Troy Davis and the censorship of doubt

Troy Davis

Since September I have been a member of a well-known internet forum on science, mathematics and engineering. Overall, this was an enjoyable and stimulating experience. At some point I made it to “science adviser”, which I believe is a term forum staff reserves for members that display a better than average understanding of the topic at hand in technical discussions. Unfortunately, not much later something unpleasant happened.

The forum also has an active non-technical section for the discussion of current events. On the 17th of February in a thread on the recent death of Antonin Scalia, former member of the supreme court of the USA, I posted a link to this blog entry by Mrs. Debra Loevy, a civil rights lawyer from Chicago. In her blog Mrs. Loevy exemplifies Scalia’s questionable legacy by reminding us of the disgraceful case of Troy Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011 in spite of serious doubts about his guilt.

Already the same day, the forum’s moderators claimed that Mrs. Loevy’s blog contains “false or misleading information” and they promptly deleted the link from the Scalia thread. Upon my further inquiry Mrs. Loevy’s blog post on Scalia was harshly criticized and ultimately qualified as “disingenuous”.

I decided to contact Mrs. Loevy directly and she was willing to review the moderators’ remarks. Her written reply, received by the forum staff no later than March 4th, was both comprehensive as well as factual. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the forum administrator’s cooperation, to this date none of the moderators involved could be bothered to react in any way.

This outcome is not only a sign of the weakness of the moderators’ position. It has also strengthened my belief that their decision to erase the link to Mrs. Loevy’s blog was not motivated by an interest in facts, but rather by a desire to favor their own views while suppressing unfavorable assessments of Antonin Scalia’s legacy. This practice reeks of abuse of power and is detrimental to the quality and progress of any discussion, academic or otherwise.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Greg Bernhardt for my pleasant stay at his forum, now that I have decided I will not resume my contributions there. Instead, I plan to post on the present weblog some of my thoughts on mathematics and other topics of my choice.

Finally, my gratitude goes to Mrs. Debra Loevy for her friendly help and interest. If you are curious about a lawyer’s perspective on certain social aspects of the American justice system, you are encouraged to visit her firm’s blog.

Update (August 2016): Following some additional conversation with Greg, I have decided to give Physics Forums another try. Let us see whether the scientific and educational activities there will make staying worthwhile despite the unbecoming affair described above. The jury is still out and, unlike in some other cases, it aims to reach a fair verdict.

Update (December 2016): Whenever I contribute to the forums, I still feel resentment, as well as guilt for not sticking with my principles, so I concluded that it is best to stop posting there. All in all, what Physics Forums offers to serious students and those willing to give their time to help others is not worth the trouble of putting up with arbitrary censorship by bullying “mentors” and their adepts who bend forum rules merely to suit their own point of view.

Update (February 2017): On the 17th my forum post linking to Mrs. Loevy’s blog entry was restored. It cost the staff exactly one year to accomplish this feat.