Ok, so a lot of people are seeing the new shit storm in the atheist movement: CJ Werleman seems to have plagiarized parts of some of his works. His friend and fellow Patheos blogger Dan Arel put out a statement earlier that I’m pretty much on board with:
I didn’t comment on Godless Spellcheckers first blog post about Werleman’s tactics against Sam Harris because I didn’t feel it was necessary. That is not my battle, I did tweet that I liked both Harris and Werleman and their “feud” as some have called it was not mine and to be honest, I didn’t want to be involved in what was getting very dramatic.
But now Godless Spellchecker, along with Peter Boghossian, whom I consider a friend and close colleague (he did write the foreword to my book), have come out with a much more serious accusation against Werleman, one that given my close association with the author leaves me feeling that I must make some sort of initial statement (as did two other fellow Dangerous Little Books authors here, here and here). The accusation of plagiarism by Godless Spellchecker (and now The Daily Banter) are ones I take very seriously, and the fact I even have to address this makes me sick to my stomach.
I was awoken today to emails and tweets from friends and others about the accusations, and I want to make it clear I have only read the blogs and not further investigated any of this myself, and I also have not spoken to Werleman personally, yet, I plan to at some point (I did send him a message letting him know I was making a statement). I also hope he makes a more public statement about the accusations. He has commented via The Friendly Atheist blog, but I hope to see more than, as Matthew O’Neill stated in his statement, an “apology-without-apologizing.”
Unlike Dan, I don’t know CJ. I met him briefly at Apostacon and he seemed like a good egg, and I suspect he is a good egg. That being said, I agree with very little that CJ says and I think some of his arguments flat out suck.
But that’s fine. Good people can be mistaken (I’ve certainly been mistaken in the past, and I think I’m ok). Despite not agreeing with CJ on pretty much anything, I wish people would take a breath and chill for a few. Yes, plagiarism is bad. But people fuck up. Good people fuck up. Smart people fuck up. I’ve done, you’ve done it, and your various atheist heroes have done it too. It’s part of being human.
The real test is how someone responds. Give CJ time and see what he says. Is this going to cost CJ some trust? Absolutely, and it should. Will it invalidate a lot of the good work/writing he’s done (even if I disagree with him)? I hope not. But there’s so much friction in our movement that I often see people ecstatic for a chance to tear down somebody who isn’t in our particular camp (while being unfathomably forgiving for those who are in our camp). Well, here’s someone who thinks CJ is wrong about way more than he’s right urging everybody to give CJ a day or two to let this sink in and write a response (beyond the brief one that appeared on Friendly Atheist).
I’m not saying plagiarism is ok. Not by a long shot. What I am saying is that CJ has put a lot of time into our movement and appears to have done so out of shared concern and similar passion to most of us. Let’s keep assuming, for the time being, that he’s an ok guy and give him the chance to own up, deny everything, or whatever he plans to do – and to do it after letting everything settle for a day or two. We’ll go from there.
That’s what I’m gonna do, anyway.