A public apology to Patrick Meier

Patrick Meier, now part of the Ushahidi Advisory Board and author of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks seems to have taken violent exception to my comments on this blog. In chronological order, the blog posts in question are:

  1. Some critical thoughts on New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks
  2. A response to a defence of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks
  3. A response to Diane Coyle’s defence of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks (which is not directed at Patrick, but his co-author)

An email to Patrick to ascertain what precisely the matter was resulted in a response I got this morning, which noted inter alia that I “went out of [my] way to directly question [Patrick’s]professional integrity” and “lost no time in escalating the direct, personal attacks against [Patrick] through repeated blog posts and comments on the ICT list serve to further discredit [him]”. Patrick also noted that he had spoken to “several trusted mentors about this ordeal and every single one of them agreed that [I] were completely out of line and malicious in your attacks”. Finally, Patrick avers that the basis for talking further, and implicit in this, working with the ICT4Peace Foundation further, would be to “start with a public apology on [my] blog and on the list serve”.

I confess that my first response to reading this was to laugh out aloud, which is perhaps not the response Patrick intended to achieve. So I begin my apologising for that. My initial response was such because Patrick and Ushahidi, supported by Sahana and InSTEDD through their own platforms now form a significant triumvirate of open source, bounded and unbounded crowdsourced crisis information management platforms. There is, simply put, no other set of technologies that even comes close in adaptation, utility, reach and content, including the UN’s own OneResponse in the domain of crisis information management. To even begin to harbour the belief that I can and will question the “professional integrity” of someone like Patrick, and launch “direct, personal attacks” against him in a concerted effort to “discredit” him struck me as outrageously funny.

So here it is Patrick.

I am very sorry that you have taken the critique of the report so very personally. The intention was not such. To be entirely honest, I had long since moved on from the report and did not even remotely to the degree that you do peg any judgement, perception or future engagement of you personally or Ushahidi institutionally on it.

As for the point about the listserv, I assume you mean conversations including others on the Humanitarian ICT Yahoo! Group set up by members of Sahana. For the record, on 14 December 2009, you said in a response to the group over the report that “We had 80 pages of text, editors cut down to 60.” Along with others in the group, I found this surprising because the report does not mention any editors at all. I responded on 28 December 2009 by saying that “The UNF / Vodafone report does not mention any editors – who were they and why did they cut down 20 pages of what you submitted? Were you not given a page / word limit to begin with?”, a sentiment echoed by noted academic in this field Bartel Van de Walle in his response as well, on the same day. My intent here was to get whatever that was in those 20 pages out in the public domain. Because of a lack of any response, I followed up once again on 7 January 2010 by noting that “Wanted to follow up on the comment you make here about ‘editors’ cutting down your report by twenty pages. Neither your post here nor Diane’s response here specifically mention any ‘editors’ of the report. Can you please clarify what you meant below?”

You never got back to us on these questions. Having re-read my posts, I really don’t see them as constituting personal attacks or questioning your professional integrity. Other messages to the forum, also archived in it and thus open to independent appraisal, point to the fact that I merely referred members of it to my discussions with you and separately, your co-author, on this my personal blog. Again, there was no name calling, vituperative diatribes, or any hint maliciousness.

But above all, I wish to reiterate my apology, unequivocal and sincere, over what seems to have been an exchange perceived extremely differently by the two of us. It was certainly not even remotely my intent to upset you in the way you have.

As you know, in my first critique of the report, I have noted that I consider you “one of the world’s foremost researchers on the use of ICTs for HA/DR/EW and DRR.” In April 2008, when you first started to blog and we had a great exchange on Human Rights 2.0, I noted that “It’s rare that I unhesitatingly recommend a blog for its gripping content and this is one. Patrick’s extremely prolific… his significant experience and lateral thinking are evident in any of the posts.” I don’t believe I have been anything but respectful and appreciative of your work here and in other fora, which is precisely why I have held it up to standards and scrutiny, respectively higher and greater, precisely because you raise the bar for work in this field.

I trust this apology will serve as a foundation for continued engagement both personally through our respective blogs, as well as in and through institutional domains larger and more important.

A link to this blog post will also be put on the Humanitarian ICT listserv, as requested.

3 comments on “A public apology to Patrick Meier

  1. indi
    January 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    strange, didnt read like personal criticism at all, quite polite actually

  2. Louiqa Raschid
    January 25, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    Sanjana – I am all for public apologies since they do clear the air and allow for all parties to move forward. So thanks for taking the first step in this regard. Having said that, I too am surprised that Patrick was unable to accept your critique as well as other people’s comments in the spirit in which they were intended. I don’t know about Diane but Patrick is a doctoral candidate. He certainly needs to get “girded up” to face similar critiques – and possibly even more harsh critiques – if he expects to be treated as a serious academic researcher and plans to play in the academic sandbox. Best regards, Louiqa Raschid

  3. Don Cameron
    January 27, 2010 at 1:30 am #

    As a marketing exercise this ‘report’ certainly seems to have achieved its objective! – Rarely have I seen so much controversy over so little genuine content.

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