Vridar Returns (and a Review of a Review of a Review)

Vridar Returns (and a Review of a Review of a Review) June 29, 2013

Before Vridar had been shut down as a result of a copyright complaint from Joel Watts, I had begun to respond to something Neil Godfrey wrote there. Now that his blog is back (at the different address of Vridar.org), I will do so. But let me first direct readers to some discussion of the events that unfolded resulting in the blog being removed by WordPress. In addition to my own post (where much came to light in the discussion thread), see Ian’s post about Joel’s copyright complaint and his attempt to remove the Creative Commons notification on his posts after the fact, as well as Neil Godfrey’s and Joel Watts’ own posts on the subject. This incident, and the issues it raises, need to be given serious attention in its own right..

So now, let me return to what I was in the process of saying before this whole debacle: Neil Godfrey (once again, as usual) accused me of being either incompetent or dishonest.

The latest instance involves his discussion of the book review I posted here back in February, of Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery.

As an academic, I know that the research we work on as graduate students forms the basis of what we then try to publish, whether while still students or soon after. And so when Thomas Brodie said that he submitted work to his academic supervisor which lacked proper citation of and interaction with other scholars, and in the same section of the book says that he had difficulty finding a publisher for things that he wrote, the biggest but not the only reason being his view that there was never a historical Jesus, it seemed that the two were connected and that the other reasons were precisely the things that Brodie himself mentioned within a few pages of the statement.

I am perfectly open to the possibility that my inference may have been incorrect, or that I may have run together, because of their close proximity in the book, things that Brodie intended to have viewed as completely separate (although whether they truly were separate is, as it were, a separate issue). When I have time (when preparing my SBL conference paper if not sooner), I will look into the relevant passages again.

But I think it should be clear that only a perversely hostile (or dishonest, or incompetent) reading of my review would lead to the conclusion that I was being either dishonest or incompetent. The point I was making in that section of my review was about the fact that Brodie drew a conclusion about whether Jesus was a historical figure even before learning how to do scholarship in the appropriate manner. I can tell you that I myself had all sorts of ideas that I thought were brilliant, publication-worthy insights as an undergraduate. Few withstood the testing to which I subjected them in my ongoing studies. Brodie, on the other hand, appears to have been so gripped by an idea early on, that it came to dominate his thinking in a manner that has led him to defend an implausible view of how early Christian literature was produced, rather than revising his views in light of criticism.

I approached Brodie’s book hopeful that it would offer what I have long said mythicism needs: a serious scholarly presentation of one possible case for mythicism, one that could be discussed in detail on its merits, rather than being littered with misdirections, careless errors, and misunderstandings of the sort that characterize internet-based and self-published mythicist works. Although it is a memoir, Brodie does offer his reasoning and discussion of his methods. And those methods seem to me to be an exercise in parallelomania, something for which Brodie has a reputation as a result of his previous publications.

Brodie did work on the Gospel of John, which I consulted when I was myself working on my dissertation on the Gospel of John. I found occasional nuggets of insight, but largely found Brodie to be creating connections between the Gospel of John and other texts, rather than discovering them. And so his work seemed to me to be mostly unpersuasive. Nothing since then has changed my mind, and much has reinforced that impression.

As for Neil Godfrey’s claim, “When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult,” longtime readers will already know that that does not describe actual events. Newer readers are invited to read back through the discussions and fact-check it. Such allegations do not support mythicism, but they do illustrate a point made by mainstream historical scholars: they show that sometimes human beings are indeed capable of not merely offering a mild reinterpretation of events, but completely distorting them.

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  • Herro

    I think Ian is being unfair to Joel. As Joel expains in the comment section of the first article you link to, Neil “sorely misunderstood” the CC license (“like other processes by pseudo-scholars”) as a permission to copy the licensed material. So Joel decided to go with the (c) that has always been present on his site!

    • Ian

      The CC license specifically gives rights to reproduce the work in full (3.a). What’s ‘sorely misunderstood’ about that? What’s sorely misunderstood about Joel retroactively removing the CC license from old pages? If he believed he was right under the CC license he’d granted, why did he attempt to retroactively remove it?

      At some point Joel just needs to take a deep breath and realise that he’s screwed this up. Time to be a big boy about it. I’ve little sympathy for Neil’s stance on the underlying issues, so let’s avoid this being tribal: Joel = good because we agree with him on the historical Jesus, Neil = bad because he supports mythicism. We can be bigger than that.

      Regardless of the merits of what CC allows you to do or not do, you don’t start legal action towards someone and then change the license they were operating under retrospectively. It doesn’t matter if you’re in my tribe or not. That is unacceptable.

      • Herro

        Ian, you’re starting to sound like a “pseudoscholar” (to use Joel’s wording). Joel has explained himself in the newest post on his blog:

        I employed the CC because of a previous attempt, figuring (following WP/DMCA’s then-advice) this would help in the future and I posted about my problems with content theft.

        So Joel marked his blog as CC so people wouldn’t copy, i.e. steal, his writings, like that marvelous post Neil stole.

      • Herro

        Ian, you should read the newest post on Joel’s site, apparently you’re one of the people who are “too ignorant to understand the point of CC”.

        • Damien

          In this case, I think it’s Joel who’s misunderstood the purpose and scope of CC. If you publish your posts under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US, then you can’t complain when people do exactly what you’ve allowed them to do. Which is to share and remix the work, as long as you provide attribution and make the new version available under the same license. It’s not just an easy way to get people to respect your copyright.

          Putting other copyright notices is confusing. Personally, if I saw both “all rights reserved” and “CC whatever”, I’d go with the CC because I’d assume that “all rights reserved” is just some boilerplate language that the author forgot to remove, while choosing a CC license takes some time and effort.

          • I think you have worked out the correct legal principle Damien.

            Ejusdem generis: “In the construction of laws, wills, and other instruments, the “ejusdem generis rule” is that where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held to apply only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned.” Black’s Law Dictionary.

        • Ian

          I did, I didn’t buy it. But hey, I’ve said my thing. I’ve no great desire to prove myself right. I think everyone’s opinions have been stated clearly enough for everyone to decide what they think. Though I’ve no idea if your last couple of comments are sarcastic or not (which isn’t meant as an insult, I genuinely can’t figure it out).

          • Just Sayin’

            In other words, you’re calling Joel a liar while accepting Godfrey’s version unquestioningly (sure, he never got the email – pull the other one!)

            So much for your supposed neutrality.

          • Ian

            Sorry I sounded too general in my dismissal. I mean I didn’t buy the idea that we’ve all fundamentally misunderstood the CC license, and that it does in fact prevent someone from quoting your work in full. I don’t buy that.

            I’m not sure anything in my objection depends on anything that either party are disputing, except Joel’s interpretation of the CC license. Which is hardly a matter of taking Neil’s word. My understanding of creative commons is based on reading the licenses, and working with them for several years, commercially and personally.

            As for the sequence of events, even if Joel is 100% right that he emailed Neil, that Neil failed to respond, that Neil ignored the takedown notice, etc., then it doesn’t change anything for me. I think issuing a takedown notice at all on a post like Neil is unnecessary and counter to the spirit (if not the letter) of copyright law. But I think changing the license on that content afterwards to remove reference to a license that specifically (in section 3) gives rights to reproduce the work, while simultaneously taking legal action, is plain unacceptable.

            This sequence of events I am responding to is either uncontested by Joel, or came to light as a result of direct research.

            If you think I’m somehow predisposed to side with Neil over Joel you’ve sorely misjudged me. The fact that this seems to be turning tribal with the historicist’s regular supporters backing Joel and the mythicist’s supporters backing Neil is deeply deeply depressing. It strikes me as quite obviously unacceptable behavior on Joel’s part. And I’d rather hoped that friends of Joel could have helped him see that quickly and put the whole issue to bed.

            Having said that, I am predisposed (and claim no neutrality) to view DMCA takedowns on derived work with suspicion, and in the case of robust discussion I view them with a degree of contempt. I’ve used them myself when my books have been made available on a filesharing site in their entirity. But I still contend that Joel’s situation was different, as his ability to benefit from his work was not materially altered by Neil quoting it, vs summarising it. I’ve seen DMCA takedowns used to bully and suppress dissent before. The Church of Scientology, for example, uses them extensively to shut down challenges, because they’ve learned that web companies don’t bother to check to carefully, so frivolous complaints can easy harass. I’m not suggesting Joel is in the same league in any sense, I’m just trying to be clear about my biases in the matter (those I am aware of, in any case) and why I think this is important enough to spend time commenting at length upon.

          • Herro

            Ian, I’m being 100% non-sarcastic when I say that’s it eminently reasonable of John to post his stuff as CC if he doesn’t want his stuff copied, and that you’re “too ignorant to understand CC”. Joel totally gets CC while the rest of the world is made up of a bunch of ignorant pseudo-scholars. Again, 100% non-sarcastic :l

          • Ian

            Thanks for the…um…clarification.

      • Dude, I screwed up. Not in the cc part, but in taking this to the level it was.

        Yup, I screwed up.

        • Herro

          Yup. Posting a license on your website that says that people can copy your work if they attribute it, use it non-commercially and share it, is perfectly reasonable if you don’t want people to do exactly that!

        • Are you contacting WordPress to help Neil get his blog reinstated?

          • I need, Beau, yesterday afternoon. And I bcc’d another blogger for verification of the email if needed.

          • That’s good.

          • But, Joel, it has now become clear to everyone who looks closely at your screenshot of an email to Godfrey, that you faked this email by changing your system date and time. Do realize how much this hurts your credibility?

        • Just Sayin’

          Yes, and Godfrey and his slavering pack are delighting in it.

        • Steven Carr

          That is a post that raises your credit enormously.

      • In his submission to WP, Joel swore under penalty of perjury that he had a good faith belief that he didn’t authorize that use of his post. Personally, I think that a responsible person has an obligation to look at the authorization that he has posted on his website before swearing such an oath. After looking at the terms of the Creative Commons License, it is difficult for me to believe that it wouldn’t occur to a person with a modicum on integrity “Gee, maybe I did authorize it.” Expecting WP to figure it out for him doesn’t cut it.

    • Just Sayin’

      I agree. The Ian bloke also only tells part of the story. After WordPress took down Godfrey’s copyright-violating post (NOT his entire blog) he then reposted it again. It was only then that WordPress took down the whole blog. So who does Godfrey have to blame but himself?

      As for amending a post after the fact, most bloggers do this from time to time, for a plethora of reasons, and it’s entirely beside the point — a red herring in other words. The Ian guy pretends neutrality and acts otherwise with his partial truths, omissions and red herrings.

  • Regarding the review:
    All hypothesis start out as untested. What matters is what happens when they are tested. It is perfectly legitimate to criticize the quality of the testing, but that Brodie may have come up with the hypothesis before learning proper testing technique seems mostly irrelevant.

  • arcseconds

    I must be one of those people who are too ignorant to understand the point of Creative Commons, and too stupid to understand Joel’s argument.

    Am I right in thinking Joel believes that the ‘All Rights Reserved’ supersedes the Creative Commons licence, and all the Creative Commons licence does in this circumstance is assert his claim to copyright, or something?

    Maybe he’s right about this, I’ve got no idea, but it is profoundly misleading for us simple chumps for whom the exact legal restrictions implied by two different statements aren’t immediately obvious. Creative Commons is famous for allowing sharing, and those are the cases that appear at the top of their about page, so it’s no surprise that people think that that’s what it’s all about, and the wording of the licence Joel used explicitly says it allows reproduction.

    (it seems like Neil may have neglected to put the post under a ‘like’ licence, but that seems like an incredibly minor point and an understandable oversight)

    If you want simple folk like me to come to a different conclusion as to what we’re allowed to do, it needs to be spelled out to us very clearly. It seems that the new statement does that, but the earlier situation would have led me to believe I could have done exactly what Neil did without any problem.

    • Gary

      “I must be one of those people who are too ignorant to understand the point”….me too. But who cares? Not me. Two guys throwing tomatoes at each other. Copywriter, copycat, release the hounds, and lawyers. Who cares. Anything off the web is fair game. If any of this stuff was really valuable, China would steal it. Since the Chinese don’t want it, I consider it conversation, which is not cc’d. Bits and bytes in space. Someone on planet X may steal it. Just my opinion. Wiki leaks actually steals valuable stuff, and publishes it, under freedom of speech. Now that’s a crime. This is just a cat fight. A web site gets locked out. Then just revive it. No harm, no foul. The originator of the material obviously kept an archive of it. So it could be reloaded. If no archive was kept by the originator, then the material must not have been that important. Just do a “save as HTM”.

      • arcseconds

        Well, that’s a principled stance if ever I heard one.

        • Gary

          Principle: Dr. Seuss, the Zax’s.

  • Political Jesus has posted something about another aspect of the Creative Commons license. http://politicaljesus.com/2013/06/29/craig-falvo-settles-this-whole-neil-godfrey-joel-conversation/

    Man, copyright law is complicated!

    • Herro

      I’m sure that Joel was shocked that people like me were not able to make derivative works based on that great blog-post!

    • I had no trouble clicking through to the Vridar permission page in the archive,http://web.archive.org/web/20130627185940/http://vridar.wordpress.com/email-neilgodfrey1-at-gmail-dot-com/permissions/, which shows a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

    • Ian

      Unfortunately Rod didn’t attempt to check whether Vridar does fulfil the requirements of the share-alike provision, and Rod doesn’t accept comments on the blog. As Vinny notes below, Vridar does and always has, so this is fatuous. If Vridar hadn’t, then it would do no more than provide some technical legal sense in which Joel had some grounds for complaint (i.e. it wasn’t actually the grounds on which he complained, nor the grounds on which he has repeated his complaint since). It wouldn’t change the morality of the situation. But as it is, it doesn’t even do that.

      • Rod might have checked, but been looking for something labeled “copyright,” which is what I did the first time I looked. The it occurred to me that it might have a different label and I found the link for “permissions” quite easily.

        What I don’t understand is how quickly Craig and Rod claimed victory. I thought Craig may have raised a legitimate issue, but I didn’t think his evidence was nearly sufficient to establish the question with degree of certainty. Of course Rod didn’t allow any comments on his post and Joel has blocked me so neither of them need answer my questions about how they got it so wrong.

      • arcseconds

        It would be completely unreasonable to issue a DMCA takedown notice if someone had shared something that you had OK’d to share anyway, just because they had neglected to fulfill a condition of the licence.

        Maybe as an act of last resort when all attempts at negotiation have failed, but 6 days is not sufficient time to say “I’ve tried all avenues”!

        (which is also an issue with the actual case, of course)

        I vacillated about posting this, as Joel has already admitted that he went too far, and it’s a counterfactual case anyway.

        But this idea that somehow because Joel has a technical legal grounds for his actions means that his actions are fine and his defenders get to end the discussion and become all triumphant is pretty galling.