The blogger known by “Avicenna Last” is one of the more prolific bloggers on the “Freethoughtblogs” blog network. A British man who travelled to India for medical school, and who is now a trainee doctor there, Avicenna seems to offer a compelling perspective on issues related to both atheism and science. Avicenna’s blog tells the tale of a doctor working 90+ hours a week, but s also blogging prolifically, saving lives in his off time, and raising thousands for charity. He is a doctor, philanthropist, relief worker, and combat survivor- a true renaissance man. Avicenna also tells tales of the evildoers that oppose his good work-people attacking charities, levying fake rape allegations, bombarding him with hate-mail, libeling him and calling him racial slurs. So what should a skeptic think about these fantastic claims? Is Avicenna the real deal? Is he a harmless “Walter Mitty” type, or is he a just a dishonest liar? Let us investigate further to find out.
“I get mail”
The first topic that I will discuss may seem trivial, but it reveals a lengthy and easily provable pattern of deception. Much of Avicenna’s blog centers on responses to e-mails that he receives from others (usually critics). In fact, a search of his blog of the term “I get mail” produces 20 pages of results. The first of these types of blog post that drew my attention was entitled “I get mail-you should be pro-life” I found it odd that someone would e-mail something centered on the American “Obamacare” plan to Avicenna, who is a British Citizen working in India. A simple google search revealed that Avicenna’s “mail” was just a copy-paste of an online letter to the editor from “mycentraljersey.com.” To ensure that this was not an interpretation error on my part, and taking into consideration the oftentimes muddled nature of Avicenna’s writing, I questioned him about it on twitter. The conversation is captured below:
Note that Avicenna his post after the conversation to cover up his deception-an unedited snapshot is unavailable on archive.org (don’t fret, there will be plenty more examples that are available!)
As the saying goes- “when there is smoke, there is fire.” I started searching for more instances where Avicenna has copied something from another source and then claim that he received it as a personal e-mail. I will list some more examples below- but please note, these are only some of the most egregious examples. To list every example would go far beyond the intended scope of this post, and frankly, it is a task that I do not have time to undertake.
Some example of Avicenna’s “emails”:
In this post Avicenna responds to “an e-mail” that is a copy-paste of this blogpost. Interestingly enough Avicenna previously addressed the same blogpost several months prior and correctly attributed the source.
In this post , Avicenna claims to be responding to an email he claims was found in his inbox. The text of the email was copied from this post by the user “DeepInsideYourMind” on the Slymepit forum. Do note that the post was not directed at Avicenna, Avicenna is not a member of the Slymepit, and in fact, Avicenna has claimed on multiple occasions that he is IP banned from the Slymepit.
In this post, Avicenna responds to what he claims is an email he received criticizing medical professionals. In fact, the text he responded to was copy-pasted from this page belonging to an American Law Firm specializing in medical malpractice suits.
This post is truly bizarre. Avicenna claims to be responding to an e-mail about lazy blogging habits that specifically criticizes Ophelia Benson. Avicenna even jokes about who the person who sent him the e-mail is confused and sent the e-mail to the wrong person. In fact, the “e-mail” that Avicenna is responding to is a Google+ post from Sara Mayhew. The google+ post was discussed just a few days earlier here, on Ophelia Benson’s blog, which is on the same blog network that Avicenna’s blog is.
In this post, Avicenna begins by stating that he was checking his e-mail while waiting for a ride to his exams, and he came across an e-mail that demanded a response. It turns out that the “e-mail” that Avicenna claimed to receive was a portion of a blogpost by Reap Paden. Although the post criticizes a few specific bloggers on the FTB network, Avicenna is not mentioned at all in the blogpost.
As you can see, there is a definite pattern of dishonesty in many of Avicenna’s blogposts. While this behavior doesn’t rise to the level of plagiarism, it certainly raises serious doubts about Avicenna’s integrity and credibility. This also raises serious questions about other claims that Avicenna has made about receiving e-mails that cannot be verified or corroborated. These claims are sometimes silly, and sometimes more serious, and include:
The rather odd claim that fans of American country music singer Carrie Underwood are bombarding him with hate mail.
The bizarre claim that he made to Heina Dadabhoy that an anonymous person sent him an e-mail accusing Heina of Human Trafficking.
The claim that Acid Trust Survivors International contacted him directly and complained about “intellectual property theft” because of a photoshopped image.
The bizarre claim that someone sent him an e-mail accusing him of rape.
An alternate history of the Gulf War
Avicenna has written numerous times in his blog that he has PTSD. Initially he did not speak too much about the specifics of what had caused his PTSD. This is completely understandable, and initially, there was no reason to doubt the validity of his claims. On April 21, 2014, Avicenna posted the article “PTSD and Me(lody)” on his blog. In this article, Avicenna tells the story of how he developed PTSD from events that occurred when he was a child. Avicenna details his experiences from when his family had to flee the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In the details of his story, Avicenna makes multiple claims that contradict the known
history of the Gulf War.
I was born in Kuwait. Site of the first Gulf War where I was a refugee. Due to my parent’s jobs they were captured and held because “Doctors Are Very Useful”. One day we were given a car and tried to leave. We left on the night of the 16th of January. We didn’t know what was coming.
I lived through Allied bombing and the Iraqi retaliation. The lack of information meant we drove along Highway 80. To those who lived through it, it had another name.
The Highway of Death, a shooting gallery of American long range bombardment and air strikes. After we saw one, we turned back. We drove to Saudi Arabia instead. Where we were held in a filthy room and treated like animals (I was fed a single boiled egg over a day). Until hell broke lose. A scud missile had struck a nearby building. We took the time to leave. Some kind soul unlocked the door. We assumed the war was between the Saudi and Iraqi sides. So we fled to Basra and then onwards through Iraq to the Israeli border with Jordan. At every stage we were subject to the fear that the Saudis would bomb us. It was there our luck ran out. We were not allowed into Israel. My parents say the white brits we were travelling with were separated from us. We got to go to Jordan, to a Red Cross camp set up to take in refugees near Amman. It was filled with Palestinians. And it was there we learned about the war. The bombings were by us and the Americans. After 6 months the UK found us and brought us home. A year later we went back to Kuwait.
There are many huge inconsistencies in this narrative. Avicenna states that his family took a car and fled occupied Kuwait on January 16, 1991. He states that they fled on Highway 8, the “Highway of Death”, and then turned around when they witnessed the “Highway of Death” bombings. Several things do not make sense here. Highway 8 leads north out of Kuwait into Iraq. It is very unlikely that Avicenna’s parents would try to escape the occupying Iraqi forces by fleeing into Iraq itself. Additionally, “The Highway of Death” refers to the bombing of retreating Iraqi military forces, which took place on February 26-27th, after ground forces invaded and more than a month after Avicenna claims that his family fled. In fact, the allied air campaign did not even begin until January 17, 1991, which is a day after Avicenna claims that they fled Kuwait.
Avicenna then claims that his family fled to Saudi Arabia, where they were held and mistreated by Saudi authorities. This part of the story is completely plausible. Then the story starts to unravel. Avicenna then claims that his family escaped the Saudis and then fled again to Basra, Iraq. This is completely implausible. At that time, there was a massive buildup of American and allied forces on the border of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There was also a massive defensive buildup of Iraqi forces on the Kuwaiti side of the border to defend from the forthcoming allied attack. By Avicenna’s telling of the story, they fled through both the U.S>/allied and Iraqi armies, through occupied Kuwait after the start of the Allied bombing campaign, and into Iraq, a country that was at that time capturing foreigners to use as “human shields” against bombings. There is just no way that a reasonable person could believe that these events happened in the way that Avicenna claims. Whatever events happened during that time period, they simply did not happen in the manner outlined in Avicenna’s blogpost.
It is possible that Avicenna’s story is based upon some real events. He may be just exaggerating, he may be making things up because he truly doesn’t remember what happened, or he could be making the entire thing up. There is just no way to determine exactly how much of his story is fabricated. He also might really have PTSD. While he may have made up the details of his story, if he did really flee Kuwait at the time as a child, it is very possible he went through traumatic events. The purpose of this is not to evaluate whether or not Avicenna suffers from PTSD, rather, he purpose of this is to point out another example of Avicenna’s dishonesty. Avicenna has demonstrated yet again how no reasonable person can trust that any claim that he makes on his blog is true.
Vacations for Charity
In November of 2013, Avicenna made a rambling blogpost regarding a photoshop he had discovered that mocked Melody Hensley. (In a more recent version of the story he claims that ASTI contacted him directly over the image). Avicenna was displeased that the photoshop had used a part of an image from ASTI, a charity that assists acid burn victims. Although it could be considered mean-spirited and tasteless, the photoshopped image clearly met standards for “fair use” (at least in the U.S.) Avicenna claimed that the image caused actual harm to the charity, claimed (without evidence) that the image was created by an atheist from “the other side”, and claimed that the image constituted intellectual property theft. Avicenna also discussed the work of ASTI, and claimed that he had the “pleasure of working with” them. In a better written and more positive follow up post, Avicenna also discussed the charitable work of ASTI. He also mentions that he has met several of the ASTI staff personally, and mentions that he has a scar on his own hand that happened while treating an acid burn victim.
In a post in January, Avicenna announces a fundraising trip to Nepal that he will be making where he will be taking a fundraising trek for ASTI/ Avicenna posts further details of the trip in a second announcement. So is Avicenna going on this trip because of his close working relationship to ASTI? No, ASTI has a variety of fundraising challenge trips available to the public. This would be a moot point if Avicenna was forking over large amounts of his own money to donate and to pay for the trip. However, Avicenna announced that he was going to finance the trip through raising 3200 pounds via a fundraising page. According to the ASTI website, fundraising the full 3200 will pay for the trip! Additionally, in his fundraising announcements, Avicenna also stated that he would be trying to raise funds via PayPal to cover the registration fee. If he had actually accomplished this, Avicenna would have earned himself a completely free trip.
According to the itinerary, this is not a working trip, and all lodging, food, and meals are included.
On his fundraising page, Avicenna mentions that he does not yet have the skills to do work for ASTI, which seems strange considering his previous claims of working with them in the past. His fundraising page was recently edited a few days ago (there is no wayback machine copy of the page prior to his edit).
Although he has since claimed on twitter that he had decided not to take the trip in March 2014, he did not update his fundraising page until sometime after the above Twitter conversation on December 17, 2014. In this conversation he also seems to be implying that he has no intention of donating any of his own money to his own fundraiser.
Avicenna also implies that the Nepal trip is nothing like a vacation and claims that he will be working for free at the ASTI clinic as part of the trip.
In the above capture, Avicenna claims that he will be going to work in the ASTI clinic in Katmandu, and paying for the trip with his own money. It will be interesting to see if he actually does this.
The above portion of our Twitter conversation is perhaps most telling. When pressed about whether or not he was donating his own money to the fundraiser, Avicenna replied that he needed the money more, and that the idea of donating his own money was “silly”. In my personal experience, I have never encountered somebody who holds a charity fundraiser, brags about their own benevolence, yet doesn’t donate (or even intend to donate) any of their own money. I have also never heard of a grown adult fundraising for charity in order to win a prize. In the United States at least, that type of thing seems to only on fundraising by schoolchildren who do not have an income of their own. I don’t think you can criticize ASTI for offering these types of fundraisers-they are a very niche type charity, and I am sure that they need to be creative in order to raise as many donations as they can. In my opinion, it is utterly contemptible that Avicenna did this fundraiser with the intentions of scoring a free trip, while never even intending to donate any of his own money.
ASTI does seem like a very worthy charity. Even if Avicenna takes the free trip and they have to pay for it out of the donations, they will still be receiving some money. So am I being (pardon the pun) uncharitable towards Avicenna here? I don’t think so. From the beginning, it is apparent that Avicenna planned this fundraiser so that he would receive a free trip to Nepal. His blogposts announcing the trip plainly indicated that he planned on paying for the entire trip through the donations of others. His subsequent twitter conversation make clear that he never intended to donate any of his own money. Even though the trip is available to the public on the ASTI website, Avicenna implied that he was specifically invited on the trip by ASTI management, and has since implied that the trip was actually a trip where he would be working in their clinic. He claims that he is not even going on the trip, which was the sales pitch he made on his fundraising page, and did not update that page until he was called out about it on Twitter. Avicenna has not given any money to ASTI, and the only “work” that he has done is set up a free fundraising page and link to it from his blog. Avicenna’s utter dishonesty through this whole endeavor, and his willingness to try to make himself look good by taking credit for the donation s of others, are utterly reprehensible.
As a post script to this section.it is notable that Avicenna is still soliciting money for his fundraiser. Avicenna is still linking to his personal fundraising page. Avicenna’s fundraising page is hosted by a site called justgiving. The justgiving site takes a percentage of donations as a processing fee. The whole purpose of the justgiving page is to track donations to a certain fundraiser, in this instance so that Avicenna could fundraise his way into a free trip. If you wish to donate to ASTI and you want your entire donation to reach the charity, I suggest donating to ASTI directly here.
More to come
Prior to starting this, I did not realize how enormous of a task it would be to document the deceptions of this one man. I will be posting a follow-up post in a week or so detailing more of Avicenna’s “greatest hits.”