Some More Words to the New Atheist Blogosphere on Unscientific America

By The Intersection | July 27, 2009 9:03 am

As the two of us grapple with a book tour, other book projects, cross-country moves, and much else, we’ve been pretty hamstrung in our online replies to the “New Atheists.” So this post will try to make up a bit of that slack.

At the outset, let us say that we always knew Unscientific America would be controversial. Indeed, we’re glad it has touched such a nerve in some quarters—to us, this underscores that its critique was much needed.

In Chapter 8 of Unscientific America—just 12 pages of a broader book–we argue that an entire movement attached to “science” today is not really much invested in effectively reaching the U.S. public, but rather, has become radicalized around the counterproductive project of blasting other Americans’ religious faith. This movement is most vociferous on the Internet and, more particularly, on science blogs like Pharyngula, where its adherents seem unswervingly certain their way is the right way, and seem to little value civil dialogue with those who might disagree. (For one seconding of this opinion, see here.)

Given that one point of Unscientific America is that this entire “dialogue” is not constructive, but rather destructive—not conducive to reason, nor to advancing the place of science in our society—it should come as no surprise that we do not keep up with it as much as many others do. This partly explains why we haven’t said much for a week or more, as does the fact that (as shown in our recent Boston Globe article) there is much else in our book that we want to discuss besides the unending battle over science and religion.

Furthermore, we have had more mainstream media audiences, as well as public audiences at book events, to address. The response to the book in such venues is, as a rule, starkly different from the “New Atheist” response on the Internet–where the vast majority of our critics do not seem to have read the book. This, too, has made us hesitant to respond, as it seems very unlikely that what will result is an informed, dispassionate, or civil debate.

* * * * * *

Still, there are some things that should probably be answered, at least in brief. Unfortunately, even some New Atheists who have read the book are reacting to it in a way we can scarcely comprehend–with a case in point being Jerry Coyne.

For several months, Chris tried to engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne about the merits of “accommodationism.” There was some progress, perhaps, but nothing like what might have been accomplished in a simple in-person debate or discussion. Still, Chris hoped Coyne would give Unscientific America a fair reading.

He became concerned a few weeks back, though, after posting (along with a few supporting words) a video of Eugenie Scott talking about science-religion compatibility. Merely for posting this video, Coyne accused Chris of “dissembling” and “using authority arguments.” Scott was also accused of dissembling—simply for making an argument she believes in.

Then Coyne began to review our book, and strongly misstated our views. While we won’t respond to him on every detail, we’ll make a few remarks to underscore the nature of the problem.

Take something like this from Coyne:

Where does the problem come from? In an earlier book, The Republican War on Science, Mooney laid it largely at the door of political conservatives.  But, say M&K, we now have another enemy: the scientists themselves.

We’re baffled anyone could read us this way. The scientists are our heroes. Granted, we talk in the book about how they have not always invested adequately in communication, and we call for a change of mindset and of culture in this respect—but to claim that we depict them as the “enemy” boggles the mind. If that was the case, then why are our audiences full of scientists–wanting to hear how they can be part of the solution?

Joshua Rosenau has dealt with another of Coyne’s critiques, his assertion that he could find “little in Unscientific America that has not been said, at length, elsewhere.” Well, this is a popular book that synthesizes much past work (and cites it extensively); what’s probably most new is the nature of the synthesis. As Rosenau notes, our book is not unlike many popular books in this respect–including many recent books about evolution and atheism. (It is not like there are many “new” arguments for atheism out there).

Then Coyne continues:

And what is new—the accusation that scientists, in particular atheist-scientists, are largely responsible for scientific illiteracy—is asserted without proof.

We’re stunned anyone could read our book this way–and saddened anyone would seriously think we’re making such an obviously incorrect argument.

As we describe it, scientific illiteracy—really, the gap between science and society–is a complex, multi-faceted, multi-decadal problem. As such, the idea that the “New Atheist” movement of the last few years could have caused it is incomprehensible to us. Not only do we not think this, but we cannot comprehend how anyone could think this.

In the present moment, the “New Atheists” may be counterproductive, and may divert resources and energies that might be far better used elsewhere. The movement may also have the effect of making our society more, rather than less, polarized around science–of adding fuel to a longstanding and fruitless culture war with science trapped in the middle of it.

We think these things are true. But they’re vastly different from blaming the “New Atheists” for decades of problems they weren’t even around for–at least not in their current form. And we even say this directly in the book: “Of course, the New Atheists aren’t the origin of the cleft between religious and scientific culture in America–they’re more like a reaction to it” (p. 98).

What we actually claim in Unscientific America is that longstanding habits of disengagement from the public, on the part of the scientific community, have contributed to the science-society gap that we now have. But such disengagement is only one contributing factor, and there are gobs of others listed and discussed in the book: political cynicism, public ignorance and anti-intellectualism, a poor educational system, media inaccuracy and irresponsibility, entertainment stereotyping, religious dogma, and so on. Scientists are only one part of this mix, but a key point of the book is that they are a crucial part of it. For too long, some scientists have pointed the finger at others–journalists, educators, and so on, and often with good reason–yet have not looked adequately at themselves.

As you can see, ours is a vastly different and more nuanced argument than the one Coyne limns. Were we to go through his full review and respond on every point, you would just hear us stating over and over again this observation. There are some aspects to his critique that are thoughtful, but in saddling us with weak arguments that we do not hold (and so cannot possibly defend), Coyne is not fairly measuring our book.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, we see PZ Myers has decided to comment on us again, and misrepresents our arguments even more than does Coyne: “Their explanation for scientific illiteracy in America is simple: it’s the scientists’ fault for being so aloof and distant.” As just explained, this is false.

What’s more, Myers really doesn’t seem to want people to read our book:

I will say one good thing about their op-ed, though. It contains the full content of their entire book. Read the essay, now you don’t need to buy the book, since it covers it fully, including all the non-existent details for how to actually implement their solution.

We have a better suggestion: If you are interested in this matter, then read the book, read all the critics, and make up your own mind. Isn’t that what a freethinker, a practitioner of reason, would do?

* * * * *

For our part, we believe the blog-based “New Atheist” reaction to the book simply reinforces Unscientific America‘s critique. This movement on the Internet–motivated not so much by science as by culture war instincts, and sadly, showing far too little investment in civil dialogue—isn’t helping us build a better relationship between science and American society.

Someone had to say it–especially as it happens to be true.

Comments (189)

  1. Blogger

    “This movement on the Internet–motivated not so much by science as by culture war instincts, and sadly, showing far too little investment in civil dialogue—isn’t helping us build a better relationship between science and American society.

    Someone had to say it–especially as it happens to be true.”

    Keep punching ‘em in the nose.

  2. Blogger – my initial reaction was that’s what they tellus to do in SCUBA trainign regarding sharks. Maybe that was what you intended to say, maybe not.

  3. Jon

    This is from a recent article by historian Rick Perlstein on a recent run-in he had with Bill O’Reilly:

    O’Reilly claimed in his column that I, and Newsweek magazine, too, am part of a movement, one that wants “to knock out Judeo-Christian traditions.”

    Oh come on, Bill. That’s paranoid. There’s no such movement of liberals that want “to knock out Judeo-Christian traditions.”

    Oh, wait…

  4. Pete M.

    To say that scientists are identified as the enemy in the book looks to be overstated. However, as the authors themselves say above, scientists are identified in the book as “a crucial part” of the problem. Even while pointing out that your position is more subtle than that attributed to you, I think the question still remains: what is the evidence that a failure of science communication is a crucial part of the problem of the failure to embrace science as common ground of fact in the public sphere (I’m assuming this latter bit actually is the problem – I don’t see why one’s private views on the matter are so important, so long as we keep to science when debating public policy and law)?

    Scientific literacy isn’t much worse (and by some measures may be a bit better) in the US than in much of Europe. But here anti-scientific, religiously motivated groups have a disproportionately large impact on our public discourse. So, why here, but not there? I think this is the question that needs to be answered in order to point us at the root of the problem in American society, and I am still unconvinced that this problem has much to do with science communication, though I do support and value the goal of better communication of the results and methods of science. My thought is that it has to do with our historically strong evangelical traditions and the failure of our public institutions to, for example, keep economic success from unfairly increasing one’s political clout, so that small, well-organized and well-funded non-public groups can have a large impact on our government.

  5. I am a scientist and an atheist. I cringe at the way the most vocal members of the “New Atheist” movement conduct themselves (and I was disgusted with “Crackergate” etc). To paraphrase you, if they’re so angry about that tiny section of your book, then it must have struck a nerve there.

    I need to get me to a bookshop and see if they stock Unscientific America in the UK. However, in the meantime, just on the basis of the setting out of your arguments on here and your conduct and attitude to the New Atheists, you have behaved impeccably, and you’re showing yourselves to be the more gracious opponent than the increasingly shrill voices over on ScienceBlogs.

  6. foolfodder

    Dear Intersection,
    Do you think you could respond to this?

  7. You (two) write article after article on your blog and on others talking about how the problem is scientists’ responsibility, scientists are part of the problem, scientists are off in their ivory towers, scientists refuse to talk to ordinary people, scientists are terrible communicators, and so on … and you’re surprised that people read you as negative about scientists?

    Looks like you have your own serious communication issues.

    I’ll give you another starting point. For all your (joint) talk about how bad scientists are as communicators, how blogs are _not_ the answer, and so on, you never give any advice that I, being one of those people you are spending so much time faulting, can use. Vaporings about how we need some grand multidecadal effort to ‘improve things’ just do not cut it. That isn’t a plan, that’s a wish. According to you I’ve been doing it wrong for 20 years (and I’m in climate, so your comments about it being scientists’ responsibility for the 20 year failure on climate are particularly relevant; oh, excuse me, that “scientists are _partly_ to blame” (my emphasis, your quote)).

    Fine, as usual, I’m ready to learn. What, today, do I do differently, or at all? Abandon my blog, as you’ve been saying that scientist blogs are not the answer, nor even part of it? Quit going to speak at Science Cafe’s? Quit going to schools to talk to kids about science? Quit trying to write so that non-scientists can understand me? (Well, since I should shut down my blog, that would follow.)

    When you start assigning blame, you really should not be surprised that people you blame get ticked off. When you blame them for not doing the right things, and then don’t say what the right things are in any usable detail, you’ll annoy even the ones who think that you have a case in assigning some responsibility to them.

    And, as you’re diving in to a self-protective cocoon that those who disagree with you are just ‘new atheists’, I’ll observe that I am not an atheist, new or otherwise. What I _am_ is a scientist who would like to do better for science communication, and who is very tired of you sitting back and blaming me for not doing the right things, when you never do say what the right things _are_.

  8. Matti K.

    “Indeed, we’re glad it has touched such a nerve in some quarters—to us, this underscores that its critique was much needed.”

    You criticize other people. These people feel that the criticism is unjust and respond. This response makes you conclude that your original critique was valid.

    Well, you yourself have responded very strongly to the criticism of PZ and Coyne. Can we thus conclude that their criticism is valid and much needed? Or should different standards be applied to “new atheists” and “faitheists”?

  9. Dust

    Honestly, this sounds like your backpedaling away from a view you wanted to clearly state in your book and trying to make it look like all these “bad atheist sciencebloggers” are just trying to make you look bad because they have an agenda.

    As for what’s going on between you and people like Myers, it’s rather silly that your choosing to alienate that segment of people and telling them to “go fly a kite” or read your book without giving any incentive to do so other then: “We have several solutions listed in our book but we don’t want to tell you about them!”

    Really, it seems like your the ones polarizing that part of the science community while dressing up your book as an incredibly important critique while offering nothing with substance in return. It’s silly.

  10. Jeff K.

    Are religious people capable of looking at science objectively? How can one unwaveringly believe in bringing the dead back to life and then be taken seriously in a peer review?

  11. Brian D

    At the outset, let us say that we always knew Unscientific America would be controversial. Indeed, we’re glad it has touched such a nerve in some quarters—to us, this underscores that its critique was much needed.

    You could say exactly the same thing about postmodernism about 20 years ago. It touched a nerve not because the critique of science and objectivity was needed, but rather because it was so much inane garbage.

    Not saying the book’s in that category (I’ve only just started it, and I will withhold judgment on it until I finish it) — I’m saying this to point out that you may be interpreting the backlash to this book in a more positive light than, perhaps, you should be.

  12. Richard

    It seems like you’re attacking motive, and haven’t really addressed the substance of the negative reviews.

    The main complaint was, “this book has no plausible solutions.”

    I’d be much more interested in your ad-hom rebuttals if you had addressed this.

  13. In Chapter 8 of Unscientific America—just 12 pages of a broader book–we argue that an entire movement attached to “science” today is not really much invested in effectively reaching the U.S. public, but rather, has become radicalized around the counterproductive project of blasting other Americans’ religious faith. This movement is most vociferous on the Internet and, more particularly, on science blogs like Pharyngula, where its adherents seem unswervingly certain their way is the right way, and seem to little value civil dialogue with those who might disagree. (For one seconding of this opinion, see here.)

    Given the slimness of the book, 12 pages is actually a fairly large percentage devoted to what can only be considered your opinion on the issue of the vocal atheists’ approach. I don’t begrudge you that opinion, but to try to make it sound like it’s just a side note, when it takes up at least 5% of the pages, is a bit weird.

    I’ve also got to say that this part: ” its adherents seem unswervingly certain their way is the right way, and seem to little value civil dialogue with those who might disagree” would also accurately describe your behavior in this debate. You might feel that it’s warranted, but to criticize others for this behavior while partaking in it yourself, is quite rich.

  14. Peter Beattie

    Instead of whining about the “uncivility” of Jerry Coyne when he correctly describes your behaviour as dissembling (as in ‘hiding facts’), why don’t you constructively engage his main point, namely to please discuss a definition of ‘compatibility’ that is actually workable?

    Are you saying you’re so busy that you can’t even write a one-paragraph definition of a term that is central to one of the themes in your book and the ensuing discussion? Speaking of being hamstrung, are you indeed so busy that you couldn’t possibly point to one solid piece of evidence for your assertion that the “New Atheist dialogue is destructive”? Where, for example, are the deniers of evolution or global warming who are deniers (at least in part) because of a couple of outspoken atheists? What evidence is there, furthermore, that such an entrenched denier would be persuaded or even slightly swayed by less forthright dialogue? I mean, you must surely have this evidence, otherwise you wouldn’t have included a whole chapter on the topic, right?

  15. Dear Intersection, Right, much of the reaction to you goes overboard and distorts what you say, but various people have made substantive philosophical points based on a reading of your book. For example, many people have challenged the very quick argument you make for the compatibility of science and religion in chapter 8. Why not discuss these substantitive issues about compatibility…sometime, somewhere, maybe even here?

    I have to add–the comment section of this blog leaves much to be desired. My comments invariably get hung up in moderation. Certain people dominate every thread, which is a particular problem because you don’t have comment “threading” and you guys never step in to guide the discussion.. Granted, you are very busy with “real audiences,” but you might want to give a little thought to how to fix some of these problems.

  16. Not hung up in moderation after all…that’s a first!

  17. Peter Beattie

    In the present moment, the “New Atheists” may be counterproductive, and may divert resources and energies that might be far better used elsewhere. The movement may also have the effect of making our society more, rather than less, polarized around science–of adding fuel to a longstanding and fruitless culture war with science trapped in the middle of it.

    We think these things are true.

    Well, good for you. But it’s only maybe this, maybe that. If you want to convince anyone that yours is a crucial point—which is presumably why you wrote a book about it—then you’ll have to come with publicly available evidence. “I think this is true” just doesn’t fly. So, what evidence do you have for your assertion?

  18. Speaking of New Atheism, interesting piece by Sam Harris on Francis Collins and his faith in the Times.

  19. JRQ

    You say,

    “This movement is most vociferous on the Internet and, more particularly, on science blogs like Pharyngula, where its adherents seem unswervingly certain their way is the right way, …”

    Huh? Pharyingula readers aren’t the ones who wrote a book telling those with an alternative view, “shut up, you’re bad for our cause”! It was PZ — not you– who has been calling all along for diversity in science communication:

    “I recommend something different. Our next generation of great science communicators should be flesh-and-blood people with personalities, every one different and every one with different priorities, all singing out enthusiastically for everything from astronomy to zoology, and they should sometimes be angry and sometimes sorrowful and sometimes deliriously excited. They shouldn’t hesitate to say what they think, even if it might make Joe the Plumber surly.”

    Jeez-louise, what planet are you guys on?

  20. Peter Beattie

    » JRQ:
    Jeez-louise, what planet are you guys on?

    Planet Glass House, apparently. ;>

  21. Jon

    “its adherents seem unswervingly certain their way is the right way, and seem to little value civil dialogue with those who might disagree” would also accurately describe your behavior in this debate.You might feel that it’s warranted, but to criticize others for this behavior while partaking in it yourself, is quite rich.

    Not all cases are equal. There is a difference between 1) being unswervingly certain that YOU, natch, have things exactly right, and 2) unswervingly certain that things aren’t certain at all.

  22. TB

    @ 4. foolfodder Says:
    “Dear Intersection,
    Do you think you could respond to this?”

    Why? They’ve linked to Dr. Stemwedel’s blog and recommended people go read it. When you get a reasonable and thoughtful review like that you don’t need to respond to it. You respect the opinion even if you may disagree with it (and I’m not saying I do or don’t).
    I’m highlighting this because one of the purposes of a book like this is to start a conversation. So far, the conversation hasn’t been able to get past the arguments over the degree that one aspect might be more at fault than another.
    Which, IMHO, shows that the authors have a point about how useful some quarters are in advancing science literacy.

  23. I’m a bit disappointed that your response to all this criticism is to ignore the substantive critiques and focus on Coyne and Myers.

    I second the suggestion above that I’d love to see responses to this: http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2009/07/unscientific_america_are_scien.php and I hope you’ll respond to Rosenhouse’s critiques once they’re complete: http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/07/reviewing_unscientific_america.php

    I’ve now read most of your book over a series of visits to Barnes and Noble. I’ve found the general tone of both the book and the slippery way you’ve avoided honest critiques to be off-putting and didn’t want to buy the book until I knew there was some value to it (for me). There isn’t.

    I think you’d have been much better served putting in more research and support for your assertions and avoiding distractions like the events described in Chapter 8.

    In the end, I found your conclusions and call to arms to be underwhelming and thin. The whole book feels thin – assertions and argument from anecdote without any research or facts that I found compelling.

  24. benjdm

    We’re baffled anyone could read us this way.

    You also got baffled when people think that a post titled ‘Civility and the New Atheists’ is saying something about the civility of the new atheist’s piece referenced in the post. You keep on using that phrase…

  25. foolfodder

    @ 4. foolfodder Says:
    “Dear Intersection,
    Do you think you could respond to this?”

    Why?

    I thought that some of the points made in that post could actually move the debate forward.

  26. Paul

    I find it funny that Mooney is affronted when he feels someone misrepresented his point in the blogosphere, when he flat out misrepresented Richard Dawkins IN PRINT in his own book (on a point that Dawkins has been eminently clear about his views on in the past). Glass house indeed.

  27. You’re surprised anyone could read your book in a way that pins scientific illiteracy on scientists while in your Boston Globe op-ed you reiterate:

    Yet while scientific illiteracy is nothing to shrug at, the truth is that it’s only part of a broader problem for which scientists themselves must shoulder a significant portion of the responsibility.

    In the book, you spend a lot of time lamenting how scientists aren’t out there popularizing their disciplines and say that’s a big part of what’s causing a lapse in proper public education. But there are so many tools for popular science education out there, anyone could devote a few months of reading in their spare time and become well acquainted with their favorite topics. When your basic cable package includes no less than 12 popular science channels, bookstores are brimming with science books and magazines, and there are almost a hundred commercial pop sci networks out there overflowing with information, the lack of scientific education also rests in no small part on the public itself.

    When people choose to watch American Idol or 24 instead of learning whether the polar ice caps are melting or not, leaving the thinking to the politician trying out his best George Liquor impersonation, they have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the consequences. And pointing that out is what you quickly shy away from. I understand, you don’t want to offend your potential audience, but what happens is that you spend a lot of time being agreeable instead of pointing out all the facets of the problem. Ranting about atheists and pointy headed academics buried in their research is easier. It’s less controversial. And hey, you get to stick it to Myers because you don’t like him.

    Lastly, ignoring the culture war issue and the animosity towards science from the right that Chris outlined in The Republican War on Science, is both paradoxical and erroneous on your part. When religious zealots are working hard to dismantle evolution curricula across the nation because they find evolutionary biology personally offensive how do you expect people to have a good grounding in biology? When anti-science fanatics get to vote on what reality kids are being taught in school, you have to find that backbone again and address it. Even if they say bad things about you afterward and retaliate with all sorts of meaningless, intellectually lazy faux profundities.

  28. Peter Beattie

    And it’s interesting that you link to Fred Bortz’s review, adding that he seconds your view on “civil dialogue” with respect to PZ. To be fair, Fred more or less does say that. In one or two sentences. The main point of his post, which he goes on about for a couple of paragraphs, though, is this:

    That’s where my own review was heading had I decided to write it. I probably would have ended it with a sentiment similar to PZ’s closing: “I know Mooney has the ability to put together a solid story, as he showed in The Republican War on Science and Storm World — it’s too bad he chose to go the shallow and substanceless route in this book. I hope he does better in his next.”

    Again and again, you hide the fact that almost all reviewers of your book seem to agree that it’s pretty shallow and that specifics are rather thin on the ground. (See here and here for details.)

  29. Marcel Kincaid

    “we’re glad it has touched such a nerve in some quarters—to us, this underscores that its critique was much needed”

    And to rational people it underscores how full of crap you are and what anuses you are making of yourselves.

  30. Screechy Monkey

    A few weeks ago, Chris insisted in a comment on Coyne’s blog that “Of course we want to hear what you think. I’m betting your review will be balanced and fair.”

    Another commenter on that thread, CW, made the following astute prediction; “…and if it’s a negative review we’ll just discard it (and you) as biased and emotional and use it as an example of how the “new atheists” are nasty, cruel, offensive and should really just shut up and turn over all their speaking engagements and book contracts to me.”

    When “New Atheists” give UA a negative review, it’s dismissed as the product of their bias. When Chris and Sheril admit their strong dislike for PZ Myers, somehow that shouldn’t affect the credibility of their book.

    Then there’s the hypocrisy of whining about the civility of others when your own blog pulls no punches. Of telling other people how to speak, while complaining about bullying and patting yourselves on the back for how brave you are in standing up to the mean hordes who have dared to offer you criticism.

    Add to that your refusal to address legitimate points of criticism: we’re still waiting to hear your definition of “compatible,” unless you’re still pounding away at that straw man about people being able to practice religion and science.

    Throw in the dishonesty of misrepresenting the views of New Atheists (hey, at least Chris finally gets around to admitting that he misrepresented Dawkins’ views — of course, the admission takes place deep in a Daily Kos comment thread), pretending that the statements of commenters represent the views of the blogger (a standard under which Chris and Sheril would look far worse than PZ).

    So no, Chris and Sheril, I’m not going to buy your book. I don’t see why I should contribute a dime to liars and hypocrites.

  31. “For several months, Chris tried to engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne about the merits of “accommodationism.””

    Where, exactly, was that? Could you please link to the posts in which Chris did that? Because that is not at all how I remember it. The way I remember it is that Chris made some unsupported claims and some obscure suggestions (be more civil – but more civil than what? than to review books by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson for The New Republic? or what?) and then simply ignored all objections and questions. I remember it well, because I for one tried hard to get Chris to answer my questions on the subject, right here – and he wouldn’t do it. He never did it at Jerry Coyne’s blog, either. If he did it here, I missed it – so do please link to the posts where he “tried to engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne.”

  32. Paul

    We have a better suggestion: If you are interested in this matter, then read the book, read all the critics, and make up your own mind. Isn’t that what a freethinker, a practitioner of reason, would do?

    I don’t think Mooney gets the point of critics. The response to UA is almost universally negative. Even the fair and balanced, going out of their way to give the benefit of the doubt reviews imply that it’s sloppy and poorly argued. Add to that that the authors refuse to define some very basic terms that they use to build their argument (let alone provide any sort of evidence for their assertions), why would anyone want to buy it?

    The “it will make sense if you buy our book” is past comical now, especially since most of the criticism they get on their blog lately is regarding poorly written and factually incorrect newspaper, magazine, and blog articles which they refuse to support because “it’s in the book”.

  33. Jon

    PZ Myers uses the word “shallow” in an interesting way. I’ve heard him use that word a few times now. It’s as if questions of improving dialog between people were “shallow.” Get it straight, Chris. The only thing “deep” going on these days is the monologue coming from the New Atheists.

  34. Oh look, your hit counts must have dropped. Another Dvorak post about how mean people are to you.

    What, are you using Scoble/Winer/Arrington as your blog model, along with Dvorak? Whenever the hits go down, make sure to bring up new atheists, and then whine about how mean they are to you?

    Good job on turning into standard blogmonkeys. Make sure you twitter this too.

  35. “If you are interested in this matter, then read the book, read all the critics, and make up your own mind. Isn’t that what a freethinker, a practitioner of reason, would do?”

    No, not necessarily. Life is far too short to read every bad book just to make sure it’s bad, especially when there are so many good books to read instead. In this particular case there is a lot more to go on than the reviews – there are the blog posts and the articles, for instance. It is possible to get a robust sense of what your arguments, or rather, your assertions are like from the samples you give in articles. I have read the book, so I can confirm this. That of course is not to say that it makes sense to try to review the book without reading it – but it is to say that it’s reasonable to decide not to read it on the basis of reviews and your own samplings.

    “For our part, we believe the blog-based “New Atheist” reaction to the book simply reinforces Unscientific America’s critique.”

    And that’s where you go wrong. You’ve made up your minds in advance that your book’s critique is right, so firmly that you won’t pay attention to serious reasoned objections and questions, but instead simply lable them as ‘New Atheist’ and thus automatically wrong. Have you ever heard of confirmation bias? If not you should look into it – and think hard.

  36. TB

    @ 25. foolfodder

    Valid point. Sorry I misunderstood.

  37. Furthermore – though I have a comment in moderation already, and in any case it’s futile commenting here, since M & K ignore almost all comments – the post gets this wrong too -

    “He became concerned a few weeks back, though, after posting (along with a few supporting words) a video of Eugenie Scott talking about science-religion compatibility. Merely for posting this video, Coyne accused Chris of “dissembling” and “using authority arguments.” Scott was also accused of dissembling—simply for making an argument she believes in.”

    No. It was not ‘merely for posting this video’ – it was for merely posting this video without any actual argument and for doing so having ignored all the counter-arguments that had been offered by people who disagree. Read Jerry Coyne’s long and well argued post and you will see this.

    You (Chris and Sheril) have apparently decided that all ‘New Atheists’ are irrational and so committed to whatever it is you think we are committed to that nothing we say can be worth paying attention to. I’m sorry to say this (technically sorry: I realize it’s offensive) but that’s a very stupid mistake. You must be aware that at least some of the people who have been disagreeing with you have good minds and are using them. You ought to be aware that this means you are willfully ignoring a source of reasoned criticism and argument, for no obvious reason except that…well that you just don’t want to deal with it? That you’re not sharp enough to deal with it? That you’re afraid you’re not sharp enough to deal with it? That you’re afraid your critics are right, and that if you engage with them you will be forced to admit your book has a lot of weak claims in it? And you’re doing all this in public – where anyone who googles can see you at it.

    So you perhaps realize at some level that though the mainstream media seem to love you, your reputation among thoughtful people is crumbling.

    That’s sad – but it’s your own doing.

  38. Constant Mews

    @TB, who said, “I’m highlighting this because one of the purposes of a book like this is to start a conversation. So far, the conversation hasn’t been able to get past the arguments over the degree that one aspect might be more at fault than another.”

    Then by your own definition, the book has failed miserably. Are you quite sure you wish to bring this point up? The authors have managed to drive to almost an intractable level an animosity they decry in their work. If they feel that the New Atheists are a problem – without supply anything more than their personal animosity towards PZ Myers as a supporting evidence – then telling them to keep quite; refusing to engage any of the legitimate points in their criticisms; and essentially telling everyone that they refuse to comment on any of their own work strikes me as a fundamentally silly way to go about solving that problem.

  39. Jon

    The authors have managed to drive to almost an intractable level an animosity they decry in their work.

    An intemperate response from a criticized party is automatically the fault of the critic?

    without supply anything more than their personal animosity towards PZ Myers as a supporting evidence

    Right, “nothing more than their personal animosity” as evidence. Or, you could read their work.

  40. jake

    So (Chris and Sheril), you critisize the “new aethists” for being “unswervingly certain”, while at the same time repeatidly saying that all of the critiques “simply reinforce” your ideas.

    That’s something that someone who is “unswervingly certain” would say.

  41. Lotharloo

    “After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced ‘house’ (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the moral law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.”

    This is Collin’s view. So is it among the sophisticated theist positions which is compatible with science? How? If your answer is yes, do you dare to say that to neurologists who are working hard to understand consciousness?

  42. Jon

    If your answer is yes, do you dare to say that to neurologists who are working hard to understand consciousness?

    Interesting things happen (or don’t happen) when you start to look at the intersection of neurology and metaphysics:

    http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/08/22/is-this-anything-or-is-this-nothing/

  43. Constant Mews

    @Jon

    I have read their work; that’s the point. The various reviews (the majority of which I’ve now read) also focus on what appear to be the two key points:

    1. Lack of evidential support for their hypotheses

    2. Lack of clear suggestions for moving forward.

    I think TB’s characterization of the work as a polemic is quite accurate: Chris and Sheril have offered their OPINIONS on the subject of the poor public understanding of science in America. What they have failed to do is offer anything that will actively and intelligently change that particular dynamic. In addition, they have antagonized a section of the scientific community (albeit a small one) for personal reasons – as they themselves have admitted.

    Will the book sell and make the authors some money? Probably. Will is do ANYTHING to improve the situation that they rather incoherently describe? Not in the slightest.

  44. TB

    @ 38 Troll

    “Then by your own definition, the book has failed miserably. ”

    Uh, no. Just look at the responses that Chad Orzel has gotten on the conversation he started after reading the book: http://scienceblogs.com/principles/jobs/pnas/

    Hey, the real Constant Mews wants his name back!

  45. Jon

    I agree that they could have offered more in the way of case studies offering details of what has worked (although I didn’t get into the end notes, which could have info I’m missing…)

    There is nothing wrong with “opinions” offered by people who have experience and knowledge to support them. This is Chris’s beat for a number of years now. He’s actually what’s know as an “opinion journalist.” And Sheril has a doctorate in the sciences with experience on capital hill.

  46. Anthony McCarthy

    — @TB, who said, “I’m highlighting this because one of the purposes of a book like this is to start a conversation. So far, the conversation hasn’t been able to get past the arguments over the degree that one aspect might be more at fault than another.”
    Then by your own definition, the book has failed miserably. Constant Mews

    Anyone writing on the topics covered in the book, especially with the blog experience of these two authors would have known they were going to get side wacked by new atheists. And the are hardly the first people to have gotten attacked in that way. That reaction, predictable in both time and content, can’t serve as a crucial factor in the book’s success. I’m sure Chris Mooney wasn’t sitting up nights wondering about how Bush II loyalists were going to review War on Science either.

    I’ve read it once, I’m reading it again. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy it at Amazon so I can’t write a review for it there. I think it’s going to have a positive effect with those it was intended to influence, people more interested in promoting the public’s understanding of and support for science than in promoting an inessential ideological entertainment for bored blog readers.

  47. Anthony McCarthy

    — Whenever the hits go down, make sure to bring up new atheists, and then whine about how mean they are to you? John C. Welch

    What does your typical new atheist blog consist of? Whining that “faith heads” are being mean because they won’t vote for an atheist, etc….. Assertions of new atheists’ intellectual superiority and destiny to determine the glorious future, etc….. Cheap shots taken at their critics, etc……

    PZ seemed a bit startled when I challenged him to go all-science, all the time for a month to see how many of his fans stuck to him for what he is allegedly in it for, science. He came up with some lame excuse to not run the experiment. Maybe he thought his head would explode without his daily hate.

  48. Constant Mews

    @Jon, who said, “And Sheril has a doctorate in the sciences with experience on capital hill.”

    Actually Sheril has two masters degrees – not a doctorate. I fail to see why you bring up this point; it doesn’t seem relevant to the discussion.

    @TB, who said, ““Then by your own definition, the book has failed miserably. ”

    Uh, no. Just look at the responses that Chad Orzel has gotten on the conversation he started after reading the book: http://scienceblogs.com/principles/jobs/pnas/

    May I remind you of your own words on this thread?

    “I’m highlighting this because one of the purposes of a book like this is to start a conversation. So far, the conversation hasn’t been able to get past the arguments over the degree that one aspect might be more at fault than another”

    You admit that the conversation is going nowhere. Are you now claiming that you were in error in your earlier assertion? Do try to be consistent; it will make discussion much simpler for you.

  49. Paul

    PZ seemed a bit startled when I challenged him to go all-science, all the time for a month to see how many of his fans stuck to him for what he is allegedly in it for, science. He came up with some lame excuse to not run the experiment.

    Actually, the response was more “who the hell are you?” No excuse needed, bloggers can blog about whatever interests them (although it’s particularly sad when they choose to attack people without actually making a consistent and supportable argument out of it, see: the last couple weeks of The Intersection).

  50. TB

    45. Jon Says:
    “I agree that they could have offered more in the way of case studies offering details of what has worked (although I didn’t get into the end notes, which could have info I’m missing…)”

    The end notes have an awful lot of content. My biggest criticism is that content would have been better in the main portion of the book.

  51. Sven DiMilo

    Sheril has a doctorate in the sciences

    No, she does not.

    PZ seemed a bit startled when I challenged him to go all-science, all the time for a month to see how many of his fans stuck to him for what he is allegedly in it for, science.

    Who alleged that Myers is “in it” [blogging, presumably] exclusively “for science,” when, and where?

    I didn’t buy it at Amazon so I can’t write a review for it there.

    WTF not?

  52. Jon

    From her bio: Sheril holds two MS degrees in Marine Biology and Marine Policy

    I stand corrected. For some reason I got the idea she had done postdoc work.

    Who alleged that Myers is “in it” [blogging, presumably] exclusively “for science,” when, and where?

    Oh, come on. When he blogs he doesn’t stand on his prestige as a scientist?

  53. Skeptic

    C & S, even the reviewers on Amazon who gave the book favorable reviews seem to have problems with your portrayal of the New Atheists. Doesn’t that say something? Also, those reviewers don’t sound anything like New Atheists or extremists themselves and in fact have tried to be pretty fair and balanced.

  54. Constant Mews

    @Anthony McCarthy, who said, “What does your typical new atheist blog consist of? Whining that “faith heads” are being mean because they won’t vote for an atheist, etc….. Assertions of new atheists’ intellectual superiority and destiny to determine the glorious future, etc….. Cheap shots taken at their critics, etc……”

    I see that you’ve never read a “New Atheist” blog. Interesting.

  55. Sorbet

    McCarthy, for all your railings against PZ’s lack of science postings, have you seen his recent summary of the evolution of the Hedgehog signal transduction pathway published in PlOS One? Even Myers’s detractors would have to admit it’s exceptionally well-written, clear and succinct.

  56. Constant Mews

    @Jon, who said, “Who alleged that Myers is “in it” [blogging, presumably] exclusively “for science,” when, and where?

    Oh, come on. When he blogs he doesn’t stand on his prestige as a scientist?”

    Actually, no – he doesn’t. He blogs on the basis on his ability to coherently frame an argument, and his ability to teach, both of which he does reasonably well. I have problems with his content – much as I have problems with Dawkin’s content – but as a communicator he far outshines Chris and Sheril. And if you were to actually read his posts, you’ll find that he doesn’t “stand on his prestige as a scientist.”

  57. Jon

    Doesn’t that say something?

    That there are people who write on the intertubes that like to bash religion?

  58. Jon

    Actually, no – he doesn’t.

    Come on. If he was just a dude with a laptop?

  59. Screechy Monkey

    “Oh, come on. When he blogs he doesn’t stand on his prestige as a scientist?”

    Well, first of all, that’s a completely separate question from whether PZ claims to be “in it” exclusively “for science.” Sheril is entitled to blog about issues that don’t strictly relate to marine biology. Paul Krugman needn’t limit his blogging to economics issues. Phil Plait doesn’t just blog about astronomy. I don’t see the big deal: bloggers blog about whatever they want.

    Second, what does it even mean to “stand on his prestige as a scientist”? PZ’s bio, credentials, etc. are there on the site for whoever wants to look at them. If people want to give his blog posts more weight because of his “prestige as a scientist,” that’s their prerogative. Ditto if they want to discount his views because he’s a “mediocre” or “non-eminent” scientist. Personally, I figure that on questions of biology, PZ’s probably reliable, and if it’s really important to me, I can dig deeper on my own. On issues of religion, politics, etc., I don’t consider his status as a scientist to be terribly relevant one way or the other.

  60. Skeptic

    Are you even reading what I wrote are do you want to simply toss out platitudinous pablum? The point was that reasonable people who are not New Atheists and who don’t like to bash religion are also finding problems with the views about NAs expressed in the book.

  61. “The [new atheist] movement may also have the effect of making our society more, rather than less, polarized around science–of adding fuel to a longstanding and fruitless culture war with science trapped in the middle of it…We think these things are true.”

    “What we actually claim in Unscientific America is that longstanding habits of disengagement from the public, on the part of the scientific community, have contributed to the science-society gap that we now have. “

    Does not compute.

  62. Jon

    The point is, when PZ blogs, he does speak partly for science. Just like what Paul Krugman blogs reflects partly on the economics profession. If Krugman gave everyone drastically wrong ideas, you would wonder what’s going on with the economics profession. Maybe it would just be Krugman, but it could be an institutional problem too.

  63. Paul, PZ seemed to remember who I am. And if he didn’t know, I don’t care, he still chickened out of the experiment.

    —- No excuse needed, bloggers can blog about whatever interests them Paul

    I was just challenging how much of a “science blog” he ran and how many of his devoted fans were actually interested in science instead of their daily ration of hate.

    – I see that you’ve never read a “New Atheist” blog. Interesting. CM

    Oh, I think a few folks at Jim Lippards, Hemant’s, PZ’s, Pandagon, Jerry Coynes, Alonzo Fyte etc. will remember me either by my real name or the pseudonym I used to use. I’m sure Austin Cline will remember, I made sure he would after he lied about something I wrote.

  64. — McCarthy, for all your railings against PZ’s lack of science postings Sorbet

    The challenge was a test of his fans, not PZ. You seem to have some problems with reading comprehension, that’s something I’ve found is quite prevalent among new atheists. Or maybe it’s just a problem with reading what’s written when you don’t like it.

  65. Anthony,

    If someone has a blog about atheism, and that’s all they talk about, that’s not Dvoraking, nor pulling an Arrington. They’re doing their thing. Now, if in the middle of that consistent content, they suddenly post, for no real reason “MACS SUCK, MAC USERS ARE GHEY, SUCK IT”, and every so often, they pull something similar, that’s Dvoraking: You troll/flamebait to jack your hit count. If the flamebait works, and they get flamed, then whine about mean people, then they are pulling an arrington.

    There are, as best I can tell, two reasons to devote the separate chapters and space in the book and on this blog that M&K did to attacking New Atheists, and specifically PZ Meyers:

    1) They have a personal problem with PZ. THere is no doubt of this, they have admitted it. They blame PZ personally for driving them away from Scienceblogs, and they personally dislike him. That right there should have been reason enough to avoid mentioning or talking about PZ in the book and on this site, because they are not going to be able to set aside what seems to be their rather intense dislike of PZ. In that case, they should have used different examples, or avoided spending that much time on the topic at all. Their personal feelings heavily color their commentary on this issue, and make it impossible to not look like they did it just to take a very public shot at a man they don’t like.

    2) There is no better way, especially in the Science Blogging area, and publicizing Science period to draw attention to yourselves than by mentioning new atheists and PZ Myers. PZ is a polarizing personality, something he makes no apology for. M&K were not stupid to do this, as attention sells books, (ask Howard Stern), but they were crass to do so, especially since they were careful to present PZ and new atheists in the worst possible viewpoint they could. They were polite about it, but it was still a complete hatchet job. However, since they have a serious personal issue with PZ, this is not surprising.

    It would have been entirely possible to talk about possible problems that the New Athiests cause science education and popularity in an even-handed balanced fashion. M&K didn’t do this. They did it in a way that would attract the most possible attention, because they knew that the results would be increased sales for their books, and more blog traffic, and it would allow them to take a shot at a guy they don’t like.

    It’s not only Dvorakism, but it’s a cheap shot too.

    Their continued inability to keep pushing the New Athiest/PZ hotbutton in such a whining manner shows that this is still a personal vendetta that has the fortunate side effect of increasing their popularity. I’m glad it’s working for them, but it means that Unscientific AMerica is the only work by either that I shall ever read, unless it is clearly marked “Fiction”.

  66. Sorbet

    Just like your problems with understanding science. And what challenge?

  67. Jon

    And here’s more on PZ speaking for science. Paul said above “Actually, the response was more “who the hell are you?”

    In other words, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, he’s PZ Myers, Phd, and you’re not.

  68. Constant Mews

    @Jon, who said, “he point is, when PZ blogs, he does speak partly for science.”

    No, he does not. Why do you think so? Perhaps if you gave some specifics, we might understand your point better. As his blog title states, it’s not just about science.

    “Just like what Paul Krugman blogs reflects partly on the economics profession. If Krugman gave everyone drastically wrong ideas, you would wonder what’s going on with the economics profession. Maybe it would just be Krugman, but it could be an institutional problem too.”

    That’s because Krugman speaks to economic points. If Krugman chose to talk about the latest Hollywood scandal, he would not be doing so on his status as an economist.

    Just as Crackergate had nothing whatsoever to do with science; nor did Myers ever claim it did. For Chris and Sheril to imply otherwise is highly disingenuous, and in keeping with their fundamentally dishonest approach to the “New Atheists” exemplified by their book.

  69. TB

    @ 48. Troll Says:

    “You admit that the conversation is going nowhere. Are you now claiming that you were in error in your earlier assertion? ”

    Your words were “the book has failed miserably.” The link to Chad Orzel’s blog shows it hasn’t “failed miserably.” But, I would say here on the authors’ blog the conversation is difficult to get going because of all the trolls who keep coming by. That’s not a problem with the book, troll.

    “Do try to be consistent; it will make discussion much simpler for you.”

    Does the real Constant Mews know you’ve stolen his identity? Go away and get a life.

  70. Constant Mews

    @Anthony McCarthy, who said, “I was just challenging how much of a “science blog” he ran and how many of his devoted fans were actually interested in science instead of their daily ration of hate.”

    And the point was simple: Myers doesn’t value your opinions, your challenges, or your statements in the slightest. Since he feels that you are an intellectual lightweight with little of value to add to the discussion, why should he pay any attention to what you say?

    Do think rationally for a moment or two, won’t you?

  71. Constant Mews

    @Anthony McCarthy, who said, “Oh, I think a few folks at Jim Lippards, Hemant’s, PZ’s, Pandagon, Jerry Coynes, Alonzo Fyte etc. will remember me either by my real name or the pseudonym I used to use. I’m sure Austin Cline will remember, I made sure he would after he lied about something I wrote.”

    I see. You posted under a pseudonym so your statements can’t be checked, and you lied about being able to post on Myers blog.

    Your credibility has some cracks in it.

  72. John Kwok

    @ Jon -

    Not only does PZ want everyone to know that he’s a “scientist” but that he’s he Number One American buddy of Richard Dawkins. And he accuses me of name-dropping? Give me a break please.

  73. John Kwok

    @ Peter Beattie -

    As I noted to you earlier, weeks ago, how the Militant Atheists are affecting public understanding of science should be left to sociologists specializing in research on religion and science. But I am inclined to think that they’ve been up to no good.

  74. John Kwok

    @ Chris and Sheril -

    One of your most thoughtful comments on the “accomodationist” issue IMHO. Haven’t gotten to Chapter Eight yet.

  75. John Kwok

    Typo (@70) corrected now:

    @ Jon -
    Not only does PZ want everyone to know that he’s a “scientist” but that he’s the Number One American buddy of Richard Dawkins. And he accuses me of name-dropping? Give me a break please.

  76. Constant Mews

    @Anthony McCarthy, who said,

    “PZ seemed a bit startled when I challenged him to go all-science, all the time for a month to see how many of his fans stuck to him for what he is allegedly in it for, science. He came up with some lame excuse to not run the experiment. Maybe he thought his head would explode without his daily hate.”

    as well as,

    “The challenge was a test of his fans, not PZ. You seem to have some problems with reading comprehension, that’s something I’ve found is quite prevalent among new atheists. Or maybe it’s just a problem with reading what’s written when you don’t like it.”

    I suggest the problem is your inability to write coherent posts. Who was the challenge for, again?

  77. Constant Mews

    @Kwok, who said,

    “As I noted to you earlier, weeks ago, how the Militant Atheists are affecting public understanding of science should be left to sociologists specializing in research on religion and science. But I am inclined to think that they’ve been up to no good”

    And your opinion is valueless on this subject.

  78. John Kwok

    @ Constant Mews -

    Only to a delusional militant atheist supporter of PZ and Coyne’s is my “opinion valueless on this subject”. I hold the same opinions expressed by eminent figures like philosopher of science Philip Kitcher and historian of science Janet Browe; but mine were derived independently of them.

  79. Paul

    And here’s more on PZ speaking for science. Paul said above “Actually, the response was more “who the hell are you?”

    In other words, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, he’s PZ Myers, Phd, and you’re not.

    Jon, that was not what I was saying. The point is, why should a blogger accept a challenge from a random commenter on how they should choose what topics to post on for a month? If I come on here and challenge Chris and Sheril to post about only baseball for a month, does that mean I won’t look like a moron if I continuously heckle them for not “accepting my challenge”?

  80. TB

    @ 60. Skeptic Says:
    “The point was that reasonable people who are not New Atheists and who don’t like to bash religion are also finding problems with the views about NAs expressed in the book.”

    Look, I don’t begrudge people being angry that something they believe strongly in is being criticized.

    But not all reviews say that:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/07/unscientific-america-a-review/

    And those who have a “problem” with the views about NAs who aren’t NAs, the degree to which they have a problem seems quite a bit less than people who are posting comment posters. See James Hrynyshyn review for example.

    And still others don’t have a problem with that criticism, like Joshua Rosenau seems to over at Thoughts from Kansas.

    I get the authors’ point, I think it’s a valid one. It’s just criticism, not censorship.

  81. Constant Mews

    I’m sorry, Kwok, perhaps that was a bit harsh. But your opinion, like Chris and Sheril’s is not backed up by fact. Without evidence, you are merely airing a personal opinion, which is just as valid as my opinion that the “New Atheists” are a force for good in the ongoing dialogue between scientists and folks in the general public like you.

  82. Constant Mews

    @Kwok, who said,

    @ Jon -

    Not only does PZ want everyone to know that he’s a “scientist” but that he’s he Number One American buddy of Richard Dawkins. And he accuses me of name-dropping? Give me a break please.”

    Any evidence to back that up? And he doesn’t mention his ‘famous connection’ is every third post, like you seem to, Kwok. Simply because you’re a narcissist, doesn’t necessarily imply that everyone else is.

  83. Heraclides

    (Doing my usual practice of replying before reading other comments so that my comments stand independently.)

    We’re baffled anyone could read us this way. Then maybe you need to look at how you’re writing? (Not saying this is the case or not, but it’s one thing that perhaps should come to mind?)

    Reading on further I run into a “speaking of reading what you” moment. My response to seeing you write we see PZ Myers has decided to comment on us again, and misrepresents our arguments even more than does Coyne: “Their explanation for scientific illiteracy in America is simple: it’s the scientists’ fault for being so aloof and distant.” was to do an instant double-take and think, well didn’t you more-or-less say just that in the previous paragraphs?? Sure you list other things, but then you go on to emphasis—with italics—than scientists are a/the critical part of it. Could I suggest you try read what you write as others who don’t know your “internal dialogue” would? What ever you intent was, my own reading of those passages was that you were trying to have your cake and eat it to, so to speak.

    I don’t think you repeatedly casting “New Atheist” on people is wise or helpful. It is too easily used to dismiss what you don’t want to consider with what would then be a straw-man label. I wrote to this effect earlier and it’s a shame to see you continuing it. Like a lot of labels it’s too easily misused. I think you would be wiser to just deal with the observations made, without trying to place a label on the people making the observations.

  84. John Kwok

    @ Paul -

    Yours is a good point. But that’s funny. It hasn’t quite sunk in with Ophelia yet. She drops by and challenges Chris and Sheril to answer her “superb” questions.

  85. Sorbet

    “I hold the same opinions expressed by eminent figures like philosopher of science Philip Kitcher and historian of science Janet Browe; but mine were derived independently of them.”

    And I hold the same opinions expressed by eminent figures like philosopher of science Daniel Dennett, biologist Richard Dawkins and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne but mine were derived independently of them.

  86. Jon

    That’s because Krugman speaks to economic points. If Krugman chose to talk about the latest Hollywood scandal, he would not be doing so on his status as an economist.

    Actually, if you read his book *Conscience of a Liberal*, Krugman makes plenty of points that are historical, sociological, and political–not his area of expertise. But of course the fact that he’s a successful economist makes people listen. This is natural. Prestige in one area tends to carry into another. But it’s not his area of expertise, and it could leave him vulnerable (this link is to a critique I don’t feel qualified to assess, because I’m not a historian, sociologist etc., but I don’t defer to Krugman on this matter, because he’s not a historian, etc.)

  87. ” Robert Grumbine Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 10:09 am
    You (two) write article after article on your blog and on others talking about how the problem is scientists’ responsibility, scientists are part of the problem, scientists are off in their ivory towers, scientists refuse to talk to ordinary people, scientists are terrible communicators, and so on … and you’re surprised that people read you as negative about scientists?”

    We should be grateful to the two authors for stepping into this role, for performing the duty of calling out the scientists and taking the flak and receiving the criticism for doing so, all serving to further elucidate the problem itself.

    –Naomi

  88. Paul

    Yours is a good point. But that’s funny. It hasn’t quite sunk in with Ophelia yet. She drops by and challenges Chris and Sheril to answer her “superb” questions.

    And they’re perfectly within their rights to ignore criticism. It does seem a bit silly to declare your book worth reading when you can’t even answer questions with regards to whether your claims are evidenced or just pulled from your gut, though.

  89. Kwok – no, your claim is off-base, because I am not (to quote Paul) “a random commenter.” You are, but I’m not. For one thing, Chris sent me a copy of the book; that implies that he thought my view would have some weight, or at least some influence. (He also sent me copies of his two previous books, which I think highly of.)

    And I don’t know what the quotation marks are doing on “superb”; I’ve certainly never called my questions that. I’ve called them reasonable, but not superb, nor yet glorious, nor effulgent, nor divine, nor any other silly self-admiring adjective.

    Finally: don’t forget all those comments of yours that got deleted last week. No more libels. Watch your mouth.

  90. J. J. Ramsey

    Ophelia Benson: “Life is far too short to read every bad book just to make sure it’s bad, especially when there are so many good books to read instead.”

    Funny that you should say that. :P

    Ophelia Benson: “I remember it well, because I for one tried hard to get Chris to answer my questions on the subject, right here – and he wouldn’t do it.”

    Maybe he found the questions insultingly patronizing and decided that he didn’t owe you jack.

    Seriously though, while some questions are fair, others are loaded. Take this question: “How do you know overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science?” The implication is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum simply claim that atheism itself breeds hostility to science, when the claim was that it was the association of atheism with science that led to rejection, and you already know from the Pew survey–which M&K discuss–what happens when people perceive a conflict between science and their faith.

  91. “And they’re perfectly within their rights to ignore criticism.”

    Sure, but of course that isn’t really the point. It’s especially not really the point when they keep reiterating their original claims when those claims have been the object of salient challenges from people who are not just passers-by. It’s especially especially the point when they claim that Chris “tried to engage in a civil debate with Dr. Coyne.” There they’re not even really within their rights, because that’s just false (and a smear of Dr Coyne besides). You don’t get to ignore all counter-claims and claim that you tried to engage in a civil debate. Debate means answering, not just saying stuff and then saying it again.

  92. J. Stapleton

    This rant against “new atheism” is as empty as your book. I am not an atheist, but I’ve been doing science for 30+ years. There is really nothing remarkable in your book. I would agree with PZ Myers (whom I dislike on other grounds) that any significant content in the book could be summed up in a two page op-ed.

    I have no idea why you keep insisting that there is some deeper point you’ve made aside from the trivial ones already mentioned in various blogs. Is it just that you want to sell more copies of your book (which is perfectly acceptable as a motive), or that you have failed to communicate this deeper wisdom in a way that scientists can appreciate it. A bit ironic for a book that criticizes scientists for not communicating well and not communicating enough.

  93. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia -

    I’m not a “random commentator” either. Chris also sent me a copy of the book, but I never got it. Anyway, I haven’t commented much lately due to McCourt’s death last Sunday; I am still in mourning.

  94. TB

    @ 91. J. J. Ramsey Says:

    “Maybe he found the questions insultingly patronizing and decided that he didn’t owe you jack.”

    I wish I’d said that.

  95. Paul

    @Ophelia

    They’re quite within their rights to slime reviewers, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not touching UA with a ten foot pole with the way things appear now. They’re deflecting any criticism by smearing “New Atheists” instead of engaging with their arguments, while approving of reviews that make the same complaints as the victims of the smears (they just don’t quote the parts that make the same arguments the NA’s do). And they still have the nerve to act like they’re fighting for science and are the ones being polite. It’s sickening. However, short of actionable libel that just makes them jerks, and it’s their every right to be jerks. Just like it’s everyone else’s to tell people not to waste their money on a super-sized blog post.

    I tend to drop into a more legalese way of speaking when replying to Kwok, since intellectual honesty means nothing to him. The only way to get any sort of response is to break it down to really basic true/false type claims and leave out any sorts of value judgments. Value judgments leave too much wiggle room and room to bust into ad-homs and name dropping.

  96. Paul

    Oh, and Kwok: just because most of your comments got deleted doesn’t mean you can claim you didn’t comment much. Hell, you commented about an hour after claiming you were actually leaving to go to a memorial.

  97. Chris, I’m “lovin” all the “scare quotes” around “New Atheists. “Nothing spells “classy” like not making any “attempt” “whatsoever” to use a “less condescending” term to “describe” your “critics,” an approach seemingly “antithetical” to your own “position” of a “less” “confrontational” approach “involving” less “ridicule.” How “dare” us “New” “Atheists” have the “audacity” to challenge your “position” in your “book” without “even” reading “it”, even though you’re “presumably” arguing the “very” same “position” on this very “blog” “?”

  98. TB

    @ 89.   Paul Says:
    “”Yours is a good point. But that’s funny. It hasn’t quite sunk in with Ophelia yet. She drops by and challenges Chris and Sheril to answer her “superb” questions.”
    And they’re perfectly within their rights to ignore criticism. It does seem a bit silly to declare your book worth reading when you can’t even answer questions with regards to whether your claims are evidenced or just pulled from your gut, though”

    Except they’re not just “pulling from their gut,” they’ve included extensive endnotes that reference other articles and other opinions that support their conclusions.
    You’d know that if you read the book, but you haven’t.
    Instead you decided to become one of the tiny army of trolls that show up and disrupt their blog. Ophelia is the worst of the trolls – having read the book she’s taken affront to the idea that anyone might have a different opinion of the value of the course of action the NAs have taken. So she screams there’s no evidence when there is, and you take her word for it without checking yourself to see if it’s true.
    There’s no criticism to answer when you get attacks like this. I challenge you: Go read this post again and look at what Coyne and PZ are quoted as having written. You, of course, can’t know the real truth because you haven’t read the book, but consider this if what Chris says is accurate: Would you put up that kind of distortion by Coyne and PZ’s distortions if they were creationists?

  99. Skeptic

    100th comment

  100. TB

    That should have read: “Would you put up with that kind of distortion by Coyne and PZ’s if they were creationists?”

  101. – I see. You posted under a pseudonym so your statements can’t be checked, and you lied about being able to post on Myers blog. Your credibility has some cracks in it.
    Constant Mews

    I hope you appreciate that I find your statement ironic, Constant Mews . I used a pseudonym on the blogs for several years before deciding to start using my real name last year. I made a lot of my comments on new atheist blogs before then, having concluded they were a repetitious waste of my time since then.

    — I suggest the problem is your inability to write coherent posts. Who was the challenge for, again? Constant Mews

    I specifically proposed that PZ post exclusively on scientific topics for a month, dropping what is clearly his claim to fame, his slamming of religious people and religion, as a test of the real nature of his blog. I predicted he’d loose from 3/4ths to 7/8ths of his readers by the end of the month. He specifically rejected the idea, I hold because he’s afraid that might be true. It would have been interesting, if that was the result, to see how fast they would return once news got out that “PZ is back!”. It was a proposed experiment. It could have been interesting. You’d think a scientist would like to make a test of his credibility once in a while. Apparently, PZ isn’t too big on subjecting that to review anymore than he is testing it.

    Now, is if you have anything else to say about me, since I’m not the topic of this thread, why don’t you take it to my blog.

  102. — Does the real Constant Mews know you’ve stolen his identity? Go away and get a life. TB

    Namestealing is so hard to keep track of. I don’t know which “Constant Mews” it was who made the comments I answered, if it was a name stealer, they’re the one I was addressing. If it was a name stealer, stealing someone else’s pseudonym makes the irony more intense.

    — I don’t think you repeatedly casting “New Atheist” on people is wise or helpful. It is too easily used to dismiss what you don’t want to consider with what would then be a straw-man label. Heraclides

    Until high profile new atheists have all publicly renounced its use I don’t see how you can fault us for using it. Their using it very clearly means it isn’t a “straw man”. And it is wise and helpful to make a distinction between what they say and what other atheists say. I’m not going to attribute the various dishonest, unjust and false holdings and presumptions of the new atheists to atheists who aren’t guilty of them.

    If normal, honest atheists want to come up with a term to distinguish themselves from the new atheists I’d consider using that. But it would have to be as clear a distinction for that intention before it would be worth making the switch. For which we’ll then be accused of dishonesty, inconsistency, bigotry, etc. by the new atheists. It’s what they do.

  103. TB

    When Ophelia Benson claims through her “questions” that Chris and Sheril have no evidence she is not telling the truth. It’s one thing for people who haven’t read the book to assert this – she has the book.
    So let me say that again and more emphatically: She is lying.

    Here is the question from her own site: “How do you know overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science? How does that work? What is your evidence?”

    From page 173 to page 185 there are detailed endnotes with citations to back up the assertions in Chapter 8. Not just notations, but full discussion in some cases of what the work referenced says. There are references to books such as those written by Ken Miller, Sam Harris, John Hedley Brooke, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, Robert T. Pennock and Stephen J. Gould. Quotes by Eugenie Scott, Pennock, Miller, John Haught, Matt Cartmill and Sen. Sam Brownback. There are passeges from the testimony of the Dover trial, and a quote from the judge’s opinion. There are references to articles regarding science education by William W. Cobern and Shawn K. Stover. And that’s not even everything.

    It’s one thing to disagree with the premises the authors put forward. That’s fine – you’ve provided links to reasonable reviews that do disagree with parts of your book.

    Benson doesn’t just disagree. She lies and asserts that they have nothing to back up their assertions.

    If anything, this entire blogwar has made Chapter 8 more necessary, IMHO. The authors don’t misrepresent what the NAs say or do, they shine a harsh light on the line the sand the NAs have drawn. You don’t like the criticism? You don’t agree with it? Fine. Lie about what they say to discredit them? That’s reprehensible.

    Benson is a troll – she’s added nothing to the conversation and deliberately misleads people about the content of the book. She has her own site to do that on – ban her here. She is a guest and has grossly abused the privileges of a guest. You owe her and the rest of the trolls nothing except contempt (which, to your credit, you have not chosen to employ.)

    I want to read and maybe participate in a reasonable discussion about the content of the other chapters – chapter 5 for instance. Please, start a thread on something like that and kick out anyone who can’t stay on topic.

  104. I looked at Ophelia’s book in the bookstore, on the remainders table. She’s not a credible critic of a far better supported book.

    I’d like to take the time to compare what’s being said about Unscientific America by the new atheists and those well known reviews of The God Delusion. My guess is that the new atheists wouldn’t be convinced by those that Dawkins’ book was shoddily supported (which I think any objective reviewer would agree since he doesn’t even engage his proposed subject seriously) but I also think an objective reviewer would know that O. Benson’s charge of it being unsupported is false for exactly the reasons that TB documents. They supported what they said.

  105. Sven DiMilo

    she screams there’s no evidence when there is, and you take her word for it without checking yourself to see if it’s true.

    there are detailed endnotes with citations to back up the assertions in Chapter 8

    Please, then, for the benefit of those of us without a copy of the book at hand (like John Kwok, I never got mine): Please share just one piece of evidence that the people smeared with the “New Atheist” rubric are, by criticizing religious belief, turning people away from understanding science. Not a quote expressing somebody else’s opinion that that is the case, but evidence. It won’t ruin the book if you share just one piece. An example of all those fine endnotes. Thanks.

  106. TB

    Another troll. Why do I say that? Here’s why:

    1) I don’t have to do jack for you. You’re demanding evidence and you haven’t even read the book! Why should I take any time for you when you haven’t shown any interest in finding out for yourself.

    2) Look at how you try to discount testimony related by authoritative sources about their experience, trying to define it away as not evidence. Some of those authoritative sources testified and were given expert witness status by the court of law in the Dover trial. And some of the citations, as I said, point to the trial transcripts – one being the judge’s opinion in the Dover trial. Shall we overturn that court’s opinion just for you and your definition of evidence?

    3) No level of evidence will be enough for you anyway! Why do we need to go to a Catholic Church and do a scientific survey on whether they consider an atheist scientist who has desecrated a communion wafer to be someone they would find credible on issues regarding science and their religion? Myers probably doesn’t care (and frankly the wafer incident isn’t what turned me off him either). So why should anyone waste time coming up with a completely unnecessary level of proof?

    I’ve said it before: If you’re bothered by the criticism and don’t like it, that’s fine. Say it – I respect that opinion. But to say there’s no evidence when there’s plenty cited – some of it available on the internet for free – doesn’t give you any credibility. And posting that same baseless assertion over and over again doesn’t either.

  107. Observer

    TB,

    I second Sven De Milo’s request for you show how at least one of those references supports the assertion that overt atheism causes people to he hostile to science. I don’t have the book, and I’m not likely to get it because your claim that the authors don’t misrepresent the NA’s is preposterous. The authors have so frequently misrepresented their critics in this very blog that I’m inclined to doubt the veracity of most of their work in general. You have the opportunity to convince me I’m wrong.

  108. Martha

    I imagine the evidence for “the assertion that overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science” will be found in the same place as the evidence that, if only there were no religion, there would be no wars or conflicts, and all people would live in a happy rainbow land of fluffy clouds and butterflies. Does Professor Myers, for instance, imagine that the American Civil War was a war of religion? That, had everyone in the conflict only been converted to atheism, there would have been no bloodshed? Granted, one can push the point that religion started it, since many of the abolitionists were religiously-motivated, but does anyone seriously propose that religion alone caused and perpetuated that war?

    Part of the problem relating to science communication is when scientists start pontificating on matters outside their field of expertise. Excellence as a scientist does not confer excellence in all matters on them, and their opinion (on matters of ethics, philosophy, politics or social development) is no more or less authoritative than that of any other lay person.

    One may be noteworthy as a physicist, and still be no more entitled to give an authoritative explanation on a historical matter than the man in the street. Training as a physicist, biologist, or chemist does not mean that Professor X is any more knowledgeable or believeable than Mr or Ms Y when it comes to ‘how should we raise our children’, ‘what constitutes a just society’, ‘how do we develop an equitable economic system’, or even ‘methods of voting – first past the post, or proportional representation’?

    Using the cachet of “I’m a scientist” to shed the tinsel lustre of false authority on one’s pronouncements as to how the riff-raff should be governed (and they had better like it!) is one of the reasons science suffers an image problem.

  109. Observer

    TB,

    re your point #3, I don’t think that addresses the question that Opheila and Sven were asking. It’s not at all hard to see that PZ’s actions would turn Catholics against PZ, or even against overtly Atheist scientists. The more fundamental issue is whether overtly Atheist scientists turn people away from Science. Ophelia and others appear to be claiming that UA makes that assertion. Does it? Many of the postings on this blog would lead me to believe that it does, and if such is the case, that would seem to me to me to be a pretty bold assertion requiring substantial support.

  110. TB

    “The authors have so frequently misrepresented their critics in this very blog”
    I don’t think so. You’re mileage may vary but so what? I’ll turn it around: There have been plenty of chances to convince me and they’ve failed. Look at the two quotes above by Coyne and Myers. Ophelia the troll had her chance – I checked out her claim and found it false. Now, it would be fine if she disagreed with the evidence, but that’s not what she did.

    And you demand evidence when you haven’t even taken the time to read the book? You make demands on me while claiming they misrepresented NAs? You’re a fan – it’s a waste of time to argue with a fan – you didn’t even bother to go find out on your own what they say in the book and how they back it up. And then you make demands? Why should any reasonable person find any kind of demand from such a troll as you credible? Why should I do your work for you? And why should I believe you’d be even open to reasonable arguements?

    What a classic troll strategy of moving goalposts. “There is no evidence!” Yes there is, it’s right there in the extensive end notes. I even described them, named quite a few names and pointed to one thing freely available on the Internet. “I don’t believe you, I want you to put right here in these comments!” or “That doesn’t match my own personal, obscure and legally laughable definition of evidence!”

    And on and on and on. Because that’s what fans and trolls do. It’d be nice if you went and did it somewhere else.

  111. Maybe the authors are guilty of armchair social psychology, but isn’t their armchair theorizing awfully plausible? Let’s see, someone both bashes religion and puts forth controversial scientific ideas. Might the religion-bashing alienate people and put them off the scientific ideas? Duh. Given how sensible this hypothesis is, it’s completely bewildering to me why it upsets people so much. How can it be that the authors of this book should be turned into pariahs for saying something that, though lacking empirical support, has such a high degree of plausibility? There’s massive quantities of armchair social psychology in all the books of the new atheists. I don’t see anybody doing meticulous scientific research to show that specific religious ideas cause bad behavior. These things are surmised by all the “new atheists.” Then they turn around and attack their critics for doing just the same sort of surmising!

  112. Great. My comment is awaiting moderation. I get accused of telling falsehoods, but in stronger langauge than that – and my reply is stuck in moderation.

    This blog is such a slum.

  113. Ophelia, Well, that makes two of us. Maybe our comments can talk to each other while in moderation. Jean

  114. Yo Jean.

    Interesting place, isn’t it – wild accusations of lying get through while the defense is gagged. I think I’ll change my name to Bobby Seale.

  115. Possibly if you write your comment in 2-3 sentence chunks it will get through. On this blog, it seems that size matters. It is all frustrating and I should probably find better things to do.

  116. overburden

    You both share a ‘pop culture’ mindset.
    If it isn’t available in some form/forum via the electric highway – internet and television – somebody isn’t doing their part. That’s true to a great degree, but isn’t the case regarding scientific information. There is a plethora of richly educational media available, but few care to seek it. Why is it that science is simply unpopular? It isn’t science’s fault, nor does it have anything to do with the activities of the vociferous, freethinking academe. You see, they are educated enough to reason – that’s the difference. Your audience isn’t listening, most of them can’t read. It’s all about what your ‘Unscientific America’ is looking for – it ain’t science.
    Yes, someone is shirking responsibility, look at our education system and you need go no further. Check out the curriculum of K-12 and tell us all what you find. Do some real digging and share with us what dullards our children become after they’re wrung out in this nation’s pathetic school system. Only the fortunate have access to an ‘education’ the bulk of Americans are simply certified and stupid.
    Most Americans sit in front of their ‘education’ two to six hours a day – and they aren’t watching ‘biology for beginners’. Get real, get your hands dirty and pick on someone deserving your passive aggression.
    How you can be so ‘dismayed’ by much of the response of noted professionals shows your naivety and innocence, and should help you reconsider your directives. you could do so much if you dig at the root, and fore go any ‘in the wind’ activity.
    The title intrigued me, the content beleaguered me.
    You need to direct your energies where they will do some good, unnerve the ignoramuses at the helm of our education system taking into full consideration the religious ‘realities’ of our day – then write about ‘unscience’.

  117. “TB”

    “From page 173 to page 185 there are detailed endnotes with citations to back up the assertions in Chapter 8.”

    I’ve just gone through them again. There are citations and some attempts at argument, but they don’t back up all the assertions in chapter 8. In particular they don’t back up the one I asked about in the question you quote. I didn’t ask ‘how do you know science and religion are compatible?’ As you point out, I asked How do you know overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science? How does that work? What is your evidence?’ The citations and attempts at argument in the endnotes don’t back up that assertion. It looks to me as if M and K think that assertion is so self-evidently true that they didn’t need to back it up – in other words that it never occurred to them to back it up because it never occurred to them that it was an assertion. They appear to think it’s just an obvious fact.

    To repeat the main point of my comment that is stuck in moderation, slightly re-worded in hopes of getting through the filter -

    It’s libelous to say that people are [telling falsehoods] when they’re not. I’m not [telling falsehoods].

    You (“TB”) of course used the stronger, and more libelous, word. You’re the second person in the past week to accuse me of that on M&K’s blog. This is bad behavior.

  118. J. J. Ramsey

    Ophelia Benson: “My comment is awaiting moderation.”

    One of my comments had been awaiting moderation as well. I doubt that it is a ideological thing, especially since some of your more caustic comments has gotten through before. I suggest that you not be so quick to make insinuations of censorship.

  119. Sven DiMilo

    yay, I’m a “troll”!

    I don’t have to do jack for you.

    Indeed not.

    You’re demanding evidence and you haven’t even read the book!

    Actually, I asked politely. I don’t have the book. You made the claim that there was evidence in the endnotes. I asked for a single example.

    Some of those authoritative sources testified and were given expert witness status by the court of law in the Dover trial. And some of the citations, as I said, point to the trial transcripts – one being the judge’s opinion in the Dover trial.

    I’ve read the Dover transcripts, and I don’t recall anybody testifying that vocal atheists are driving people away from science (the topic under discussion).

    No level of evidence will be enough for you anyway!

    Aw. Try me.

    Why do we need to go to a Catholic Church and do a scientific survey on whether they consider an atheist scientist who has desecrated a communion wafer to be someone they would find credible on issues regarding science and their religion?

    We don’t. Catholic opinions of P.Z. Myers’ credibility are not what we’re talking about. Did his actions turn any Catholics off to science in general?

    But to say there’s no evidence when there’s plenty cited – some of it available on the internet for free – doesn’t give you any credibility. And posting that same baseless assertion over and over again doesn’t either.

    I am not asserting anything; not a damn thing. Mooney and Kirshenbaum made the assertions, and I (and others) are simply asking them how they know. They don’t seem to be willing and/or able to answer that reasonable question.
    And you aren’t either–you could have saved a lot of time by picking up your copy of the book and citing an example–one!–of the evidence offered to support their claims.

  120. J J Ramsey – yes, yes – I know it’s not literal censorship. But I think M&K should take more trouble about this, because whatever kind of filtering it is, the outcome is that the false and libelous accusation of lying is out there while my rebuttal is not.

    I suggest that you try to focus on someone else for awhile. Your obsession with me is unhealthy.

  121. TB

    Feel free to rant – I will not reply. I’ve made up my mind and am moving on.

  122. tomh

    TB wrote: “I’ve made up my mind and am moving on.”

    In other words, I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with facts.

  123. J. J. Ramsey

    Ophelia Benson: “Your obsession with me is unhealthy.”

    Obsession? Okaaaay. Yes, we had a few rounds of SIWOTI syndrome not too long ago, but that has more to do with our egos and the subject matter at hand than anything personal.

  124. Oh, for crying out loud, Ophelia, stop chewing the scenery. I don’t remember them moderating comments until you started accusing people of libeling you. Maybe that’s why they figured they should. It’s their blog, just be glad they don’t put people in a “Dungeon” so as to hold them up to ridicule like your hero does.

    – TB wrote: “I’ve made up my mind and am moving on.” In other words, I’ve made up my mind, don’t confuse me with facts. tomh

    What part of, 3) No level of evidence will be enough for you anyway! don’t you understand. If TB doesn’t want to keep going round in circles with you, he’s given more than ample reason for his decision.

  125. Prime facie evidence is a nice place to begin.

    I have a long comment examining their evidence (post 116 on my computer; currently in moderation). Spoiler alert: there is evidence given in support of compatibility rhetoric in certain contexts, in the awkward hidden endnotes for chapter 8. This is at least the beginning of a substantive and intelligent discussion, as I’m sure all hands can agree.

    I think this evidence is insufficient, shallow, and controversial. But it’s there, and it’s a start.

  126. Paul

    Ophelia, looks like your post that was held up in moderation was not let through. Care to turn it into a blog post, or was it just an offhand comment?

  127. It looks as though my comprehensive review of chapter 8, at the behest of TB (and targeted to answer a critique of Sven et al), was rejected from the moderation queue. I hope this is just a mistake.

  128. John Kwok

    @ Paul (@ 97) -

    Thanks for keeping track of my time. I headed off to the private wake for McCourt soon after I had posted my last comment here.

  129. I would like to answer some of the nonsense aimed at me, but the ‘moderation’ isn’t allowing me to.

  130. I’d like to answer questions about the contents of Unscientific America, but moderation isn’t allowing me to. Also, I just observed that a post in another thread disappeared. Does anyone know what’s going on? Is the server hiccuping?

  131. Hmm. There are some comments let out of moderation – so I take it that means Mooney or Kirshenbaum has done some housekeeping? If so, that means M/K has left the post saying I’m lying in place – ignoring my email message asking them to delete it. M/K has also blocked two posts of mine – saying I am not lying, and replying to the specific claim that TB made. In other words it’s a substantive comment – and they don’t see fit to allow me to make it, while they do see fit to allow people to say I’m lying.

    M/K – if this is how it is – well, that’s just over the line.

  132. I’d be especially disturbed if that turned out to be the case. I spent an hour or so going over chapter 8 of the book, giving it a fair shake, in reply to requests from TB and others. It evaporated.

    I’m getting that same sinking feeling I initially got not too long ago when my post went missing from Coyne’s blog.

  133. John Kwok

    Ophelia -

    Download Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” and play it again and again. They’ve been blocking my comments too. Hey, how about Pharyngula, since that’s your new home, right?

  134. Oh for crying out loud. I’ve got some comments in moderation too, stop bawling about it. I got a long one rejected this morning. If they didn’t like what you wrote they’ve got every right to reject it.

    You don’t post comments here as a right, you post them with the permission of the owners. Take it like an adult.

  135. John Kwok

    @ J. J. Ramsay -

    OB mocks my favorite high school teacher, Frank McCourt, as he is dying over at Pharyngula. She has no sense of shame, period.

  136. John Kwok

    @ Anthony -

    You don’t understand. She’s a MA “Editor”. They must always post each and every one of her comments.

  137. Paul

    OB mocks my favorite high school teacher, Frank McCourt, as he is dying over at Pharyngula. She has no sense of shame, period.

    Once again, she was mocking your habit of name-dropping him. There was no ill spoken of Frank McCourt. Quit acting like a child. Have you no sense of shame? Just because several comment threads where your lies were exposed were deleted does not mean they are not recognised as such.

  138. Ben – exactly. I too went over chapter 8 again – I went through the end notes and did a substantive reply to TB – pointing out that the citations are for the claim that science and religion are compatible, but not for the claim that overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science. My question was about the latter, not the former, so TB’s claim missed the point. Ho hum.

    A. McC. – Ordinarily, yes, of course they can reject posts if they want to. But posts rebutting a false charge of lying? No. That’s immoral.

  139. John Kwok

    @ Paul (@ 137) -

    Regardless of the reason it was in VERY POOR TASTE for her to do it, having heard that he was dying. Don’t defend her indefensible behavior. And yes, jerk, I DID ATTEND a private wake for McCourt last Thursday.

  140. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia -

    You have no business whining about Chris and Sheril since you indulge in inconsiderate, and quite insensitive behavior.

  141. Observer

    TB,

    As with Sven, I did not demand anything. I requested an example to assist me in determining whether I would buy the book. I don’t deny being a reader of various blogs by people who are being labeled here as “new atheists.” So what? None of that changes the fact that you have failed to address the subtance of my (actually Ophelia’s) question. Obviously you have no obligation to answer it, but it should be a simple matter for you to tell me whether the book addresses it.

  142. Ophelia, the darnedest thing about this is that I looked over the endnotes and came to a slightly more charitable conclusion. I think that their views presented on 181-183, in defense of the compatibilist rhetoric, count as evidence against the effectiveness of incompabilist rhetoric… albeit, only prime facie evidence. Yet my remarks were seemingly incinerated.

  143. Observer

    Martha,

    A great deal of what you posted in (what is currently) #109 makes sense. The one problem with your post is that Myers has never asserted anything like what you describe. Nor for that matter has Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, or Harris. It’s a common misrepresentation of the so-called “New Atheists” that they claim that the world would be some sort of Utopia without religion, but they don’t claim anything of the sort.

  144. Kwok, I’m not whining, I’m saying they’re behaving badly – unless this really is a glitch and not their doing.

    You’re the one who had a slew of comments deleted, you know, not I. Up to now I’ve never had any posts deleted, so I should probably give M and K the benefit of the doubt for awhile longer. Sheril did delete all the comments in which you called me a liar, so I don’t know why the rules would be different for TB.

  145. Well that seems like a cruel blow of fate, Ben!

    :- )

  146. Paul

    Regardless of the reason it was in VERY POOR TASTE for her to do it, having heard that he was dying. Don’t defend her indefensible behavior.

    I am not defending her behavior. I am calling a liar a liar. If you stopped lying, I’d stop responding to you (long ago I came to the conclusion that your viewpoints are set, so it’s not like I will try to convince you to change your perspective or point of view on anything).

  147. John Kwok

    @ Paul -

    You’re merely proving my point how ridiculous, how inconsiderate, and how inane, you, OB and the rest of your ilk are.

  148. John Kwok

    @ Ophelia -

    Download Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, “Hot N Cold” and “Waking Up in Vegas”, take two aspirin and I’ll “talk” to you tomorrow.

  149. Paul

    You’re merely proving my point how ridiculous, how inconsiderate, and how inane, you, OB and the rest of your ilk are.

    I consider lying (especially when you’ve been called on the same lie in the past on the same site) to be much more ridiculous, inconsiderate, inane, and I don’t mind adding childish than calling someone out when they lie. I suppose tastes may differ, although I don’t think you’ll find much sympathy on this point.

  150. — A. McC. – Ordinarily, yes, of course they can reject posts if they want to. But posts rebutting a false charge of lying? No. That’s immoral. O. Benson

    It’s their house, they set the rules. Have you tried a paraphrase?

  151. Anthony, the trivialization of debate and censorship of reasonable dissenting opinion is the essence of anti-intellectualism. Sure, folks have sovereignty over their kingdoms. But it is the norms that govern those communities are what contribute to, or detract from, the spirit of anti-intellectualism.

  152. J. J. Ramsey

    Ophelia Benson:

    Ben – exactly. I too went over chapter 8 again – I went through the end notes and did a substantive reply to TB – pointing out that the citations are for the claim that science and religion are compatible, but not for the claim that overt atheism causes people to be hostile to science.

    It’s pretty clear that in Chapter 8, M&K are discussing overt atheism that is linked to science, not just overt atheism, period. Even when discussing Crackergate, it is pointed out that PZ Myers isn’t doing his thing on any old blog, but on one of Seed’s ScienceBlogs.

    Ophelia Benson:

    Hmm. There are some comments let out of moderation – so I take it that means Mooney or Kirshenbaum has done some housekeeping?

    How do you know that they were let out of moderation rather than just not in moderation to begin with? Not all of the posts are immediately trapped in moderation.

  153. J.J., if you qualify that claim any more and soon you’ll be saying “hostility from atheist science bloggers causes people to be hostile to atheist science bloggers”. Which would be partly correct, and partly missing the point, since it certainly breaks down the status quo of disengagement.

    This magnificent point, and more, could be found in the post that has now gone the way of Adlai Stephenson. Moderated post #116, I will miss you.

    Also, I can’t speak for Ophelia, but I know my post was in moderation because it said “your comment is in moderation”.

  154. Paul

    I’ll elaborate slightly on what Benjamin said about posts that are in moderation.

    Several posts that are now present in the thread were not present when the ones after them were posted (for instance, one by Jean Kazez). They were subsequently inserted in the thread, shifting the post count for subsequent posts that didn’t go to moderation. That’s how it’s possible to know that several posts went from “in moderation” to actually appearing in the thread, and the fact that some did not appear even though they were present when that backlog of “in moderation” comments were dealt with shows that they were not approved. It’s not rocket science.

    None of my posts failed to appear. But I have no reason to doubt those who said theirs went to moderation but did not get cleared when the blog owners last went through the backlog of moderated comments (in other words, they were denied).

  155. In the last 2 days, I’ve misused too many hours reading too many comments published on this blog and others about this book. And as a Canadian, I can not begin to explain how it is one of those rare instances where the scientific blogosphere disappoint me.

    To all of you (you know who you are) who are asking over and over and over and over and over “show me the evidence” that scientists are a crucial part of the “two cultures” problem, Please. Grow up. “Unscientific America” is an essay. This is not the kind of thing that can be demonstrated scientifically.

    But on the other hand, one does not need to be a rocket scientist (sorry), to admit that scientists, in their majority, do not know how to communicate effectively to much larger audiences (including mainstream media), and that scientists, in their majority, do not know or do not want to play the political game.

    If you do not think that these two facts are related to the gap between science and society, then, there is nothing else to discuss and you should move on to other posts and other books.

    But if you think that, yes, there is a gap between “two cultures”, well, please, it would be far more useful to all of us, readers (at least, those of us that are still there) to discuss the way scientists (or journalists, or teachers, or politicians) could reduce this gap. And please, stop repeating over and over and over and over that there is no magic recipe in UA as to “how to end the gap”. Rather, think about what your own solutions would be. What you could do, in your town or your institution or with your students, readers or colleagues.

  156. Pascal, actually it can be, which is why they included references and arguments in their polemic, and why the discussion has concerned opposing evidence and arguments. Perhaps you missed it.

    In any case, the sentiment you express is not one which I am terribly sympathetic — actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think your remarks display the real problem behind the bemoaned lack of scientific literacy. The trivialization of debate, a diffident attitude toward philosophy, is part and parcel of the problem of anti-intellectualism in that culture. Where productive arguments don’t happen through the exchange of publicly assessable reasons, science is stillborn. By crying off calls for evidence, you ensure that we will reap all the nothings we have sewn.

  157. Pascal, actually it can be, which is why they included references and arguments in their polemic, and why the discussion has concerned opposing evidence and arguments. Perhaps you missed it.
    In any case, the sentiment you express is not one which I am terribly sympathetic — actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but I think your remarks display the real problem behind the bemoaned lack of scientific literacy…

  158. …The trivialization of debate, a diffident attitude toward philosophy, is part and parcel of the problem of anti-intellectualism in that culture. Where productive arguments don’t happen through the exchange of publicly assessable reasons, science is stillborn. By crying off calls for evidence, you ensure that we will reap all the nothings we have sewn.

  159. The trivialization of debate, a diffident attitude toward philosophy, is part and parcel of the problem of anti-intellectualism in that culture. Where productive arguments don’t happen through the exchange of publicly assessable reasons, science is stillborn…

  160. Right. So there’s more to the comment, but the above posts are being queued into moderation despite a lack of any objectionable language and despite their small length. I don’t know if they’ll show up.

  161. — J., if you qualify that claim any more and soon you’ll be saying “hostility from atheist science bloggers causes people to be hostile to atheist science bloggers”. Which would be partly correct, and partly missing the point, since it certainly breaks down the status quo of disengagement. Benj. S. Nelson

    While I’m sure JJR can answer for himself, I’ve figured that the new atheists, and the ScienceBlogs in particular, almost all have attempted to associate science with atheism and not just to associate themselves with science. The various arguments that you can’t really be a scientist and religious are an example of that. I’ve wondered if it isn’t an unstated Seed goal to promote atheism.

    I don’t think the program to associate science with atheism couldn’t help but hurt science in the general population whose experience leads them to conclude that there is a supernatural of some kind. Knowing something experientially is the basis of the most compelling and convincing form of knowledge.

    I’ve noticed a widespread practice of the new atheists to deny some of the most obvious foundations of their cult, the denial of science to the religious is one of those things that have been exhaustively discussed here. To pretend that isn’t an intention made explicit by the new atheists words is to deny clear reality. It was in the reaction to the thread discussions here to a statement made by Lawrence Krauss about the incompatibility of science and religion, that I’ve come to conclude that idea is so clearly contradicted by the history of the rise of modern science and the large number of scientists who are also religious, makes belief in that incompatibility a superstition perhaps even more unfounded in reality than creationism.

  162. J. J. Ramsey

    Benjamin S. Nelson:

    J.J., if you qualify that claim any more and soon you’ll be saying “hostility from atheist science bloggers causes people to be hostile to atheist science bloggers”.

    So you deny that the New Atheists are associated with science? That Dawkins and Myers aren’t already known as scientists? That Dawkins has called the question of whether God exists a scientific one? That Sam Harris has said that science must destroy religion? That Dawkins has even said that the creationists are right in saying that “evolution is fundamentally hostile to religion”?

    Do you deny the results of the Pew survey showing that if people see a conflict between their religious beliefs and scientific facts that they will tend to favor their religious beliefs? Do you deny that this implies that the more people see science as atheistic, the more people will reject it? Do you deny that this is equivalent to saying that overt atheism linked to science encourages people (theistic people, anyway) to be hostile to science?

  163. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Distillation:
    M & K have swum out of their intellectual depth.

  164. TTT

    one does not need to be a rocket scientist (sorry), to admit that scientists, in their majority, do not know how to communicate effectively to much larger audiences (including mainstream media),

    The corollary to this is that it is highly open to question whether “science communicators” like M&K know how to communicate effectively to ANY audience that can actually be swayed to their perspective.

    I have raised this point on this blog many times: Actual scientists, particularly those in academia, routinely work in science teaching. Meaning they are trained in communicating their message to an audience that DOES NOT WANT TO BE THERE–even in college many students just take certain courses due to degree prerequisites, and in the lower grades, obviously, the huge majority of students would rather be anywhere but school. THAT is the audience that science teachers work with. And those scientists can win over some slice of that audience–as shown by the number of students who discover an interest in the sciences while in school and change the course of their studies to accommodate it.

    When have Mooney, Kirshenbaum, and their fellow traveller Matt Nisbet ever communicated science to an audience that hadn’t already bought what they were selling? When have they ever had to “cold call” an unreceptive room? Just talking in front of a lecture hall where admission is voluntary, where the seats are filled with people who chose to hear your message because your reputation preceded you, or who already read your books and already agree with it, DOES NOT COUNT as real communication. It is the very definition of preaching to the choir. It wins over no one.

  165. TTT: Science teaching has NOTHING to do with what is routinely called science communication to a larger audience. (why do you think there is the word “larger”?).

    Ben: I’ve read UA, and your quadruple answer is exactly the reason why some parts of this discussion on this blog and other blogs, since two weeks, are going nowhere (I’ve said “some parts”, right?). If you think that scientists are not part of the problem, fine, but why the hell are you continuing to argue? This is not something that can be demonstrated, like a chemistry experiment. There are other subjects far more interesting to you, on hundreds of other blogs.

    As for me, I’m out of here.

  166. Pascal, apologies for the quadruple-post. It’s difficult to know what will be censored and what won’t. Since my lost post engaged with the evidential details to a large extent, it is especially unfortunate that Mooney/Kirshenbaum think that it has to be stifled. Perhaps you wouldn’t have raised the objection concerning evidence in the first place if you’d been able to see something besides banter in action.

    To answer your question, I do think aspects of the scientific culture are part of the problem. Actually, the entire structure of academia is a problem. The ivory tower in North America is beset with incredible challenges that nobody is willing to point at, lest the reputation of their favorite university be put to the test.

    Does that mean I agree with M/K? No, in many cases I don’t. I challenge a variety of very specific claims that they make, and I challenge their reasons (when they’re given; often they’re not). Is it an irrational thing to expect reasons in exchange for claims? No, of course not; and to claim anything else is to engage in the sort of trivialization of debate that I just lately mentioned.

  167. I haven’t read the book yet, so I’ll refrain from commenting on its content. However, if their Boston Globe article is any indication of the substance of their position, there doesn’t seem to be much to get excited about.

    Of course, the basic point that scientists should work to be better communicators is essentially true, I suppose, but it’s not that the wished for Sagan-esque army of grassroots scientific literates would have the desired effect. I don’t think there are any easy answers, but improving science journalism and reforming the existing publishing framework might help.

    One of the key elements given short shrift by M&K seems to be the fact that these days there are well-funded and focused organizations having the express goal of pushing religion in the science classroom and in the public sphere more generally. Just over 20 years ago – Sagan’s media heyday – these same organizations didn’t exist or were just starting out. What to do about them? What do M&K propose?

    The NCSE is a favorite of M&K, and rightly so. It is overall a great and valuable organization, of course, but it is fighting what amounts to a war of attrition in which the outcome is still anyone’s guess. I personally like the fact that, in addition to the NCSE, there are scientists willing to speak in no uncertain terms about the implications of scientific modes of thinking for theology. It would be preferrable if some of them were more openly dismissive rather than linguistically “aggressive” (in some contexts), but I don’t think their existence and behavior is (or will be) as devastating to science as some histrionic commenters here seem to think.

  168. TTT

    Science teaching has NOTHING to do with what is routinely called science communication to a larger audience

    Nothing? Really? Well.

    I suppose it was just a coincidence that Carl Sagan, Steven Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson, Tim Flannery, and so many other of our best science “communicators” and “popularizers” were science teachers first.

    I ask once again whether M&K have ever had to communicate science to an unreceptive audience–and if they haven’t, how they can hold forth about proper communication skills. I certainly doubt that a book titled “The Republican War on Science” sold many copies to Republicans, or to anybody who wasn’t already so devoted to federal science spending priorities that they’d lay out $30 for a book about it.

  169. Lotharloo

    @Anthony McCarthy
    And
    @TB

    This is first time I witness people on a science blog shy away from sharing evidence “because it’s not gonna change the opinions of the others anyways.”

    I would like to see that evidence as well because I will not buy a whole book just to check 10 pages and I doubt any libraries will have it where I live (Denmark).

  170. Lotharloo, you’re mistaking this political squabble for a scientific one. I can’t speak for TB but I’ve been going round this revolving door to nowhere for three years on the blogs. You get tired of presenting evidence only to be told that it’s not enough. It’s one of the tricks of fundamentalists, you have to provide an infinite amount of evidence that isn’t available.

    The new atheists are fundamentalists, just as the creationists are. No amount of evidence will convince them, they’re not the target of my attempts here.

  171. Anthony, if all you’re going by are peoples’ outward reactions, then I could see why you would have that frustration. I do believe that if there had been more evidence for the central claims of the chapters, people would have reacted differently — perhaps not less critically, but rather, at greater length. But even if that’s not the case, this illustrates why it is so vitally important for people to have prior epistemic standards when they enter a rational discussion. It does NOT, however, indicate that those standards are not there — though they may be idiosyncratic. And you have to be prepared for that.

  172. Christina Pikas wrote something that seems relevant here. Not to atheism and alleged attempts to link it to science, but to the question of science communication and science literacy. M&K might do well to take a look at this, because I think their premises may be tainted by “mythical” thinking on the issue.

    Particularly myths 1 thru 3, and also 5 in the essay.

    (NOTE: It took about twenty four hours for my previous comment to come out of moderation. Have M&K institued a 24-hour moderation period? Just curious.)

  173. I’d suspect it might have something to do with being on book tour etc.

    Benj. S. Nelson, you might want to read the quote from William James I posted this morning on my blog. I’m reading Varieties of Religious Experience and just as with the Eddington I read earlier this month, it’s astounding how relevant it is to these discussions. There isn’t much that hasn’t been gone over and over again.

  174. Anthony, although I’m not familiar enough with that text to comment, a brief look suggests that its main theme is cogency, not soundness. Epistemology, and standards of evidence, are the current part of the discussion, at least as I raised it, and I would be surprised if that particular work by James concentrated on that area. (Though obviously in other works he does have pertinent things to say.)

    So perhaps you were going back to the notion of the “atheism alienates” hypothesis, which does indeed have to do with cogency.

    Is it true that we’re treading water on this issue? Maybe the same problems are being brought up with some regularity without any productive gains: i.e., M/K fail to provide evidence to the central assertions of their chapter, or that evidence is deeply flawed or otherwise limited. The counter-assertion is that no standard of evidence will be sufficient. This is a tempting, but illusory, conclusion, as I lately pointed out — the process of responsible inquiry is incremental, but not infinitely so. It helps, then, to distinguish different kinds of evidence, like “prime facie”, which I have done time and again, though evidently it has escaped the notice of some of those who hold a reactionary disposition.

    But a reasonable discussion *could* proceed from there, if there was interest and temperament suitable for it. So, a reasonable antagonist might ask, “Alright, Ben, so why don’t you tell me what would satisfy your epistemic standards?” or “Hey Ophelia, you say that there’s no evidence, but in a way, there is, because there’s evidence that the opposing claim (kindness breeds cogency) is accurate”. Or whatever. But I am not going to presume an interest or inclination to pursue these matters if there is manifestly none.

    Incidentally, just lately, this “treading water” illusion has been compounded by the fact that treatments of that evidence, lengthy treatments by myself and Ophelia (in reply to TB), have been actually *silenced*. (I don’t know the content of her post — my post was critical, but more importantly, it was reasons-responsive.) We have not been told to shut up — we have been shutted up. What do you think of this? Is this responsible behavior? Do you think C.P. Snow had censorship in mind for a Third Culture?

  175. Peter Beattie

    And I’m just wondering, why is it that a comment I posted on July 29th, 2009 at 6:17 pm is still in moderation? I’d love to see it delimboed, so to speak.

  176. Adrian Burd

    I’m seriously wondering if C&M have things the wrong way round. It’s not scientists who need more education in communication skills, but journalists and professional communicators who need more education in scientific skills. After all, aren’t journalists and authors meant to be the professional communicators? Scientists are scientists and they do what they do best, science!

    Adrian

  177. Peter Beattie

    Oh, wow, now it was deleted. I’m starting to like this blog.

  178. Peter Beattie

    Then there’s the problem of “balance”–the idea that reporters must give roughly equal space to two different “sides” of a controversy. When applied to science, especially in politicized areas, this media norm becomes extremely problematic. Should journalists really grant equal time to the small band of scientists who deny the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS when the vast majority of researchers accept the connection between the two?

    First, I’ll have to say that your analysis—which is, of course, more extensive than the paragraph quoted here—rings painfully true. The one conclusion I would jump to, though, by dint of seeming rather glaringly obvious, is that journalists simply have no idea how one forms an independent opinion. In that, one should add, they are in plentiful, if not exactly good, company.

    The basic process is actually quite simple. One makes observations about the world that one interprets, necessarily, in terms of what one assumes about the world. Then, one checks those interpretations against a different set of observable facts. The key in this second step, however, is not to look for facts that would make sense in light of your interpretation but to look for such facts that would not make sense in light of your interpretation.

    In the HIV example, it would not make sense for anti-viral drugs to work in AIDS patients, or for specific immunity against HIV to be due to mutated T-cell genes blocking virus particles from docking to the cells, or for the transmission to be inhibited by using condoms if AIDS was actually caused by some Juju up some mountain or other or even by looking in the general direction of a gay bar. That makes any of the made-up stories appreciably inferior to the scientifically corroborated story. It would blow any ideas of so-called ‘balance’ right out of the water. And anyone who actually explained the reasoning behind the science would not only further the cause of the public understanding of science, he would probably also improve his ratings. Because he would treat his audience like adults. In today’s media landscape, that kind of thing would stand out like a freshly groomed rottweiler in a pack of wet poodles.

  179. Peter Beattie

    And if a comment dated July 31st, 2009 at 1:03 pm appears here, please excuse the copy-and-paste error. That one belongs in another thread.

  180. Peter, I think comments from now on should just be single sentences as they don’t get kidnapped by the filters.

  181. bsk

    At first, with everyone giving such intense, ongoing publicity to a book they disagreed with, I was somewhat intrigued. But the incomprehensible whine on your blog over the past few weeks has just completely put me off. Even if your arguments are being misrepresented, you have given me no reason to doubt the criticisms and every reason to believe that they’re actually well founded. At the very least, you seem to be undercutting your own intentions in the public relations department.

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