Friday, March 20, 2009

Not our Tim Wood, a case of mistaken identity

“There are two modes of establishing our reputation: to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues. It is best, however, to secure the former, because it will invariably be accompanied by the latter.”

-- Charles Caleb Colton, Anglican clergyman (1780-1832)


Reputation and trust are precious and precarious things. They are built over a lifetime, and yet they can be squandered (or stolen) in an instant. This has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past few days as I have dealt with a rather unusual case of identity theft.

Hopefully, none of you are going to encounter my cyberspace imposter or his/her work firsthand. But just in case, I wanted to take a moment to explain what has happened, set the record straight, and reassure everyone that I haven’t completely lost my mind!

This situation first came to my attention back in December. Just before the beginning of Christmas break, I began to receive “fan mail” (for lack of a better term) on my university e-mail account. These people kept raving about this online political essay I had supposedly written and published, and that was now being circulated via forwarded emails. Some called me courageous. Others hailed me as a visionary. A few suggested that I was predestined to play a pivotal role in the apocalyptic events foretold in the Book of Revelation. (I’m not kidding...) Now over the past eleven years I have published a book and several articles in academic journals, and I have to admit I never even attracted one groupie. So with my curiosity very much piqued, I began searching the internet for the mysterious article.

I suppose it was inevitable that I was not going to like what I found. There, prominently displayed on a rather politically extreme website, was an essay that likened President Barack Obama to . . . Adolph Hitler. Underneath the title was the inscription “by Tim Wood.” Uh-oh.

I was not pleased. However, even though my parents always told me I was special, a quick internet search will reveal that I am not, in fact, the world’s only Tim Wood. So I ignored it. Until recently, that is, when the forwarded version of this article had mutated into a form which included the rather unambiguous phrase “Professor of History and Political Science, Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, MO.” The writer of this message also helpfully appended my office phone number and e-mail address.

I would be lying if I said I was not upset. Even above and beyond the fact that the comparison is utterly ridiculous (anyone who believes that truly has no understanding of the depths of evil plumbed by the Nazi regime), it was now personal. Who has the right to speak for me like that? How dare they hide behind my name! What if my colleagues -- or my friends and family – read this and believed it??? And it still surprises me how much we all (and I include myself in this) take at face value off the internet. In history, scholars are trained to always analyze their sources. Always, in the back of their minds, historians must be aware that the historical documents they are working with may contain errors, lies, omissions, and distortions. Their sources may even turn out to be wholesale forgeries.

To navigate those potential pitfalls, historians check facts and look for other documents that conform (or contradict) the information found in our source. We seek to identify the author and understand his or her motives for writing. We try to understand the larger historical and cultural context surrounding a document. By doing our homework, we’re better able to judge when something or someone deserves to be “taken at their word.”

This episode has taught me that these skills have an important place even outside this history classroom. All of us know how much dishonesty there is in the world around us, yet how quickly we forget that just before we hit the “forward” button. For me, this has been a warning against being intellectually lazy and has reminded me of the importance of verifying information before passing it on to others. (Along the way, I’ve also learned that websites such as www.snopes.com and www.truthorfiction.com are excellent tools for investigating online hoaxes.)

At any rate, I’m now in the process of cleaning this mess up, and am optimistic that it will soon be straightened out. And if any of you encounter any online rantings and ravings that claim to be by me, don’t necessarily believe it. Things are not always what they seem.

Timothy L. Wood, Ph.D.

24 comments:

Lisa said...

Dear Tim - I am so, so glad to read your blog. My father-in-law forwarded me the essay written by your alias/nemesis and asked me what I thought about it. As a Christian, a Jew, a history professor, and a person who has spoken positively about Obama, he thought I might be interested in what this "Tim Wood" had to say. I was getting ready to point out the logical fallacies and all in the essay and write off Mr. Tim Wood as a poor example of Christian witness and professional integrity, but I did that 'checking into the facts' thing first and arrived at your blog. Huzzah and hurrah! I am saddened for your sake that you have to deal with this, and that your name (and even more significantly, Christ's name) is associated with this sort of propaganda. But I am encouraged by your spirit, your humor, your intelligence, and your neat-o writing. Now I only need to forward your blog entry instead of coming up with all that stuff myself. Bonus!
I hope this essay propagation scheme dies a quick and painful death, and I will do whatever I can to hasten the bloody end.
Lisa Hawkins
clio410@comcast.net

Brett said...

Tim,

Thanks for posting this. Regardless of where you stand on the issues today, giving your academic credibility to an article like this is not only damaging to you personally, but it's damaging to our collective ideology if seen as a trustworthy point of view. This was sent to me this afternoon with five other forwards in the chain so it is apparent that people are finding something in it compelling enough to share. This now makes it dangerous. The use of propaganda like this is exactly what the Nazis used to reinforce the fear and uncertainty that already existed…blame others and breed hate and before you know it you have become the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place.

Churchmommy said...

I was going to write and congratulate you on the excellent email that fed into my worst fears about Barack Obama. I must have an historian's mind while lacking all but the most basic knowledge of history, because I needed to "check out the source" to see how credible you are. Still don't know about your credibility, but now know about your identity. What a horrible hoax!
Thanks for your comments about forwarding emails through the internet.

Dave Moulton said...

Dr. Wood,

Thank you for bringing this all back to reality (a term now abused for entertainment value). I was duped by this article and concerned that a professor at a Christian university would stoop to such extremes. You have set the record straight and I will let those who are misguided know.

Dave Moulton
Millers Creek, NC

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know that I'm doing my small part to help you "clear your name". I've let the person know that the real truth is not what she gave me to read, but is on the SBU website. I make it a practice to verify, verify, verify everything that originates from the great and powerful W.W.W. I also point every misinformed person to the two websites you mentioned. I'm sorry this has happened to you.

Regards,

Al Larson

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tim for writing this. I got the email from a pal, who is ready to go out and take on the injustice of the world. As I read it, I thought, you must be kidding, what sort of professor actually believes this. And for that matter, can't write? So I googled your name, and found this. So you are doing what you can and I forwarded the link to my friend to correct this ..well..crap! I suppose we need to fight fire with fire...Thanks again for restoring my faith in education...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ray Lafleur said...

Deare Professor Wood; thanks very much for this clarification. A relative has been sending the article you repudiated to members of our family so I went to your univeristy website to see about you. You couldn't have said it better about checking and comparing sources, particularly in this day of instant and widespread (mis)communications. Ray Lafleur,M.A. Community Development, lay leader, United Church, and student of church history

Anonymous said...

Thank you!
I was forwarded the said e-mail, and quickly Googled you to find out if you had truly wrote it!
I appreciate you addressing this issue here for us truth (in all its forms) seekers, after all truth is truth if I agree with it or not.

Anonymous said...

I'm sad to say I have encountered the piece, and I made certain to reply with a link to this blog posting. I hope it does not tarnish your good name forever.

ktwoo2u said...

Dr. Wood,

I received a copy of said essay by email today from a friend. I know she would not intentionally hurt anyone's reputation, so I sent her a link to this site and also suggested that she forward it to whoever sent her the email. I hope this thing will soon die a quick death for your sake.

Sincerely,
Marjorie J. Cooper, Ph.D.
Professor of Marketing
Baylor University

Anonymous said...

I received the essay this morning from a friend that surely intended well. But I am truly disturbed to discover an anonymous author has fraudulently assumed the professor's name, presumably to gain credibility. Even worse, what could be done to expose the coward that wrote the essay? Nothing I know of, other than what's being done here on these pages. I too have replied to my sender with a link to your page. Good luck cleaning this up. Perhaps in time, we'll find some way to separate truth from fiction more expeditiously.

A J Danis said...

Dear Dr. Wood, thank you for setting the record straight. The Internet is a great source of information. But there are no checks and balances. Anyone can post their radical views then attribute them to someone of stature in order to lend some credibility. I received this "essay" twice today, so I decided to check it out, which I always do before forwarding anything I've received. I sent a link to your March 20, reply to my well intentioned but mis-informed friends. I will continue to do every time I receive it but experience has shown me that this story will have long legs. Take comfort from the fact that people who care and matter will either ignore it or take the time to search for the truth before sending it along. Al

MoonRocketZero said...

I received this email today, and the copy I received did indeed have your name, a phone number, and email address at the top.

I always check www.snopes.com when I receive something like this, which lead me here.

I had a feeling no respectable professor would write something along these lines. It just seemed a little extreme to be penned by a well educated person, I am happy to find out I was correct in that assumption.

I will pass along the word that you are not the author to anyone who sends it to me in the future.

Dave Nalle said...

I wonder. Has the actual author of the misattributed essay ever actually been identified?

Dave

Mark Burton said...

End Times will include signs and wonders so as to deceive even the elect if possible. Satan is able to appear as an angel of light. So we won't be able to believe anything we read. Check content regardless of whose name is on it. Even high power credentials are useless since we all have a sinful nature. I wouldn't put my faith in an idea just because someone I "know" endorsed it. What's the big deal about someone "using" a "famous" name unless you're too lazy to check it out yourself?

Anonymous said...

I, too, was forwarded your, "article." Unfortunately, I know of few professors who would, "publish," in this medium. Like the others who have left comments, I did some fact checking and found your blog. I sincerely hope this hasn't marred your reputation. Anyone who has read your blog should be able to tell the difference between your voice and that of the other, "author's." Best wishes to you!

Anonymous said...

This is for Mr. Wood,
I seldom "get to the bottom" of anything that is forwarded to me. Most of the time they are deleted (I just don't want to waste my time on them). My stepfather is quite a character, though, and sends me some that are especially entertaining, which is why I happened to read this particular one.
After reading it I thought I would verify it through the supposed author. After emailing you, Mr. Wood, and finding out that it was a hoax, I was ashamed at such ruse, and thought that someone thought awful highly of you to put your name to it. (Or perhaps better yet, picked your name out of a hat!)
Some people will drag their agenda behind them blindly and push anything or anybody who gets in their way. Backbiting and slander will not receive the favor of Providence.
God bless you, sir, S. Roman

Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D. said...

I received the hoax essay and checked it for veracity, which led me to your blog. I then alerted the person who sent the hoax to me, and he passed word on to other persons to whom he sent it. Shane K. Bernard, Ph.D. (fellow historian)

pastorob said...

I recieved the essay with your name and title attached (no phone number). I googled "tim wood, southwest baptist university" found your 'mistaken identity page' and quickly did a REPLY ALL to the people on the email that had come to me.

"Do unto others..." applies here. I hope my little bit of 'help' will help.

Sorry that this happened to you. I always encourage a quick trip to Snopes for most unsolicited forwards that get our church folks stirred up.

Gary Fish said...

Dear Tim! I just received the fraudulent letter attributed to you and as a former teacher of history myself decided to investigate the background of the author. I'm so glad I did! I shall now berate the sender of the article and send to him your well written refutation of the article.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I also received this same email but I didn't get your name from it. Instead it had David Kaiser's name on it. He is not too happy either. I always check snopes as well and they had this blog in their references. (One reason I like snopes is that they always give their references.)However, perhaps people are buying into this particular essay is that they are feeling powerless as the senate and congress AND president willy nilly pass bills of their pet projects without real concern for their consitutents. The interenet is one of the few sources of uncensored information- sadly not all the info is right. Sorry your name got pasted. No one likes to get attributed to things they didn't say.
The rest of us were looking for someone with merit to stand up to the crooks in office.

Art Wilson said...

I too received the "essay", but with a disclaimer that an imposter had written the article. The disclaimer also linked to this blog.

I am sorry to hear your name is being associated with the article and I hope you can clear your name.

The disclaimer said in so many words you feel the article is not completely accurate. So, I have a question.

As a history professor what do you feel is inaccurate? I will concede that Mr. Obama does not have bullying and pushing people around, but I have heard news articles about the 'civilian defense force'. He had reduced funding for our military. There are reports that he will not allow the banks to pay back the TARP money they received. He basically fired the CEO of General Motors. And where did all the money go that was loaned by the Fed?

Personally, I don't like the change I am seeing happen in our country. Just curious. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello Tim, When I received the forward I had read only a short way when I realized this was nothing but hate related. I wrote a nasty little note to the people from whom the forward had come and the 30-40 other people who had been forwarded this lousy writing as I did a reply-all. Then my companion Marti asked me to send it to her. That was the begining of a whirlwind of activity that ended with many, many people getting the true story. Hope this all works out and we can get some of these hateful people weeded out.

Roger Charlet