Academic Blogging Scandal
A developing case about academic bloggers contains a chorus of major issues swirling in the blogosphere: the career consequences of blogging, moderating blog debates, hot-button political issues, and defamation.
The case involves Paul Deignan, an engineering PhD candidate who has a blog called Info Theory. Deignan got into a debate with the anonymous blogger Bitch Ph.D. over abortion. Deignan is pro-life; Bitch Ph.D. is pro-choice. They exchanged posts on their mutual blogs, and Deignan also placed a comment on one of Bitch Ph.D.’s posts.
As reported by Inside Higher Ed:
Then he posted a seemingly innocuous entry on the Bitch Ph.D. site: “Your linking talking points w/o analysis. Already I see several points that are exaggerated and misconstrued without even needing research…”
Feeling that this comment and subsequent ones from Deignan did not qualify as “substantive debate,” she soon deleted his comments and banned him from her site. Her policy states, “Comments are great; obnoxious comments get deleted. Deal.”
If this were all, the story would be just a typical tale of the blogosphere. But things got much uglier:
A frequent visitor to the Bitch Ph.D. site, the University of Northern Iowa history professor Wallace Hettle, felt obliged to defend Bitch Ph.D.’s liberal end of the blogosphere. Hettle found Deignan’s curriculum vita at Info Theory, which lists his academic advisers, the Purdue mechanical engineers Galen King and Peter Meckl, who will play a big part in deciding if he will ultimately receive a Ph.D. Hettle e-mailed them, indicating that Deignan’s comments were “unprofessional” and “contrary to the spirit of free enquiry.” Hettle announced his actions within the comment section of Bitch Ph.D.
In the email sent to Deignan’s advisor (according to Deignan’s blog), Hettle wrote:
Yesterday and last night Paul Deignan spent in “trolling” a feminist academic web site with disruptive and abusive comments. . . .
This kind of behavior is not unheard of on the net. But Mr. Deignan chose to do this action from a homepage that claims you as a dissertation adviser.
Mr. Deignan has a right to free speech. He shouldn’t disrupt the discussions of others–it is highly unprofessional. And it is linked to your name.
Might you please advise him to exercise a little discretion in the future. As matters stand, Mr. Deignan appears to be doing a bit more politicking than mechanical engineering. . . .
According to the Inside Higher Ed article, things might be escalating to a legal case:
Both Deignan and Bitch Ph.D. have hired lawyers. Hettle wouldn’t comment on whether he has done the same.
Deignan said he is prepared to begin a lawsuit as soon as possible. He accuses both Hettle and Bitch Ph.D of libeling him — Hettle because of the e-mail he sent to Deignan’s professors, and Bitch Ph.D. for saying that he may have used a technique known as “IP spoofing,” which is a form of hacking, to try to determine who she is. Deignan denies having done that.