Bloggingheads: Capo non grata

By Phil Plait | September 4, 2009 8:01 am

My colleagues and fellow Hive Overmind bloggers Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer have written lengthy essays on why they will no longer participate on BloggingHeads.tv, a video interview site.

Sean and Carl are fine writers, and they wanted to be careful when they make their point; thus the longish essays.

But I’ll be more succinct. Bloggingheads had full-blown creationists being interviewed, making all the same long-debunked claims while the other person talking basically supported them. And BloggingHeads called that science.

So Bzzzzzzzt! I’m done with them. I was on BloggingHeads (with Carl) a few months ago, and I won’t ever do it again either. If they want to cast creationism as science, they might as well say Holocaust denial is real history, 9/11 truthers are engineers, and Birthers are patriots. They can do that, but it’s a crock.

Folks, the debate is over, and has been for decades: creationism is wrong, and provably so. And it’s certainly not science. Portraying it as such is either breathtaking ignorance, or a lie. Sorry, BHTV, but creationism is the shark, and you’re Fonzie.

Comments (94)

  1. OK, just to play (for lack of a better term) devil’s advocate here – is the best reaction to this sort of thing to pack up and leave?

    If all rational and scientific voices decide to stop making themselves heard on various media because some creationists and birthers and climate deniers are getting airtime, then pretty soon the ONLY voices on these media will be the creationists and birthers and climate deniers. That’s certainly not going to help the cause of rationality. In fact, it will probably be viewed by the creationists and birthers and climate deniers as a concession of defeat.

    Much as we want to say that the debate over evolution is over, and much as we want to believe it, the basic and extremely provable fact is that it’s not. Not in the science, of course, but in the minds of the idiot public.

    The fact is that less than 40% of Americans believe life evolved into its current state by natural forces. Despite all the evidence for evolution, despite all the evidence against a young Earth or intelligent design or any other bogus pseudoscience.

    The solution is simple. Rational science needs better public relations. Remember that the science deniers have a natural advantage here. Since they’re just making it all up, they don’t have to waste any money on all that “research” and “experimentation” and “peer review” stuff. They can put all their funding — and they do get quite a lot of it, often from industries that stand to profit from antiscience — into very slick and polished presentations that the idiot public eats up.

    Rational science, be it evolution or human origins or space exploration or climate change, needs to be able to compete on the same playing field. Unfortunately, that may mean participating in media that don’t have the same degree of respect for rational science. At the end of the day, your voice is your voice and you use it as you chose, but I’d hate to see the forces of evil chalk this up as a win.

  2. Ah, do I hear a call for a quick and dirty list of points for evolution? :D

    http://factsnotfantasy.com/evolution.html

  3. IVAN3MAN

    I’m with toasterhead on this business. To ignore those goddamn creationists/Holocaust deniers/9-11 truthers/Birthers/Moon hoax believers/Electric Universe cranks/UFO nutters/ad infinitum would be like ignoring arsonists who start forest fires and just letting the fires rage out of control.

    So, scientists and rationalists serve as intellectual firefighters.

  4. Toasterhead:

    OK, just to play (for lack of a better term) devil’s advocate here – is the best reaction to this sort of thing to pack up and leave?

    I tend to agree, to a point.

    Are they willing to have some real scientists come on and explain just why the previous “experts” were just plain wrong? Have any of you contacted them, and explained just how non-science the creationists were? Perhaps someone should suggest that they get a panel of real experts on certain subjects to check out people before being interviewed? (Sort of like good TV shows do, at least to some degree?)

    If their attitude, on the other hand, is “we need to be fair and balanced”, or “teach the controversy”, then perhaps it would best to simply pack up and run as far and as fast as you can.

  5. ndt

    I think you have to take into account how many people a given outlet reaches when deciding whether to abandon it. In this case I think Phil made the right choice.

  6. Cheyenne

    I completely agree with Toasterhead.

    Sean and Carl should go back on and make some rather forceful points of what they think of this whole thing and why.

  7. McCorvic

    I agree that giving “bloggingheads” the finger is not a terrible idea. These Sean, Carl, and Phil are all busy guys and probably have a ton of ways to spend their hours rather than a defacto creationist media outlet.

    It is really getting annoy how media, both MSM and “new media” (and yes, I died a little inside when I used that term), think that being balanced = everyone’s opinion is equally right and valid!

  8. When a media source goes to the woo, move your operations to a different outlet and satirize the hell out of them. Show them up for the fools they are.

  9. 7. McCorvic Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 9:06 am

    It is really getting annoy how media, both MSM and “new media” (and yes, I died a little inside when I used that term), think that being balanced = everyone’s opinion is equally right and valid!
    ______________

    Agreed. Objectivity is a somewhat ridiculous notion in today’s media environment. Sure, it’s a nice idea, but it’s only a relatively recent journalistic tradition. When newspapers first started, they were very partisan and very biased. Objectivity in journalism only happened because publishers realized, in the mid 19th century, that they could double their circulations by reporting both sides of a story instead of just one.

  10. Jeff from Tucson

    I agree with Todd W. Pick one or more different media outlets, and then point out what is wrong with bloggingheads. This, of course, requires abandoning them in the first place as an initial step. Thus I disagree with Toasterhead.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Bad Astronomy, Good Argument.

    Robert Wright is a faitheist on the same train as Templeton. And yes, Wright has accepted Templeton money. His theological [gack!] MeaningofLife site and his writing follows the same weary trail, and he employs mysticism peddlers and dualists like John Horgan and David Chalmers to discuss ‘science’.

    I’m glad that good science always floats to the top to shine, even in a barrel of s**t.

    @ toasterhead:

    That’s one policy, and it’s the favored and failed policy of faitheists like Mooney and Wright. The “less than 40%” figure has AFAIU been the same for several decades under that policy.

    But when Dawkins and Coyne spells out what is happening, the faitheists lay their failures at the atheists feet, despite that the atheist reaction is less than 5 years of age.

    The Dawkins, and now Phil’s, public policy is of course older. But it is well beyond time that it should be given a fair chance. Under that policy professionals never engage crackpots because it is both demeaning and counterproductive.

    Instead they inform on science. Take Phil: He Wrote A Book! (Or so they tell me. ;-))

    Dawkins et al have been very successful public informers under that strategy. I’m all excited what it can do now as it has some momentum.

    [To complicate matters, IIRC Razib made a statistical analysis, where the counterpoint secular movement started to double in numbers before the last 5 year period of open atheism, the 9/11 religious insanity and Bush jr anti-scientific reign. Instead it started under the 90s.

    It isn’t the same movements, public education vs secularism, but increased secularity (and atheism, btw) correlates generally with increased knowledge. Maybe there is a population segment that scientists and educators can reach, and reach independent of public debate. While the rest is immune, too set in their incompetence.]

    Note that I’m not saying that science bloggers shouldn’t engage crackpots, inform on questions et cetera. (That would also be hypocritical. ;-)) I think that the more information and activity is out there, the better.

  12. Cheyenne

    I disagree Todd. That means leaving the Creationist audience behind.

    Who is it more important to speak to and engage with on Evolution – the people that already believe in it or the ones that don’t? It’s always easy to pack it in and leave. It’s more difficult and far more productive to stick it out, engage them, and try to sway their opinion to the (rather obvious if it’s taught properly) merits of Evolution.

  13. NewEnglandBob

    Bravo to Phil, Carl and Sean.

    Maybe you three can start a scientific blogging video series along with others.

  14. ARJ

    I too am troubled by this attitude of ‘I’m taking my ball home now and won’t play with you anymore,’ all based on 2 offending instances. I would’ve quit reading journals like Science or Nature long ago if publishing 2 pieces of crap (not to mention outright fraud) were all it took to turn me away. As they say, sh*t happens ;-). I respect the principle involved here, but it just seems a little hastily applied (but maybe if we were more familiar with all the back-channel communications that ensued we’d more easily concur?).

  15. A few bits of tactical advice:

    1. Many who believe the creationist line do not understand the difference between a brief and simplified explanation as a separate concept from the theory itself. As Phil Pliat knows from personal experience earning a Ph.D. is no walk in the park. Cramming into one’s head all the information and analysis of all the evidence that provides both a complete explanation as well as the verification of a theory takes time – sometimes years. Compress all that into a brief explanation and then the creationists pick it apart as if it were the theory itself, which it isn’t.

    2. Appearing on the same venue or arguing with the creationists plays into their hands. In a medium or circumstance in which one can not do justice to the full un-simplified version of a theory they can continue to play their game of pitting their analogies (which is all they have) against your analogies (which are simplifications of explanations of a large amount of evidence and information that has passed verification). All the audience hears is analogy vs. analogy. They “win.”

    3. Intelligent design and irreducible complexity fail verification. Subject them to deductive reasoning (i.e.: why did one of my wisdom teeth come in sideways, what’s intelligent about that?) rather than state that “ID is not science.” The latest craze among the ID crowd is to attack science for not having a truly consistent “method” that remains the same from sub-field to sub-field, discovery to discovery. Better to point out how ID fails verification. Put the creationist in a position of having to explain why one of my wisdom teeth came in sideways instead of giving them more opportunity to sow confusion and misdirect the attention of listeners/readers to trivial crap.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    D’oh! “and now Phil’s” – and now perhaps Phil’s. I didn’t mean to presume…

  17. Sir Struggle

    Phil,

    I realize it’s frustrating, but isn’t the whole point of being a skeptic, winning people to your cause? That’s really hard to do when you lock yourself in a room with people that all agree with you.

    “I didn’t get a hurrumph outta that guy.”

    “Give the Governor a hurrumph.”

    I completely understand if they are using underhanded tactics to kill your message, but offering equal time is not an excuse to take your ball and go home.

    I mean, you used to appear on “Coast 2 Coast” of all places, you should be used to it.

  18. Thumbs down on StumbleUpon for BHTV until they openly recognize science from mysticism.

  19. 10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    @ toasterhead:

    That’s one policy, and it’s the favored and failed policy of faitheists like Mooney and Wright. The “less than 40%” figure has AFAIU been the same for several decades under that policy.

    The Dawkins, and now Phil’s, public policy is of course older. But it is well beyond time that it should be given a fair chance. Under that policy professionals never engage crackpots because it is both demeaning and counterproductive.
    _________

    True. It’s counterproductive to engage the crackpots. I totally agree. But to dismiss the anti-evolution movement as mere crackpottery is to fundamentally misunderstand the enemy.

    This isn’t a bunch of basement-bound whackos ranting about alien abductions and moon hoaxes. This is a multimillion dollar – perhaps multibillion-dollar – industry, funded by corporations and churches and generous antiscience benefactors, quite often operating tax-free. They’re opening antiscience museums and creating nationwide antiscience curricula while real science has to beg for grant money.

    I think the problem is that we’ve often felt that the facts would speak for themselves, and that truth would ultimately win out because it’s true.

    Unfortunately, the human mind doesn’t work that way. Humans don’t seek truth, humans seek comfort. It’s troubling to think that we’re an accidental species that accidentally formed from a succession of other accidental species that arose on a planet that happens to be a nice distance from an accidentally temperate sun and just happened to get smacked by a big enough celestial object that formed a big moon which created the tidal action that allowed life to flourish, and that at any moment another celestial object or our own idiocy could undo all of it. It’s comforting to think that God did it, and did it all for us.

    Evolution needs to engage on this level, pointing out not just the facts of evolution, but the beauty of evolution. It needs to touch the heart, not just the brain. Science can win all the court cases it wants and can fight all the school board battles it can, but these are useless unless they take the fight to the court of public opinion. The Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis aren’t going to stop fighting, neither should we.

  20. JoeSmithCA

    @Torbjörn Larsson
    “faitheist” I like that one. A nice generic. :)

  21. BJN

    It seems to me that Bloggingheads has a variety of points of view. It also seems to me that its more of a platform than a unified “publication”. Would you quit using YouTube based on content you object to.

    Finally, here are Bloggingheads Science Saturday’s John Horgan and George Johnson commenting on all the “God s***” and this creationist controversy in particular. They talk about taking Templeton money but don’t seem to be very woo to me:

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/21536?in=01:41&out=09:59

    I agree with the notion that if you abandon the field to the irrational, you’re giving them a win by default.

  22. Daffy

    Americans have shown over and over again that they DON’T want truth; they want the ILLUSION of truth. Truth can be gray, messy, and inconclusive. The illusion of truth provides easy, safe and consistent answers—even if they are dead wrong and do not stand up to close scrutiny. Seen in this light, Rush Limbaugh makes perfect sense..

    Probably true of all humans, but I can only speak about my own subset.

  23. 20. Daffy Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Americans have shown over and over again that they DON’T want truth; they want the ILLUSION of truth.
    ___________

    Bingo. Not only do we not want actual truth, we will bend new and conflicting information to fit what we already believe to be truth. Search for the Steve Hoffman (et al) study titled “There Must Be A Reason: Osama, Saddam, and Inferred Justification” – it’s in this month’s Sociological Inquiry as well as on the web site for the Sociology department at SUNY Buffalo.

    In the study, when people who believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks were shown article after article dismissing the link, and even statements by President Bush dismissing the link, they not only still believed in the Saddam-9/11 connection, but they rewrote and reinterpreted this new information in order to maintain their beliefs.

    Stephen Colbert’s joke about the number of neurons in the brain versus the gut is quite unfortunately appropriate. Most Americans prefer to look it up in their guts rather than a book.

  24. As the old saying goes, never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

    Scientists do need to engage the pubic and explain our work, our ideas, and the evidence behind them. Some forums, however, are totally stacked against evidence based reasoning and those should be avoided.

    The “winner” in these types of settings is usually seen as the one who sows the most doubt on the other position. If I were arguing for creationism/anti-global warming/the Moon hoax, etc., I would find out as much as I could about my opponents background and repeatedly bring up obscure “problems” as far away from his/her area of expertiese as I could.

    Take climate change, for example. It is a very broad topic. Any single expert would have difficulty keeping up with a crafty skeptic. If you area is atmospheric science, I focus on everything else (ocean currents, paleo-climatology etc) where your knowledge isn’t as strong, you look like you don’t know what you are talking about and I walk out looking good. Debate someone else, I simply change the topics I use for attack (after all, I wouldn’t want to ask someone a question on a topic they might actually know the answer to…not good debate tactics).

  25. If all rational and scientific voices decide to stop making themselves heard on various media

    Bloggingheads is hardly the only outlet in the medium; I listen to several science- and skepticism-oriented podcasts, none of them Bloggingheads. There’s only so much time in the day. Why not focus on the outlets that are serious about science?

    Evolution needs to engage on this level, pointing out not just the facts of evolution, but the beauty of evolution.

    How does pointing out the flaws in the same old creationist arguments for the thousandth time do that? You’re talking about science being proactive. How does using outlets that also promote charlatans help with that? I’m frankly a little confused about your point.

  26. @Cheyenne

    Well, can we at least satirize? Start producing programs that are absolutely ridiculous, label them science, and, thereby, bring down the credibility of the medium, even in the eyes of the woowoo.

  27. Notatheist

    I think there’s room for all ends of the spectrum, from refusing to engage the creationist to ripping their arguments to shreds, from engaging religion in a polite and courteous manner to ridiculing it’s most gross offenders.

    Phil is doing an amazing job as a popularizer of science and a defender of reason. If he chooses not to engage the creationists head on, that is his choice of strategy. Plenty of others will face them head on. This frees up people like Phil and Sean to talk about the real science that the rest of us are so awed and inspired by.

    In the mean time, Phil Sean and Carl have made a rather loud point about the credibility of people like Behe. Hopefully some people get it.

  28. Notatheist

    Hale_bob your pig saying reminds me of another that is appropriate as well: “You can’t teach a pig to sing. It just frustrates you and annoys the pig”

  29. pontoppi

    This country is in many ways in a state of cold civil war. That’s at least the way I see it, and it helps putting all these small battles into perspective. On the one side you have people actively campaigning against education and free thinking, many of them with the stated or unstated
    purpose of making it easier to enact policies that favor the rich, corporations and religious entities. On the other side there are the rationalists, who believe education and truth is the way to ensure a peaceful world. As an example, it seems like some people on the creationist/religious/anti-science side are actively trying to get the president killed by whipping the actual nutcases into a frenzy. That’s why we see assault rifles at Obama speeches. That’s why abortion doctors get killed. That’s why the Iraq war could happen. That is why CO2 emissions are continuing unabated in the US. That is why we can’t have universal and cheap healthcare and that is why it is so important to find the best way to fight for the hearts and minds (to use a very abused term) of the regular folks out there, whose votes can kick the fundies out of government.

    The decision to withdraw from a specific medium is a tactical one, and I’m sure Phil has a good reason for doing so. Perhaps he decided his time is better spent fighting other battles?

  30. uudale

    @Steven Dunlap (#14):

    Great points on your # 1 and #2. The problem with your #3 is that the ID’rs (most of whom I presume are Christian fundamentalists) would argue that the sideways wisdom tooth is the result of human imperfection brought about by original sin.

    Wave-of-the-hand simple explanation. Next argument :-P

    Dale

  31. Chip

    What Phil wrote: “If they want to cast creationism as science, they might as well say Holocaust denial is real history, 9/11 truthers are engineers, and Birthers are patriots. They can do that, but it’s a crock”…ties in well with many other poster comments above.

    Daffy’s comment: “they don’t want truth, they want illusion” also makes sense – many people unfamiliar with critical thinking are comfortable with illusion and more easily brainwashed. In politics via cable media (which seamlessly blends with all this,) Fox News, Glenn Beck, et al say they offer “fair and balanced” reporting or editorials, but in real journalism “fair and balanced” is another term for “untrue” since daily news (and the natural world) is not “fair and balanced” at all. Science looks at the world and universe as it is – or as it at first appears to be. Science in its acceptance of reality as a starting point is much more exciting than these phony, politically motivated illusions such as creationism, the birthers, Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, etc..etc.. I think Phil is keeping up the good fight whether or not he, Sean Carroll and Carl Zimmer avoid or return to Bloggerheads. And the creationists and deniers are either ignorant sheep corralled to acquire votes or liars with rightwing political ulterior motives.

  32. Jdhuey

    What does ‘Capo Non Grata’ mean? Specifically, the ‘Capo’ part. The only definitions I could find relate to either a Mafia boss or a device for a guitar.

    BTW, I agree with the decision to drop out of BHTV.

  33. Mike

    I jumped a shark once. Good times, good times.

  34. 23. Naked Bunny with a Whip Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Bloggingheads is hardly the only outlet in the medium; I listen to several science- and skepticism-oriented podcasts, none of them Bloggingheads. There’s only so much time in the day. Why not focus on the outlets that are serious about science?
    _______________

    Because then you’re only reaching the audience that’s serious about science. It’s preaching to the choir, for lack of a better term.

    _______________

    How does pointing out the flaws in the same old creationist arguments for the thousandth time do that? You’re talking about science being proactive. How does using outlets that also promote charlatans help with that? I’m frankly a little confused about your point.
    _______________

    I’m not arguing for simply pointing out the flaws. The problem is that in every creation/evolution debate I’ve seen, evolution is always on the defensive and creation is always on the attack. A more proactive role would be to point out the flaws in creationism itself, not just their anti-science attacks. I’ve yet to see a scientist ask a creationist why God gave humans appendixes, or why He made Asians lactose-intolerant.

    And there’s an inherent beauty in evolution that I feel is glossed over. I find it quite beautiful to believe that I am related, however distantly, to every other human on the planet, that we’re all descendants of Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve (hypothetically). And that we are all related to every other living thing on the planet – every tree, every shrub, every insect, every whale, every polar bear and penguin, every finch and fawn.

    It’s beautiful and amazing to think of what our ancestors went through and the hardships they survived – catastrophic climate change and comet impacts and ice ages – just to survive. And how all these hardships and eventually produced everything we see today. It’s chilling to think that we are now causing the next catastrophe, and the fossil record shows what happens to species when the climate shifts dramatically. It’s humbling to realize that if life survives the change in climate, it may well be without us.

    The idea that the world was created for us is not just wrong-headed. It’s dangerous. Catastrophically so. And the charlatans are out in force promoting it. If we stop fighting them, they win.

  35. sean

    Portraying it as such is either breathtaking ignorance, or a lie. Sorry, BHTV, but creationism is the shark, and you’re Fonzie.

    At least The Fonz looked good in a leather jacket.

    -S

  36. gruebait

    I think that not supporting (by not participating) in BloggingHeads is the wiser tactic. If BH were to continue pandering, how much participation would they have? If there were real danger of creotards monopolizing that microphone, what sort of audience would they be left with? I don’t think the folk behind BH would find such a situation sustainable.

    It would be different if BH was offering confrontations between scientists and ‘tards, but that hasn’t been the case – there was out-and-out pandering. I’m pretty sure they have no ambition to be all dumbosity, all the time. So, I agree with the folk who are “taking their ball and going home.” They are taking audience with them.

  37. You know, perhaps a better tactic than either simply leaving or the presenters putting something together about why it was a bad move for BH, would be for viewers to send in complaints about it…

  38. Chris A.

    Umm, Phil, if you’re boycotting Bloggingheads, why continue to appear on Coast to Coast? I admire your tenacity for going straight into the enemy camp, as it were, but doesn’t it just lend credibility to the non-credible (“See, there could be a secret military base on the far side of the Moon because Coast to Coast interviews real scientists like Phil Plait!”)?

  39. Jason

    Chip, I noticed that in your reiteration of those who fail to accept reality “.. creationism, the birthers, Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, …” You conveniently leave out one of Phil’s examples. 9/11 Truthers mysteriously vanishes from your list.

    This is a huge failing of the political left in this country and part of the cold civil war that pontoppi is talking about. But the civil war is not one between the “correct” left wing and the “incorrect” right wing. The real cold civil war is about irrationality on the extremes threatening to destroy all the middle ground where rationality and reasoning exist.

    BOTH political sides of this country are falling under the control of absolutists who reject critical reasoning.

    BUT many on the left (and right) only tend to point out how bad the “other” side is and brand (very unscientifically I might add) them as liars or villains or crooks, when they should just be seen as people to be convinced with rational arguments.

    Shocking as it may seem there ARE rational arguments for many many political views out there and we need to start listening to everyone.

    So Chip, what I’d really like to see is people like you realize that the name calling just debases your argument. Right wing doesn’t always mean fascist. Left wing doesn’t always mean commie. Truthers and birthers are all crazy, even though they’re in total opposition to each other politically. Don’t fall into the trap of using the label for everyone.

  40. Pieter Kok

    capo = head (in Italian, hence the maffia connection).

    Gruebait is right, this is not about stiffing BHTV audiences; it is designed to slap some sense into the management of BHTV. However, I’m not sure if the exodus of scientific participants is massive enough yet.

  41. David D.

    @36–

    I second that, Chris. Have never been able to figure out why BA has such warm and fuzzy feelings about Coast to Coast.

  42. @ Toasterhead:

    I’ve yet to see a scientist ask a creationist why God gave humans appendixes…

    Yeah, trouble with that particular tack is, recent studies have suggested the appendix does indeed play a useful role, as a safe haven for beneficial bacteria during bouts of intestinal illness, if nothing else.

    Fuel for the fundies. “See? God knows how to design a human better than any scientist.”

  43. 39. kuhnigget Says:
    September 4th, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Yeah, trouble with that particular tack is, recent studies have suggested the appendix does indeed play a useful role, as a safe haven for beneficial bacteria during bouts of intestinal illness, if nothing else.
    _____________

    D’OHH!

    Ok, that’s rather interesting, actually. I hadn’t heard that. Thank you!

  44. McCorvic

    I’m becoming more and more of the opinion that debating any creationist or crackpot isn’t worth anyone’s time and success would be minimal at best.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if such a study already exists, but I imagine that if you put someone who is completly neutral on evolution and had them listen to a debate between a creationist and a scientist the neutral party would end-up following the creationist a lot more often. Why? Because they can make up “facts” as they go and the second he makes up something the scientist doesn’t have an immediate answer too, the game’s over. But again, maybe I’m totally off base on this and I hope someone can prove me wrong.

    I think a much better way to “engage” the public is through fascinating television, speechs, podcasts, ect. The quintessential example would be Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television series. These formats allow the science educated to get facts out there without having to be constantly on the defensive or being side-tracked by whatever random crap the creationist could think up.

    Also, organizing events, getting local pro-science activist groups together and running programs, summer camps for the science minded, ect ect. These are all infinitly better ways to go about things then trying to debate these guys.

  45. @kuhnigget

    Yeah, trouble with that particular tack is, recent studies have suggested the appendix does indeed play a useful role, as a safe haven for beneficial bacteria during bouts of intestinal illness, if nothing else.

    Ah, but was that how it was originally used, or is that they way it functions now?

  46. @ Todd W.:

    Are you saying the lowly appendix DARES TO GO AGAINST GOD’S DESIGN???!!!

    (Practicing my fundy voice of outraged indignation.)

  47. @kuhnigget

    Nah. I’m just sayin’…y’know…err…please don’t firebomb my house.

  48. RBH

    I watched the two episodes on Bloggingheads that are at issue. The dominant tone was uncritical in the Numbers/Nelson show and nauseatingly fawning in the McWhorter/Behe show, and both served only to advance the creationist agenda. I see no reason for Zimmer or Carroll or Plait to lend their credibility to an endeavour that fawns over creationists.

    And that’s the real issue here. Bloggingheads has no intrinsic credibility; it borrows its credibility from the good people who participate. In this instance it abused that borrowed credibility twice. So a hearty “F*** you!” seems perfectly appropriate.

  49. Greg

    Regarding countering Biblical Creationism: The best way to win an argument is to control how it is framed. For far too long the Creationists have been allowed to frame the argument. If we allow them to frame it as Faith vs. Atheism then we are bound to fail when it comes to the general public. The majority of Americans are religious and regardless of whether or not they are a person of strong faith or simply conforming, when pushed they will side with their religion. Unfortunately those who call themselves “skeptics” are all too often atheists as well. The result is that we are losing the argument, and nothing less than our rationally-based culture is at stake.

    Science is religion neutral. I will say that again, science is religion neutral. It is no more anti-religious to believe in modern biology and Evolution than it is to believe in a Heliocentric solar system. If someone wants to believe that God created the Universe via the Big Bang and as a result humans evolved on this planet, then fine. It is the extremists who insist on misinterpreting the Bible in a very literal manner who are the bad guys here. Not only is their science bad but so is their religion. This is the message that needs to get out to the masses.

  50. 42. Todd W. Says:

    @kuhnigget

    Yeah, trouble with that particular tack is, recent studies have suggested the appendix does indeed play a useful role, as a safe haven for beneficial bacteria during bouts of intestinal illness, if nothing else.

    Ah, but was that how it was originally used, or is that they way it functions now?

    Yer both wrong. God created the appendix to allow surgeons to ‘practice’ for more important operations, such as heart transplants!

    Cognitive dissonance much?

    J/P=?

  51. 24. Todd W. Says:

    @Cheyenne

    Well, can we at least satirize? Start producing programs that are absolutely ridiculous, label them science, and, thereby, bring down the credibility of the medium, even in the eyes of the woowoo.

    Did you read my excerpt from my Creationism ad Absurdum posted some time ago on here?

    Here’s the direct link….http://members(dot)cox(dot)net/ditto-busters/Creation.htm

    Also, considering the fandom of The Colbert Nation, there seems to be a ‘market’ for such satire.
    J/P=?

  52. I don’t agree with those who say that Sean, Carl and Phil are ignoring Bloggingheads. They blogged extensively about their decision and try to raise awareness about the issue. Ignoring would be like leaving silently, not saying anything and trying to forget all about it.

  53. Screechy Monkey

    “I watched the two episodes on Bloggingheads that are at issue. The dominant tone was uncritical in the Numbers/Nelson show and nauseatingly fawning in the McWhorter/Behe show, and both served only to advance the creationist agenda. I see no reason for Zimmer or Carroll or Plait to lend their credibility to an endeavour that fawns over creationists.”

    This is a critical point that is getting passed over in this discussion. If Bloggingheads.tv had hosted debates between creationists and evolutionary biologists, that would be a different issue. (I’m still leaning to the view that debating creos is not the right tactic, but I recognize that it’s a tougher call.)

    But what happened here is that twice in a short time span, BH.tv had creationists on with interlocutors who either couldn’t or wouldn’t present “the other side” or even ask any tough questions. (McWhorter is a linguist who appears to know nothing about evolution, and repeatedly praised Behe’s “mind-blowing” book.)

    BH.tv has made some noises about how these incidents don’t really reflect their policies or goals, but they still don’t have any clear policy and could not assure Carl and Sean that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again. See the comments sections of their posts for more details.

  54. Mark AH

    If I read Dr. Plait’s entry correctly. It seems to me that he is not boycotting Bloggingheads because they had creationists on the program, but because it was promoted as science on the show by the hosts. If they had presented the creationist viewpoint as just that, a viewpoint, and had an earth scientist to counter the claims then maybe this reaction would be a little overboard, but as I see it… well you go Phil ;)

  55. MadScientist

    It took a while; the few times I’d been to Bloggingheads I’d wondered “what are these people doing here”; somehow it never really caught my interest.

  56. vanderleun

    Well, it seems to me the phrase “My colleagues and fellow Hive Overmind bloggers” pretty much sums up the situation.

  57. tsig

    God made appendixes that surgeons may have Beemers.

  58. vanderleun

    I’ve been listening to Wright this morning at bloggingheads as he goes over the whole kerfuffle. Seems clear to me that there’s no “policy” that would have satisfied the outraged, but he does eat an enormous crow pie.

  59. 30. uudale Says: “@Steven Dunlap (#14): Great points on your # 1 and #2. The problem with your #3 is that the ID’rs (most of whom I presume are Christian fundamentalists) would argue that the sideways wisdom tooth is the result of human imperfection brought about by original sin. Wave-of-the-hand simple explanation. Next argument.”

    That is a likely response, but Steven’s approach is still the correct one. Don’t let them put you on the defensive, put them on the defensive instead. I’ve been saying this for years on this blog, mostly regarding Moon Hoax Believers, but it works here, too. Remember that they use inductive logic (like used in a courtroom) which starts from the premise that you are correct and you only have to find evidence that supports your argument; you can ignore evidence to the contrary. They approach these things like a defense attorney in a trail. In court, you don’t have to prove yourself innocent, you just have to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury about the other side.

    Science, though, uses deductive logic. You have to examine all of the evidence and find the truth behind all of it. Contrary evidence must be accounted for. Once you understand that they don’t use deductive logic, you will see why these debates never look good for science. Most scientists go into these armed with all the facts necessary to prove they are right. But as Dale noted, the other side never acknowledges that they are wrong, they simply move onto the next question. By the end, the science side sounds like they’re making up a bunch of excuses for these attacks against religion.

    You must, instead, think like a DA and have your questions ready. Establish up front that science is not a court of law. Proving the other guy wrong doesn’t make you right, it just makes the other guy wrong. You have to actually prove yourself right. Some of the questions I’d have for ID to prove their case are (and feel free to write these down):

    1) Where is the designer? I mean physically. In this solar system? Other systems? Other planes of existence?

    2a) If the answer to 1) is This solar system” then ask “which planet?” (Proof required)

    2b) if the answer is “other solar systems” then ask them how the designer overcame the speed-of-light limitations in travel.

    2c) I f the answer is “Other planes of existence,” then have them prove the existence of the other planes.

    3) How was the design done? Intergalactic AutoCAD? Interstellar SolidWorks?

    4) How was the design implemented? Nano assembly of the first DNA molecules? Creating a figure out of mud and breathing the breath of life into it? Define “Breath of life.”

    5) When was the design done? Just “in the beginning” or is it still going on today?

    6a) If just at the beginning, then how/why do organisms change over time? (you know, evolve)

    6b) If still ongoing, what are the mechanisms for this design change? What are the predicted effects of the change that could be measured and prove that it’s artificial?

    And, of course, the big one:
    7) If, as you postulate, that life if too complex to have arisen naturally, then who created the designer?

    – Jack

  60. As I recall a few years back, Phil P. said somewhat the same thing about “debating” Richard C. Hoagland on Art Bell. It’s Phil’s life and his time and I certainly cannot criticize him for not wanting to spend his own, precious, unpaid time going round and round the merry-go-round about “hyperdimensional physics” and Freemasonry and the Face on Mars.

    But the sad fact is that nearly half the U.S. does not “believe” in the fact of biological evolution. If scientists disengage and refuse to engage, that number will just keep on growing. Scary thought, but doing the ostrich won’t make it better.

  61. coolstar

    Much as I have my problems with quite a bit of what Phil does (or perhaps more accurately, HOW he does it), I have to agree with him on this one. Of course, I’ve never watched bloggerheads in the past so now, given their support of crackpots (that’s the technical term), I have one more reason not to watch.

  62. Marion Delgado

    A great many 9/11 Truthers are in fact engineers – I don’t get that part. Were you under the false impression they weren’t?

  63. JohnnieCanuck

    7) is indeed a big one. Interestingly, down through the ages, apologists have not shied away from trying to answer it. When you are stuck with believing, rationalizing away the doubts becomes a necessity.

    Naturally, many pages and sometimes a life’s work later, they only have some newly defined or redefined fuzzy phrases like Uncaused Cause that still do not address how the creator came into being, let alone why it is the creator featured in their particular holy book.

    In order to create the universe, a creator must be more complex than its creation. It is simpler then to posit an uncreated universe than an uncreated creator.

    ___

    Capo means head, as in decapitate, capital punishment, head of a fingerboard and Mafia head. Phil’s post title derives from the phrase Persona Non Grata in which a diplomat is ejected from a country as unwelcome. In this case it’s the diplomats turning their backs on the country.

  64. csrster

    Certainly scientists should _engage_ creationists, but that doesn’t mean
    a) We should debate them face to face, or
    b) We should let creationists take over every forum we set up for discussion of science.

    Both of those tactics are based on the fallacy that we are dealing with an opponent interested in fair discussion and a dispassionate pursuit of the truth.

  65. Lars

    Mundus vult decipi.

  66. This past Saturday, there was a conversation between BloggingHeads.tv’s founder, Robert Wright and George Johnson (click my name to see it), in which Wright calls both the Nelson and Behe interviews mistakes that were the result of a long series of other mistakes. I think people need to watch this conversation before incorrectly judging Wright to be an ID sympathizer.

  67. Tim Harris

    Having read partway through Wright’s very silly and not altogether ingenuous book on an evolving God, and given up in disgust, and having read some irresponsible and morally and intellectually contemptible assertions, on Andrew Sullivan’s blog and elsewhere, by Wright and some henchman of his to the effect that the ‘New Atheists’ are all really neo-conservatives, that atheists can’t be happy because they haven’t got a nice God the Father to pat them on the head and say ‘Well done’, and that agnostics can’t be happy because they spend their lives oscillating between belief and unbelief – having read these, I find Mark H’s claim that Wright is not an ID sympathiser very questionable. In his book and the other pieces of Wright’s I have read, he tries to have things not merely both ways, but in as many ways as possible, and, to put the matter frankly, I do not trust anything that comes out of that man’s mouth or from his pen. His chief interest, it seems to me, is achieving that very American goal: the appearance of being successful.

  68. Alex

    “Sorry, BHTV, but creationism is the shark, and you’re Fonzie.”

    I like that this saying (jumping the shark) has lived on as long as it has, even though the show that spawned it kept running for years after the event happened (The Fonz jumped the shark in 1977, the show ended in 1984, it happened before the mid point in the series)

  69. mk

    Just wanted to add, belatedly (and probably irrelevantly), my voice to those who are in agreement with Sean, Carl, Phil, Greg and PZ. Good on you! This is the proper move… stick to your guns (not that you wouldn’t!)

    Lending your scientific integrity to any publication is no small thing. When that publication (new media or otherwise) begins to show its woo you have to make a decision. Stay and be a part of the Big Discussion! or move on, taking your expertise from those who would use it to maintain the luster of scientific integrity.

    And that’s what folks like Behe are in need of. They are little boys wanting to sit at the big boy table. The men above have said no. And that was the correct move.

    Well done.

  70. Nigel Depledge

    Toasterhead (34) said:

    I’m not arguing for simply pointing out the flaws. The problem is that in every creation/evolution debate I’ve seen, evolution is always on the defensive and creation is always on the attack. A more proactive role would be to point out the flaws in creationism itself, not just their anti-science attacks. I’ve yet to see a scientist ask a creationist why God gave humans appendixes, or why He made Asians lactose-intolerant.

    Then I suggest you hie thee over to TalkDesign (triple-dub dot talkdesign.org) and search under “jury-rigged design”. The appendix gets a mention, as do more obviously badly-designed things such as the human retina.

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Toasterhead (34) said:

    And there’s an inherent beauty in evolution that I feel is glossed over.

    Agreed.

    I find it quite beautiful to believe that I am related, however distantly, to every other human on the planet, that we’re all descendants of Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve (hypothetically)

    It’s not hypothetical. There is strong evidence that there actually was a Y-chromosome “Adam” and a mitochondrial “Eve”. They lived about 100,000 years apart (IIRC), mind you, but the concepts are real nonetheless.

  72. Nigel Depledge

    Jason (39) said:

    Chip, I noticed that in your reiteration of those who fail to accept reality “.. creationism, the birthers, Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, …” You conveniently leave out one of Phil’s examples. 9/11 Truthers mysteriously vanishes from your list.

    In response to this comment of Chip’s.

    Chip (31) said:

    such as creationism, the birthers, Holocaust deniers, evolution deniers, etc..etc.

    Jason (leaving aside Chip’s tautology), you seem to have missed the meaning of the word “etc.”. Or should I say “words”? “Etc.” is an abbreviation of the latin term “et cetera”, meaning and the rest.

    How does the term “and the rest” exclude the 9/11 “truthers”?

  73. For what it is worth, here is my post on this controversy.

    In essence, I support your decision, but I’m worried that if virtually everyone walks away from bloggingheads.tv that leaves an unexploited venue and an opening for nefarious means.

  74. Nigel Depledge

    Kuhnigget (42) said:

    Yeah, trouble with that particular tack is, recent studies have suggested the appendix does indeed play a useful role, as a safe haven for beneficial bacteria during bouts of intestinal illness, if nothing else.

    Fuel for the fundies. “See? God knows how to design a human better than any scientist.”

    Yeah, but it’s not like ID actually made this prediction or anything, so there is still some basis on which to challenge them.

    And it was science that discovered the probable function of the appendix.

  75. Nigel Depledge

    McCorvic (44) said:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if such a study already exists, but I imagine that if you put someone who is completly neutral on evolution and had them listen to a debate between a creationist and a scientist the neutral party would end-up following the creationist a lot more often. Why? Because they can make up “facts” as they go and the second he makes up something the scientist doesn’t have an immediate answer too, the game’s over. But again, maybe I’m totally off base on this and I hope someone can prove me wrong.

    Actually, I mostly agree with this.

    The whole point about such staged debates is that the science can be complex and involved and therefore difficult to convey in a few words without resorting to caricature. OTOH, the creationist side has no substance, so they can make up simple soundbites that are easy for the uninformed to digest. Sometimes I think they must hold contests to see which creationist can come up with the most logical fallacies or lies per sentence.

    I think a much better way to “engage” the public is through fascinating television, speechs, podcasts, ect. The quintessential example would be Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television series. These formats allow the science educated to get facts out there without having to be constantly on the defensive or being side-tracked by whatever random crap the creationist could think up.

    Also, organizing events, getting local pro-science activist groups together and running programs, summer camps for the science minded, ect ect. These are all infinitly better ways to go about things then trying to debate these guys.

    Plus trying to fix the education system in the first place.

  76. TheBlackCat

    A great many 9/11 Truthers are in fact engineers – I don’t get that part. Were you under the false impression they weren’t?

    Engineers or physicists, yes, but I am under the impression that few or in a relevant field (the relevant field would be failure engineering, with civil, architectural, and solid mechanical engineering being close enough to be worth having some relevance). Engineers in the U.S. are also slightly more likely than scientists to be creationists, although much less likely than the average American. Although it expressly forbidden by the engineering code of ethics, there still seems to be the temptation for some engineers to think their engineering training makes them experts on anything, including engineering fields they know absolutely nothing about. A software or electrical engineer is no more likely to understand a building than the average person on the street, and an engineer in fluid mechanics only knows a little bit more (probably having taken a couple of general mechanics courses junior and senior year of undergrad) but no where near enough to be considered an expert. So saying someone is an engineer does not mean anything unless they actually know about the relevant areas of engineering, you might as well point out that a lot of 9/11 truthers are used car salesmen (not that they are, but such a person would have just as much expertise as someone in an unrelated field of engineering).

    That is even more true for evolution. The only field of engineering that could be considered to give even the slightest bit of expertise in evolution is biomedical engineering (aka bioengineering or biological engineering). There people are at least required to have courses on and understand the basics of biology, although I would not consider such people to have expertise beyond an undergrad biology major unless their work somehow involves evolution. That is more common than you might guess, though, since evolution is such a central concept in biology. Evolution has the habit of showing up in the most unlikely places.

  77. SLC

    I’m tuning in somewhat late to this conversation but I have a couple of observations. Several commentors have stated that the main thing wrong with the blogging heads videos was that the creationists were up against opponents who were either ignorant of the subject matter or adverse to getting into controversy. I completely agree with that observation and blogging heads should be boycotted until they agree to cease and desist from such programs. However, I would also point out that the creationists may be rather reluctant to have a conversation with someone who is knowledgeable on the subject matter. For instance, Prof. Behe, having learned his lesson from his disastrous debate with Ken Miller now refuses to go on with anyone knowledgeable in evolution; for instance, he has refused to debate Abbie Smith of the ERV blog.

  78. Following up on Jack Hagerty’s comments about my post, I have found a YouTube video with a more humorous take on the whole debunking of intelligent design through deductive reasoning (although deductive reasoning comes through in a very round-about manner: God and Lucifer playing poker).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_G9awnDCmg

  79. As a non-accomodationist atheist who has been given a platform by BHTV to argue that science and religion are not the tiniest bit compatible, I would like to announce that:

    I am willing to trust Robert Wright’s explanation of the Behe affair;
    I applaud BHTV for making a commitment to discuss controversial matters including the intersection of science and religion, while most of the world is pretending the controversy doesn’t exist;
    I accept that this noble commitment may sometimes go wrong, as in the admittedly and admitted foolish mistake of having Behe interviewed by a non-biologist who couldn’t call his BS;
    I observe that noble commitments to repeatedly discuss dangerous controversies cannot possibly be expected to go right every time;
    I put forth that people who have served us well in the past, should be allowed more chance than this to recover from their (or their coworkers’) errors – even more than one error, so long as mistakes don’t seem to be happening systematically;
    And I announce my intention to stay on Bloggingheads.tv.

  80. Damon

    Way to subtly shovel Creationists and 9/11 Truthers into the same category there, Phil. Typical closed-minded elitism. Even Obama’s top Environmental Adviser supports the (heavily evidence-backed) idea that there was government involvement in 9/11. Maybe it’s time to take your mind out of the box, BA.

  81. Kieran

    Don’t you mean Obama’s former adviser? He resigned. And he’s not exactly a stellar pick for an appeal to authority, being an attorney and all.

  82. Travis

    Gee Damon, are referring to all that evidence that all those Truthers have failed to produce time and time again? That evidence? The non-existent kind? You gotta love that non-existent evidence stuff, it’s the cornerstone of the Creationtard movement as well.

  83. mk

    I am willing to trust Robert Wright’s explanation of the Behe affair

    Again… you go ahead and “trust.” Others will wonder why. I suspect some would rather not “trust” and just “know” that Creationists and IDers are not welcome there. It’d be nice to know that Robert Wright would not give them a platform. Unfortunately is all too willing.

  84. David D.

    #81 Damon–
    Sorry–Jones resigned over the weekend. What bothers me is that he got a job in the Administration in the first place. Isn’t this Obama, the “science” president?

  85. Marion Delgado

    Greg Laden, if “everyone” meaning everyone scientifically respectful walks away from bloggingheads, the bloggingheads that’s left won’t be much of a vehicle.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    Damon (81) said:

    Way to subtly shovel Creationists and 9/11 Truthers into the same category there, Phil.

    Uh, yeah? Similar level of reality-denial, perhaps?

    Typical closed-minded elitism.

    Only if you have evidence to demonstrate this allegation.

    Based, however, on your previous comments on Phil’s blog, I very much doubt that you do.

    Even Obama’s top Environmental Adviser supports the (heavily evidence-backed) idea that there was government involvement in 9/11.

    Obama’s environmental adviser does not need any expertise in structural engineering to do his/her job. Therefore, your argument from authority carries no weight.

    You also throw in a statement that there is evidence to show government involvement in 9/11. Show it to us (or, better yet, link to it and provide a brief precis to demonstrate your own understanding of it).

    Maybe it’s time to take your mind out of the box, BA.

    You have not shown that this is necessary. You have not even shown that there is a box in the first place.

  87. mike ferrell

    I support your decision completely. It is a waste of your time and your listeners’ to beat the deadest of dead horses forever. If we are going to have conversations on science, let’s do it. Real science is worth spending time on, baloney is not, no matter how much influential baloney is out there.

  88. 81. Damon Says:
    September 7th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Way to subtly shovel Creationists and 9/11 Truthers into the same category there, Phil. Typical closed-minded elitism. Even Obama’s top Environmental Adviser supports the (heavily evidence-backed) idea that there was government involvement in 9/11. Maybe it’s time to take your mind out of the box, BA.
    ____________

    It’s also a fallacy to shovel all “9/11 Truthers” into the same category. There is a wide variety of belief within this community, from those who believe the Chinese did it to those who believe Mossad did it to those who believe Bush did it to those who merely believe Bush allowed it to happen. And each faction has evidence to support their claim. However, they still operate on the same logical premise – they start with a belief and work backwards to find – and if necessary, distort or reinterpret the facts. Any missing links are then explained by the usual ludicrous notion of government coverup.

  89. K

    I disagree with toasterhead.

    Some people say that scientists should debate IDers more, but I am of the opinion that giving them the time of day in a debate is an indication that their position is one to be respected. I would not give a geocentrist the time of day – maybe pause to scoff but no more. IDers are like children looking for attention and trying to get what they want through annoyance.

    The best course of action is to ignore them and make sure it’s taught and taught well in school. Even that might not help, but that is the role we should play. Religion and science clash in this respect, and where there is creationist religion (of any flavor not just Judeo-Christian) evolution will be looked upon with skepticism. Since children have already been introduced to religion before school even starts, it has a more solid foundation than science ever will. I went to Catholic school from pre-school through junior high, and I realized something wasn’t right with religion long before there was any talk of evolution.

    Children are well able to assess situations and make decisions for themselves. If presented evolution in schools, they can figure out if they agree with it. After high school, though, their bias is pretty much set and unlikely to move. This is based on my own observations, though, and if there is any research done contradicting this I was love to see it. I am guessing though that the people we are trying to reach are already lost. Pointless debates just waste our time and energy and raise our blood pressure.

    Let’s focus on getting evolution taught in schools and slapping down ID/creationists when they make a nuisance of themselves.

    Didn’t it take over 200 years to disprove spontaneous generation? These things just take time.

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