As readers of this blog know, I am the defendant in a defamation suit filed against me by Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for my reporting on her alleged history of abuses and misconduct. In two main reports earlier this year, and a series of followup articles over the subsequent months, I published solid evidence for her history of abusing students and retaliating against students who reported sexual harassment and assault by her ex-husband. It's a long and complicated story, and Kurin is now up for tenure in the UCSB anthropology department. My personal belief is that the main purpose of this lawsuit is to make a show to her department that she is defending herself against what she considers false allegations, and that she is also trying to silence me and intimidate my sources and other witnesses.
Those efforts have not been successful. Not only have I continued to report about Kurin, but the lawsuit has actually emboldened new victims of, and witnesses to, her misconduct to come forward.
Because Kurin's case is sure to fail on the merits, she and her attorney have concentrated most of their efforts, both in public statements and in legal discovery, in proving that I am not a "real" journalist but some sort of "cyberbully" who has thrown journalistic ethics to the wind. This has led them to drag in all sorts of irrelevant matters into the lawsuit: They have demanded to see my teaching evaluations at the three universities where I have taught journalism; they have demanded a list of all my articles over the past 42 years of my journalism career; and they have demanded to know the names of all my sources for my reporting about Kurin, including individuals to whom I have promised confidentiality (we have refused that latter request.)
To make matters worse, as evidence of my allegedly unethical journalism, Kurin and her attorney, in their Complaint against me, accused me of unfairly harassing several academics who were fired or forced to resign after their own institutions found them to have committed serious misconduct.
Recently, through this litigation and the witnesses disclosed by Danielle Kurin, I became aware of a misconduct complaint filed against me with the National Association of Science Writers, an organization I have belonged to since 1986. This is the main professional organization for science journalists and science and medical oriented public relations officers. I have been an active member, attending meetings and until recently writing the "Our Gang" column for the NASW's bulletin, ScienceWriters.
Although the misconduct complaint is supposed to be confidential and even I am not supposed to know about it at this early stage, I am now aware of its content, which involves a recent controversy in which I was involved (and which had considerable online exposure.) Nevertheless, my legal team and I learned of the very existence of the complaint when Kurin and her attorneys listed two individuals apparently directly involved in it as witnesses in the lawsuit (both sides are obligated to disclose the names of their witnesses to their opponents, as per civil procedure in litigation).
Both of these witnesses are members of NASW; although the lists of witnesses in the lawsuit are not confidential, I am not going to name either of them at this time. If the complaint reaches the stage where NASW believes I have a case to answer, the allegations will be formally presented to me and I will have the chance to (vigorously) refute them.
However, on December 2, Kurin and her attorney served NASW with a subpoena demanding all records of any and all complaints against me, as well as all of my membership records.
On December 18, NASW's outside counsel responded to the subpoena, rejecting each and every demand. A number of reasons were given, including the burdensomeness of the demands on an organization that has one paid staff member, but the two most important ones in my view were:
--The subpoena seeks to disclose confidential, internal matters that NASW has a right to keep secret. As the NASW counsel pointed out, if third parties could be forced to reveal the details of their complaint processes including who has made the complaints, it would have a chilling effect on the rights of complainants to have their issues heard.
--The subpoena seeks information that is irrelevant to the issues in the lawsuit. As noted above, this is clearly true. Kurin and her attorney are on a wide-ranging fishing expedition to discover any possible negative information about me, in hopes that they will be able to convince a court or a jury that I am an unethical journalist. And it is true that as a #MeToo reporter I have been involved in a number of controversies, which simply goes with the territory. But the lawsuit really rises and falls on one issue and one issue only: Did I defame or publish false information about Danielle Kurin in my reporting about her? The answer is no, and all else is extraneous.
Even though I am in the uncomfortable position of having my conduct investigated by my own organization, I am proud of NASW for taking this firm stand against efforts by outside litigants to interfere in our internal affairs. This sets a good precedent in such situations. And I know my NASW colleagues will be fair in how they handle this and will give me every chance to respond to the allegations if need be.
If the investigation proceeds to the stage where I must answer the charges, I will defend myself publicly as the process will no longer be confidential. But for now, the organization I belong to has taken a stand against frivolous abuse of the discovery process, which is good news for journalists and the vulnerable people they write about.
Update Dec 21: I have tried to take the high road here, but the complaint against me with NASW has now come into my possession, along with its "supporting" materials, because either one (or more) of the complainants and/or Kurin herself is trying to get it out there publicly. The complaint is filled with falsehoods and distortions and at the appropriate time I will publicly defend myself against the allegations, if it gets that far. But I do wonder if those who signed this complaint, and those who provided materials for it, wanted me to know who they were and see all of the documents that were used to try to smear me and my #MeToo reporting, and along with it the dozens of survivors who have asked me to help tell their stories over the past five years.
Update Dec 22: Over the past 24 hours, three Twitter "sock puppet" accounts were created by one or more individuals reacting to this blog post. Two of them came online shortly after the blog was posted, and a third--which was quickly deleted--towards the end of the day. The two active accounts had certain things in common: They possessed the complaint against me filed with NASW, referred to above, AND they possessed materials from the lawsuit that only I, my lawyers, Danielle Kurin, and her lawyers, had access to as a result of legal discovery. The sock puppet accounts repeatedly posted the NASW complaint, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a confidential document under NASW bylaws, and even attempted to post it in the comments section of this blog post.
According to the bylaws of NASW, anyone has the right to file a complaint against a member, and I support that right--even though in this case I am the target of it. Our organization has detailed due process procedures, including, of course, the right of the person accused to respond to allegations if need be. We recently made changes in these very rules to make them more rigorous and fair, and I voted for those changes along with a majority of NASW members.
I think everyone can connect the dots here. I think the issues internal to NASW will be resolved, one way or the other, fairly soon, and I know that NASW members will want our due process procedures to be followed to the letter. They will not want confidential documents to be shared with the litigant in a lawsuit that has nothing to do with NASW, and they will not want to be used cynically by parties who do not have the best interest of survivors and science journalists at heart.
Further update Dec 22: Just a few days after NASW's counsel rejected the subpoena from Danielle Kurin, her attorneys have withdrawn it. They had the choice of going into court for a motion to compel the turning over of documents, but evidently decided against taking that course.
Update Dec 24: The "confidential" NASW complaint continues to reach an ever larger circulation online. I should point out at this stage that the four individuals whose experiences with me are given as "examples" in the complaint are all anthropologists, two of whom have been involved in a coordinated effort to discredit my #MeToo reporting for the last three years, and two who have actively joined that campaign more recently. All four, and the NASW member who organized the complaint, are on Kurin's witness list, which was disclosed to us earlier this month.
In better news, Happy Holidays to all. Stay safe!
Update January 7, 2021: I have now written to NASW asking that the ethics complaint against me, filed more than three months ago with no action yet that I am aware of, be dismissed on the grounds that due process has been fatally compromised. I will update blog readers as things develop. I am still thinking about how and when to respond to the false allegations in the complaint, which have now been widely disseminated. However, it is absolutely clear that the complaint was a coordinated effort, instigated by a small group of anthropologists who have been trying to stop my #MeToo reporting in that field for the past three years.
Update January 16, 2021: We now have confirmation that one of the four anthropologists referred to above has been directly working with the Kurin team; a second, also closely cooperating with the Kurin team, is now represented formally by her attorney. Meanwhile there has been no word from NASW about the status of the complaint against me. Any chance of due process has by now been hopelessly compromised.
A couple of NASW members, one who signed the complaint and one who provided material for it, are witnesses for Kurin in the lawsuit. There is an attempt to weaponize the complaint in the service of the lawsuit. Not everyone is doing that, but enough to make a clear link between the two matters.
The number of people who sign the complaint is irrelevant to the truth of the allegations. This was supposed to be a confidential process but that has now been breached, in violation of NASW bylaws. I have the complaint, all the "supporting" documents, and if NASW finds there are charges to be answered, I will so publicly.
Most relevant to those who are not yet informed, Balter was VERY explicit in not wanting to reveal Leathem’s identity in his blog, and made sure to censure all mentions of her name. I would have never guessed who she was in a million years. But being a member of the anthropological community who cares deeply about #MeToo issues, I soon realized who she was when I saw Kate Clancy, the named NASW member and a presumed “victim” of Balter, replying directly to the same Leathem’s tweet from Sep. 17 that is referenced in the complaint (yep, Clancy’s tweets are still there, but I included it also below in case she decides, only too late, to delete those.) As also being one of her “18,353 followers”, I also assume that many other colleagues saw and realized what I did. If anything, it is Kate Clancy who should be censured and removed from the organization.
For crying out loud, these NASW members are supposed to be science writers! They should be trained in the art of logical reasoning and follow the evidence trail. By not doing so, they are harming not just their own but also themselves.
“Dr. Kate Clancy
THIS is the bullshit Balter has been pulling for years. So frustrated that we have tried to publicly and privately call out this behavior and yet he somehow continues to have a toehold in the community in a way that gives him access to people and allows him to keep hurting them.”
Dr. Kate Clancy
@hmorganvl I am so incredibly sorry this happened to you.
11:44 AM · Sep 17, 2020·Twitter Web App
It's always fun to watch Balter post on his own blog anonymously and then tell his Twitter followers to read the anonymous comments.
December 22, 2020 at 4:43 PM”
Dear Anonymous (or shall is say “factcheckingbalter”?),
Last time I checked, I wasn’t Balter. Just to make sure I looked in the mirror and, nope, definitely not him. I am, however, a highly respected anthropologist, a published scholar, a faculty member on the West Coast, a long-time member of the American Anthropological Association, and a concerned citizen who cares deeply about #MeToo issues. More than that, and I may just hand over myself to the twitter mob that you are inflaming. Not today, thank you.
But I understand your frustration. As someone who clearly opposes Balter, for whatever reason you have, I am sure it is hard to acknowledge that there are many, many others out there who see the enormous benefit in his blog. Many of them are frustrated faculty like myself, who know full well that the formal university channels are useless and meant to protect the institutions from lawsuits. More to the point, it is clear that there are many, many survivors and victims of harassment and assault that see Balter as their only hope for justice. It is them whom you truly damage with your skepticism, not Balter.
And at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if you think that I am him, or even if I WAS actually him. What matters is the truth, and in your reply you failed to address any of the facts that I raised in my comment. Do that, and we may even have an adult, productive exchange that benefits the victims and improves the system.
Dr. Sarathi, please act responsibly and do your homework before you help enable a very dangerous individual and put more students in harm’s way.
Sarathi says Hilary publicized a supposedly threatening email by Balter in July of 2020. First, it was not threatening, merely asking her to clear the record on her defamatory statements saying he was doing activities that would amount to crimes before he would clear the record himself. He didn't question her mental health, just thought that she was not OK if she would tell such egregious lies. OK can mean morally OK. He also mentioned that she may be very confused about what had happened elsewhere. I don't doubt Hilary felt threatened by such an email, because it would mean her egregious lies would be exposed to the world. Second, this email was sent by Balter and posted by Hilary in September of 2020, not July, as Akshay had claimed.
Second, the NASW complaint currently spread by anti-Balter sockpuppets did not say Balter violated the NASW rules on conference behavior, only claimed that he violated the spirit of those rules and therefore should be censured and booted anyway.
Third, what is the evidence that Balter directly exposed Leathem to her rapist via a public internet link? What is the evidence that she fled the country, and what does that have to do with Balter?
Hilary's claims have been forcefully disproven in the DMs that Balter had shown earlier and in an online thread by Cassandra of Academia.
I was in the Alternative Archaeology Conference group when Akshay kicked Balter out. I asked Balter about it and he was flabbergasted that it happened because he thought Akshay was a close friend and had made no indication that he was going to be kicked out. Balter then showed me the messages between him and Akshay. Balter talked to Akshay thinking it was all a misunderstanding because Akshay had previously told Balter he was completely off facebook and had covid, so he had no idea what was going on in facebookland. Balter then realized that Akshay was dishonest all along when Akshay said not to listen to anyone who says otherwise. Balter then showed him a screenshot of Akshay kicking Balter out, proving Akshay was outright lying, after which Akshay stopped all communications. Balter was very depressed by all this, because he had considered Akshay a close friend and Akshay had said the same about Balter many times. I'm not sure why Akshay would continue participating in the dishonest anti-Balter bashing because the receipts are all there and are more likely to become public the more his defamation has legs. And now he seems to have stooped to a new low by lying in legal proceedings to help Kurin.
The best-case scenario is that this declaration is faked and that Akshay didn't sign onto it, and is a trick used by Kurin's camp to bait Balter into lashing out at Akshay only to later find out that it's a fake document. But I just don't know anymore these days how low some people are willing to stoop to destroy Balter, so Akshay may have done it. After all, he did stoop to the level of accusing Balter of manipulating evidence (without any evidence to back up this claim) in the NASW complaint. Is he trying to cover his ass for if and when the receipts come out?
To everyone: criticize Balter all you want, but don't base your criticism on lies. Do your due diligence in separating what's a lie from what is true. Don't just take other people's word for it. It really hurts us survivors because all of you are saying that Balter is the liar (and therefore our stories are lies) and not the wolves among you that have hurt us. Balter may be many things: rude to detractors, super zealous, hot-headed with liars, imperfect and sometimes makes (but also corrects) mistakes, and too addicted to fighting twitter fights, but he is an honest person with good motivations.
LOL on the Yesner story. I have heard so many versions of what happened that it's hard to keep track of them. That's funny, because only Yesner and I know what happened, we were the only ones there (no, security guards, no fights with security guards, no Balter getting thrown out of the meeting by security guards, etc.) Some of the falsehoods about what happened are in Kurin's defamation complaint against me, and some are in Akshay's purported declaration.
The truth, which two of Yesner's victims who asked me to help them confirmed at the time, is that I tried to get SAA to do something about Yesner's surprise presence, they would not do anything and/or acted like I was crazy; with the help of the students I went looking for Yesner; I found him in the exhibition hall; I told him he had to leave and when he would not right away I raised my voice, calling him a sexual predator and trying to embarrass him into leaving; that worked, I escorted him out with no physical pressure and he left by what I recall was a main entrance. Later I was ejected from the meeting and he was allowed back in, which became a huge issue and led many to leave the SAA.
As for the colleague above's critique of my faults, yes, they are all true. In my defense, I would say that after three years of a concerted campaign to stop my #MeToo reporting; after a $10 million defamation suit from Danielle Kurin, who is trying to ruin me and take away the house my wife and I worked hard to be able to buy; and after the same individuals who have been trying to stop my reporting engineering an attempt to have me kicked out of my professional organization, I often find myself in a bad mood. Hoping that will improve soon, as we win the lawsuit, the NASW complaint is thrown out, and the dozens of survivors who have entrusted me with their stories see that I will never abandon them nor give in to intimidation, no matter what form it takes.
It may interest readers to know that Danielle Kurin also has a blog. Unlike Balter, note that Kurin does not allow comments on her posts unless you are signed up as a 'member' of her blog. There are currently zero comments on her three blog entries. If she has any guts at all she should open up her blog to comments in the same way Balter does. By doing so he opens himself up to criticism and accusations in a way that she currently does not, and that is unfair.
However, I am going to set the colleague straight about something he or she does not understand about civil procedure. When someone is hit with a subpoena in a civil suit, they are either called upon to produce documents, to submit to a deposition, or both. A declaration, on the other hand, is almost always given willingly to one side or the other in a lawsuit. We have a number of such declarations on our side. The declaration that Akshay gave to Kurin, which was then put online within 24 hours, was given willingly, as the evidence makes clear. The problem with it, however, is that I can refute everything in it with documentation and witnesses of my own.
This one is quite revealing. Note that she started posting on April 16, 2020, so not too long after victims started to come forward and Balter initial posts that exposed hers’ and Gomez’s misconduct. And the reason is clear: Kurin’s blog is a nothing more than an attempt for card-stacking propaganda, and not a very good one at that. Let’s take a closer look.
The posts were clearly written by Kurin herself (signed on bottom), but in the first two she refers to herself in the third person as “The recipient of numerous research grants and fellowships including prestigious Fulbrights” and as a “highly rated professor and accomplished researcher with stellar publications.” Also known as ‘Illeism’, this stylistic device is most commonly used by gaslighters and narcissists in order to provide a false sense of objectivity, see for example https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniesarkis/2019/04/26/gaslighters-use-the-third-person-for-dramatic-effect/?sh=1262bfa975d7. Never mind that these posts are sloppily thrown together with poor grammar and punctuation, fail to provide new information, and some lines look like copy & paste from Wikipedia or Time Team America (https://www.pbs.org/time-team/experience-archaeology/isotope-analysis/). For some reason she couldn’t even bother to upload images from her own research, but instead just grabbed stock photos from the web (https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-looking-through-a-microscope-4033151 and https://images.app.goo.gl/1ME8J3qozTW3qTY19). Oh, and some of the links don’t work :(
The third and last post is not really a post, but a screenshot of one of her articles. Here too she couldn’t bother to post the entire article or even a link to the (free) online PDF. But the choice of posting this particular article is revealing in itself. Of all her “stellar publications” in peer-review scientific journals, edited volumes, or for that matter her monographs, she chose an obscure piece from an old issue of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology ‘Backdirt magazine’, mostly read by the UCLA community.
And here’s why she chose it: Kurin posted on June 30, 2020, so following the June 11 town hall meeting spurred by the Cotsen Institute’s graduate students who demanded answers from IFR representatives Willeke Wendrich, Jason De Leon and Hans Barnard. Some parts of this exclusive virtual meeting were published by Balter on June 12, but many of the damaging details that had a direct impact on Kurin’s reputation were posted in a long update on June 25. Five days later, Kurin posted on her own blog the above-mentioned 2016 article, in which acknowledgements she specifies: “My sincerest thanks to the faculty, students, and staff affiliated with the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology for magnanimously providing a sophisticated and inspirational forum for intellectual growth. Support from the Institute for Field Research enabled me to write this article. I am truly indebted to my mentors Yuval Bar Zemer, Hans Barnard, Ran Boytner, Michael DeNiro, Enmanuel Gomez, Sabine Hyland, Stella Nair, Charles Stanish, and Willeke Wendrich.” Obviously, this was meant to appease the Cotsen community by reminding them of their “magnanimous” support in the past. As another commentator observed, this article was published only a few months after UCLA forced IFR to cancel her field school due to the Title IX findings. Apparently at the time IFR were already working on running another field season with her in 2017, this time without UCLA’s backing, so no wonder she would thank that institute’s support and her fellow board members “mentors”.
Each one of Kurin’s blog posts has one purpose and one purpose only: to manipulate people’s mind. And if you don’t have enough background to realize what she is doing, all these dangerous games end up drawing more victims into her devious sphere of control. I believe that this is what happened recently to Akshay Sarathi, and will continue to happen to others if she is not soon stopped.
There may be strong elements of Illeism and card-stacking in Danielle Kurin’s blog mentioned above, but I suspect that Danielle Kurin’s intentions are more straightforward than that. In addition to Danielle Kurin’s Blogger site, in the last months Danielle Kurin opened similar or almost identical accounts on Medium, Weebly, WordPress, Behance, SlideShare, Strikingly, Xing, and Trepup platforms. Danielle Kurin also has her own domain website.
What Danielle Kurin is actually doing in these websites is repeating her name, Danielle Kurin, as many times as possible, then duplicating that content across Danielle Kurin’s websites, and then hyperlinking between Danielle Kurin’s websites. Almost all posts start with a self-promoting name-dropping drivel that include the words “Danielle Kurin”. For example, the latest Blogger post that Danielle Kurin posted opens with “Bioarchaeologist Danielle Kurin teaches at the University of California at Santa Barbara as an assistant professor. In addition to teaching, Danielle Kurin has led multiple archeological field research projects as a principal investigator and director and has performed fieldwork on mummies.” The rest is yet another fleeting, lazily-written, data-recycled, Wikipedia-linked, stock-photo blog post that reads like the introduction of an undergrad term paper (and maybe it was.) Danielle Kurin also cites irrelevant archeological “news” as an excuse to write “Danielle Kurin” as many times as possible in a single paragraph, for example: “Danielle Kurin has done archaeological work from her undergraduate days at Bryn Mawr College, while earning her earned PhD from Vanderbilt University and since she began teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013. Danielle Kurin has been a member of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and often presented papers and posters at its annual meetings. The society, recently ended its open call for leadership position submissions ahead of a vote in early 2021.” On Danielle Kurin’s Medium platform, variations of Danielle Kurin’s name appear over 50 times across 11 posts, much of it from copying and pasting others’ articles and interviews where her name, Danielle Kurin, is being mentioned.
These Black Hat SEO tactics are known as ‘keyword stuffing’, ‘duplicate content’, ‘article spinning’ and ‘link farming’. Their devious purpose is simple: to make you rank higher in search engines. Posting periodically as she does, Danielle Kurin also ensures that Googlebots index her websites higher. So let’s say that someone in a tenure committee decides to Google “Danielle Kurin” (or “Dr. Danielle Kurin” or “Kurin, Danielle” or “Kurin UCSB”, etc.), the multiple instances of Danielle Kurin’s mentions in Danielle Kurin’s multiple websites and their interconnectivity will increase the likelihood that the first few hits will be those of Danielle Kurin’s websites instead of, let’s say, Balter’s blog, where the name Danielle Kurin is also mentioned numerous times. It is not by chance that she, Danielle Kurin, started to post in the third person right around the time that “Danielle Kurin” started to become a household name of sorts in online circles concerned with issues of sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying in archeology.
We’re on to you, Danielle Kurin! And also: Danielle Kurin Danielle Kurin Danielle Kurin.