Just an Update

By Chris Mooney | July 10, 2009 1:24 pm

People seem to be wondering why we haven’t responded to PZ yet. We’re sorry, and we will do so–but we are also busy, traveling, etc. I personally also owe Jerry Coyne a response, and it is coming, but there is really only so much you can do–especially when you want to write something substantial.

However, we’re setting a deadline for responding to PZ and plan to post sometime on Monday. So, have a blast on the blog until then….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Unscientific America

Comments (74)

  1. Paul

    At this point, I think people would be happy with you taking 30 seconds to apologize for a post where you mention PZ’s name 5 times, talk about “classic PZ” and “standard profanity”, yet where the only word you even quote of his is “useless”. You picked one comment out of a thread that was over 100 comments at the time and used it as a premise to rail at PZ, while framing (heh) it as representative for what was in general a very well written post and thoughtful comment thread.

    Really, it would only take 30 seconds. It needn’t wait until Monday for your well-reasoned and written response.

  2. Marc

    Myers is nasty and dismissive towards those who disagree with him – forgive me if I feel zero sympathy for him. He wrote a vicious review of the book – is anyone surprised that the authors didn’t take it well? To me the big lesson from him is the danger of creating an echo chamber in a blog. He’s goaded on by his comment section to more and more extreme rhetoric – to the point where it really looks ugly from the outside. That entire comment thread there lacks *any* critical thinking in the responses and is full of arrogant name-calling.

    His brand of emotional autism isn’t just counterproductive; it’s wrong. I can distinguish between things which I can prove and things which I can’t. I can distinguish between people who “know the truth” and those who are willing to live and let live. And I know that Myers has a great deal in common with the religious fanatics that he spends so much ink attacking. Like them, he despises tolerance; has complete and bottomless contempt for those who disagree with him; and he makes no effort to understand what motivates those with whom he disagrees. A system of ethics is not a hydraulic system.

    The disagreement betweeen Chris and PZ is the disagreement between doubt and certainty.

  3. Soil Creep

    Anyone else struck by the irony in Marc’s comment on PZ Myers? “bottomless contempt” indeed!

  4. Michael Fugate

    So now Chris’ fanboys are calling PZ mentally ill after complaining about Pharyngula commenters. What a hoot.

  5. bob

    I call BS on many (if not all) of the people attacking PZ (and/or defending the authors) on this blog. I don’t even think they’re reading Pharyngula before they spout off comments about PZ’s writing here. Even if you disagree wholeheartedly with PZ’s take on this book, there is no way someone objective would characterize his reviews as “vicious,” “ugly,” “extreme,” “lack[ing] in critical thinking,” “fanatic[al],” or many of the other charges against it in comment #2 here or throughout the other comment threads in recent entries on The Intersection.

    This is especially true if you compare Chris’ responses to PZ. Thus far, his limited reactions have been fallacious, whiny, and devoid of any actual arguments or responses. That’s to say nothing of the fact that he took the time to “frame” an anonymous comment on Pharyngula as representative of PZ’s opinions, after reading through hundreds of comments to find one that he could (ab)use in this manner.

    So, really, let’s try and talk about the situation at hand. No one is interested in you describing how much you dislike a caricature that you’ve constructed in your own head.

  6. “but there is really only so much you can do”

    And yet there is plenty of time for important stuff like that post on the comment on a post of PZ’s, and that post on PZ’s review.

  7. Matt Penfold

    So now Chris’ fanboys are calling PZ mentally ill after complaining about Pharyngula commenters. What a hoot.

    And Chris will be forced to admit, since he has already said it is true, that comments in a blog can be taken as indicating the views of the blogger.

    So there we have it. A commentator here thinks PZ is mentally ill, thus Mooney does as well.

  8. TTT

    Chris, just a few quick questions:

    -Are you a science teacher?
    -Have you ever had to communicate or “frame” scientific concepts before an unwilling audience (i.e. students), as opposed to the people who choose to buy your books or attend your lectures?

    You really seem to have no clue whatsoever what it’s like to be a scientific professional who is challenged and even called a liar by non-scientists on just about a daily basis. This is what science teachers have to deal with. There is a well-funded cottage industry devoted to subverting the teaching of evolution. They will NEVER be accommodated. They can NEVER be appeased. They’ve been doing this since Scopes, they do it every month of the year, and they will never stop no matter how much you try to stroke their egos by reassuring them that maybe the Talking Snake story is somehow less grotesquely absurd than it actually is.

    Seriously, you remind me of nothing less than Marge Simpson, on seeing Bart having once again been beaten to a pulp by Nelson Muntz, blithely assure him that “oh, anyone who beats you up is not your friend!”, and walking away uselessly. You just don’t get it. You don’t grasp the hostility that is, and always will be, aimed at the very CONCEPT of empirical science teaching and learning in large parts of this country.

    We’ve tried the “reason and accommodation” thing. Didn’t you see “Inherit the Wind”? At the end Darrow picks up both Darwin AND the Bible and smiles broadly, like one completes the other. Except–the people trying to gut science standards are not interested. They believe they have the infallible power of a perfect God on their side–you can no more reason with them than Dr. George Tiller could have asked his assassin not to pull the trigger. Certain academics are in love with this airy, insubstantial notion that if only scientists use the right phrasing, the concept of science itself will cease to offend the superstitionalists. You are all wrong, and this will never happen. In the meantime, please stop undercutting and getting in the way of the people who actually try–as Sagan did–to light small candles of knowledge amidst a world darkened by ignorance and superstition.

  9. gillt

    I welcome both authors responses.

    However, there is something to be said on the concept of an author’s “published thoughts.” If you write a book, the ideas and arguments therein should be able to stand on their own. Making minor clarifications toward clearing up others’ misconceptions is all well and good of course, but there comes a point when your audience begins to wonder if the book is somehow incomplete, wrong, or, in other words, doesn’t rise to the challenge of the critics.

    Perhaps my cautionary advice is premature since the authors have yet to answer their critics.

  10. bb

    I get so bored with the science blog in-fighting. zzzz.

  11. Screechy Monkey

    Chris, I can only speak for myself (and not my poo-flinging brethren), but I’m perfectly content to wait until Monday or even longer for you to provide a detailed substantive response. I’m sure this is a busy time for you and Sheril, and even in normal times someone who’s not a full-time blogger can’t be expected to keep up with every post or comment.

    I would hope, though, that in the meantime you would refrain from making the sort of “drive-by arguments” (someone was rude in the Pharyngula comments! Eugenie Scott agrees with me! Etc.) that you’ve been throwing out over the last few days. Those just give many of us the impression that you’re stalling for time or creating a distraction to avoid providing a substantive response.

  12. Matt Penfold

    And yet there is plenty of time for important stuff like that post on the comment on a post of PZ’s, and that post on PZ’s review.

    Look on the positive side Ophelia.

    If it is taking Mooney this long to compose a reply to the substantive criticisms PZ had of the book then it might mean he is struggling to come up with convincing rebuttals.

    Or not.

  13. Sciencefan

    What a hullabaloo from some of these people. They can’t even seem to calm down enough to rationally debate points of dispute.
    What a group!

  14. Paul

    “I would hope, though, that in the meantime you would refrain from making the sort of “drive-by arguments” (someone was rude in the Pharyngula comments! Eugenie Scott agrees with me! Etc.) that you’ve been throwing out over the last few days. Those just give many of us the impression that you’re stalling for time or creating a distraction to avoid providing a substantive response.”

    That’s the only reason I thought it was reasonable enough to request 30 seconds to knock out a comment apologizing re: how dishonest that “Classic Quote” post was. He’s spent much longer than that posting distractions, instead of just coming clean. I didn’t mean to imply that more time shouldn’t be spent actually rebutting reasoned arguments.

  15. Marc

    I’ve had incredibly unpleasant experiences over at PZ’s place – enough so that I avoid it completely, even when he’s on the subjects (like evolution) where it’s actually valuable. As opposed to the I-hate-religion topics, where it’s just bile. Folks who like his approach may want to think about why even folks who you’d expect to be in his corner – agnostics, atheists, and scientists – are antagonized by him.

    Here’s a nice example of his style – taken from one of his posts, mind you:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/the_power_of_nonsense.php#more

    “Forgive me, readers, but Madeline Bunting has raised up her tiny, fragile pin-head again, and I must address her non-arguments once more. Well, not her non-arguments, actually, but the same tedious non-arguments the fans of superstition constantly trundle out. She was at some strange conference where only people who love religion spoke and came away with affirmations of the usual tripe. It’s as if the “New Atheists” have provoked a counter-attack by critics armored in pudding and armed with damp sponges.”

    Virtually all of his writing has this characteristic tone. It makes those who agree with him happy, it insults anyone who doesn’t, and it is full of sweeping assertions.

    You can substitute “vulcan approach” for “emotionally autistic” if you like. Suffice it to say that someone who writes the way PZ does has no grounds for complaint when others say unkind things about him. Make-believe outrage by folks in this thread is no more convincing than it is when wingers pretend to be outraged by imaginary racism/sexism.

  16. Paul

    “Suffice it to say that someone who writes the way PZ does has no grounds for complaint when others say unkind things about him. Make-believe outrage by folks in this thread is no more convincing than it is when wingers pretend to be outraged by imaginary racism/sexism.”

    I think you miss the point. Mooney could call PZ a poopyhead and throw as much profanity/insults in the post that he wants, and that wouldn’t be outrageous (he’d be laughed at and not taken seriously, but that’s beside the point). All the complaints in the last couple days have been directly related to Mooney dishonestly framing statements as well as substituting appeals to authority in place of actual arguments. It doesn’t matter who the target is; people are calling him out on how poor the quality of his writing has been.

    But if you want to believe it’s all ideological attacks because he dared cross the Evil Overlord, have fun with that. The rest of us will continue to argue the actual points being argued.

  17. José

    @Marc
    Suffice it to say that someone who writes the way PZ does has no grounds for complaint when others say unkind things about him.
    What about people who have dishonest, unfounded, hypocritical complaints about him?

  18. Physicalist

    Chris,

    We know what it’s like to be busy, and we’re happy to give you what time you need to formulate a proper, thoughtful reply. However, the whole conversation would be vastly improved if you didn’t spend your valuable time generating cheap pot-shots and insubstantial (and annoying) evasions.

    I recommend to you a comment by Paul W. He speaks for many of us. I think you owe your readers more argument, and a lot less complaining, name-calling, and evasion.

    By the way, FWW, I also play a professional philosopher of science on television, and I’m not impressed with your attempt to charge Coyne, PZ, et al. with failing to distinguish between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. You seem to believe that they argue that because science relies on naturalism, it is incompatible with religion. (This is the only way I can make sense of your claim that their argument is undone by the recognition that only methodological naturalism is invoked by science.)

    But as far as I can tell, none of the anti-accommodationists make this argument. It’s a straw man. This point has been made repeatedly, in various ways, by many people, for weeks now. And I haven’t seen you address it. Please do.

  19. TTT

    I haven’t read Chris’ blog in a long time and I am shocked to see how thoroughly he is sinking into the rhetorical fallacies–or are they “framing devices”?–of bad-faith projection and poisoning of the well. If a book review by a “New Atheist” (apparently any atheist who, unlike Madelyn Murray O’Hair, is still alive) is said to be inherently unreliable, how is that any different from making the same accusation about a Latino or French reviewer? It reminds me of how Matt Nisbet claimed to be an expert speaker and above the fray, yet gleefully pointed out how anyone who dared question his communicative jujitsu was little but a “screechy monkey.” A lazy excuse by any other name.

    I don’t want this post to appear too snarky, it’s just that I’m tremendously sad. I was inspired by “Republican War on Science” and recommended it to all my friends when it came out some years ago. I’m now wondering whether Mooney would even allow himself to write such a book today, or if he would have re-titled it “Some People Who You Shouldn’t Harshly Criticize’s War on Science, And How to Win That War By Telling Them They Have Every Right To Constantly Attack You.”

  20. Michael Fugate

    Marc, So what you say is that PZ’s writing is pretty much like yours – “full of sweeping assertions”. Just keep digging…..

  21. Marion Delgado

    Chris:

    Please give due attention to the best point PZ made: that people who love science, as Sagan and Gould did, and as Dawkins and Myers do, are the best outreach. It’s true, and his joy in biology is THE main reason I read his blog probably every other day.

    Obviously it’s not either/or – you can be a person who conveys the joy of science AND a diplomat. I hope at some point to see a kind of de facto pragmatic NOMA idea – the Coynes and Myers do what they do. The Mooneys etc. do what they do, and the NCSE does a little of both.

    Also, and this might be OT, I fail to see the meanness I see in people like Sam Harris or Chris Hitchens or Penn Jillette or even Bill Maher in someone like PZ – he’s pretty honest and humble and often just writes what he thinks when he thinks it. There’s probably a bit of groupthink going on – on all sides as usual, but moreso in the scarlet A movement.

  22. echidna

    For those who are upset about PZ’s obvious exasperation with people who deliberately lie or dodge and weave to avoid specific arguments, PZ *always* produces quotes and specific, well-reasoned arguments. Very hard to disagree with, and guess what? His detractors have nothing to say but “PZ is not polite” ad nauseum.

    It seems that those who rail against PZ *never* have anything substantive to say about his arguments.

    Prove me wrong. Use quotes and be specific.

  23. Feynmaniac

    I didn’t know much about Mooney before this, but I have to say this whole episode hasn’t left a good impression of him on me. First, he dismisses all the points PZ made in his first response the book by merely saying “not surprising, given that the book not only criticizes Myers but, indeed, identifies him as part of the problem.” No response to substance whatsoever. Then, he takes some random quote by a commenter on Pharyngula, misleadingly labels it “classic quote from PZ’s blog”, and again ignores all substance. Furthermore, he complains about the comments on Pharyngula while at the same time on this blog Kwok not only infests the comment sections, but used a misogynistic term here despite the heavy filtering system (the comment has however eventually deleted). No doubt he would object if someone called Kwok’s comment “Classic from Mooney(‘s blog)”. Now, after being given two substantive responses he leaves some lame sort of argument from authority at Pharyngula:

    I suppose you think Robert Pennock, a hero of the Dover trial, is as foolish as you think we are about all this naturalism stuff? Because our arguments are all based upon his, and heavily cite them.

    I understand that people are busy, but he has had the time to read the comments at Pharyngula and pick one that he thought reflected badly on it. He has had the time to post his argument from authority. He has had time to post here three threads regarding Myers. Yet, somehow he has not found the time to argue about any of the points raised. I’m beginning to wonder if the response that is due Monday will have ANY substance. Mooney has come across really badly from this whole episode and somehow scientists should be listening to him about public relations ?!?!?

  24. Marion Delgado

    Marc:

    Suffice it to say that someone who writes the way PZ does has no grounds for complaint when others say unkind things about him.

    Not only is this wrong per se because you’re cherrypicking the overall thrust and atmosphere of Pharyngula, but it’s not even logically correct. Like it or not, The Intersection has set itself up as a role model. It’s not the NCSE, but it’s also not a freewheeling, one-man, science blog. Therefore, PZ and anyone else is justified in having different standards for the Intersection than they do for their blogs.

    Here’s an analogy. Lubos Motl acts like a mentally ill person who could go postal at any moment when he comments on other people’s blogs. On his own Reference Frame, he’s scurrilous, hysterical, and when he addresses climate, comes off like a medieval alchemist in his partisan attempts to argue science as politics.

    If Motl, a mathematically-oriented theoretical physicist, was presenting a paper at a mixed physics conference with strings and, say, LQG or Garrett Lisi’s theories or commutative algebra progress or what have you, and even keeping in mind the fact that outside academic settings Motl argues for string theory with almost the vitriol he argues for fanatically partisan right-wing takes on science, would you say other presenters could behave like Motl does outside those circumstances, towards him, and he’d have no right to complain?

    I say he’d have every right, and I’d back him completely. For one thing, in his papers and at presentations, Lubos is a normal scientist, and treats his colleagues like colleagues. He may not kiss their hand but he doesn’t act like a freak, either.

    Similarly, the Intersection/Discovery, the NCSE, etc. are venues where the more freewheeling approach of a PZ Myers or a Jerry Coyne (let alone ERV’s Abby) is simply out of place.

    In other words, be the grownup, recognize what venue you are in (you might make a better case for saying you can be just like PZ when battling on his blog, and remember he largely doesn’t censor it), and above all, whenever possible, MODEL the behavior you’re insisting on.

    It’s easy to say you disagree with PZ’s approach of ending patience with stupid and stubborn people. But that puts a moral obligation on you to act differently to what you’ve criticized. He makes no bones about his attitude towards science denialists, how he got it, and how he expresses it. It’s all one big caveat lector.

  25. J. J. Ramsey

    Ophelia Benson: “And yet there is plenty of time for important stuff like that post on the comment on a post of PZ’s, and that post on PZ’s review.”

    Because of course there is no difference between a post with a couple quotes and some off-the-cuff commentary, which can be written fairly quickly, and a response that is more like an essay.

    echidna: “Prove me wrong. Use quotes and be specific.”

    Ok, in December 2006, Myers went off the rails and wrote, “Brayton [of the blog Dispatches From the Culture Wars] loathes atheists, and would like to see them silenced.” He never got around to actually supporting that position.

  26. Wes

    Virtually all of his writing has this characteristic tone. It makes those who agree with him happy, it insults anyone who doesn’t, and it is full of sweeping assertions.

    Really? Virtually all of his writing is full of sweeping assertions? Wow.

    You can substitute “vulcan approach” for “emotionally autistic” if you like. Suffice it to say that someone who writes the way PZ does has no grounds for complaint when others say unkind things about him. Make-believe outrage by folks in this thread is no more convincing than it is when wingers pretend to be outraged by imaginary racism/sexism.

    Ummmm, no. Using a serious psychological condition (autism), which afflicts many people, as a casual insult term for people you don’t like is wrong. Suffice it to say that people who use bigoted epithets have no right to complain when others expose their bigotry.

  27. MartinM

    His brand of emotional autism isn’t just counterproductive; it’s wrong.

    The profanity filters here prevent me from giving this the response it deserves. Let it stand as a perfect example of the fact that civility cannot be reduced to words alone. No mere word can reach the heights of profanity involved in smearing an entire group of people in an attempt to attack a single individual.

  28. Roadtripper

    Mr. Mooney,

    I do hope that when you finally get around to writing a decent reply to PZ, you remember to thank him properly for giving your little book so much extra publicity. (As if nobody knew why you spent most of a chapter doing such a ‘hatchet job on him. Very clever.)

    Rt

  29. Wes

    There are only two other people I know of who make insulting comparisons between scientists and autistic people: Vox Day and Randy Olson.

    Strange bedfellows…

  30. Pogo

    All of you who are defending PZ’s civility (and those of his fans) should hop over to one of his comment threads. Ophelia, I hope you’ll pay especial attention to this one, given how (justifiably) upset you were about Kwok’s comments here.
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/unscientific_america_and_those.php#comment-1766925

    To summarize: a poster complained about sexist terminology. PZ jumped in to excuse himself because he didn’t ‘mean’ anything sexist–but didn’t apologize. Then a number of posters basically said that anyone offended by sexist language should STFU.

    Pretty ugly.

  31. Marion Delgado

    Roadtripper – Chris is better known than PZ. And trebly so, at least, among the non-choir. That’s a patently absurd paranoid hypothesis on your part. Grow up.

  32. Scote

    1. Paul Says:
    July 10th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    “At this point, I think people would be happy with you taking 30 seconds to apologize for a post where you mention PZ’s name 5 times, talk about “classic PZ” and “standard profanity”, yet where the only word you even quote of his is “useless”. You picked one comment out of a thread that was over 100 comments at the time and used it as a premise to rail at PZ, while framing (heh) it as representative for what was in general a very well written post and thoughtful comment thread.

    Really, it would only take 30 seconds. It needn’t wait until Monday for your well-reasoned and written response.”

    Indeed. The complaints of having too little time ring hollow and seem disingenuous. Mooney et al had plenty of time to cherry pick a non-representative reader comment from PZ’s site and create a misleading thread falsely implying the quote was representative of Myers.

    This brouhaha seems the classic Mooney response to criticism, which is to ignore the substance of it entirely. It is hard to know if Mooney is cognitively dissonant or consciously attempting to be specious on this issue.

  33. Scote

    “30. Marion Delgado Says:
    July 10th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Roadtripper – Chris is better known than PZ. And trebly so, at least, among the non-choir. That’s a patently absurd paranoid hypothesis on your part. Grow up.”

    Really? PZ’s blog is ranked 107 on Technocrati. Mooney’s blog is ranked what? Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t even have a Technocrati rank. (Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog, also on Discover Magazine.com, has a Technocrati rank of 300)

    Myers blog is way, way more popular than Mooney’s. Period. It is entirely reasonable to consider the possibility that Mooney may gin up controversy with PZ to generate additional page views for his blog.

    Marion, like Mooney, you are ignoring the facts.

  34. DS

    Scote:

    All PZ has is his blog. Chris is primarily a book author and print journalist. So the comparison you make is not a valid measure of notoriety. Republican War on Science was a NYT bestseller. Chris has been a regular on mainstream television and radio (like The Daily Show). He’s won awards and earned accolades from some very significant organizations. These are measures where PZ simply can’t compare.

    I think you’re confusing internet notoriety among a very narrow interest group with actual prominence. Myers stands to gain more attention from Chris’s book than the other way around. The ‘facts’ you mention are carefully selected to support only your case. What about the ones I just raised?

    It’s sad that we live in a world where merely having a popular blog is considered by some to be a genuine measure of accomplishment.

  35. Michael Kingsford Gray

    I would like to see some substantive responses to the very valid points that PZ and others have raised regarding accomodationism, and where it does or does not lead.

    Not logical fallacies, such as, say:
    Argumentum ad verecundiam
    Ad hoc
    Affirmation of the consequent
    Amphiboly
    Anecdotal evidence
    Argumentum ad antiquitatem
    Argumentum ad baculum / Appeal to force
    Argumentum ad crumenam
    Argumentum ad hominem
    Argumentum ad ignorantiam
    Argumentum ad lazarum
    Argumentum ad logicam
    Argumentum ad misericordiam
    Argumentum ad nauseam
    Argumentum ad novitatem
    Argumentum ad numerum
    Argumentum ad populum
    Argumentum ad verecundiam
    Audiatur et altera pars
    Bifurcation
    Circulus in demonstrando
    Complex question
    Composition
    Converse accident / Hasty generalization
    Converting a conditional
    Cum hoc ergo propter hoc
    Denial of the antecedent
    Dicto simpliciter
    Division
    Equivocation
    Extended analogy
    Ignoratio elenchi
    Natural Law fallacy
    “No True Scotsman …” fallacy
    Non causa pro causa
    Non sequitur
    Petitio principii
    Plurium interrogationum
    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc
    Red herring
    Reification / Hypostatization
    Shifting the burden of proof
    Slippery slope argument
    Straw man
    Tu quoque
    Undistributed Middle

    Are you up to it, Chris?

  36. Silver Fox

    Wes at 26

    “Ummmm, no. Using a serious psychological condition (autism), which afflicts many people, as a casual insult term for people you don’t like is wrong. Suffice it to say that people who use bigoted epithets have no right to complain when others expose their bigotry.”

    Emotional autism? I wonder if that is a variation of a term coined about a year ago referencing PZ by Vox Day on his blog site?:

    “Myers is too socially autistic to understand that it is not his opinion about crackers that is the issue, but rather, his total lack of respect for others. He has apparently taken the New Atheist mantra of showing no respect to religion or to religious individuals to an extreme that not even Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens have approached, for as he later declared in his own defense: “I must commit sacrilege, since I oppose the whole nonsensical notion of a “profoundly held religious belief.”

    This was about the time of the so called “crackergate” incident.
    July 14, 2008

  37. Matt Penfold

    Roadtripper – Chris is better known than PZ. And trebly so, at least, among the non-choir. That’s a patently absurd paranoid hypothesis on your part. Grow up.

    Got some evidence for that claim ?

  38. Roadtripper – Chris is better known than PZ. And trebly so, at least, among the non-choir. That’s a patently absurd paranoid hypothesis on your part. Grow up.

    PZ’s blog is ranked as the number 1 science blog in the world, with more than 70,000 visits each day (more than 1 million per month), he is frequently quoted by Richard Dawkins and in the media, he has a column in the Guardian, he gives speeches all over the world, and there are numerous YouTube videos of his speeches. When I mention him to active atheists in Copenhagen, Denmark they instantly know who I’m talking about.

    Not to dismiss Chris’ previous work – a book on the NY Times’ bestseller list is not something one could easily dismiss, but I am sorry, PZ is much more known that Chris, inside and outside the choir. You might not think this is deserved, but it’s definitely the case.

  39. Matt Penfold

    PZ’s blog is ranked as the number 1 science blog in the world, with more than 70,000 visits each day (more than 1 million per month), he is frequently quoted by Richard Dawkins and in the media, he has a column in the Guardian, he gives speeches all over the world, and there are numerous YouTube videos of his speeches. When I mention him to active atheists in Copenhagen, Denmark they instantly know who I’m talking about.

    Not to dismiss Chris’ previous work – a book on the NY Times’ bestseller list is not something one could easily dismiss, but I am sorry, PZ is much more known that Chris, inside and outside the choir. You might not think this is deserved, but it’s definitely the case.

    It is possible Mooney is better known within the US. However since his books, and the focus of his journalism ignores the rest of the world it would be surprising if he was as well known in Europe.

  40. NewEnglandBob

    Who cares which one is better known? What they say is most important.

  41. Reading this rapidly, other than Marc and J.J.R, this reminds me so much of Tennessee Williams. Specifically that scene in The Glass Menagerie when Amanda says, “Horrors ! Heaven have mercy !- You’re a Christian martyr, yes, that’s what you are, a Christian martyr !”

    Good grief, the guy spends day, after day, year upon year gushing bigotry and scorn on people and you think he’s some kind of victim. What a bunch of addled cultists. He’s just reaping what he’s sown. Seems you guys might have read some folks have warned of that possibility somewhere.

    PZ Myers is a coward whose blog runs on bigotry and cheap shots, not science.

  42. Scote

    “34. DS Says:
    July 11th, 2009 at 1:49 am

    Scote:

    All PZ has is his blog. Chris is primarily a book author and print journalist. So the comparison you make is not a valid measure of notoriety. Republican War on Science was a NYT bestseller. Chris has been a regular on mainstream television and radio (like The Daily Show). He’s won awards and earned accolades from some very significant organizations. These are measures where PZ simply can’t compare.

    I think you’re confusing internet notoriety among a very narrow interest group with actual prominence”

    DS, this little dust up is, you might have noticed, **on the internet**, where PZ is, perhaps, an order of magnitude more popular than Mooney, or more. So my point stands. It is entirely reasonable to consider the idea that Mooney might gin up controversy with PZ to get more page views on “intersection,”

  43. —- It is entirely reasonable to consider the idea that Mooney might gin up controversy with PZ to get more page views on “intersection,” Scote

    It is entirely possible that making that charge is a transparent attempt to discredit legitimate criticism of a vicious and disingenuous figure who has always gone out of his way to offend and humiliate people so he could gin up his blog.

    Without controversy, PZ would be unknown.

    In PZ’s defense, making the charge that one of his critics is “ginning up” controversy for publicity is quite obviously two-faced.

  44. sinz54

    Sagan was just as much of an atheist as Myers.

    The difference between them is that Sagan could be respectful of persons of faith, whereas Myers is reflexively contemptuous of anyone of faith. He goes out of his way to ridicule, demean, and despise anyone of faith, regardless of science or whether those folks support science. And that means he must despise over 80% of his fellow American citizens, just because they’re not atheists like him. That makes him a bigot, by any rational definition.

    The recent attacks by Myers and his gang on Francis Collins were just atrocious. They had nothing negative to say about Collins’ support for the Theory of Evolution and science generally, or for his administrative skills. But they poured as much venom on Collins as they could muster for exactly one thing: Collins is religious and not ashamed to say so.

    Sagan, in his books and in his interviews, was respectful of religion and the things it has done: Supported the family; gave comfort to the troubled; worked for social and economic justice; provided a moral code; etc. Sagan was only critical of religion when religion tries to claim things about the natural world that obviously contravene science.

    Myers, in contrast, truly believes that religion must disappear, and until it does, he’s going to go on despising anyone of faith.

  45. Roadtripper

    DS:

    You’re right, Mooney is a well-known author, while PZ is known primarily as a blogger. The point is, PZ is known because he’s controversial, and Mooney obviously knows a thing or two about selling books. That’s what it’s about, regardless of who’s more popular on the web or elsewhere.

    Last year during the whole “Expelled” kerfluffle, it was the accommodationists (like Mooney) who castigated PZ for blogging about it, arguing that ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity.’ Mooney knew exactly what PZ’s reaction to his book would be, and the result has been exactly what he wanted: increased exposure in the blogosphere. This can only help its bottom line, in the end.

    Marion:

    There’s nothing ‘paranoid’ about a hypothesis that fits the facts. And ‘grow up’ is about as cheap a shot as I’ve seen anywhere, Pharyngula included. Too bad.

    Rt

  46. Silver Fox

    Instead of spending time and energy composing a response to criticism of what he has had to say, Mooney needs to be aware of possible underpinnings. He should take his cue from a lesson learned by Ray Confort some time ago on the occasion of the publication of his book. What Chris has to say he has said it in the book. So, editorializing his own work may just be counterproductive.

    Here’s the lesson from Confort:

    “Confort reported earlier this week he had found a website where atheists were conspiring to give poor reviews and low rankings to his book on Amazon.com to discourage potential purchasers. Many of the reviews later were taken off the Amazon.com website.

    On the Reddit.com website he found the answer: a conspiracy among atheists to drag his book down through their responses on the Amazon website.
    A participant identified as “The Milkman” wrote, “Let’s all vote one star on this piece of s—.”

  47. Marion Delgado

    Silver Fox:

    Paul Fussell called that stuff an ABM – Author’s Big Mistake.

    As long as Chris keeps it to the core ideas he’ll be fine.

    And for the record: Yes, I really do believe that the notion that Chris Mooney needs to attack Myers or any other science blogger to drum up interest for his bestselling books or for his Discovery™ blog is childish, paranoid, and frankly absurd. And I also think trying to shore up that moonshine and unicorns theory with Technorati rankings is cultism, not science. Sorry.

    Also, stop. You are embarrassing the very people you think you’re helping. Before you type one more word, ask yourselves what the effect would have been had people who support the NCSE gone all over Why Evolution is True, Pharyngula, etc. and said that Coyne and Myers were dishonest hacks ONLY ATTACKING THEM TO DRUM UP PUBLICITY. How would you have responded to that?

  48. Matt Penfold

    Yes, I really do believe that the notion that Chris Mooney needs to attack Myers or any other science blogger to drum up interest for his bestselling books or for his Discovery™ blog is childish, paranoid, and frankly absurd. And I also think trying to shore up that moonshine and unicorns theory with Technorati rankings is cultism, not science. Sorry.

    I tend to agree that it is unlikely Chris is doing this for publicity. However for you to dismiss evidence of the comparative popularity of this blog and PZ’s as cultism is equally stupid. Please explain the problem with Technorati rankings, using evidence to support your case please.

  49. Jennifer B. Phillips

    I also agree that it is unlikely Chris is after publicity here, and further agree that, outside of the science-blogosphere, Chris is the better known of the two. I haven’t read the book yet, but maybe someone who has can answer this: if Myers is such a minor player, why does he feature so prominently in multiple chapters of the book? How does it benefit the target audience (presumably one which does not fully overlap with denizens of the science-blogosphere) to dwell to this extent on the actions of one voice in a sea of science advocacy? I mean, either he (Myers) has mainstream influence or he doesn’t. It seems like his relative importance to the national state of science education is conveniently fluid.

  50. Bruce Gorton

    JJ…

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/07/atheism_and_civil_rights.php

    Considering that he is comparing people who essentially say they are atheists and then go on to explain why in not entirely respectful tones to people in a civil rights movement who chanted “death to whitey” I actually see PZ’s point.

  51. Bruce Gorton

    Jennifer B. Phillips

    PZ Myers is a household name, Dawkins even more so. That PZ’s known for his blog, doesn’t mean he is less known than Mooney.

    Mooney wrote a best seller which exploited – to be blunt about it – a niche within America at the time. He essentially filled a role in anti-Republican litrature. It was a book that needed to be written, make no mistake, and it may well hit the history books, but the Republicans aren’t in power anymore.

    So, how do you sell your second best seller?

  52. Jennifer B. Phillips

    PZ Myers is a household name, Dawkins even more so. That PZ’s known for his blog, doesn’t mean he is less known than Mooney.

    A household name? In your house, maybe, and certainly in mine, but I don’t think there’s sufficient data to justify applying this to American households in general.

    I don’t keep up with these things, but didn’t ‘Storm World’ do pretty well?

  53. Abbie

    Calling PZ a “household name” would take some high-quality rubber for the subsequent stretching of the truth.

    Unless your household is full of internet-savvy atheists, he is NOT a household name in any way. Yet, of course.

  54. Roadtripper

    Bruce Gorton:

    “Mooney wrote a best seller which exploited – to be blunt about it – a niche within America at the time. He essentially filled a role in anti-Republican litrature. It was a book that needed to be written, make no mistake, and it may well hit the history books, but the Republicans aren’t in power anymore.”

    Indeed. The Republic War on Science sold well because it was an attack piece. Fast forward to 2009, and now Mooney needs a new dog to kick. It doesn’t matter whether PZ Myers is a household name — attacking him is guaranteed to start a firestorm in the blogosphere.(Which it has, although I’ve seen worse.)

    There’s no doubt Mooney knew this would happen. It’s just a question of whether he did this because of the inevitable fallout, or in spite of it. Given that there’s “no such thing as bad publicity” I’m inclined to think he wanted this to happen.

    Now that I think about it, this puts the whole decision to move The Intersection from ScienceBlogs to Discover in a whole new context. At the time, I didn’t here any convincing reasons for it, but now I suspect it had something to do with how the manuscript for “Unscientific America” was shaping up.

    Rt

  55. José

    @sinz54
    The difference between them is that Sagan could be respectful of persons of faith, whereas Myers is reflexively contemptuous of anyone of faith.

    That’s a lie.

    They had nothing negative to say about Collins’ support for the Theory of Evolution and science generally.

    Yes they did.

    But they poured as much venom on Collins as they could muster for exactly one thing: Collins is religious and not ashamed to say so.

    No. They poured on venom because he lets his religious views cloud his scientific views.

  56. Marion Delgado

    Jennifer:

    It’s the attitude that led people like Coyne and Myers to attack the NCSE that makes Chris think they exemplify the wrong approach. Chris said Myers was representative of the wrong approach, not that he was a minor player. *I* said, and repeat, that Mooney has enough prominence that the notion that he wrote what he did to troll for blog hits, instead of for the reasons he plainly stated and states, is absurd. Beyond a certain point, I think absurd doesn’t need to be stepped on anymore, just avoided, really.

  57. John Morales

    Pogo @30:

    All of you who are defending PZ’s civility (and those of his fans) should hop over to one of his comment threads. Ophelia, I hope you’ll pay especial attention to this one, given how (justifiably) upset you were about Kwok’s comments here.

    I second that, but not because I agree with Pogo, but because I think it shows how shallow such opinings are, and how little it takes to offend some.

    Pogo, I think you underestimate Ophelia’s acumen, too. Note also that civility includes the avoidance of smarm and insincerity.


    On the issue at hand, I, too, await a substantive response. The comment Chris left at in the comments at that thread was (rightly, I think) excoriated, and I would like to regain some respect for him.

  58. Bruce Gorton

    Jennifer B. Phillips Says:

    I think you guys underestimate just how widespread computer use is, and just how well known Myers is. He isn’t “Hollywood” level, but he is very well known.

  59. Jennifer B. Phillips

    Bruce @58:

    What I am saying is that in the absence of any data, “well-known” and “household name” are not meaningful assignments. I know PZ has a popular website, and that his name is now also branded on the hearts of conservative Catholics in the US, but I wouldn’t consider him mainstream any more than I would consider David Gorski mainstream, outside of certain circles. But quick! Take a poll at your local mall (or library, or farmer’s market…) today, and again in 6 months (after UA has been circulating for a while) with two questions: “Who is PZ Myers?” and “Who is Chris Mooney?” An ‘N’ of 100 will be more than sufficient. I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this.

    @Marion, I was rather amused by these alternate claims of “He’s HUUUUUGGGGGE!” and “He’s NOTHING!” w/r/t/ PZ, and wanted to see if I could foment a little more of it. However, I agree that it’s an unnecessary side track, and I won’t fuel this ‘manufactroversy’ any further.

  60. Since John Morales quotes Pogo’s comment, I want to add one thing (that I almost added yesterday, but the comment was so far back by then, I decided to leave it) –

    I wasn’t ‘upset’ about Kwok’s sexist epithets. I simply thought they were reprehensible.

  61. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia –

    My “sexist” comments are actually quite lame in stark contrast to the invective you are most capable of (And for anyone who doubts this, then read her screed over at her blog in “praise” – and I am being sarcastic in using that word – of Chapter Eight of “Unscientific America”.). Don’t think Dave Eggers would ever want you to write for McSweeney’s, and if he does, then I have an influential literary friend whom I am sure would discourage him.

  62. John Kwok

    @ DS (@ 34) –

    I couldn’t have said it myself. Chris Mooney is becoming one of our very best science journalists (If he isn’t already) due to his previous books. Paul Zachary Myers is well known only because of Pharyngula and his activities as a bizarre agent provocateur on behalf of Militant Atheism.

    @ sinz54 (@ 44) –

    Not only at Myers’s blog but at Coyne’s too unfortunately. It is as though both have forgotten Collins’s excellent stewardship of the Human Genome Project, and I think that is absolutely disgraceful on the part of these Militant Atheists.

  63. TTT

    Wake up, personality-cult fanboys: NEITHER Myers nor Mooney are really “known” to the general public.

    Who do you seriously think follows the career of either a science blogger or a science journalist closely enough to remember their names? Just the Scienceblogs community, its satellite sites, and in Myers’ case, the Christian forums that covered Crackergate.

    David Quammen and Tim Flannery are some of our best science writers and I’m sure the average person has no idea who they are either. You could poll “the shopping mall or the farmers’ market,” as someone actually suggested, and the average person probably couldn’t name ANY evolutionary scientist except Darwin himself and, just maybe perhaps, Steven Jay Gould.

    So drop the rulers and zip up. Nobody is impressed.

  64. Zarquon

    But PZ was in Expelled, which Mooney said was a box office success so Myers must be famous.

  65. Tristanm

    Well, the substantive reply is due out today. Can’t wait to see it.

  66. John Kwok

    @ TTT –

    I have to concur with your assessment (@ 63). Probably the best known science journalist I can think of is Carl Zimmer with Natalie Angier and Andrew Revkin, among others, as others whom I think are as well known as Carl (As much as I like Chris and his writing, I wouldn’t quite put him in my first rank of science writers, while the other three I most certainly would.). David Quammen is better known as an excellent writer of non-fiction, and has, relatively recently, begun to write some important popular science books pertaining to ecology and the environment. The best known active scientists who are also professional writers include the likes of Jared Diamond, Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, Neil de Grasse Tyson and E. O. Wilson.

  67. Kwok – yours @ 61 is a falsehood. I nowhere call Mooney and Kirshenbaum anything equivalent to the sexist epithets you resorted to, which I would specify except that they now won’t get through the filter. I dispute many of the claims in their book but I do not call them names.

    It’s not really necessary to say this, of course, because everyone who reads your comments know that you are not a stickler for accuracy – but I feel like saying it anyway. There’s a principle involved.

  68. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia Benson –

    Your latest comment is an utter falsehood too. Your blog “review” of Chapter Eight from their book was a rather salacious screed, and quite frankly, far more destructive than anything I have said or written about you. You may think you are as clever and as witty as Sarah Vowell or John Hodgman or even Richard Dawkins, but you are not nearly in their league as a writer, and moreover, a self-serving narcissist with ample delusions of grandeur.

  69. @67 Ophelia, I beg to differ with you. While I have been reading the blogs which John Kwok frequents and comments, I have found him nothing if not a stickler of accuracy. At least, accuracy with respect to those he went to school with, saw at a book signing, ate lunch with, or other activity that allows him to drop a name. In those cases, his accuracy, with spelling, is bar none.

    Regarding the who’s popular meme. W(ho)TF cares? This is simply a diversion from any of the substantive issues on the table. Although I have to say this is par for the course in internet drama. For all those hating on Coyne and Myers and Ophelia, go read what they wrote regarding the book, think about it, then make your point (remember, do not skip step 2, its an important step). Also, read what Mooney and other “fanatic accommodationists,” again think about it, then make your point. (BTW I want to introduce the phrase “fanatic accommodationist” to be used in comments to offset the “militant atheist” meme.)

    For example, an accommodationist argument is that we need to be be very nice to religious people because there are moderate allies we dont want to alienate. The counter-argument has been raised that this is a lame in practice because are there really moderates who are only for good science education is they are not personally offended and if these moderates are offended they will no longer support good science education?
    It seems to me that all the discourse on the argument-counterargument claims are based on how someone says something not the validity of the claims. For example, “PZ was mean to me and didn’t give me the camera I threatened him over, although I was joking, no really I was. Meany” OK, that last little bit was not appropriate to the argument or point at hand and was indeed a little dig.

  70. John Kwok

    @ Lorax –

    More importantly I am a “stickler for accuracy” with respect to science. Your other comments are irrelevant and merely an occasion for you to launch an ad hominem attack on me. But since you’ve mentioned some names, let me observe that the only you’ve mentioned whom I regard as reputable is Coyne, quite simply because of his distinguished work on speciation. In stark contrast, Myers – is by his own admission a mediocre evolutionary biologist – and Benson is the militant atheist version of Denyse O’Leary.

  71. ad hominem – mediocre/version of Denyse O’Leary

    irony much?

  72. John Kwok

    @ Lorax –

    Myers admitted to me that he’s a mediocre evolutionary biologist in private e-mail correspondence. As for my comparison of Benson with O’Leary, it is regrettably a most apt comparison.

  73. “You may think you are as clever and as witty as Sarah Vowell or John Hodgman or even Richard Dawkins”

    ?????? Why them? Why anyone? Why ‘may think’? Is that fideism again? No one can prove I don’t think that, therefore let’s suggest it – but what a stupid ragbag. (John who?)

    Whatever. I don’t think any of that (I have no opinion at all on the subject). I can tell you what I am though – a whole lot cleverer and wittier than John Kwok!

    Yes yes, I know, so is a stale loaf of bread – that was the point.

  74. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia Benson –

    Trust me, you can say what you will, but it will neither persuade me nor any of my friends who may stumble by accident upon this thread. I would rather be more decent and thoughtful than you have ever demonstrated than be clever and wittier than you.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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