March 22, 2004
FROM THE BE-CAREFUL-WHAT-YOU-ASK-FOR DEPARTMENT: Author John Gray was apparently unhappy with this rather stale blog post regarding his credentials. So his lawyers sent a letter demanding a retraction and threatening a libel suit. (Blog discussion here, letter from lawyers here.)
One advantage of the blogosphere is that corrections often get more attention than the original error. But whether that's a bug or a feature depends on where you stand From John Gray's perspective in this case, I don't think it's a feature. I had never seen the original post, and I doubt that many other people saw it either, when it was originally posted. But now -- assuming that the representations of Gray's lawyers are true -- I learn that he's a graduate (B.A. and M.A.) of "Maharishi European Research University." Color me unimpressed. And while I previously had the vague idea that his Ph.D. was from Columbia University, it turns out that it's from Columbia Pacific University, which is, er, not really the same. Although Gray's lawyers proudly note that it was a "State of California-approved university" at the time Gray attended (I'm not sure if that's the same as "accredited" or not -- there are California law schools, at least, that are California approved but not fully accredited) no matter how you cut it things don't work out in a way that makes Gray look especially good in terms of academic credentials.
Does this mean that it's always a mistake to send lawyers after bloggers? I suppose not. But I have to say that so far that's how it looks. The ill-fated Luskin / Atrios dispute, the New York Times / National Debate facedown, and now this all suggest that sometimes it's better just to let minor things go by than to issue threats that give the subject matter a much higher profile than it otherwise would have had. At the very least, a polite message pointing out the error, and requesting a correction without threats and bluster, is likely to do more good, and generate far less blowback. Bloggers are, in my experience, quite willing to correct errors of fact, but not impressed with threats and bluster.
UPDATE: More blowback. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but bloggers are from another planet entirely.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmm. Here's a California state press release on the shutdown of Columbia Pacific University for, among other things, having:
awarded excessive credit for prior experiential learning to many students;
failed to employ duly qualified faculty; and
failed to meet various requirements for issuing Ph.D. degrees.
This was, of course, after Gray attended that institution, but it's still not that impressive. (Via Quackwatch). Here's a link to the injunction shutting down Columbia Pacific University -- and ordering refunds to students, though Gray's attendance was too far in the past to qualify.
Is it really wise of John Gray, or his lawyers, to be calling attention to this stuff?
MORE: Jeff Jarvis is calling for a legal defense fund for bloggers.