Jim Dwyer reports on a unique “cyberbrawl” over the Dead Sea Scrolls which highlights all of the advantages and disadvantages of “dialogue” about controversial academic topics on the Internet (and elsewhere).
As Dwyer writes, the accused is Raphael Haim Golb, a Ph.D. graduate of Harvard and of New York University Law School, who allegedly tried to discredit one or more academics taking a different position on the Dead Sea Scrolls than his own father, a professor, who is apparently not implicated himself in the matter:
“Mr. Golb’s father is Norman Golb, a professor at the University of Chicago and a critic of claims that the Dead Sea Scrolls were the work of a sect called the Essenes, thought to have lived near the Qumran caves where the scrolls were found. Professor Golb has suggested that the scrolls were actually the product of several libraries in Jerusalem and were taken to the caves around the time the city fell to the Romans in the year 70. This is not a dispute for the fainthearted. Golb the Son has taken up his father’s cause with all the vigor permitted by multiple Gmail accounts.
Mr. Golb is 49 years old and had 50 e-mail aliases. He used pseudonyms to post on blogs. Under the name of a professor he was trying to undermine, prosecutors charged, Mr. Golb wrote a quasi confession to plagiarism and circulated it among students and officials at New York University. ….
In court papers filed last week, Mr. Golb’s lawyers argued that prosecutors were trying to criminalize the commonplace. Both sides in the Dead Sea Scrolls debate, they said, use “sock puppets” — fake identities — on the Internet to make it seem as if scores of people are arguing a point.”
We had always suspected that conspiracies of academics and “academic schools of thought” are rampant on the Internet and in the “peer review good old boy networks”, and we hope as this case unravels, that these odious practices come more and more to the surface.
There are a few of us out here – true academics in the scholarly sense – actually trying to find out what really happened in man’s history. But believe me – we are a handfull – a handfull only.