New Atheism is dead: a case of self-plagiarism

UPDATE: I notice that The Raw Story has closed its comments after only 15 of them, and none particularly nasty. I wonder if they’ve learned their story is an old one.

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“Self-plagiarism,” or repeating your own words in different pieces, is sometimes okay so long as you make it evident, and don’t recycle too much of your stuff. In Faith versus Fact I used a couple of paragraphs from previous essays I’d published, slightly changing the wording to integrate them better into the book. In the book’s notes I also pointed out which sections had been published before. Publishers are okay with this. What they’re not okay with—and neither am I—is publishing the same piece twice without indicating that it was published before.

Here’s one example, and a rather bad one. Someone called my attention to an article in May 25’s The Raw Story, written by one Chris Hall, called “Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris are old news—a totally different Atheism is on the rise.” It’s the usual beefing about how the Four Horsepersons are old, misogynistic white men and have become obsolete as new and more diverse voices are rising. (Let me add that I certainly favor diversity in atheism, but that those “old passé guys” become well known because they wrote engrossing books, not because they’ve proclaimed themselves leaders, or have oppressed others or silenced competing voices.) Be that as it may, the article looked oddly familiar to me, and, Googling some of the phrases, I came across a virtually identical article written by the same author, but published in June, 2014 on Salon under a different title: “Forget Christopher Hitchens: Atheism in America is undergoing a radical change.” And that article, with a title identical to the new one, was taken from an Alternet piece also published in June 2014. 

Is there any indication that the new article is a retread of the old one—that it was published before? Nope. Is there any difference between the new article and the two old ones? Not that I see—except for one slight change:

Old pieces:

But in 2014, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever.

New piece:

But in 2016, Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as writing about how Nirvana and Public Enemy are going to change pop music forever.

This is doubly ironic, for if those Old White Guys were irrelevant in 2014, why even mention them two years later? This also shows that the author is conscious of having published the exact same piece twice, changing but a single date.  I wonder how many times he got paid for it?

At any rate, when you republish a piece after two years, it’s journalistic ethics to say, “This piece was originally published on Salon and Alternet in 2014.” And, of course, people still cite Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris to make the case for atheism. The arguments for unbelief don’t become obsolete so quickly! In fact, one can still cite Mencken or Ingersoll to make the case for atheism. Theists come up with new arguments for God, but they’re invariably tweaked versions of ones that have long been refuted.

 

 

60 Comments

  1. Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    A little quiz:

    Let me add that I certainly favor diversity in atheism, but that those “old passé guys” become well known because they wrote engrossing books, not because they’ve proclaimed themselves leaders, …

    Which notable (notorious?) atheist keeps complaining about supposed “self-proclaimed leaders” of atheism?

    Which notable atheist is the only one who actually did make a self-proclamation of leadership, declaring himself the horseman of the internet?

    • Liln
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I’ll bite. Who?

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I think I figured it out, after a search on the phrase you gave in quotes. Perhaps it rhymes with “queasy” (which is how I feel whenever I read anything by the person anymore).

      • Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        (unless you live outside the USA, in which case it rhymes with “free-sled”.)

        • Bob MURRAY
          Posted May 31, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          +1

      • Liln
        Posted May 31, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Oh, that guy. Right.

        Thanks. 🙂

  2. Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    LOL. Hall calls Hitchens et al old news by repackaging his own old news as new news.

    • GBJames
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      !

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      New gnu news?

      /@

      • Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        I knew you’d make a comment like this.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

          Because the laws of physics required that Ant make the comment and you know about it.

          • Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            Or even just the laws of psychology. Doug Hofstadter points out that it is a *good* thing there are objective patterns to human behaviour, whereas with libertarian free will the problem of miracles as being lawless ruins even our interpersonal lives.

            Reference is to the interesting dialogue “Who Shows Whom Around the Careenium?”.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 17, 2016 at 2:19 am | Permalink

          Ant’s no noob.

      • Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        I knew new gnus knew new gnu news!

  3. Robert Bray
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    If this author is compelled to justify his ‘triple-p(l)ay,’ here will be his likely defenses:

    1. This is okay to do.
    2. I forgot.

    The first would further require a ‘because. . .’ argument; the second, a note from his neurologist.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      A test of basic decency is what this person does in response. Responses 1 and 2 are baloney & show poor character. Then there is:
      3. Whatareyou going after me for? Stop defending the old has-beens! (doubling down).

      Then there is:
      4. I see. You know, I am sorry. Full stop. That would show positive character.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Old?! Sam Harris is my age!

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      And six years younger than me!

      But I am an old, white (hetero, cis) guy.

      /@

  5. nickswearsky
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Has New Atheism got anything to say other than “old white dudes are not cool”? It seems that’s all they say, ever.

    • jay
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      I am old, white, and a (fully practicing) dude.

      So there.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Huh? These old, white dudes are new atheists. (Of course, not all new atheists are old, white dudes.)

      /@

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        I’m a New Atheist, I’ve never been a dude, and it probably depends how old you are whether or not you think 52 is old but I prefer to think it isn’t.

        • Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Of course you’re a dude! From dudeism.com: « Incidentally, the term “dude” is commonly agreed to refer to both genders. Most linguists contend that “Dudette” is not in keeping with the parlance of our times. »

          I fondly remember when I was 52 …

          /@

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 31, 2016 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

            Yes, my female friends use “dude” to refer to other females. We once taught our female Indonesian friends what “dude” meant and they say “Hi dude” in so the opposite way of how one expects to hear dude because it’s said in a matter of fact way.

            I warn my friends who do not speak English as their first language not to take lessons from me as I tend to use the language in a way that may cause offence.

            • Mark Sturtevant
              Posted May 31, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

              Some of us male dudes call each other ‘bitches’, but so far only ironically. In the evolution of language that one seems to still be a transitional form.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                I call dudes “bitches” too.

              • Posted May 31, 2016 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

                Dude, we’re gonna have a bitchin’ time! Let’s go bitches!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

                Or one I want to say in the morning but I’m always afraid of getting in trouble: “good morning IT bitches!” No dude part figures out yet.

        • Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

          I’m 36 and don’t think 52 is old. I do, however, think 20 is very young. Perhaps it’s due to not being able to find any 20 year olds since they are all sheltered away in their safe spaces.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 17, 2016 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      I think you’ve confused the so-called New Atheists with the accommodationists. NA’s are the good guys. 🙂

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    So calling some other people “old news” is something he knows about. And he is just as wrong two years later.

  7. Marc
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    What else is new? We all should know how the Regressive Left operates. Smear, Rinse, Repeat.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Smear, rinse, repeat.

      Sounds like me trying to clean my specs on my shirt tails.

  8. Ralph
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Hitch hasn’t come up with any new ideas in the past couple of years, so Hall has probably inferred that his 2014 essay has been vindicated.

    Although, come to think of it, didn’t I hear Hitch had converted to evangelical Christianity recently? I mean surely THAT must be seen as radical contribution to leading-edge modern atheism.

    • jay
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      I guess like the Mormons who retroactively convert dead people.

  9. Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The arguments for unbelief don’t obsolete so quickly! In fact, one can still cite Mencken or Ingersoll to make the case for atheism.

    I see your Mencken and Ingersoll and raise you Euthyphro.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Whoops, I forgot to say “become obsolete.” I’ve fixed it.

      Good call with Euthyphro, but don’t forget Bertrand Russell.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Besides, look who religion is still relying on. There are no new arguments for the existence of gods. Not that that’s a good argument, but just sayin’.

      • Posted May 31, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, 33 BCE Jesus is so old school. Give me 2016 white Jesus from Scandinavia with a passing interest in Objectivism.

        In fairness, as a lapsed Catholic, a big drawback to the whole institution besides the pedophilia, judgmentalism, arrogance masquerading as humility, and corruption is the fact they keep cycling through the same old shit every 3 years. Thanks, but we got the message on the first go around.

  10. Stephen Zeoli
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Someone who can’t conjure up a new thought in two years calling Dawkins irrelevant is pretty funny.

    Also, there’s another old white guy, Epicurus, whose proof that god does not exist is still the most elegant, in my opinion.

  11. jimroberts
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    sub

  12. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    But in 2016, Hitchens is dead, and Hitchens is dead, and using Dawkins or Harris to make a case for or against atheism is about as relevant as …

    Oh, the self-irony!

  13. Marilyn
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Can someone tell me why Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are labeled misogynistic? I’ve read this before and don’t get it. Thanks.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Basically, they’re sexist because they’re men, specifically white cis men over 50. That’s all it takes for some

      Well, Dawkins has sent out a couple of ill-advised tweets and even once said something to a woman that can be judged sexist if you try hard enough.

      But none of them are actually sexist.

      • Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        « But none of them are actually sexist. » … let alone mysogynistic.

        They melt (special) snowflakes.

        /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 31, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        I still can’t figure out what Sam Harris did to get everyone angry at him. He seems like the least sexist person ever.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 31, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          Diana, he’s friends with Dawkins and Hitchens – that’s enough!

          I agree though. He’s the last person you’d think of to make any such comments.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted June 1, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

          He said something in response to a question as to why there seems to be more males in ‘the movement’.

          He made a joke about his lack of sex appeal and mentioned an estrogen vibe.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      From what I understand:

      Hitch for saying shit like women can’t be funny (something I personally find offensive because I think I’m hilarious)

      Dawkins for elevatorgate

      I still can’t figure out why people say Harris is mysogynistic. Maybe because he’s a middle-aged white guy.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Old, white atheists may be passé, but not as passé as somebody recycling two-year-old snark on PE and Nirvana.

  15. Adam M.
    Posted May 31, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    What’s wrong with self-plagiarism, anyway? I think reusing your own work is fine as long as you hold the copyright and you’re not explicitly claiming it’s new material.

    • Posted May 31, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Publishing something without saying it was, nearly word for word, published before, is NOT all right. It deceives the reader and it deceives the publication that’s paying you for something new. Editors expect to be told if something was published, in whole or in part, before, and they expect (as with my New Republic recycled blog posts) that the recycling will be evident upon second publication. It is NOT all right in the literary world.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Since Prof. Coyne put the case against self-criticism so eloquently, I’ll only add that the act is deceptive, violating the moral contract with readers and the business contract with publishers.

  16. Posted June 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Finally! New atheism is dead. I’m thankful in this one instance for the 30 second attention span of social media. I’m looking forward to the next pejorative buzzword for atheism.
    Neo-atheism?
    Post New Atheism?
    Dystopian Nihilistic Atheism?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Ooooo I like that last one.


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