It is with great sadness that I announce that Avicenna Last of the A Million Gods blog has been removed from Freethought Blogs as a result of a long track record of plagiarism that we just became aware of. That sadness is brought on primarily by the fact that I consider Avi a friend and hold him in very high esteem (yes, even after this ethical lapse). Let me explain why.
Here’s what I know about Avi. More than anyone else on this network, and more than almost anyone else I know, he really gives of himself to those who need it most. This is a guy who has spent the last few years living in rural India, working in a clinic treating the desperately poor people of the area while making very little money. He has been away from his family and his fiance and living in conditions that he did not need to live in to do put his talent and training as a doctor to help people. During that time, he has also been sent around the world to trouble spots where the need is more immediate and acute, treating refugees after violent attacks and natural disasters. During that time, he has contracted malaria and several other nasty ailments as a result of his work. He’s a good man. A very good man. And I consider him a personal friend, which I strongly hope will not end with this action.
But facts are facts. The first I heard of this was about 15 hours ago. I pay no attention whatsoever to the slymepit as I prefer to avoid cesspools full of raging assholes. My initial response, given my affinity for Avi and the source of the accusations, was to dismiss it as much ado about nothing. I believed, with very little thought or effort to confirm, the initial speculation that someone had either gotten his password or that it was the result of some sort of technical glitch.
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.
A huge part of blogging is commenting and quoting material from others. Rarely do I write an essay from scratch, I’m usually quoting and responding to something written by others. Accurate quoting and attribution are important in that regard. Yes, sometimes you’re going to paraphrase and often you’re going to present the same information and there are only so many ways to say something. Paraphrasing is not the same thing as plagiarism. But in this case, there are dozens of examples of entire sentences and paragraphs being lifted verbatim. There’s really little to dispute.
Facts are facts, yes, but ethics are also ethics. I have strongly condemned such behavior on the part of Mark Driscoll, Chuck Missler and others and I have refused to accept the excuse that they were merely careless about attribution. And if it is wrong for others, it’s wrong here too. And with all the criticism I aim at those in the atheist community who behave tribally, applying different standards to those we consider our enemies than we do to our friends, I would be a highly unethical hypocrite if I did anything other than what we’ve done.
As I said, I am very sad about this. Despite all of this, I will continue to believe that Avicenna is a good and decent man who does more than his fair share to help other people. And I will continue to read what he has to say. But he cannot say it here any longer. Ethical consistency demands that much.