second, William has said he is not a student, let alone a graduate student. He did this when he admitted he made up the story about Tom Johnson.

Either produce evidence to support your claims or withdraw them. Do do anything else would be dishonest. Now Mooney is didhonest, but I have been told you know better. Prove it.

So who is lying here, you and Mooney, or William.

amos said...

Just watching this highbrow reality show.

Faust said...

Popcorn Amos?

Rieux said...

What continuing confused nonsense.


First:
Here's a recap. There's one real, live person X who has done a lot of different things.

(1) X posted as Tom Johnson....


It might have been useful to provide that list of statements rather than the original post, which (in asserting things such as "It turns out that William was lying when he said Tom Johnson was one of his sock puppets") only made matters more confusing. (According to your latest explanation, "Tom Johnson" was one of "William"'s sockpuppets, even if the "Tom Johnson" story is true. Which means your assertion in the OP is, in terms, false.)


Second:
I think that in the material X sent to Chris to verify his identity, there's a great deal of detail that adds credibility to his testimony about what he witnessed.

Then why does Mooney himself assert that "there’s no reason to trust the story that 'Tom Johnson' originally told on" The Intersection? Given the massive charade "William"/"Tom" has engaged in, how could anyone sanely grant him any "credibility" at all? Mooney has concluded that "one cannot trust ['William'] in light of subsequent behavior"; what reason do you have to see matters differently?


Third:
About the banning business. Look, either I have to be honest and a bit brutal, or you're going to keep thinking I'm just ignoring things and being biased. My guess about why you [Ophelia Benson] got banned (I don't know the truth) is because you didn't just criticize M&K, like PZ Myers did, and Russell Blackford did, etc., but you were relentless about it, constantly demanding answers to your questions, as if they owed you answers. I know there are lots of people who love your doggedness, [...] but the person under fire just can't find it all that loveable. So I don't think you're banning is a crime for which Chris and Sheril owe you an apology.

What? You seriously, straightfacedly contend that "dogged" and "relentless" criticism and questioning justifies banning a commenter? From a blog, one should note (but you don't), on which Mooney and Kirshenbaum grossly negligently allowed a chorus of sockpuppets to run wild, "doggedly" and "relentlessly" sliming Ophelia and other critics of the bloggers?

Moreover, one should note (but you don't) that it is not merely Ophelia herself who has been banned from The Intersection; the very mention of her name has been banned from The Intersection. She has become She Who Must Not Be Named.
Do you seriously contend that that is an appropriate way to deal with "dogged" and "relentless" criticism?


Finally:
No doubt, the accusations will continue, and get stranger and stranger. But from my perspective, case closed.

This entire episode has been saturated with negligence, absurd obfuscation, the silencing of critical perspectives, and oceans and oceans of dishonesty on the part of Chris Mooney and his supporters. In light of your untroubled acceptance of much of the above, I hope it's clear why your "perspective" carries little currency for those of us who are simply seeking an honest and forthright response to the damage Mooney and his blog have wrought.

amos said...

There are thousands and thousands of blogs online. Some are completely idiotic; others are offensive; a few are worth glancing at; and even fewer are worth dedicating serious attention to. If a blog turns me off, I move on. Why this obsession with Mooney's blog, which I've never looked at, which I have no interest in looking at and which well may be as bad as so many of you claim it to be?

Jason Rosenhouse said...

Jean, in your reply to Ophelia you wrote:
____________________
My guess about why you got banned...is because you didn't just criticize M&K, like PZ Myers did, and Russell Blackford did, etc. but you were relentless about it, constantly demanding answers to your questions, as if they owed you answers, ...So I don't think you're banning is a crime for which Chris and Sheril owe you an apology
_______________


Jean, if this really is the reason Ophelia was banned then it is completely unacceptable. Most of us have our share of relentless commenters, but so long as they adhere to some minimal definition of good taste we do not ban them. It is all the more galling that Chris allowed vitriolic and insulting attacks on Ophelia without giving her a chance to reply. Shame on you for defending such behavior.

The solution to relentless commenters is to ignore them. Sometimes blogging means letting your critics have the last word. It is not too big a burden to bear.

Jean Kazez said...

Can I have some popcorn too?

Just one little point--this is not a courtroom. Nobody's on trial. I haven't given testimony. So words like "hearsay" have no place in this conversation.

I also really don't think this is about the more general matter of how The Intersection is moderated, who's banned, etc.

I think the issue is very, very narrow: what did Chris do to learn about Tom Johnson before elevating his comment? Did he behave irresponsibly?

From the evidence I've seen, he did just what he needed to do. (1) He verified the guy's identity. He knows who Tom Johnson is--in fact, he knows it for sure. (2) He learned general facts about him (what he does, who he knows, where he goes) that made him credible.

So--was Tom Johnson's story about religion bashing at a conservation conference true? I don't know. Did Chris have reason to believe it in October? I think so.

As to outing or not outing this person. I'm not about to break my word that I'd keep his name and details to myself. Plus, I agree with Chris on this issue. I don't think what he did in the weird world of the blogosphere ought to wind up in his dossier for life.

Travis said...

Amos, I think it could be argued that Mooney's blog is more than just another blog. He is fairly well known, a published author, has been on television more than a few times. He has exposure that is greater than the average person.

On the topic of the disagreement over this line ""there’s no reason to trust the story that 'Tom Johnson' originally told on" The Intersection? Given the massive charade "William"/"Tom"" I did see some posters over at The Intersection saying that he does say it could also be true. Then again, I think saying it could be true is pretty moronic. Almost any reasonable story could be true if there is no direct evidence against it. I could make up a story and it would be possibly true for all most people knew. It is almost a trivial statement

Travis said...

Jean, heasay is a valid work here. It does not have to be used in the legal sense, though there is a legal definition of hearsay. Evidence can be hearsay outside of a courtroom.

How does that make him credible? It seems to make him exist but that is it.

Jean Kazez said...

Jason, Shame on you for saying "shame on you." It's a cliche. Really, let's get off this discussion of Ophelia. It's entirely a digression.

Scote said...

"Jason, Shame on you for saying "shame on you." It's a cliche. Really, let's get off this discussion of Ophelia. It's entirely a digression."

Note the complete lack of rebuttal of any of Jason's points. Nice try at distraction, especially given that he was responding to points you yourself made rather forcefully right here in the comments section. It's an evasion worthy of Mooney himself.

Jean Kazez said...

Scote, The Ophelia thing is the distraction. I responded to her personally, but that's that. Any more discussion of that is simply off the topic of this post. I'm not going to be putting up with "shame on you's"...or any other rubbish.

Jean Kazez said...

Travis, People get evidence about the world through others all the time. X tells Y, Y tells Z...and Z learns something. If you never obtained information that way, you'd be in bad shape. It really is only in a court of law that that's ruled out as hearsay.

I agree--"he exists" is one thing. "He's credible" is another. Had I seen the evidence in 2009, I would have said "definitely" to the first and "probably" to the second.

Anonymous said...

I agree--"he exists" is one thing. "He's credible" is another. Had I seen the evidence in 2009, I would have said "definitely" to the first and "probably" to the second.

This is someone who is an admitted liar, not once but continuously over a prolonged period of time in a number of ways, and yet you still consider him even remotely credible?

Rieux said...

No, Ophelia's banning is not irrelevant to this discussion.

First, said banning occurred during a series of Intersection comment threads in which your friend "Tom," in his many disguises, was throwing no end of excrement at her. Rather than doing anything to discipline Ophelia's attackers (including the simple IP checking that would have revealed that all or nearly all of them were in fact the same person), Chris Mooney decided to ban Ophelia. And then ban any mention of her name.

Second, the matter at issue is in fact much broader than you are pretending: what is in question is the manner in which Mooney has administered his blog and conducted himself in this discussion. His negligence regarding sockpuppets, his banning of critics, and his thoughtless trumpeting of a dubious tale told by a scam artist are all centrally relevant to the topic at issue.

Third, and most important, is the nature of your own role here. Mooney is now using you (with, it appears, your consent) as an independent authority who has reviewed, and can speak to, the evidence he has gathered regarding "Tom"'s identity and narrative. This places your integrity and credibility as an independent arbiter at issue.

In that context, you have now stated your approval, or at least acceptance, of Mooney's cowardly censorship of a blogger who dared to ask him inconvenient questions, in the midst of disgusting attacks against her (authored by a scam artist) that he did nothing to deter. Your unconcerned reaction places your integrity and credibility as an independent arbiter here into serious doubt: given that you cannot bring yourself to question Mooney's unethical behavior in Ophelia's case, it is difficult at best to be confident that you are more than a rubber stamp for his conclusions in "Tom"'s.

Your attempt at distraction aside, I suspect that Jason wrote "shame on you" because you ought to be ashamed of your support for Mooney's conduct regarding Ophelia. The fact that you are not a bit ashamed strongly suggests that the evidence regarding "Tom" and his tale still have yet to be reviewed by someone who is capable of concluding that Chris Mooney is wrong.

Ophelia Benson said...

Well hey, Jean - at least your old friend Jeremy Stangroom agrees with you (and Mooney). He's just done a post at the blog Talking Philosophy saying the New Atheists commenting here are participants in a witch hunt and "the 21st century, virtual-world, equivalent of a medieval mob baying for the blood [of] their latest victim."

amos said...

Rieux: I've known Jean Kazez for several years, unfortunately only at many thousands of kilometers of distance, and I can assure that she isn't anyone's rubber stamp.
She just may see the whole issue in a different light than you people do. Does that make her into an enemy of the Soviet people
and an agent of the international Trotsky-Fascist conspiracy?

Jean Kazez said...

Anonymous, Can you try to think logically? The question is not about anyone's credibilty NOW, it's about what Chris Mooney was looking at in 2009 and whether that material made TJ credible.

Jean Kazez said...

Amos, Actually I AM a spy. How did you guess?

Rieux, Oh come on. It's not about the whole general issue of blog moderation. I actually don't care for the way Ophelia moderates. She lets people trash me. Wah! But am I going to somehow smuggle that into this discussion? Of course not. This isn't about her moderation at B&W or about Chris's moderation at the Intersection. It's just about whether Chris properly vetted Tom Johnson before elevating his comments.

By the way, I'll probably start screening comments soon, so then everyone can complain about how I moderate this blog. Pretty soon we can just let the real issue of vetting get lost under a mountain of nonsense about moderation.

Scote said...

"Jean Kazez said...
...If you never obtained information that way, you'd be in bad shape. It really is only in a court of law that that's ruled out as hearsay.


Yes, we are often told hearsay. And it often doesn't matter outside of a court that it is hearsay. But there is a **reason** why hearsay evidence is not allowed in a court, because it is less credible than direct evidence and because you can't cross examine the alleged speaker.

The current situation with trying to get to the actual truth of Mooney's Johnson affair is an investigation of sorts and the same general principles apply, even if not in a strict sense. There is a hierarchy of evidence, and hearsay evidence, where you and Mooney say "Trust us, we have read/heard secret testimony" is pretty far down. Your attempts to claim that the issue of hearsay is irrelevant demonstrate that you are, to my mind, being pretty disingenuous about people's sincere interest in investigating the truth. At this point it would be really, really stupid of anybody to to rely on word of somebody who's judgment has been proven to be impaired (Mooney) or to trust the word of his known sympathizers.

Scote said...

"By the way, I'll probably start screening comments soon, so then everyone can complain about how I moderate this blog. Pretty soon we can just let the real issue of vetting get lost under a mountain of nonsense about moderation."

Perhaps you and Mooney can start a franchise. I think the Your Not Helping Domain might be available.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, Jean, it may technically be true that "Tom Johnson" was not as sockpuppet of "William". I.e., it may be that "William" is actually the sockpuppet of "Tom Johnson". But even that latest version is the truth of the matter, it in no way changes the reality: this person has zero credibility. It's very misleading to make a point about the direction of the sockpuppetting as if it somehow exonerates Mooney.

The fact is, Mooney fell for the rubbish being put across by someone now known to have acted like a pathological liar. The story was always wildly implausible, unverifiable, and just too convenient.

But Mooney was so biased that he promoted it to the level of an entire blog post and his "Exhibit A" (he was the one who introduced courtroom language) in his case against the New Atheists. It was never "Exhibit A". It was, in fact, an implausible concoction. Mooney's use of it made him look gullible and biased. The fact that you continue to talk about it as if it were facially plausible just makes me think that you have very poor judgment.

Gator said...

What Chris Mooney, Greg Laden and Jean Kazez are trying to tell everyone with this issue is that even though you might have thought that blogging means *something* to them, it really doesn't. It's just blogging, it's just the internet, don't read anything into it. Certainly not anything like values or integrity or worth. Once you get that all of this makes sense.

Anonymous said...

From the evidence I've seen, he did just what he needed to do. (1) He verified the guy's identity. He knows who Tom Johnson is--in fact, he knows it for sure. (2) He learned general facts about him (what he does, who he knows, where he goes) that made him credible.

Why can't anyone just come out and say what Chris did to learn who Tom is? Did Tom respond to an email sent to his university address? That would seem a simple thing to check. Anyone can learn "general facts" about someone (from a website, for example)...

Scote said...

"Why can't anyone just come out and say what Chris did to learn who Tom is? Did Tom respond to an email sent to his university address? That would seem a simple thing to check. Anyone can learn "general facts" about someone (from a website, for example).."

The fact that both Mooney and Kazez are both being so blatantly evasive and cagey about even what *kind* of evidence or procedures Chris used, let alone full details, only makes it look like they know the evidence is crap, and that if they give any details their paper thin claims will be torn to shreds.

I'd say that if Mooney or Kazez had any actual confidence in the evidence they would be more forthcoming.

jaranath said...

Jean, please see my last comment, and anon above. Please tell us the nature of the evidence. Surely that cannot compromise TJ's identity. Please also explain how that "adds credibility to his testimony," especially when he himself stated the event never happened, but was rather a fiction loosely based on a collection of anecdotes from unidentified students.

amos said...

How one gets drawn into these senseless online battles, which in one way resemble neighborhood squabbles about which family lets their grass grow too much and in another way seem like the battles of the Comintern (who may at times have been right) against the independent left and Trotsky (who many times were mistaken, but that is not the point). More and more, Ophelia has assumed the role of the Ayn Rand of New Atheism. Maybe it is better to compare the New Atheism to Ayn Rand's Objectivism, as a rationalist, atheist sect.

Michael Fugate said...

But you can go on B&W and defend yourself...

Josh Slocum said...

Jean wrote:

"It's not about the whole general issue of blog moderation. I actually don't care for the way Ophelia moderates. She lets people trash me."

I don't think people are "trashing" you, Jean, so much as criticizing what they see to be your ethical blindness. That's just ordinary criticism. And I'll eat my hat if you can show that she doesn't allow you to respond. She doesn't moderate your comments so far as I know (you used to comment regularly at B&W), so you're free to defend yourself at B&W, if you choose. It appears that you do not so choose.

Chris Mooney, on the other hand, allows people to seriously trash Ophelia (quite viciously) and others, then bans the target of the trashing from responding. I'm just one of at least 10 people who, in the past two days, have attempted to post at the Intersection questioning this (and yes, using respectful, non-profane language) only to find my posts rejected.

Those would-be commenters get their posts rejected if they question the Ophelia situation - or mention it obliquely - but those who take Chris' side are allowed to post using Ophelia's name.

Jean, can't you see the ethical imbalance here?

Jean Kazez said...

Please tell us the nature of the evidence. Surely that cannot compromise TJ's identity. Please also explain how that "adds credibility to his testimony," especially when he himself stated the event never happened, but was rather a fiction loosely based on a collection of anecdotes from unidentified students.

You say "he himself stated that event never happened" and appear to trust "William" on that. Don't you think that person has a big incentive to distance himself from the persona that will actually help people identify who he is? He does!

The reality of "Tom Johnson" is attested by an Oct 9 email, a linked website, Chris contacting the person using university email, and recent phone contact. There's no doubt in my mind who he is. As to what he said in his comments, I don't know if it's true, but I think it was reasonable for Chris to think so, given connections between what he was saying and stuff in the email and website. If I told you what, I'd be giving away this person's identity, and I've promised not to do that.

Scote said...

Hmm...Chris Mooney, protector of proven, self-admitted liars and banner of thoughtful critics. Jean Kazez, protector of proven, self-admitted and defender of banners of thoughtful critics.

Not a really good position to be in nor the moral high ground, IMO. Seems off by about 180 degrees. Easily fixable, though.

Deepak Shetty said...

If X deceives C who uses that to further his agenda (however sincere C may have been) to malign P,Z,O,R does C owe P,Z,O,R an unconditional apology for this matter? Common courtesy would think so. Do you see an apology(not I have been deceived which is an excuse)?
Do you think an apology is owed about this matter to the people tagged as new atheists?

Next unless you'll share what evidence there is , and really it should be easy to do that without revealing names, we have only your word that it is convincing.
As multiple people have also pointed out the story was incredible and only people with confirmation bias would have fallen for it as easily as Chris did. And Chris hasn't clearly admitted to it.

The lack of an ability to admit mistakes is telling. The posts so far all seem to fall into the category of 'Here's my excuse' or 'I'm sorry I was deceived' . And now we have people like you saying 'Yes Chris has valid reasons for being deceived'
Its not good enough.

Jean Kazez said...

Looking over these comments one last time, I've noticed two interesting things:

(1) Boy, there are a lot of juvenile people who dropped by here to insult me.

(2) Y'all are really gullible. Your problem is that you fell in love with William. You really, really want to believe everything he told you, even though you have no independent corroboration. He said--"I made up Tom Johnson" and you think that must be true.

But no. Chris had evidence in 2009 about who Tom Johnson is, I've seen it too, and it still holds up 100%.

I have nothing else to say, and I've put up with enough insults now, so that's enough.