Friday, April 11, 2003

I should probably address this and this, as I have linked to the Agonist in the past. For those who aren't up to speed, the Agonist was posting unsourced information, and at least part of that information was from Stratfor, a paid strategic forecasting site. He has since apologized, made a deal with Stratfor, and retroactively linked to everything. Normally, that would be case closed, but a number of bloggers have been practically foaming at the mouth in their hatred and loathing of the Agonist.

The thing is, with the exception of those few "birdie told me" cases where he claimed to be getting the information from unnamed sources (which are, certainly, inexcusable), he was quite clear from the start that he was drawing on other sources. He may not have linked to those sources, but that does not entail him "claiming the work as his own" outside of what I've already mentioned. Whether this is second- or third-hand information (which seems to be the crux of Andrew Hagen's complaint) seems irrelevant, as the same could be said of information he gleaned from other bloggers and from news sources that draw on other news sources (such as, say, the NYT from the AP) for information. In fact, it's important to note that one of Stratfor's methods for gaining intelligence is their own analysis of the foreign press, which is one of the reasons they're so accurate.

There are also complaints that the problem is that he copied posts "word for word" from Stratfor. Fine, but this isn't any more or less plagiarism than if he paraphrased; the problem with plagiarism is not citing information properly, and the ordering of words is a fairly minor matter, in my mind, compared to the question of sourcing.

(That leaves the "I pay for stratfor, why should he be able to publish it for free" bit, which is just another redux of very old arguments about information distribution.)

The reason why the Agonist was good and the reason why I read it at the time and still do now (although not as much, as things aren't quite so critical) is because of the numbers of sources he drew on and the ability he had to boil out any editorializing involved. Even if you completely eliminate the Stratfor stuff, it would have been a good read and a good summarization of the situation. If anything, my biggest complaint is that the Stratfor info was unnecessary; he could have simply relied on his original tactic of watching and reading rather a lot of news. That's where his worth was, and what it remains now. Leaving aside fulminations by those who, I suspect, are more concerned with the readers the Agonist has taken away from other warblogs manned by themselves and their friends.

Should he be criticized? Sure, but he should be for what he has actually done, and there should be a sense of reality here. Stratfor has dealt with it, the Agonist has apologized, and this will no doubt be old news in a few weeks, but I think that the piling on that I've seen is way out of proportion.

Edit: Just to make this clear, this is the first, last, and only post I'm going to write on this subject.

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