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Ruth Gledhill Offers a Correction

John on February 1, 2006 at 8:41 am

Yesterday, I left a comment on Ruth Gledhill’s blog in relation to what I felt were some fairly broad accusations about US bloggers. Specifically, she accused bloggers of reacting with “religious hatred” toward her over two stories. One was a story about the Bible I was not familiar with (and which did seem to stir a lot of response), but the other was her story about Gregory S. Paul’s study.

Ms. Gledhill did respond today and I have to say the response is better than I expected. Based on my examination of technorati (and perhaps her own confirmation of my results) she agrees that there was in fact no hatred directed at her over that story. She wrote in an addendum to my comment:

[T]here were a few critical of me on this study but the worst one actually related to the RC bishops story. It was so distressing I didn’t keep a record of the site myself, but David Virtue pointed it out to me. If you contact him through his website, he might be able to enlighten you further. But thank you for your comments and for that piece of research, I have altered my post a little to avoid any misleading impressions I might have given about the Paul study. (Am I allowed to do this in blogging convention btw? Guidance would be appreciated. If you want to see what I originally wrote, follow the trackback link to John’s site or look here.[A link to my post above]

It is interesting though that my memory of the response to the Paul study is so much worse than the reality. As you rightly say, technorati reveals that most of the comment was neutral or objective. There is one critical blog here, but although I obviously disagree with the comments made in this blog, I in no way object to them being made. There’s another one here.

The alterations to her post make a significant difference. Yesterday her story read:

Recently, I wrote a couple of stories that generated enormous vitriol against me in the blogosphere. One was about a research paper challenging the benevolent effects of religious belief on society I am not going to incite further religious hatred against myself by linking to the offending blogs, you can find them out there if you look hard enough.
I was attacked without mercy in blogs, mainly in the US. Some of the attacks were astonishing in their vitriol and certainly defamatory I had clearly, inadvertently, simply by doing my job in a professional manner, incited hatred in these people, and it was clearly religious hatred.

Today she has corrected it to read (I have highlighted the changes):

Recently, I wrote a couple of stories that generated enormous vitriol against the author of one of the reports in question or even me personally in the blogosphere…I am not going to incite further religious hatred against myself by linking to the offending blogs, you can find them out there if you look hard enough, if they are still there.

In relation in particular to the Catholic bishops story, I was attacked without mercy, mainly in the US. One attack in particular was astonishing in its vitriol and certainly defamatory. This was even though my reports were devoid of comment and simply summarising and reporting what other people had written and said. Yet I had clearly, inadvertently, simply by doing my job in a professional manner, incited hatred in these people, and it was clearly religious hatred.

I think this new version is an improvement. The main problem I had with the old one was that it left the impression for Ms. Gledhill’s (mostly British) readers that US bloggers were a tribe of fundamentalist reactionaries savaging their opponents. I believe this fits a particular storyline about America which is popular in Europe, despite the fact that it is not very accurate.

As her corrections make clear, the negative reaction toward her was in response to one story not two and even in that case it was “one attack in particular” which was offensive. I am certainly not condoning that attack (which I haven’t seen) but one beyond-the-pale attack does not a wave of religious hatred make.

Finally, the links Ms. Gledhill included in her response are to the website of a friend of mine who also wrote about the Gregory Paul study. Here is the offending passage from the first link:

In all honesty, I was not surprised to find that the article does not say what Ms Gledhill reports. (In my professional experience, it is not uncommon for untrained people to misinterpret or misunderstand statistics.) Ms Gledhill’s news article uses the language of causation: Religious belief can cause damage, contributing toward all kinds of bad stuff. Belief in God . . . may actually contribute to social problems.
[One paragraph omitted with no mention of Ms. Gledhill]

So, first conclusion: Ruth Gledhill’s news report in the Times misrepresents the content of Mr Paul’s study. (Note: I am not impugning Ms Gledhill’s journalistic integrity. I assume that the misrepresentation was unintentional, but nevertheless that is what happened.)

I’ve highlighted the last line. It was there in the original and was one of the things that came up in my technorati search yesterday. Far from vitriolic, I would describe this as genteel. As for the second link, Scott at Magic Statistics has removed it from his blog and sent Ms. Gledhill the following apology:

Ruth,

Like John, who wrote to you yesterday, I am one of the bloggers who commented on your news story about the Gregory S. Paul study. Indeed, when John asked for specific examples of defamation or religious hatred, the only two blog posts you cited (except for John’s) are from my blog. Allow me to respond.

To deal with the second blog post first, I have to admit your criticism is fully justified. I have no excuse for the personal attack against you contained therein. I can only say that I was relatively new to blogging and I was linking to and, unfortunately, agreeing with another blog post attacking you. That, of course, doesn’t excuse what I wrote. I have this morning removed that post from my blog. (I know that it lives on cached somewhere in cyber space, but that’s all that can done now, as far as I know.) My apologies.

My other blog post you mentioned is this one: [same link as above] That one, I think, is defensible. There was criticism of your Times news article, but no personal attacks. I said that you made a common and honest mistake in interpreting Mr Paul’s study. By far, the major part of that post was devoted to criticism of the actual study.

You asked about blogging convention in amending items after they have been posted. I don’t know if it’s a convention, but what is often done is to make the change and add at the bottom of the post text labeled ‘Update’ or something similar and a description of the substance of the amendment.

Regards,
Scott

Scott is correct that there is a fine line between “scrubbing” a piece which means changing it without any notation of the original and “correcting.” Another way to make such changes is to add a strikethrough to the defunct text followed by the correction. Personally, I have a rule that any changes made withing the first 2-3 hours of posting constitute corrections. Changes made beyond that need to be noted publicly in some way.

Finally, I’d just like to thanks Ms. Gledhill for her civil, public response to my criticism. I think it reflects well on her.

Update: Ms. Gledhill has posted today on a religious hate speech bill in Parliament. She ends her post with a link to this post and by thanking me:

And finally, I would like to recommend to everyone out there the civilised manner of working these things out as evinced on this blog here. This blogger, John Sexton, commented on my previous blog and as a result of the ensuing debate and correspondence, I feel I’ve really learned something. So thank you John, and to all other readers who take the time to comment on these blogs. This medium is new to me as well as lots of others, and we are all learning as we go along.

If only blogging were always this way.

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