Attribution Redux


So I listed four big reasons blawgers should attribute ideas with which they disagree:

  • For yourself;
  • For your readers;
  • For those with whom you disagree; and
  • For the blawgosphere.

To illustrate the hazards of non-attribution, I pointed out a couple of Norm Pattis’s and Jamison Koehler’s unattributed statements, and asked: who said it, when, and where?

Both Pattis and Koehler commented. Koehler agreed with me, but didn’t answer the questions. Pattis, in a comment steeped in the very nonattribution that the post addressed, disagreed with me, but didn’t answer the questions or rebut or even acknowledge any of the big arguments for attribution.

Those who want to snipe at others’ ideas without worrying about furthering the discussion or preserving the blawgosphere or even accurately portraying those ideas would ignore all arguments that don’t support what they want to do. It’s an uphill battle I’m fighting.


36 responses to “Attribution Redux”

  1. Your four big reasons can be summed up in one word, integrity. I’ve feared for a while that the blawgosphere is at a fork, with some prefering to go down the path leading to disingenuousness and self-promotion. They want to get as far away from scrutiny as possible.

    The comments by Norm and Jamison to your post studiously ignored its clear and obvious point. By the non-response, they gave you their answer. They want nothing to do with integrity.

    • I’m not quite sure how we get from a discussion on linking to the “FORK (cue organ music and Rod Steiger’s voice), WITH SOME PREFERRING TO GO DOWN THE PATH (ta dum!) LEADING TO DISINGENUOUSNESS AND SELF-PROMOTION.”

      The old fork and path thing. Come on. Really. Aren’t we overdramatizing things just a wee bit?

  2. Okay, Mark, I’ll bite.

    It wasn’t any specific language in your entry that offended me; it was the tone. So, of the three options you laid out for me in the Social Media Tyro entry, it was all three. Because all three were implied.

    I did in fact link to the offending entry. I just linked to it in the wrong place, and have already apologized for that. In addition, although I envy the eloquence of Norm’s response, I have also said that I completely agree with you on the linking, for the four reasons you have laid out.

    Finally, in fairness to me, it was impossible for me to respond to your challenge on the non-linking when (1) I didn’t realize I was doing it and (2) you added me as an afterthought after I had already read the post. So I didn’t realize you were calling me out on it until I read the Social Media entry.

    As for SHG’s comment on disingenousness and self-promotion, I think he is making certain assumptions about Norm and me that are completely unfounded. I suspect the comment is based more on personal animosity than anything either one of us has said or done. That’s fine. We’ll survive.

    • You say I implied of Kindley, “you don’t have much experience, and therefore you’re wrong.” Fine. That’d be an argument ad hominem. So: where, when?

      Someone may have implied of Kindley, “you’re wrong, and if you had more experience you’d probably see it.” I probably said something close, since that is the truth (and, incidentally, not an argument ad hominem). You’re offended by that? That would qualify as your problem.

      Kindley is a big boy with bad ideas. He thinks that he has to—or even that he can—defend those bad ideas on the basis of his experience? That would qualify as his problem. You don’t have to agree with him.

      • I disagree with your distinction on ad hominem.

        To tell someone, “You’re wrong, and if you had more experience, you would realize it” is patronizing. It is like patting him on the head and saying, there, there, you can be forgiven for the error of your ways because you don’t know any better. It diminishes the person. It is also directed at the person, not the person’s ideas. By my definition anyway, that makes it ad hominem.

        It seems to me that, in terms of encouraging honest and constructive debate in the blogosphere, discouraging ad hominem attacks should be at least as important as back-linking (if that is in fact the correct term).

        • You are free to use “ad hominem” however you like, but I shall continue using it correctly. “Thou shalt not engage in classic logical fallacies” is a clear and workable rule.

          H. Sapiens seeks explanations and understanding. When every more-experienced criminal lawyer weighs in against X’s dumb idea and X still doesn’t relent, one reasonable explanations is that X does not yet have the experience to understand why his idea is dumb.

          Here is the specific quote, as near as I can guess, that offends you: “What John misses, and what I think a more experienced criminal defense lawyer of his acumen and interests would see, is that the prosecutor’s job isn’t really to do—or even to seek—justice.”

          You think saying that is patronizing? It offends you? You are of course free to say so, and maybe you’ll convince me of the error of my ways.

          Or maybe I’ll say that “Thou shalt not patronize nor offend” is an unworkable rule because none of us have any idea how delicate the sensibilities of our readers are. To avoid offending even the most fragile of egos, we would all have to write to the lowest common denominator.

          I think what you want is political correctness. Maybe it’s just Houston criminal defense lawyers, but criminal defense lawyers seem to me a thick-skinned bunch. We shouldn’t need to walk on eggshells around each other.

          • I read the Wikipedia definition on “ad hominem” and thought it supported my definition completely. Go figure. I guess it all depends on your perspective while reading it.

            The only person talking about hurt feelings is you. I personally could care less about John Kindley’s weetle feelings. The debate I thought we were having was on ways to facilitate debate in the blogosphere. Failing to attribute and ad hominem attacks, I believe, work at cross-purposes with this objective. Ad hominem attacks can chill participation. More importantly for our purposes, they tend to confuse and distract from the real issues.

            You would agree with me on all of this if you didn’t live in Texas.

          • The only person talking about hurt feelings is you.

            There you go again.


            If you don’t care about something, you couldn’t care less. It’s a simple logical proposition, much like the difference between an argument ad hominem and the popular misconception of such an argument, which you ably illustrate in your last paragraph.

          • Yes, Ronald Reagan, I do understand the difference between “could care less” and “couldn’t care less.” But this is your blog. I couldn’t amend my comment after I had submitted it.

            As for your point from earlier, I see the whole “thick skin” argument as nothing but a clumsy and transparent excuse for bloggers to act like boorish children. We are not in court. We are not in front of a judge. We are not going against opposing counsel. And there is almost nothing at stake.

            There is thus no excuse not to be polite, respectful, and civil. We are human beings as well as lawyers and our whole profession would do better in the public eye if we started to act more like human beings. This should also apply to bloggers despite — or perhaps because of — the anonymity of the Internet.

          • I’m not going to temper my writing so that the most easily offended readers aren’t offended.

            If you see
            “What John misses, and what I think a more experienced criminal defense lawyer of his acumen and interests would see, is that the prosecutor’s job isn’t really to do—or even to seek—justice.”
            as something other than polite, respectful, and civil, then we are probably never going to find common ground on this issue.

          • This is not about how your readers would respond. They might think less of your argument based on the fact that you had to resort to an ad hominem attack to make your point. But that is up to them to decide, and it is a risk you take every time you use an ad hominem attack.

            But you have been doing a good job in trying to establish accepted ground rules to facilitate debate on the blogosphere, and it seems to me that discouraging ad hominem attacks would be a good step in this direction. The emphasis, then, is on anyone who has a more vested interest in the quality of debate in blogosphere (such as other bloggers). When someone does take offense, it is not a question of hurt feelings. The offense taken would be more akin to the way Miss Manners would react.

            On reading the sentence again here, yes, as these things go, it was pretty damn mild. But there are certainly far more egregious examples out there, and, as a matter of principle, we should be calling each other out on them, just as you called me out on the failure to link.

          • Don’t think of them as rules. Think of them as best practices. Nobody cared when only Norm wasn’t bothering with attribution, but if none of us bothered with attribution (this truly was never a discussion about links), there would be no conversation.

            You may be right about “ad hominem attacks”, which I gather is just a your fancy way of saying “personal attacks,” as distinguished from ad hominem arguments.

            So call people out on them, either where they happen or on your own blog—with attribution.

            The “mild” examples don’t help your position much. And now, since my blog posts weren’t about personal attacks but about attribution, I’m getting the feeling that there’s something going on here that we’re not talking about. Why don’t you write a blog post talking about it?

          • The difference between a “personal attack” and an “ad hominem argument” depends on where you sit.

            The “mild examples” may not help my position much but they do help to frame the debate. Had you called John Kindley a blithering idiot who beat his wife, there would be no question that this was out of line. But if you can agree on the far more questionable calls, you can clear up everything up to that point.

            Sorry to hijack this thread, and to go on so. But can’t you see I am trying to get in the last word in? I promise I am done.

          • No, an attack is not an argument.

            I can explain it to you. I can’t understand it for you.

            And if you think my quoted language was even a mild attack on Kindley, you’re not a credible witness.

  3. Something tells me – if the Internet existed 200 years ago – there might have been people in line having single shot black powder pistol duels…Ahem – Hey – no offense to anyone OK?

  4. It’s unfortunate that Mark allowed Jamison to hijack this post, thus avoiding ever coming to grips with the issue of manufacturing false statements which are left unattributed, though clearly directed to attack those unnamed others, and then allows a person, like Jamison or Norm, to freely attack the strawman idea without taking any responsibility, either for the lie or the attack.

    Norm has done his lame attempt to deflect and left. Jamison has done a better job deflecting, but still hasn’t addressed the issue. So what part of “polite, civil and respectful” entitled you to fabricate claims about others and avoid responsibility?

  5. Norm’s comment over at Social Media Tyro that” Ideas matter; personalities do not” is one way of framing this debate. I tend to value someone’s ideas based upon all factors, including recognizing my own cognitive biases.

    If the medium is the message, then I wish to know whom the messenger is; in the event I intend to figuratively shoot the messenger. It is intellectually dishonest to dissemble another person’s argument or viewpoint by mere implication or insinuation. When a particular statement is made without attribution, it takes on a different context and belies a subtext or shaded meaning. Some may call it politeness, civility or gentility. Others will name it confabulation or cryptomnesia. As I have said before when discussing internet anonymity: “if you say it, you own it.” The corollary is “if you say someone else said it, you borrow it and they own it.”

    • It might help to get down to particulars. Here’s what Jamison wrote:

      “Though I don’t agree with him on this one, I couldn’t help feeling bad for John Kindley, the victim of what Norm Pattis has termed the “self-righteous fury of the mob,” who was left to defend himself on the basis of his age and experience.”

      Now I read most of the posts and comments, and I have no recollection of any mob, self-righteous or otherwise, impugning Kindley on the basis of his age and experience. I recall plenty of people explaining why they thought Kindley was wrong, and I recall Kindley writing numerous comments insisting he was right, but I can’t recall anyone, no less a mob, arguing that he was wrong because of his age and experience.

      I might add that the use of Norm’s quote is misdirected, since Norm wasn’t referring to any mob attacking Kindley, but that’s neither here nor there.

      If there was a mob, however, or even just an individual, who impugned Kindley because of his age and experience, that would be awful. But if there wasn’t, then it seems to me that Jamison impugned those who disagreed with Kindley by attributing to the “mob” something that never happened.

      This is where the question of integrity comes into play.

      • SHG:

        Specifics do help to clarify. If we are talking about strawmen, integrity and disingenuousness, let’s use another example.

        Last week you posted a blog entry about a lawyer who decided to read a book in order to prepare for an upcoming DWI trial. You talked about how complicated DWI trials can be, and you used this lawyer as an example of someone who takes on a case for which he is clearly unqualified just so that he can make some easy money. It made for a compelling story that supported a continuing theme of yours. This is the strawman part.

        Having just posted a blog entry two hours earlier in which I talked about reading a DWI book to prepare for an upcoming trial and considering that I know you follow my blog, I can be forgiven for assuming that the lawyer you were referring to was me. I didn’t mention in my post that I have handled hundreds of DWI cases in my career, taking a relatively high percentage of those cases to trial, and that, rightly or wrongly, I consider myself to be one of the best DWI lawyers in D.C. Because that would have been self-promotion.

        But neither I nor any other reader had any way to verify any part of this story because you didn’t name the lawyer or link to the offending blog entry. I was personally grateful you didn’t name me or link to my website, and I now understand that you were apparently referring to some other unethical and incompetent lawyer whose blog entry you had read a long time ago and couldn’t locate again to provide the link. But the point still remains. You were criticizing another lawyer for unethical practices without attribution and without allowing that lawyer to defend himself. That goes to integrity. That you criticize me now for doing something I don’t see as even remotely similar – for using some hyperbole to describe what I view as the pack mentality in the blogosphere — gets to the disingenuousness part.

        • I gather your point in deflecting and going orthoganially with this story is that nobody, either mob or individual, every said what you claim they did?

          My post was a generic post about things lawyers shouldn’t do. You made a disingenuous attack on a specific target, the mob who attacked Kindley and made him a victim. Mine was true. Yours wasn’t.

          And you still don’t see Mark’s point or a problem, do you?

          • Without getting into the meat of this — my professional opinion on what lawyers should or shouldn’t do (except, of course, work for me for free, validate parking, and hook me up with Jen Aniston, only one of which happens at all regularly) is irrelevant — I find myself tickled every time I see any of y’all using “orthogonally.”

            More seriously, as a general proposition, I think that when one is, in fact, responding to an assertion by another specific person or persons, our host’s four reasons apply, whether it’s in the blawgosphere, the blogosphere, or just plain conversation. There’s some obvious exceptions — he who is discreet and runs away lives to be discreet another day — and perhaps some subtle ones, but I don’t think there’s any reason whatsoever to believe that anybody involved in this discussion, just to take an example, is going to go after anybody else with an axe.

          • SHG:

            My point is that I’m not sure you are the best person to be lecturing me on integrity.

            I am baffled by your use of such absolutes in discussing this: right and wrong, truth or lies, etc. One person’s church group could be another person’s mob. It is not that one side is right and the other side is wrong. Anyone who would take offense at potentially being included in my hyperbolic use of the term “mob” strikes me as hypersensitive.

            But this has nothing to do with integrity.

            I take Mark’s point that the issues of age and experience could in fact become relevant to the debate. I just don’t see that here. While I have no idea how Kindley has interpreted all of this, that he felt the need to devote the entire opening paragraph of one post to a defense of his age and experience suggests he felt those issues had entered into the equation unnecessarily.

            I am happy to be held accountable for anything I post on the Internet and will stick around for as long as Mark keeps this blog open to us for comments, but I think we have exhausted this topic.

          • Sigh. Jamison, this isn’t just about your Kindley claim, nor does anyone ask (or care) whether you’re “happy” to be held accountable.

            You just aren’t getting the point here, and the question now is whether this is because you continue to deflect or you just don’t have the capacity to understand what integrity means.

          • SHG:

            You have sighed, and you have huffed and puffed. You have asked what I am sure you believe are cutting and incisive questions. You have talked about paths of evil and thrown out all sorts of accusations. But, as far as I can tell, you haven’t made a single substantive contribution to this discussion. Telling me that I don’t understand something, despite your persistent and patient efforts to the contrary, is about the same thing as you telling me I don’t have any integrity.

            Incidentally, I’m sure you realize that “deflect,” “avoid” and “evade” are all transitive verbs that require an object. Instead of continuing to say Norm and I “deflect,” I think you mean to say that we are deflecting the issues or that we are being evasive. Of course, after this interaction (for some reason I always feel the need to take a shower after interacting with you), I’m thinking Norm was pretty smart to bow out early.

            Go ahead, SHG. The last word is all yours.

  6. SHG:

    I guess you have just confirmed Mark’s suggestion that there is really something else going on here. I am completely baffled by your comment. False statements? Setting up strawmen ideas without taking any responsibility? Fabricating claims about others? I have no clue what any of this refers to.

    I posted an entry in which I criticized Mark for using what I felt were ad hominem attacks against John Kindley. We have just discussed ad nauseam whether this criticism was justified. I did in fact link to what I felt was Mark’s offending post so that the reader could find what I was referring to. But I put the link in the wrong place.

    Mark called me out on both the failure to attribute properly and my passive-aggressiveness, and I have already conceded error and apologized to him, both here and on Social Media Tyro. But strawmen? Fabricating claims? Disingenuousness? Really? I feel like I have suddenly found myself in some strange alternate universe.

  7. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to anything particularly baffling here. The point has been explained to you conceptually. The point has been explained to you concretely. Still, you don’t understand the point.

    As Mark says, I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.