Dr Caplan:

If I had not promised to take the time to consider the position you have taken regarding deleting posts from your homophobia blog I wouldn’t be posting this comment. It has been very time-consuming. It is unlikely that I will post to your blogs again.

I agree completely with Graham J that it is your right to “shape” or control your blog in your own way. However as a reader of your blog and as a contributor I do object to the actions you’ve taken and I want to say why. I don’t know if any of my thoughts are relevant to the debate about the racist blog removed by PT. If so, I would be pleased if they were passed on. However I am focusing entirely on the postings that have been removed from your blog:

a)Readers are invited to contribute comments to your blogs. Most of my contributions to your homophobia blog were deleted. Nothing I contributed was in any way ‘hate speech’ or supportive of ‘hate speech’. Quite the contrary.

b)As a gay man I am personally well-acquainted with the range and complexities of the legal, social, and personal issues related to personal freedoms versus the expression of ‘hate speech’. I have had experience in the gay-liberation and gay-rights movement over many years. I believe I have a fairly well-developed understanding of when, where and how, which kind of homophobic hate speech is truly dangerous or harmful, and when it’s not.

c)As a gay man, I believe that anti-gay beliefs and comments are ‘my’ issue to deal with in the ways I know to be effective. To silence me in this respect is to disempower or oppress me as a member of my own oppressed group. Most feminists I know would be very offended if I told them how to fight their battles. In fact I expect they would consider that itself to be ‘hate speech’.

d)Like most of your readers I expect, I am an educated adult who does not need to be protected from writings that are offensive just because of ignorance or misinformation. My self-esteem and my performance are not affected by encounters with such comments, or worse. Quite the contrary, the opportunity to respond to prejudice and ignorance is personally empowering.

e)In principle I am opposed to censorship. It is just as evil, if not more, than prejudice, discrimination and bigotry. Those with power have always used censorship as a weapon to stifle or silence whatever in their situation they consider to be wrong or unacceptable by a whole range of labels such as dissent, heresy, blasphemy, obscenity, treason, bad behaviour, bad science, or hate speech etc. It has ever been thus. Whatever the time or place, I am very suspicious of political correctness, even when I agree completely with what's currently considered to be 'correct'.

In addition to my personal objections, I believe your actions were wrong-headed and much ado about very little. There are so many intertwined issues involved in your decision that it would be impossible for me to address them all; censorship vs free speech and academic freedom; open scientific investigation vs political correctness, and oppression vs minority rights, protections and privileges etc. I will try to express my objections just based on the reasons you have given:

The purpose of your blog and your role as a blogger:

You have noted in this blog, “... my view of what I do as a blogger is similar ... to my role as a teacher” and “the purpose of my blog and of academic freedom is to educate through the exchange of ideas - even if they are offensive - in a place that is fundamentally about the "workplace" of psychological care and the understanding of human behavior”.

In his recent PT blog, ‘The Two Professions that Get to Tell the Truth: Scientists and Humorists’, Michael Mills, Ph.D. noted that, “... blogs are a pretty free wheeling form of expression. A great many of the blog posts here (on PT) are just personal opinions, backed up by no empirical data at all”. This is my own view of most of the PT blogs I have read. I see your blog as an insightful, informed, readable and very well-written anecdotal narrative about the machinations, inequities, inconsistencies, unfairnesses and politics of science, medicine and social justice. I tend to agree with your opinions and conclusions. I may or may not learn something new when reading your blogs, but I do not read them to be educated or to be taught. I don’t view you, or any of the other PT bloggers, as my teacher. I especially don’t see you, or any of the other PT bloggers, as my teacher on issues about which I am personally or professionally informed such as issues related to gay men’s experience and homophobia.

Nonetheless, you are clear that you see yourself as an educator through this blog and on that basis I question your decision to delete the material from your homophobia blog.

Good / bad use of science:

You have expressed concerns about misuse or distortions of “good science”, and uncritical citation of “bad science".

All of my comments on your homophobia-related blog have been deleted except for the three which together constituted my explanation about the ones that have been removed. In my opinion, to remove both the original postings and my subsequent comments for the purpose of preventing anyone from reading them, and to only retain my explanations about those postings and comments, amounts to quoting me out of, or in the absence of, context.

The studies and research cited to support your decision:

I do not believe that any of these studies are pertinent to the situation here. I expect that the studies and literature you cited are accurate. I would not dispute for a minute the power of words, and that the presence of prejudice, discrimination, bigotry as manifested through hate speech, would be detrimental in a variety of ways to educational environments and the workplace. I expect that if one were to undertake a similar study one would discover that when cadavers or poisonous snakes or other negative stimuli are present in a classroom or workplace, that performance of students and workers is affected adversely.

However the studies cited, and my hypothetical studies about cadavers etc, are general studies investigating general effects. They have nothing to do with the effects on students or workers in specific specialized situations where the presence of cadavers, poisonous snakes, or hate speech is essential for what is undertaken in those environments. Also these studies do not examine the effects of the presence of negative or offensive stimuli such as snakes, dead bodies, hate speech etc, in specific or specialized environments that are hypersensitive and highly defensive to these negative or offensive stimuli and their effects.

The presence of real cadavers for the study of medical science or mortuary science is essential. It is impossible to study poisonous snakes and their venom in the absence of these snakes. Similarly in an educational environment such as your homophobia blog, where the phenomenon of homophobia is being examined or studied, I believe, if not an essential part of the learning experience, it would at least enhance the teaching and learning processes to be able to examine and challenge real-life examples of homophobic hate speech. To attempt to consider or study this subject matter and yet deny your readers the opportunity to actually read or see real examples of homophobia does not make sense to me.

Overall I would argue that your blog space is an environment which is very sensitive to and reactive to a wide variety of hate speech related issues. As a gay man I feel completely safe and assured that anti-gay remarks or postings are not going to be left to stand unchallenged by either you or your readers.

I don’t know if this has been studied or not. I couldn’t find any research. But it would be my expectation that gay individuals would feel greatly empowered within a gay-protective, gay-sensitive, anti-gay-reactive, gay-positive and pro-gay-proactive educational environment, even if anti-gay material arrived or occurred in that environment, and that this would likely enhance the performance of gay workers or students in that environment. The experience of challenging anti-gay material is in my mind essential to gay empowerment. We can’t challenge it, if it’s removed from our sight.

Hate speech:

You have identified the two offending comments as “hate speech” and noted that some of the responses “drew further attention to the hate speech”.

The two offending comments were posted by Happeh and Random Intellectual: Your decision to delete these postings was based on a very ‘thin’ definition of ‘hate speech’. If this was speech which truly was inflammatory ‘hate speech’ at its worst and most dangerous, I might agree that censorship might under some circumstances be advisable or even necessary. But in this instance, it was like squashing a couple of relatively harmless bugs into oblivion with a sledge hammer, when there was an opportunity to catch them, examine them, sterilize them, and preserve them as useful specimens for teaching and learning purposes.

‘Hate speech’ is not an unvarying, homogeneous, undifferentiated, one-size-fits-all, uniformly potent, uniformly harmful, consistently-or-equally-horrible phenomenon. ‘Hate speech’ has two generally accepted, significantly disparate, definitions or meanings. The first is completely subjectively determined and is so broad, vague and variable that it is virtually meaningless. By this definition remarks which are totally devoid of ‘hate’ can be readily classified as ‘hate speech’. A lawyer friend familiar with this area of law describes this definition of hate speech as a “disorganized conglomeration of meaningless fuzz”. The second definition is much clearer and more useful:

Definition #1: Speech which is regarded as disparaging or offensive to groups of people defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.

Definition #2: Speech which incites hatred or violence against such groups of people.

As a gay man I found Happeh’s and Random Intellectual’s comments to be personally offensive. I agree that both qualified as hate speech, but only by the first fuzzy definition, and by only the thinnest of margins. They were offensive only because they were untrue. I can no longer quote from them because they have been censored, but to the best of my recollection, Random Intellectual stated that homosexuality was a brain malfunction caused by a disease, and Happeh stated that homosexuals could be identified by physical deformations they developed as a result of their homosexuality.

In my view, both of these comments rate a very low score on any objective harm scale. Both stated their mistaken beliefs as facts, but neither suggested that anyone with a brain malfunction, a disease, or physical abnormalities should be subjected to hate or discrimination. To the best of my recollection, neither suggested in any way that they themselves hated gay people. Neither suggested that other people should hate gay people. Neither commenter suggested that gay people should be denied equal rights. Neither commenter even hinted at violence.

As a gay man I am very much aware of prejudice based on the perception of homosexuality as an illness or medical condition. I have had many personal experiences with those who genuinely feel ‘sorry’ for us. This is definitely an insidious form of discrimination, but it is not ‘hate’ by any recognized definition. We might assume that the two posters to your blog hate gay people based our own assumptions about the intent of their posts, but to do so just based on our assumptions without further inquiry is not good science. There was nothing in either of their posts to prefer an assumption of ‘hate’ over an assumption of (in this case misplaced) compassion or sympathy towards people with brain malfunctions, or diseases, or physical abnormalities. Without further dialogue it was impossible to know whether this truly was ignorant ‘hate’ speech or merely ignorant ‘pity speech’ or even ignorant ‘absence-of-any-emotion speech’.

I believe your position on this type of hate speech is inconsistent. If the President of Harvard, Larry Summers, were to express his formerly-held opinion on your blog, that “women are innately inferior to men at doing math and science” you“would ... let it stand”. Such a comment by Professor Summers would clearly qualify as anti-women hate speech by the same criteria applied to Happeh’s and Random Intellectual’s comments. Would it not make sense to let their equivalent homophobic postings stand, and extend to them the same latitude and courtesy regarding their misinformed views that would be extended to someone as esteemed as a president of a university?

The responses to the postings by Happeh and Random Intellectual were also deleted: As best I can recall the responses that were removed were primarily my own and one or two others by Gordon. None of our responses supported the anti-gay misinformation in the postings by Happeh and Random Intellectual. Quite the contrary. All of our responses challenged their statements. However, you note that you were concerned because the responses “drew further attention to the hate speech”. Again I believe your position is contradictory.

Again considering the hypothetical hate speech posting by Professor Summers, you note that you would respond by pointing out that “... he was basing his claim on work that had been discredited a long time before.” By doing so, you would be drawing attention to his ‘hate speech’ post, but would be countering it and correcting it.

I firmly believe that it is necessary to draw attention to prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, misinformation, and hate speech whenever and wherever possible, in order to counter or correct it. Although it is helpful to be able to deal with discrimination and prejudice on scientific grounds, sometimes humour, personal reactions, personal experiences and narratives are equally if not more effective. A quick review of your blogs and the comments gives me no reason to believe that you require that postings to your blog only be challenged by reference to scientific findings. Moreover, sometimes a challenge to misinformation and bigotry is not available on scientific grounds.

No scientists have ever wasted their time to do the specific research that would be necessary to scientifically contradict Happeh’s specific theories about homosexuality. My responses to Happeh were by-and-large flippant because the statements he made in his posting to your blog, and his theories, are a joke. I was not even certain at the beginning if he was serious because his claims were so ludicrous. It became obvious that he and his theories are somewhat off-the-wall to put it politely. Happeh’s theories are widely available on the web. The name he has provided for himself on the web, ‘Happeh’, and the name of his website ‘The Master of Bation’ are both defined by the Urban Dictionary as street-language terms with very specific and very amusing meanings. I cannot imagine a better or more entertaining example than ‘Happeh Theory’ for teaching purposes, of the use of incomprehensibly bad science and misinformation to support astonishingly distorted and prejudiced views of a wide variety of topics from masturbation, evolution, homosexuality, Tai Chi, excessive exercise, and the penis, to magnetic forces and human evolution, to name just a few. I would use this as an example of funny bad science with elementary school children.

I do not understand why Happeh’s postings were seen as a threat of any kind to anyone’s wellbeing. To classify his comments as ‘hate speech’, worthy of censorship, is akin to treating a crude limerick as serious literature. Unless lightness and humour are forbidden on your blog, Happeh’s contribution provided an opportunity for some relief from intense consideration of the very serious problem of homophobia.

Random Intellectual is no fool. He is definitely not a joke. Judging from other contributions he has made to other blogs, I expect his claim of intelligence is well-founded. My response to his post was also intended to be humourous. I initially thought of it as sarcasm or irony, but I have done a bit of research on that as well, and I believe now that my response would most accurately be described as hyperbole.

Here is an example of this kind of hyperbole attributed to President John F. Kennedy at a White House dinner honouring 49 Nobel Prize winners in 1962:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of human talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House--with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”.

I cannot remember my exact response to Random Intellectual and I cannot quote it because it has been deleted. I also cannot compare my ability to speak or amuse to that of President Kennedy, but I do know that my response to Random Intellectual was of that ilk or that structure. President Kennedy began with what appeared to be a compliment, and ended with a devastating punch line which pulled the carpet right out from under those gathered. I began my response to Random Intellectual by agreeing in a complimentary fashion with the beliefs he stated about homosexuals. I went on to state that I had a list of equally supportable beliefs (equally unacceptable) about women, Jews and blacks while continuing to appear as if I agreed with him. And then, in the same cheery mode, came the punch line: I added that the last on my list of equally supportable beliefs was that Mexicans were untrustworthy because they eat too many beans.

The punch line makes the point that Random Intellectual’s stated beliefs about homosexuals were as ludicrous and unsupportable as all the others listed.

Again, unless humour in its various forms is disallowed on your blog, I cannot understand why this response would have been deleted. In effect I was saying obliquely, sarcastically, ironically or by hyperbole that there was nothing to support his anti-gay claims.

Ironically I had very similar experience on another, completely opposite type of internet site. Because of the part of me that is aboriginal I have a bit of the trickster in me. For the fun of it, I joined an internet white-supremacist forum discussion. When I posted a comment there which was almost identical to the one I posted to Random Intellectual on your homophobia blog, they were enraged. They realized very quickly that I was saying their beliefs were ludicrous and I was banned from that group.

In closing I want to point out that although I disagree with your action in this instance, I have found your essays to be excellent.