Friday, October 17, 2014

Deeply Troubled by Colleague: CJ Werleman

(photo courtesy of Patheos)

It's 6:30 a.m. and I've just been awoken from a deep and much-needed rest with rather a lot on my mind.

Only last night, after scouring through the many, many blogs and articles being written about the feud (I now use the word ironically) between CJ Werleman and Sam Harris, I was beginning to feel the creeping tinges of dread -- the ominous wave of decision-making. For those who are not aware, it would be fair to say that I have had a collaboration of sorts with CJ since September of 2012, when I submitted the manuscript of Oh, Your god! for publishing. 

Dangerous Little Books, while being in every way mediated by a man named Joe Gregory, was using CJ as their -- I suppose 'spokesperson' would be the proper word. I believe CJ also owned part of the publishing company, and it was he who responded to my submission and with whom I spoke during various parts of the publishing process. It was also he whose name was on the contract, as an agreement between the Author (myself) and the Publisher (CJ). I was familiar with CJ's work at the time, and I had even read God Hates You (Hate Him Back), and rather enjoyed it though I didn't find it academically overwhelming. I felt confident in the professional relationship I had built with him and was looking forward to our future correspondences and collaborations. 

Since then, our contact has been minimal but amiable. The occasional email congratulating one another on this article or that interview was not uncommon. But recently, his work on the political motivations of ISIS, and his refusal to acknowledge the difference between the criticizing of ideas and discrimination against the people who embody them has given me great pause. It is no strange thing for people in a field as nuanced and opinionated as ours to have great divides in their methodologies, but it was striking for me to realize exactly how wrong I believed CJ to be on this subject. Many people in the last week have asked me what my thoughts were on the Affleck / Harris dispute, but that conversation has inevitably morphed into my thoughts on the Werleman / Harris spat. It came down to me decidedly having to say that on all ideas submitted, I was exclusively on the side of Harris. 

This would have been easy enough to say without qualm, until I read last night The Godless Spellchecker's thoughts about CJ's tactics while engaging Sam in this piece. The views that were brought to light were deeply troubling, and the email conversations published by Sam between he and CJ were even more so. It was beginning to seem that a man with whom I have had a decent professional connection was beginning to look a bit shabby, to put it lightly. More honestly, I took great umbrage with the flip manner in which CJ addressed many of Sam's legitimate concerns, and the remarkably self-satisfied tone with which he presented his conclusions (in order to avoid the ad hominem implications of that last sentence, it would serve the reader well to remember that I also disagree with the conclusions themselves). I went to bed last night after a lengthy discussion with fellow DLB author and close friend Matthew O'Neil, worried over potential actions to be taken. Should I make a public statement concerning my thoughts on this argument, and on whose side I was -- or would that just be internet grand-standing, jumping onto the carnage of an increasingly-heated fight in order to, as many people would see it, raise my own image? While I do have a serious personal connection here, I was leery of making the wrong impression. 

But this morning has changed much of that. Snapping awake without knowing why (the way one does just before the telephone unexpectedly rings), I grabbed my phone and began scrolling through my Tweets. Everyone from Godless Spellchecker to Dr. Peter Boghossian to Richard Dawkins was calling CJ an outright plagiarist and a hack. Peter is quickly becoming a friend of mine, and our collaboration on a couple of recent projects, along with a phone call and a several email correspondences, has led me to believe him a good man and a strong advocate for atheism. I also found his work in A Manual For Creating Atheists to be a serious piece of legitimate scholarship. I might have written off the title of Godless Spellchecker's new piece: "Is CJ Werleman A Plagiarist" as an attempt at sensationalism between two writers at the apex of their new conflict -- except that both Peter and Richard Dawkins had re-Tweeted it. As I read the piece, I began to distinctly realize that we were no longer dealing with differences in debate or lack of candor in engaging those with whom we disagree, but a violent betrayal of scholarship and the trust of readers. CJ's defense of having summarized two conclusions and use of cliche might well be close to the truth, but he would have to go a long way in proving it, I think. I, too, went to the Salon and Alternet articles wherein the supposed plagiarism had occurred, and found no citation or attribution to the original author. 

Long story short, it would appear that CJ was not the fellow I originally thought him to be, should these accusations prove more definitively true in the coming days. Yet I feel the express need to distance myself professionally from a man who seems to be certainly culpable of this kind of behavior. It was one thing to believe his conclusions in his debate with Sam were wrong; another to find his engagement with him banal and irksome, but such a flagrant disregard for the act of proper scholarship and the means by which many readers understand major issues of the day is, in a word, unforgivable. More importantly, I feel it is beyond necessary for a Dangerous Little Books author to say so.

It may well be that CJ has a perfectly good explanation for everything that has been thrown at him in the last few days, though for my part, I'm not sure he does. For the first time in a long time, I sincerely hope I am wrong in the end.