(Summary: My successor as Chair of Bay Area Skeptics
misappropriated my copyrighted Web content. I objected, was thereupon
asked to resign from the BAS Board of Directors, and did so. My work
was posted to a different site without my permission, and was reattributed
to another person with its copyright notice removed. I have removed
the BAS content formerly at this site.)
It was the day after Super Bowl Sunday, February 1999. I was in a
great mood, because I always get my best long-distance bicycle rides in,
taking advantage of roads temporarily devoid of American football fans.
I love it.
In the afternoon mail was yet another odd note from my successor as Chair
of Bay Area Skeptics, Patrick O'Reilly. Some of you
will know that I've been a director and leading spokesman of BAS for nearly
its entire existence, since shortly after its founding in 1982. More about
that, later. Patrick requested the pleasure of my attendance at a Board
of Directors meeting -- the previous day.
Sheesh. Bloody typical.
Patrick had been repeatedly declaring and then
cancelling/rescheduling meetings via e-mail, on extremely short notice,
completely ignoring the meeting advance-notice provisions in our corporate
by-laws, several times over the preceding month or
Prior to that, I had missed a couple of Board meetings because both Patrick
and two other Board members persisted in ignoring my repeated pleas for a
telephone call, a page, or an e-mail when meetings were coming up, since I
tended to run a couple of weeks behind on USPS (paper) mail. Consequently, I
had attended only one Board meeting of the several in 1998, and that only by
continually calling Patrick myself. This time, however, I was on top
of the mail-queue problem. But it didn't help, because Mr. P O'R had just
called a meeting I could attend only with a time machine.
Things had been rocky with Patrick, in part because he was a greenhorn
Chair, but in larger part because of his impenetrable, indeed crusading,
ignorance about technology.
I'm a professional WAN/LAN consultant and Unix systems administrator, and run
a Web-hosting business on the side. As such, I had created vast amounts
(hundreds of megs) of online content for BAS and hosted it for free, for many
years. I also was BAS's sole on-line voice, trusted by the Board for two
decades to officially represent BAS on Usenet, e-mail mailing lists,
CompuServe fora, and dial-up BBS networks -- some of which I created
personally. (For seven years, I also ran, funded, and maintained the world's
first on-line forum for skeptics, The Skeptic's Board BBS in San
For his part, Patrick was a classic technopeasant AOL user, whom I had tried
in vain to educate about Internet technology. He also persisted in making
incredible, repeated blunders as Chair, for lack of consultation with me
and the other four prior Chairs on past lessons. I kept sending long e-mails
about those lessons, so he wouldn't get us into lawsuits or worse. And it
Patrick and one other Board member had recently filed objections to
my expansion plans for the Web pages I created, funded, and carried
on my business Web server for BAS's benefit (previously at this URL):
I had casually mentioned that I'd be adding hyperlinks to all manner of
fringe-science material on the Net, with a witty, brief description/review of
each -- but that there would be no finger-wagging segregation of
these into "good" vs. "bad" sites, no BAS Seal of Approval or such
"That's terrible!" I was told. "We have to inform the public of which ones
have scientific merit." What, I said, were we suddenly elected the arbiter of
TRVTH for the American public, and I missed it? How exactly are they
going to develop an ability to judge for themselves, in the unlikely event of
our appointing ourselves as gatekeepers? Isn't the aim to teach critical
thinking, rather than leading people by the nose on particular sets of
(My earlier pride and joy, The Skeptic's Board BBS, had been famous for
the broadminded way in which it gave users access to paranormal/fringe-science
materials with the most encyclopedic coverage I could manage, and zero
editorialising. I trusted to the readers, and didn't think it was any of
my business -- or Bay Area Skeptics's -- to tell them what to think.
That had been my principle all along, and I was sticking to my guns.)
Such had been the discussion when we (re-) raised the discussion at the
last Board meeting I attended. Impasse. However, I figured I created and
hosted this stuff; if they wanted to pay a whopping monthly bill elsewhere,
they were welcome to do it their way.
This, too, was a point they didn't seem to quite get. I started hearing
(after the fact) of Board resolutions, passed behind my back, requiring
that BAS's Web pages must follow any dictum of the Chair.
That's all very well, I pointed out, and BAS could do that with
its Web pages if it had any -- but it seemed more than a little
cheeky when applied to my Web pages that I had created (and funded,
and hosted, and copyrighted) for BAS's benefit.
Patrick, our AOL-using friend, decided about this time that he objected to a
text file I had in my personal ftp-files collection (in a directory tree with
thousands of other files), which he characterised as being "on BAS's Web
page", and suggested I move it to "my personal Web page". His notion, such as
it was, was that people would think BAS endorsed the file. In vain, I tried to
point out the distinction: It wasn't on "BAS's [sic] Web page", and was not
even an HTML file. I pointed out that it was easier to reach the North
American Man-Boy Love Association from
"BAS's Web page" than the file he disliked, yet that fact didn't mean
BAS endorses NAMBLA.
Wasted effort. He didn't get it, at all -- and became fixated on this,
as supposedly showing defiance of our Board of Directors.
I did not make an issue of Patrick's technical-education problems
or copious blunders among the Board, figuring that this too would blow
over, but instead just quietly commiserated with a couple of past Chairs and
kept my peace.
In December 1998, Patrick suddenly announced that he would be "moving"
(copying) all of my work to a different Web server, at some unspecified
hosting service. I reiterated that BAS was welcome to create pages of
its own to replace mine, and that I would then just expunge the BAS name
from mine and have them revert to being Rick Moen's "skeptic" pages.
However, I pointedly
explained, it was not at all OK for him to duplicate my copyrighted
work, which would be not only entirely improper but also a violation of
Federal law. Copyright violation. Theft.
He replied extremely belligerently. So, I removed my work from public
access entirely: "chmod 0 *", and all that. Thereby preventing
the threatened misappropriation.
Which brings us back to the Monday following Super Bowl Sunday -- and
the "announcement" of a meeting the day before. I made a few 'phone calls,
and found out that the meeting had indeed occurred, that former Chair Larry
Loebig among others had likewise gotten his "meeting notice" only on Monday,
and that every Board member but me had been telephoned well before
the meeting. I shrugged. Sad, but probably harmless.
Three days passed, and I got mail from Wilma Russell, BAS's Secretary,
requesting that I resign from the Board of Directors. No reason cited,
no discussion, no complaint, like that.
So I did -- and that's what happened to the pages that used to be here.
My apologies to those who used to rely on them, but I simply didn't
want my work ripped off -- and later just didn't want the hassle of
dealing with Patrick any more.
Bay Area Skeptics has had a distinguished history. I'm genuinely sorry not
to be contributing to it any more, but I seem to have been frozen out -- for
no reason I can see other than standing still and quietly going about BAS's
on-line business as I did for the prior two decades. I wish the group well,
and hope its (perceived) interests and mine re-converge at some point in the
future. If it survives.
Two decades of hard (and carefully responsible) work. Sigh.
In the meantime, there's no Bay Area Skeptics here, and it looks
unlikely there will be any.
 Most of the rest of you are now wondering
what the hell a "skeptics" group is. It's a little difficult to explain, but
the general concept is that some particular fringe-science claims just might
have something to them despite pervasive flakiness, and that therefore fair
scrutiny of them should be encouraged and supported for (at minimum)
entertainment value, and we just might find some surprising results from time
 Which would tend to make those meetings illegal in
more than just a technical sense. Their entire contents would be "ultra
vires" (without effect) at best, and potentially a legal risk. Not to mention
that the reason for such notice being required was mostly to prevent doing an
end-run around directors' participation.
 This was in correspondence not included in
the file linked to the words "pointedly explained", three paragraphs
further on (where I referenced a "Dilbert Correlation Factor" ftp file to
make the same point). I frequently had to use multiple metaphors to convey
on-line concepts to Patrick: More often than not, he either could not
or would not understand. It was difficult to tell which.
 Later, Patrick was able find part of my
HTML-format work, perhaps in someone's Web cache. Thus, large parts of
that work now (July 1999) appear at the new site he spoke of, purporting
to be the work of one Yves Barbero, with no credit to me and my
copyright notice stripped.