Is the ‘Pro-Truth Pledge’ Creator Ignoring His Own Advice? You Decide.

The Pro-Truth Pledge is an online form where people can promise to be honest in their public communications and fact-check when possible. It’s a project sponsored by Intentional Insights. The president of Intentional Insights, Gleb Tsipursky (who also writes for Patheos), has been making the rounds on podcasts and social media promoting the pledge.  I first heard of this project when he direct messaged me on Facebook asking me to take the pledge. This was the first interaction I ever had with him. What I’ve discovered since then about Tsipursky, and my personal interactions with him, have left me feeling more than uneasy.

 

Let me start off by reiterating what I’ve said many times in the past — I despise infighting in the secular community, and I do everything I can to avoid it. It’s cancerous and often times petty, considering the much larger battles we’re facing outside our own circles. But occasionally it’s unavoidable. And in this case, I feel it’s necessary to bring some things to light about a pattern of behavior I feel is contradictory to what I’d expect from someone asking others to take a vow of honesty.  If it causes some conflict, fine. But not bringing these things to light after learning them would feel like a lapse in my own integrity. And if I lose that, I might as well shut down SecularVoices altogether.  So here it is…

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who’s well-known in the secular movement for his work. Organically, the topic of controversy in the secular community came up. We were going through the laundry list of people who have been exposed for deception or wrongdoing, lamenting about how their behavior reflects poorly on the secular community and impedes our progress. In that discussion, my friend brought up a name I heard before but was mostly unfamiliar with — Gleb Tsipursky.  He told me that Tsipursky had been accused of creating “sock puppet” accounts on social media and using them to promote his own work.  A sock puppet is a fake account with a fake identity that someone would use to promote themselves and make it seem like someone else was doing it. Kind of shady, but I can understand the need. Many Facebook group admins don’t like when you post your own articles or projects in their groups. They consider it spamming. Personally, I don’t consider it spamming at all if the topic being posted related to the group it’s being posted in. Who cares who’s posting the information if it’s relevant to readers? Self-promotion is a bitch, and most of us are forced to do it on our own. So yeah, some content creators have taken more “creative” approaches than others. But anyway, sock puppets aren’t the issue I want to discuss.

A week later, I received a direct message on Facebook from Tsipursky asking me to take the pledge and support his effort. Turns out we were Facebook friends… who knew?  Anyway, I didn’t respond — not because I had anything against the guy or refused to sign his Pro-Truth Pledge, I was just busy when he messaged me and neglected the message.

About a month after that (yesterday), another friend, Natalie Newell, who hosts The Science Enthusiasts podcast with Dan Broadbent, posted this:

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One of the comments caught my eye:

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Now it’s ringing a bell. This is the guy I was hearing about from my friend a month earlier. And then I saw that Tsipursky responded:

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I thought that was a really strange and overly-defensive reaction. And Jeff was asking a question. That’s not slander. “I do not intend to engage with questions on this matter.” So was he trying to control what questions Natalie and Dan were going to ask him on their podcast? Tsipursky basically said he’s not going to address questions about behavior that might be antithetical to his Pro-Truth pledge, but instead dumped a link to an article where he claims to have addressed the matter. So I read it. And to summarize, Tsipursky says there’s no way he could have created and managed sock puppet accounts because he’s way too busy being a popular public figure. I’m not sure if he actually thought that would fly in a community full of critical thinkers and skeptics. So I responded. And then this happened.

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I didn’t like Tsipursky’s reaction to questions about his marketing/promotion tactics. It all seemed very fishy to me. While this was going on, I started receiving direct messages from other prominent atheists expressing their support, thanking me for confronting Tsipursky and asking him these questions. One of them sent me this and my brain nearly exploded:  Concerns with Intentional Insights

Last year, Jeff Kaufman posted an extremely detailed and well-organized explanation of issues found with Tsipursky’s organization Intentional Insights, as well as concerns with claims made by Tsipursky himself. I won’t rehash it all here, but here are the most concerning elements I read. The links will take you to the section of the article where each is examined:

There’s a lot more, and it’s overwhelming to say the least. If nothing else, it does appear that Tsipursky hired people in third-world countries to like, share, and promote his work. Like I said before, self-promotion is tough. We all have to do it if we want our projects to succeed. But if you did something kinda shady, own it. Don’t deny it over and over again, and then accuse people of slander just for asking you about it. And certainly don’t go out promoting a Pro-Truth Pledge when you obviously have an honesty problem to begin with.

Back to the Facebook thread. After reading through some of this, my dander was up and I decided to be more straightforward with Tsipursky. People make mistakes. I certainly do. I wanted to afford him the chance to say, “yes, I hired people to promote me and was dishonest about it in the past.” I thought, maybe this truth pledge was his way of repenting for his prior dishonesty and he’s turning over a new leaf. So I re-engaged. I decided I’d give him a chance to be honest. If he was, I’d drop it, because again, I understand self-promotion woes. If he wasn’t, I decided this article was going to happen. It didn’t go well:

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That’s Nathan Dickey of the Trolling with Logic podcast backing me up. His input and support was appreciated.

Here’s what should be noticed — Tsipursky has a knack for dismissing inquiries or criticism and attempting to make the accuser sound like the guilty party. Notice how he refused to answer my question but instead accused me of being a troll, an attempt to vilify me rather than address my concerns. If Kellyanne Conway ever resigns, this guy’s got a future in politics.

And then Tsipursky doubles down and accuses me of ad hominem attacks:

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For reference, an ad hominem attack is when someone attempts to invalidate an argument by attacking the character of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.  You know, like when someone refuses to answer direct questions by calling you a troll.

The conversation ended abruptly with this. Gleb Tsipursky was uninvited to The Science Enthusiasts podcast.

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Shortly afterward, Dan Broadbent posted this:

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Well said. Tsipursky had every opportunity to just come clean and admit that despite the fact he was pushing a truth pledge, he was being dishonest about his self-promotion activity, or had in the past.

Part of the Pro-Truth Pledge states this:

Honor truth

  • Acknowledge when others share true information, even when we disagree otherwise
  • Reevaluate if my information is challenged, retract it if I cannot verify it
  • Defend others when they come under attack for sharing true information, even when we disagree otherwise
  • Align my opinions and my actions with true information

So I ask again, is the ‘Pro-Truth Pledge’ creator ignoring his own advice?

And why does a website that’s in essence just an online form have a donate page? What do the donations get used for? Surely, expenses are at a minimum — web hosting, domain registration… and possibly a team of dedicated superfans (or paid assistants in third world countries). Maybe I’m just getting punchy about all of this.

There’s much more to this story, and I’ve been privy to information and private conversations involving Tsipursky that I’m not at liberty to disclose, but I can tell you this… all of these private conversations support the conclusions of Tsipursky’s lack of honesty, vilifying accusers, and reluctance to admit any wrongdoing. That’s not pro-truth. That’s self-preservation under the guise of claiming innocence.

In the end, I’ll just say this. I have no problem with self-promotion. I do it all the time. It’s likely I’ll post this very article in multiple Facebook groups. What I have a problem with is hypocrisy, especially within the secular community. As atheists and activists, we shine a light on religious hypocrites all the time. In order to set ourselves apart from them, we must be better than them, and be consistent.  And when we see someone who’s active in our movement not playing by the rules, we need to police our own and call them out.  This is how we rise above the accusations that atheists are immoral. This is how we prove them wrong.

It’s likely Tsipursky will see this post, and he may or may not respond to it. If history is any predictor, he will respond with a rather verbose dissertation about how innocent he is, how he’s been attacked, victimized, and damaged by this, and what a horrible person I am to bring this “slander” upon him. That’s fine. It would be nice if he’d just tell the truth instead.

 

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Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is the head writer and editor for SecularVoices, co-founder of Young Skeptics, and author of Understanding an Atheist. He is known for local and national secular activism and has spoken at conferences and events such as Reason Rally 2016 and the Ark Encounter Protest and Rally.

View all posts by Kevin Davis →

20 thoughts on “Is the ‘Pro-Truth Pledge’ Creator Ignoring His Own Advice? You Decide.

  1. This comes as no surprise, as Gleb is a close associate of Richard Carrier, another notorious sock-puppeteer and astroturfer.

  2. Part of the Pro-Truth Pledge states this:
    Acknowledge when others share true information, even when we disagree otherwise

    That would explain Gleb’s habit of deleting comments he doesn’t like at his blog.

  3. I read this post . You are right about your dilemma with Dr. Gleb , however , it is a well known fact , & military , professional , & political protocol , that one should always praise in public , but discipline in private . Again , what you have said warrants attention , but should not have been publicly posted .
    According to your own standards , with the agreeing disclosures of your fellow Atheists , Dr. Gleb’s methods are widely practiced , & should not have been a topic in this audience . We all have our faults , I am also a mental healthcare patient , & despite your article , I still support his work , & will continue to do so , so long as his efforts are not supporting human trafficking , or human slavery . His goals are just , & an inspiration to those who would see this nation carry itself in a more stable manner . This greater goal is what we should be focusing on when in public , not petty squabbles that turn molehills into mountains .
    If Dr. Gleb retires from his current efforts , we will have lost another pillar of this effort , & we have so few .

    1. Thanks for your comment, but I wholeheartedly disagree in this instance. Gleb’s dishonest promotional tactics have been brought to his attention privately numerous times. He’s repeatedly denied his unethical behavior, made excuses and provided nonsensical explanations for his actions. Not only that, but he’s repeatedly attempted to turn the tables on his criticizers, playing the victim. Like I mentioned here, there’s much more to this, and more examples of his pattern of poor behavior that are not included here in an effort to protect others involved in those conversations. The “discipline in private” tactic you mentioned has been ineffective. Gleb has tarnished his own efforts with his dishonesty. He is not a fitting spokesperson for a truth pledge.

    2. “Praise in public, discipline in private” is a standard that helps manage the image of organizations. It can be easily twisted to cover up unethical or abusive behaviours, or pin the blame on victims for speaking out when the private mechanisms fail to address the issues.

      While sock-puppeting and angry evasions are at worst a non-criminal ethical lapse, they are certainly grounds to note the hypocrisy regarding a “truth pledge”.

      Ultimately, I could see the “truth pledge” used to attack his critics. By claiming such criticisms are “slander” and “lies” he can then point to the pledge as a way to rally defenders to his cause.

  4. Upon closer examination of Mr. Tsipurky’s recent issues that have come to light there have been references to his behavior comparing it to someone who doesn’t appear to understand certain social cues and probably in need of therapy and help with Asperger’s type anti-social behavior. I’m not a doctor but I noticed it in my previous dealings with him, others have noticed it, and in light of this I’m not comfortable with the tone of this article. I’m also not comfortable with this type of public disparagement even if some people feel Gleb deserves it. I feel like the alleged dishonesty and/or calling people trolls could have been pointed out,for example, instead of calling his behavior “total crap” specify it doesn’t add up,it’s confusing, is rude or whatever,and maybe Gleb, you could benefit from professional help if you can’t see it because a lot of other people can. I avoid this type of interaction when it means something as an example for a community of people who are trying to be “better” than other communities. Just my opinion.

    1. How many times do you feel someone’s “alleged” dishonesty should be pointed out to them directly before their denial of it is made public? Gleb has had many opportunities to be honest about his tactics prior to this article being written. Instead of coming clean and correcting his behavior, he’s denied any wrongdoing, refused to address criticism, blocked people who question him (including me), and played the victim. I even gave him the opportunity in the FB conversation to be honest and I would have dropped it if he had. Instead, he doubled down on his victim mentality, inaccurately accusing me of ad hominem attacks. Honesty is honesty, and ethics are ethics… when I see someone acting unethically and going around pushing a pledge of honesty for other people to sign, I’m going to call bullshit every time.

      1. That wasn’t my point at all. I would have pointed it out in a way that, in my opinion, would have been more constructive and also set an example for how to treat people in public rather than stoop to someone else’s level. I believe he needs professional help.

  5. I have been a mental healthcare patient for almost 25 years , & an Atheist for over 30 . As both , I cannot say that I can do better . Regardless of his catch-penny infractions , that no author here can prove to be better with , his cause should be supported in public , not nit-picked . Even this conversation is a detriment to “our” community . If no one is willing to pick up the torch , & continue the cause as a better person , then they have no ground to complain ! This is an internal affair with the secular community , & it should be treated that way . I refuse to “disqus” this further . Good day Mr. Davis .

    1. –Leaves a comment on my site.
      –Says he refuses to discuss this further.

      That’s not how this works. You can’t leave multiple asinine comments and expect no one to respond. Your ‘Gleb apologist’ strategy isn’t working. While you may be able to forgive someone who’s deceiving people at every turn as well as charging his supporters for free content, I will continue to bring to light anyone’s bullshit when I see it. If he wants to be a public figure (which he obviously does) then he’ll be subject to public scrutiny when he intentionally deceives people and spreads his hypocrisy. There are plenty of people doing good things in the secular community — people who don’t have a god complex like this dude. This is NOT an “internal affair” in the secular community. That type of thinking is how priests get away with diddling kids. You’re nothing but an enabling apologist. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    1. For your information, I thoroughly respond to the claims made by Kevin Davis, and explain why I have not responded earlier. Since Kevin Davis has deleted my comments in the past, which I describe in my post, and since it’s best to keep a thorough record of this matter, I welcome anyone who read Davis’ post to read my rebuttal and leave any comments on that post. I commit to keeping up all comments on that post, and you are welcome to take screenshots of your comments and post them in response to my comment here, where Davis is the moderator, if I delete your comment, to make sure there is a full track record. http://www.patheos.com/blog

  6. Comment section tl;dr:
    We all agree he’s an ass, but you shouldn’t criticize public figures publically, that’s rude!

    As if all atheists have a biweekly club meeting or something in which we can issue demerits. Ugh.

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