Unpopular Science: Our Article in The Nation

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 30, 2009 2:53 pm

the-nation.jpgUnscientific America has been adapted as a feature story for The Nation based on a hybrid of chapters 6 and 9 with new reporting on the decline of science in the media. Our article Unpopular Science will appear in the August 17 issue and is now available online. We begin:

For twenty-three years Sabin Russell worked at the San Francisco Chronicle. A top medical writer specializing in global health and infectious diseases, Russell covered subjects ranging from bioterror threats to the risk of avian flu and traveled throughout Africa to report on the AIDS epidemic. He won numerous accolades, including a 2001 Science in Society Journalism Award from the National Association of Science Writers for his reporting on the flaws of the flu vaccine
industry.

Then came March 30, 2009–his last day on the job. Russell was at MIT, on leave from his paper for a fellowship. The struggling Chronicle had been cutting staff and now suddenly forced many older career journalists to either take a buyout or risk a reduced pension. At 56, Russell was at the peak of his game, but for him, as for many of his colleagues, there was really just one option. “We have not left journalism; journalism has left us,” Russell remarked recently from San Francisco, where he is setting up a freelance office and looking for work.

Now the painful irony: Russell was pressured out of his job just as swine flu murmurs began to emerge from Mexico. This was his beat; few reporters are better equipped to tackle such a difficult yet urgent story, one so rife with uncertain but potentially severe risk. Russell even tipped off his old employer that the paper might want to get a jump on what was happening in Mexico City. “If I was covering this story now,” he says, “I’d be all over the Southern Hemisphere. It’s flu season there. How is Australia? How is the infrastructure to respond to a new strain holding up?”

Continue reading the full story at The Nation

Comments (142)

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  1. PZ Myers is a vulcan « how not to win a war | August 1, 2009
  1. The Nation?! That socialist screed?? Blasphemy!
    But seriously, nice article.

  2. Oded

    Hi

    I enjoyed the article, and I was right there with you until the last few paragraphs, where you start discussing solutions.
    I fail to see how more science media is going to solve the problem. How will it ever become more than a niche? Like you said, we already have PBS and other science media, and they are just a niche, and there real winner are the no-content other channels… How will training an army of science popularizers change that? I don’t follow your solution completely.

  3. The Boston Globe’s fall is a result of the NYT corp buying them from the family that had owned it. It’s a pattern I’ve seen with the NYT before.

    You have to have the programming before you can try to get an audience for it. And TV isn’t the only medium, though it is the most pervasive. I don’t think things will get better until broadcast and cable have to meet strict public service requirements. The lassez faire experiment in the media shows that when left to their own devices, the TV networks will abandon any responsibility to the public in favor of producing cheap, tawdry, ideological trash.

  4. 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.

  5. Roadtripper

    Sigh…this will probably fall on deaf ears, but somebody should set the record straight.

    Pharyngula was nominated for Best Science Blog in 2008 for [i]science articles[/i], not the ‘confrontational atheism’ you two whine about in this article. (and your book) Other posters in previous threads have pointed out both the quantity and quality of PZ’s science articles, but you two seem determined to willfully ignore all of that.

    So now who’s driving people away from good science writing on the web? There’s a huge archive of well-written science articles on Pharyngula, but you two are doing your best to actively turn people away from it by misrepresenting the content of PZ’s site.

    Rt

    ps — And I can’t help but notice the ratio of self-promotion to science content has gone through the roof here, lately.

  6. Mark F.

    Overall not a bad article on the state of science journalism. But it’s clear to me now that you two really do have blinders on when it comes to PZ and his blog Pharyngula. Does he bash religion on his blog? Yes. Does he sometimes go over the top? Yes (IMO). Does he do it ALL the time as you two would make people believe? No. I’ve read numerous blog posts on Pharyngula dealing with science and science-related issues that say nothing about religion. I guess you’ve just decided to simply ignore those posts because they don’t fit your thesis.

  7. NewEnglandBob

    M & K are angry because Myers and Coyne told it like they saw it which is how it actually is.

  8. It’s easier to find PZ’s science writing in SEED Magazine than on Pharyngula. It would be easier to find it on his blog if he didn’t hide his category index on a secondary page.

  9. Jon

    NewEnglandBob — You should type that in all caps the way the wingnuts do.

  10. Marc

    A science award for Pharyngula would have been appropriate some years ago, but that hasn’t been the main attraction for quite a long time. I honestly couldn’t make myself vote in that category even though Watt’s site is as scientific as the creation museum. I scrolled down several pages there just now – saw a couple attacks on creationism, and a lot of religion and politics. You wouldn’t know it was a science site from the content, and this has been true for a long time.

  11. Yeah, PZ never writes about science:

    By Category

    * Academics (255)
    * Administrative (116)
    * Art (102)
    * Ask a ScienceBlogger (13)
    * Books (139)
    * BPSDB (1)
    * Carnivals (239)
    * Cephalopods (397)
    * Communicating science (106)
    * Creationism (1612)
    * db4181 (3)
    * Denialism (4)
    * Development (199)
    * Entertainment (257)
    * Environment (86)
    * Ethics (2)
    * Evil (58)
    * Evolution (381)
    * Feminism (12)
    * Fossils (94)
    * Gadgets (10)
    * Galapagos (12)
    * Genetics (81)
    * Godlessness (820)
    * History (85)
    * Humor (731)
    * Kooks (544)
    * Lindau (14)
    * Local (205)
    * Media (100)
    * Molecular Biology (130)
    * Neurobiology (70)
    * News (12)
    * Nutrition (1)
    * Open Thread (153)
    * Organisms (648)
    * Personal (420)
    * Philosophy (2)
    * Pirates (35)
    * Pointless polls (135)
    * Politics (848)
    * Religion (601)
    * Reproduction (137)
    * Science (767)
    * Science philosophy (2)
    * Skepticism (158)
    * Stupidity (114)
    * Tangled Bank (120)
    * Technology (10)
    * Weblogs (325)
    * Weirdness (787)

    And I had to click a whole one time in order to find his archives. Very challenging.

  12. Sigmund

    As fellow sciencebloggers at the time you must know that PZ Myers had asked people not to vote for his site in the 2008 awards as a protest against the inclusion of websites promoting pseudo science in the science category.
    Is this fact not important?

  13. It’s really remarkable how much of the anti-UA comments here are from PZ’s fans, many of whom obviously haven’t read the book.

    PZ would lose the large majority of his fan base if he dropped the anti-religious bigotry. It’s made him famous, or relatively so. He’s as addicted to that as his fans are to his and their own invective. Jerry Coyne’s blog, clearly begun to promote his own book, seems to be following the same road to relative notoriety. Though I suspect he might have caught “the wave” a bit late. I think the new atheism is a fad that most people are tired of.

  14. Peter Beattie

    » Marc:
    You wouldn’t know it was a science site from the content

    Maybe that’s why this is what it says on the tin: “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal”.

  15. Matt Penfold

    I suggest Marc reads this (http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/05/how_much_science_does_a_scienc_2.php) by Stephanie Zvan.

    It shows that the science content at Pharyngula is on a par with other popular science blogs in terms of volume.

    It seems that evidence is something Marc thinks is optional if it does not support his argument.

  16. The blog has science content, but that’s not what it’s famous for, that’s not what its hit rate is based on. Orac, who I’ve had my disagreements with, has a science blog more about it’s stated purpose than Pharyngula is.

  17. Marc

    This exchange is a good example of why dialog with people over at Pharyngula is pointless, and about why their repeated demands for “evidence” are nothing but a charade. The article you referenced, Matt, indicated that ~10% of the posts there are on science. You find numerous articles about godlessness, the occasion potshot at creationism (mixed with potshots at religion), articles about politics….and about once a week recently, something in the “science” category (I saw two articles in the archive over the last 15 days in that category). That would count as evidence to most of us. So my impression was – guess what – correct and substantiated. And a link proving it is used to sneer that evidence is something that I’m uninterested in. It *is* pretty much a religion bashing site with occasional science content now – that’s the red meat the folks there crave.

    I count places like RealClimate, or Orac, or Bad Astronomy, or Cosmic Variance as science sites – even though some of them do have other topics mixed in – because the science is front and center. If things calling themselves “science blogs” have as little science as Pharyngula then there are a lot of other mislabeled blogs; that doesn’t make that place one of them.

    Now it didn’t used to be the case – back when I thought the place was interesting and I visited there, I could on an average week hop over there and learn something interesting about developmental biology. To find the occasional nugget I would have to wade through a lot of rants and diatribes on religion and politics , like his recent bigoted garbage on Collins. Apparently a subset of atheists now want religious tests for scientists – I never would have thought that they had gone so far off the rails if I wasn’t actually reading the text. Or that allegedly scientific people would claim that someone who played a central role in the Human Genome Project was unqualified for a science advisory post because he’s a Christian.

  18. Matt Penfold

    Marc,

    You are missing the poin, I suspect on purpose becuase.

    It is not about relative percentages, it is about total posts. The evidence shows you lied. PZ posts about science as often as other science bloggers.

    However I doubt you will undestand. You do not seem to be very bright, and we have proof you lie. Typical, sad to say, of Mooney and Kirshenbaum supporters. Mooney and Kirshenbaum of late are not noted for their honesty either.

  19. Matt Penfold

    “Or that allegedly scientific people would claim that someone who played a central role in the Human Genome Project was unqualified for a science advisory post because he’s a Christian.”

    Oh, and this is another lie.

    No one has said this, and what is more I am pretty sure you know it. What has been said is that there is cause for concern over Collins’ appointment because of unscientific remarks he has made about the evolution of morality. He essentially claims science cannot explain it, whereas biologists in the field have been able to do so for some time.

    Why do you do this ? You must know you will get caught lying.

  20. Jon

    Matt, You should write you accusations about “lying” in all caps, the way the wingnuts do.

  21. Peter Beattie

    » Anthony McCarthy:
    [its] stated purpose

    “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal”

    And that’s pretty much what it does. If PZ thinks the whole religion thing has a bearing on any of that, then obviously it’s completely within its stated purview.

  22. Peter Beattie

    @ Jon and Matt Penfold:

    I think Matt has a case, if you argue that Ken Miller for example exhibited a reckless disregard for the truth in his accusation that Coyne and PZ said that Collins’s “sin … is that he is a Christian”, which is demonstrably and obviously false. Coyne, for example, says” that Collins “pollutes science with religion”—actively, of course, and not just by being a Christian. Argue with that all you want, but Miller’s statement can be argued to be a lie.

  23. Peter Beattie, then it’s an ideological blog and not a science blog, which is pretty much what people have been saying.

    Mistaking an ideology for science isn’t limited to the NA’s, it’s a common enough intellectual fallacy. Like most of those who make that mistake, the NA’s hold themselves above taking into consideration the topics and observations outside of “science” that would help them avoid that mistake.

    If Collins is guilty of some kind of “sin” it’s in stating the truth that religion can accommodate science, I’ve never seen a supported assertion that he has injected religion into science. A career like his wouldn’t stand even one verified instance of that. Coyne and PZ are no less guilty of trying to inject their ideological position into science, even more so, I’d say.

  24. Anthony McCarthy: “…has a science blog more about it’s stated purpose than Pharyngula is.”

    What do you think the stated purpose of Pharyngula is? And you can you point us towards where it’s stated?

    Marc: “Apparently a subset of atheists now want religious tests for scientists…”

    Marc, there is already a religious test for any scientist appointed to public office – there is no way on earth that any open atheist would even be considered for the position. Atheists don’t want to impose a religious test – we want the one that’s already imposed to stop.

  25. Matt Penfold

    Jon,

    Why would I do that ?

    I caught Marc lying.

    I could be mistaken, and he might simply lack the intelligence to understand what people have actually said about Collins. However I am gicing him the benefit of the doubt, and assuming he an adaquate understanding to know that what he says people are saying is not actually what they are saying.

    As I previously said, I suspect he just being inspired by Mooney who has been doing the same thing.

  26. — Marc, there is already a religious test for any scientist appointed to public office – there is no way on earth that any open atheist would even be considered for the position. Atheists don’t want to impose a religious test – we want the one that’s already imposed to stop. Lee Harrison

    The prohibition on a religious test to hold public office is binding on local, state and federal government, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. It isn’t binding on THE PEOPLE, the voters. They can take any consideration they choose to take in how they cast their vote. There is absolutely no legal restriction that prevents them from doing that, there is none that could ever be made to work.

    I really resent the lie that atheists are “where gay people were fifty years ago”. Fifty years ago atheists became a protected class under civil rights legislation and pre-existing provisions of the constitution. They have legal recourse if they are discriminated against in all covered areas specifically under the prohibitions about discrimination based on religious belief. Gay people, such as me, aren’t covered in more than local and state law against discrimination and in not a single state do we have equal rights to straight people.

  27. Peter, Lee, I’ve posted delayed answers to you at my blog.

  28. Peter Beattie

    » Anthony McCarthy:
    Peter, Lee, I’ve posted delayed answers to you at my blog.

    Why didn’t you post them here? After all, the points were made here, so it kind of seems the appropriate place, doesn’t it?

  29. Peter Beattie

    Sorry, my mistake. I didn’t see that “delayed” was to mean “in moderation”.

  30. Peter Beattie

    » Anthony McCarthy:
    I’ve never seen a supported assertion that [Collins] has injected religion into science.

    Coyne actually argues that case here. Anyone would be happy to discuss this with you if you would only engage with the arguments.

  31. Peter Beattie

    Damn. Sorry for markup screwup.

  32. (This is a reply to A.McC’s delayed comment – I assume this comment will be equally delayed but all will appear in the correct order if M+K feel like letting this on their blog. I’ve cleaned up some spelling screw-ups)

    AMcC: “It isn’t binding on THE PEOPLE, the voters. They can take any consideration they choose to take in how they cast their vote.”

    Then please explain why you seem to take such umbrage when one of those people who happens to disagree with you vents their opinion on how they would vote.

    And this is something of a non sequiter since the people don’t actually vote on the position of science advisor at all – all of the ‘religious test’ phrasing is a rhetorical device to point out the bigotry of the general populace against atheists and the fact that the government chooses to go along with it when it should be ignoring such considerations.

    AMcC: “I really resent the lie that atheists are “where gay people were fifty years ago”.”

    Good – so do I. It’s untrue and is too easy to form into a strawman. Which you did, because not too many atheists are actually saying this – even when Dawkins came up with the Out campaign, directly modelled on the various gay pride movements and out campaigns of the past, he made it very obvious (to anyone without a chip on his shoulder) that adopting the GLBT’s largely succesful model was not meant to imply that atheists had it as bad as gays did.

    Having said that, it is still true that, according to one recent survey, every other looked-down-upon minority would be considered for public office in the U.S. before an open atheist.

  33. John Kwok

    Hi all,

    Once upon a time, PZ did have a good science blog. But lately, for example, in discussing a recent dinosaur discovery, Carl Zimmer did a much better job explaining it than PZ did at his blog.

  34. Could someone tell me if M+K spend any real time in their book berating journalists (the far more obvious cause of America’s scientific illiteracy)?

    Thanks

  35. Marc

    Matt: if I bury a certain class of subject matter in a flood of other things it’s completely legit to argue that the main purpose of the site is those other things. That isn’t “missing the point”, it’s a statement that the priorities of an author are indicated by what they spend most of their time writing about. That isn’t a “lie” – you are really a piece of work. It’s a statement that people like me no longer think of Pharyngula as a science site for a reason – because most of the time if I pick an article over there at random it isn’t about science.

    The comments about me being stupid are actually pretty funny. I wouldn’t presume to make judgements about your intelligence – just that you come across as an arrogant fanatic in your posts. However, as I have indicated on other threads, you’re actually in a discussion with an astrophysicist with a pretty long publication record. I’m capable of realizing that people can disagree with me without being stupid. But, hey, I’m not a fanatic.

  36. John Kwok

    @ Lee –

    They do, and blame especailly media conglomerates. But they put too much of the blame on scientists. Ironically, their coverage of science journalism is one of the few reasons to buy and to read UA.

  37. Marc

    Lee: I’m quite aware that folks like me are, in practical terms, unable to be elected to public office because of our religious views. It’s also true that there is a high degree of hostility in atheists in the general public, as measured in opinion polls. We agree that this reflects unhealthy biases which need to be countered. We probably disagree on approach, e.g. I find the Meyers method counterproductive.

    However, I haven’t ever had anyone ask me what my religion was *in a scientific context*.
    It’s just toxic for folks like Harris to try and exclude people from science policy positions on religious grounds. The former does not justify the latter, and I’d feel no different if fundamentalists were objecting to an atheist in an advisory position. You could take *scientific* positions which would disqualify you, such as creationism or climate change denial. But Collins is not remotely in the same category, unless you define “scientific positions” so broadly that they require a complete rejection of religion.

  38. Skeptic

    If according to M & K PZ is really bad for science communication, could they please tell me then why his blog was voted as Best Science Blog in 2008? Focusing only on his atheism and neglecting his science clearly looks like cherry picking to me.

  39. Sorbet

    “I think the new atheism is a fad that most people are tired of.

    And this is based on wishful thinking and erudite personal opinion? Dream on. Atheism is going to persist just like religion will persist.

  40. Jon

    Peter in 22– I’m sure there are points to be made. But what kind of dialog do we have when people in knee-jerk fashion impugn the motives of whoever disagrees with them (calls them “liars”) ? Or make simplistic, blanket statements that they’re right and someone else is wrong (about what?) like a child on a school playground–like NewEnglandBob does in #7?

    I wouldn’t either bother to engage in this stuff, but my point in doing so is that it’s typical among PZ’s groupies. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

  41. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    Peter in 22– I’m sure there are points to be made. But what kind of dialog do we have when people in knee-jerk fashion impugn the motives of whoever disagrees with them (calls them “liars”) ?

    But it was neither knee-jerk nor impugning. There were actual arguments, so it was considered. And even the accusation of lying does not entail an opinion on motive but on method. As so many people have said to so many other people: Why don’t you just engage with the arguments, but complain about the tone? If somebody did that to you, and you thought their complaints were not entirely justified, wouldn’t you think they were just dodging the real issues?

  42. Anthony McCarthy

    New atheism is a fad that will die out faster than Muggletonianism.

  43. Jon

    And even the accusation of lying does not entail an opinion on motive but on method.

    “Lying” has nothing to do with motive? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Would you care to check a dictionary on the definition of lying? I think any reasonable person would say it involves a motive to deceive.

  44. Screechy Monkey

    But what kind of dialog do we have when people in knee-jerk fashion impugn the motives of whoever disagrees with them (calls them “liars”) ? Or make simplistic, blanket statements that they’re right and someone else is wrong (about what?) like a child on a school playground–like NewEnglandBob does in #7?

    I wouldn’t either bother to engage in this stuff, but my point in doing so is that it’s typical among PZ’s groupies. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    I don’t know; what kind of dialogue can we have when people in knee-jerk fashion dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as “PZ’s groupies”?

  45. Marc: “It’s just toxic for folks like Harris to try and exclude people from science policy positions on religious grounds.”

    It has been pointed out before that this is disingenuous of you – it’s not about excluding him because he’s religious. It’s about excluding him because he allows his religion to dictate his views on aspects of science research. He has already stated that science cannot address certain issues and in doing so has simply ignored mountains of evidence of science adressing precisely what he thought it coudn’t (evolution of morality, for example).

    Collins is walking too fine a line between the dictates of his faith and the requirements of scientific thought – the more hagiographic reviews he gets from people (who otherwise wouldn’t give a damn about him if he didn’t share their religious views), the greater the risk of him just stepping over that line entirely.

  46. Screechy Monkey

    New atheism is a fad that will die out faster than Muggletonianism.

    I’m surprised, then, that you waste so much of your time whining about it.

  47. Sorbet

    New atheism is a fad that will die out faster than Muggletonianism

    Stomach ulcers are caused by legions of goblins throwing a hissy fit and pouring battery acid out from parietal cells.

  48. Jon

    So I should be consistent with what I’m saying and not be calling people “PZ’s groupies”… By the way, where did you get the name Screechy Monkey from?

  49. Anthony McCarthy

    Lee. you’re the one who brought up the “no religious test” issue, which is a specific, constitutional restriction on government. We aren’t the government, when you are talking about what we do, the issue isn’t even moot, it never applied to us. We are free to disapprove or approve of whatever we do. That doesn’t mean that all of that is reasonable, justified, accurate, or smart. That’s what we’re discussing here and the NAs are not reasonable, honest, or accurate, their war against the large majority of the population, using science as a shield isn’t smart either. At least not if you’re interested in science.

  50. Screechy Monkey

    “By the way, where did you get the name Screechy Monkey from?”

    I believe it was a term first used by Chad Orzel as a blanket epithet for Pharyngulite commenters. It was then picked up and quoted approvingly by Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney during the big framing fracas.

    I had been looking for a posting handle anyway, so I adopted it, partly to embrace what was being used as a smear, and partly to remind everyone that certain bloggers who speak sanctimoniously about civility have no problem engaging in name-calling when it suits them. I actually bent over backwards at first to be as polite as possible, but as it has become apparent to me that Chris has little interest in civil engagement with sincere and serious criticism, I have become a little “screechier” here.

  51. SLC

    Re Matt Penfold @ 18

    However I doubt you will undestand. You do not seem to be very bright, and we have proof you lie. Typical, sad to say, of Mooney and Kirshenbaum supporters. Mooney and Kirshenbaum of late are not noted for their honesty either.

    A perfect example of the lack of honesty on the part of Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirshenbaum is their mischaracterization of Jason Rosenhouses’ review of their book. They gave the impression that it was much less negative then it actually is.

  52. Jon

    So I take it “Screechy Monkeys” had nothing to do with your own behavior as a group, etc.?

  53. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    “Lying” has nothing to do with motive? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Would you care to check a dictionary on the definition of lying? I think any reasonable person would say it involves a motive to deceive.

    Actually, reckless disregard would only have to entail not caring whether the statement was strictly true or not. Its effect, however, was indeed to deceive about PZ’s and Coyne’s statements. So what is your problem?

    Your still only dodging. If your sensibilities can’t handle the word ‘lie’, then what about Miller misrepresenting what PZ and Coyne said? Does that change any of the actual facts? It doesn’t, so why don’t you address them?

  54. Jon

    I have no problem with “lie”. It’s just a little much to see the accusation pop up at least once per thread from the Pharyngulites.

  55. Jon

    I have no problem with “lie”–if it’s warranted. If it’s not warranted, then it’s just adolescent… And I have no problem with adolescents. It’s just that when they’re jerks, they’re not the best science ambassadors to the rest of the population.

    This message has been brought to you by Captain Obvious.

  56. Screechy Monkey

    So I take it “Screechy Monkeys” had nothing to do with your own behavior as a group, etc.?

    I don’t understand the question. It was obviously the opinion of Orzel, Nisbet, Mooney, et al, that Pharyngula commenters are just a bunch of “screechy monkeys” who don’t contribute anything to discussions, should be ignored (except for boosting those traffic numbers!), etc. I don’t share that opinion; my adoption of the name was tongue-in-cheek.

    So if your point is that you’re not the first person to dismiss Pharyngula commenters with a broad brush, for what you presumably think are good reasons, well … duh. But it doesn’t change the point I was making above, that it’s hypocritical for you to complain about people making “knee-jerk” generalizations when you’re doing the exact same thing with terms like “groupies.”

  57. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    I have no problem with “lie”. It’s just a little much to see the accusation pop up at least once per thread from the Pharyngulites.

    And again no engagement with the actual argument. Well, if you’re not prepared to have a discussion, then I’d say it’s disengenuous to pretend otherwise. Anyway, bye then.

  58. Jon

    I wasn’t commenting on the argument. He may have had a point, as I said. I wasn’t commenting on that point, I was commenting on how it was made, by stating that the person who made it was “lying”–had the motive to deceive. This crops up constantly in these threads.

  59. Marc

    Some folks look at the fraction of scientific posts at a site as a measure of whether it is a science site, while others might look at the absolute counts. I’d wager that DailyKos dwarfs any “science blog” in the number of science-themed diary entries, for example, so by the latter count it would be the primary science blog on the net. (DarkSyde there occasionally does do a nice front-page post on scientific themes.) But it’s pretty reasonable to say that’s not what the place is mostly about – it’s a political site.

    People who adopt one metric in preference to another are not liars, and to use that word to describe them says more about you than it does about your target. Similarly, some of the folks opposed to Collins claim scientific grounds, and the ones that they use look an awful lot like religious grounds to other folks (like me.) That doesn’t make me a liar; it means that I read the evidence differently. I’d view a young earth creationist as flatly unqualified for a science advisory position, for example, so I acknowledge that there is a boundary where religious beliefs can impact science. I draw that boundary at places where the method works, e.g. measuring the age of the Earth, rather than at things it can’t do, like test the existence of a God. If someone else thinks that belief in God is disqualifying, fine. They’re not a liar, but I think that they’re deeply wrong and going in a dangerous direction.

    Accusations of lying and stupidity are poisonous to any dialog, especially without proof other than “I think you’re wrong”. It can be helpful to step aside from tribal behavior and recognize things like that.

  60. Anthony McCarthy

    I’d have thought “neo-dittos” would have been more appropriate.

  61. Anthony McCarthy

    Or, maybe “pzittos”.

  62. Roadtripper

    Wow. You people even suck at name-calling. Let me know when you’ve thought up a good one.

    Rt

  63. Anthony McCarthy

    Roadtripper, I’ve thought of other names, but I would like them to get out of moderation. Nothing moderate about them. “Roadtripper”, stones, glass houses.

  64. I would have gone with “peaseys” (PZs) as a pejorative. But I kind of like Myers so maybe that disqualifies me to make the suggestion, not to mention that it doesn’t look good when the faitheists have to import insults from a self-described peasey.

  65. Jon

    You’re either with us or you’re with the faitheists, huh?

  66. Anthony McCarthy
  67. Jon

    How about the Spock Squad?

    “Respecting the consciences of religious practioners is totally illogical, captain.”

  68. Jon

    Or, PZ’s Nerd Herd.

  69. John Kwok

    @ Peter Beattie –

    Where and when did Ken Miller misrepresent my two favorite American Militant Atheists? He hasn’t IMHO. If anything, they have been misrepresenting him since 2006 if not before.

  70. Jon

    Eventually, PZ will reach Peak Geek. No more Squid Squires.

  71. Sorbet

    “Critical thinking is futile”
    “To boldly tiptoe away from where everyone has always tiptoed away”

  72. JoshS

    “To boldly tiptoe away from where everyone has always tiptoed away”

    ROFLMAO. Sorbet, I think I love you.

  73. Jon

    The really fun thing to do is to 1) continually congratulate oneself that only people like myself have ever “thought critically,” and 2) adolescently mock everyone else.

  74. — The really fun thing to do is to 1) continually congratulate oneself that only people like myself have ever “thought critically,” and 2) adolescently mock everyone else. Jon

    That is the program of most cliques, it’s the attraction of them. Agree among yourselves of your superiority, make it the primary function of your group and you spend the rest of your time convincing yourselves by mocking everyone else.

    On several occasions, during the blog mobbing by the Power Rangers of “Reason” here, I’ve raised relatively innocuous or obvious points about their great heroes, the desperation with which they defended their idols against even mild criticism or skepticism is a good indication that they can’t stand critical thought.

    The longer this goes on, the more convinced I am that the new atheism is about as rational and objective as the “Objectivists”.

  75. John Kwok

    @ Peter (@ 22) –

    Ken’s recent New York Times letter was succinct, to the point, and quite accurate. Your inane assertion is rather disingenuous IMHO.

  76. John Kwok

    @ Marc (@ 17) –

    Yours is a fair and accurate assessment of Pharyngula IMHO.

  77. J. J. Ramsey

    Jon: “How about the Spock Squad?”

    That’s an insult to Spock. Also, have you really seen Dawkins, Myers, and their fans really act much like Spock?

  78. Sorbet

    “That is the program of most cliques, it’s the attraction of them. Agree among yourselves of your superiority, make it the primary function of your group and you spend the rest of your time convincing yourselves by mocking everyone else”

    Sounds like religion to me.

  79. Jon

    Sounds like religion to me.

    You said it, I didn’t.

  80. Shatner seems so much happier now that he realizes his kitsch value. Something that Trekkie’s don’t seem to get.

    Wow, “Trekkie” is covered by the spell check feature on this program.

  81. windy

    Tut-tutting those who “adolescently mock everyone else” after posting four comments in close succession thinking up adolescent nick-names? Truly, the self-awareness is strong in this one…

  82. windy

    “it doesn’t look good when the faitheists have to import insults from a self-described peasey.”

    If there ever was a thread that cried out for the Cyrano treatment, it’s this one. Sadly, I don’t think I can do 20 comebacks. But how about:

    “Oh, are you still here? I thought you guys were all busy doing science.

  83. Jon

    Tut-tutting those who “adolescently mock everyone else” after posting four comments in close succession thinking up adolescent nick-names?

    Yes, left myself open to that one… But I wouldn’t have indulged if I wasn’t challenged by Nelson in 64.

    You guys seem to have very healthy egos, so you can take it. But you’re right, I shouldn’t be making fun of peoples’ religions…

  84. Peter Beattie

    » John Kwok:
    Ken’s recent New York Times letter was succinct, to the point, and quite accurate. Your inane assertion is rather disingenuous IMHO.

    Why should anyone give a rip about your opinion, John, when there is actual evidence to be had to decide this case? In the NYT piece you referred to, Miller complained that “Collins’s sin … is that he is a Christian”, when Harris in fact wrote this:

    As someone who believes that our understanding of human nature can be derived from neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science and behavioral economics, among others, I am troubled by Dr. Collins’s line of thinking. I also believe it would seriously undercut fields like neuroscience and our growing understanding of the human mind. …

    Dr. Collins has written that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” and that “the claims of atheistic materialism must be steadfastly resisted.”

    Maybe ‘lie’ is a bit strong as a characterisation of Miller’s statement, but it is most certainly not obviously inane. In the context of ‘reckless disregard for the truth’, I think it’s defendable. And unless you have anything to say that addresses the issue at hand, that’ll be all from me.

  85. windy, my policy is to subject the new atheists to the unfavorable half of their double standard, the one they apply to their opponents. To do otherwise is to allow new atheists to rig the rules in their favor. People who don’t practice a double standard get the normal rules.
    It’s not an indulgence, it’s a principled position.

  86. Jon

    (There was some irony in that last sentence of mine, in case you didn’t detect it.)

  87. TTT

    I wonder what would have happened to my prior post if it hadn’t mentioned by name one of our host’s allies? Let’s just see…..

  88. TTT

    Ah, apparently it would have been allowed. This apparently explains why another recent post of mine, criticizing a philosopher who our hosts adore, also fell past the moderation event horizon never to return.

    Shameful. But typical of the schoolyardish mindset that can justify calling people “screechy monkeys” while erasing all their posts.

  89. Sven DiMilo

    I don’t think Matt and Sheril will be linking to Jason Rosenhouse’s latest.

  90. Sven, I just read JR’s review, pt ii. If I was CM or SK, I’d forget about it. Jason is a lightweight.

  91. Jon

    Jason omits the fact that *Unscientific America* mentions the death threats.

    And then there’s this: Isn’t it just groaningly obvious that the problem here is the attitude that places religious faith in a privileged position relative to science?

    No. It’s far, far from “groaningly obvious,” because matters of conscience are completely different than matters of material science. It’s not a matter of privilege so much as a different set of problems that need different kinds of treatment.

    Here’s Paul Graham (an essayist and software guy):

    I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions.

    As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why? Why does this happen with religion and not with Javascript or baking or other topics people talk about on forums?

    What’s different about religion is that people don’t feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone’s an expert.

    Then it struck me: this is the problem with politics too. Politics, like religion, is a topic where there’s no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions.

    Do religion and politics have something in common that explains this similarity? One possible explanation is that they deal with questions that have no definite answers, so there’s no back pressure on people’s opinions. Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs.

    You win these kinds of arguments, where “there’s no back pressure on people’s opinions,” by showing who are the adults are in the room. Temper tantrums and rants, far from a “groaningly obvious” solution, often just look like adolescent behavior.

    And then he goes on to equate theism with believing in ghosts, as they’re both “supernatural entities.” Oy.

  92. John Kwok

    @ Peter –

    Why should I care about your opinion, especially since I’m “Ken Miller’s Toy Poodle” according to the faithful at Jerry’s blog? Last time I checked, however, I don’t agree with everything Ken has written. But, in this case, his assessment of Collins’s “persecution” by the Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg Collective is quite fair and to the point.

  93. Jon

    Arg. Sorry for the botched blockquote tags.

  94. The rift exists becuase there really is a conflict between science and religion generally, and Christianity and evolution specifically. This simple fact is not contradicted by the existence of religious scientists or by the existence of forms of Christianity that have made their peace with evoluition. Saying there is a conflict between A and B does not mean that A and B are mutually exclusive. Jason Rosenhouse

    The existence of religious scientists, many with more substantial careers than Myers, for example, are there. Their existence is a fact, their work is there to be seen. They are as there as the entire fossil record or the record of comparative genetics, it is a fact of history and of the real world. The historical fact that many of the most important scientists have been religious is a fact more objective than any of the speculations about undocumented behavior that Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett continually make to absolutely no objection by Rosenhouse or the other new atheists. Those people who produce both science and who believe in religion are the only ones qualified to tell us if they experience a “conflict between science and religion”, Rosenhouse is incompetent to override whatever they have to say on that issue. Their existence in reality, in the objectively existing world is a refutation of the assertion more credible than anything he or Dawkins or PZ Myers theorize about it.

    Biblical fundamentalism is in conflict with the science of evolution, many Christians would assert they are also in conflict with what’s known about the history of “The Bible”, and there are other scholars of those books who would say so too and who aren’t Christians. Those are real conflicts, but those aren’t the same thing as a blanket incompatibility of science and religion. Rosenhouse would have to explain how even some Biblical fundamentalists, even as they deny the reality of evolution, maintain successful careers in science. Even the assertion that fundamentalism is in “conflict” with “science” is objectively false. Richard Lewontin talks about a debate he and Carl Sagan had with an evolution denier who had a PhD in Zoology from the University of Texas in 1964. He asked what people should make of someone with that degree, clearly qualified as a “scientist” even in biology, who also denied the reality of evolution.

    — Everything we know about human anatomy suggests that personality and whatnot are the products of physical phenomena in the brain; they die with the body. Jason Rosenhouse

    As “human anatomy” is based in the physical body, of course anything you can ascertain by the study of it will end with death. But there isn’t any way to ascertain, scientifically, that the mind is a manifestation of chemistry. If there is a mind that exists independently of the body, then anatomy would be incapable of finding it or, perhaps, not be able to see it beneath what it could see. Rosenhouse is depending on the current fashion for the body only hypothesis instead of on actual fact, because that is only a philosophical position that isn’t universally held.

    Here are two things I’ve read recently that are relevant to his assertion.

    “Suppose we concede the most extravagant claims that might be made for natural law, so that we allow that the processes of the mind are governed by it; the effect of this concession is merely to emphasize the fact that the mind has an outlook which transcends the natural law by which it functions. If, for example, we admit that every thought in the mind is represented in the brain by a characteristic configuration of atoms, then if natural law determines the way in which the configurations of atoms succeed one another it will simultaneously determine the way in which thoughts succeed one another in the mind. Now the thought of “7 times 9″ in a boy’s mind is not seldom succeeded by the thought of “65.” What has gone wrong? In the intervening moments of cogitation everything has proceeded by natural laws which are unbreakable. Nevertheless we insist that something has gone wrong. However closely we may associate thought with the physical machinery of the brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as son as we consider the fundamental property of thought, that it may be correct or incorrect. The machinery cannot be anything but correct. We say that the brain which produces “7 times 9 are 63″ is better than a brain that produces “7 times 9 are 65″; but it is not as a servant of natural law that it is better. Our approval of the first brain has no connection with natural law; it is determined by the type of thought which it produces, and that involves recognizing a domain of the other type of law, laws which ought to be kept, but may be broken. Dismiss the idea that natural laws may swallow up religion; it cannot even tackle the multiplication table single-handed.” A. S. Eddington Science and the Unseen World

    “To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our DIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of its possessor’s body at the time.

    It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point of fact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion.” William James Varieties of Religious Experience Lecture 1

  95. My long comment that’s in moderation here is posted on my blog.

  96. Matti K.

    Scientists speak up when they feel that their colleagues have inadequate scientific arguments. Scientists speak up also against superstition. Faitheists support this, but feel that scientists should be careful when criticizing well-established superstition (=religion). For the common good, they say.

    There are no philosophical or logical reasons to treat religion differently from any other superstition. So why do the faitheists waste time with (pseudo)philosophical arguments and admit that it’s all about (American) politics?

  97. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    And then he goes on to equate theism with believing in ghosts, as they’re both “supernatural entities.”

    Yes, how dare he? Those are obviously completely different things.

  98. Peter Beattie

    Hang on. I just re-read that ghost passage. It now seems to me that JR is talking about science and what kinds of claims are amenable to being studied by it. In that regard, he says, ghosts and gods fall into the same category. That’s not the same as equating the belief in gods with a belief in ghosts, is it? Because that would be stupid.

  99. Jon

    Matti–

    First of all, what the heck is a faithiest?

    The rest of what you say is just trash talk. “Religion=Superstition”, “all religion is the same,” (I’m so tired of this reasoning by lazy stereotype), “psuedo” philosophical arguments (how is it psuedo? by whose lights?), “it’s all about politics” (it’s partly about politics, partly not, and what if the issue *is* about politics?)

    Blah blah blah. I have dispatched these points so many times in these threads with no serious argument from the New Atheists addressing my main points. Just rants and trash talk.

    Not surprising. That’s 90% of what you get on PZ’s blog too.

  100. Jon

    Yes, how dare he? Those are obviously completely different things.

    Yes– Spinoza, Charles Fort. What’s the difference?

  101. Peter Beattie

    “Jason is a lightweight”, said Professor McCarthy, sure of the power of his devilishly clever argument by assertion to lay waste to his opponents’ case.

  102. Matti K.

    Since Jon is so very tired, could somebody else give a rational explanation, what are the main philosophical differences between religion and superstition?

  103. Peter Beattie

    » Jon:
    Yes– Spinoza, Charles Fort. What’s the difference?

    Wait, Fort is a ghost??

  104. Jon

    Right, and Spinoza was God, until Eric Clapton.

  105. Jon

    what are the main philosophical differences between religion and superstition?

    My joke in 103 aside, ask Spinoza.

  106. TTT

    Spinoza would have nothing to tell us if we asked. He didn’t know anything more about the existence of God than any other person who ever lived. That is a field in which there is no “expertise.”

  107. — what are the main philosophical differences between religion and superstition? Matti

    I could ask the same question about science and religion, considering the number of things that science has accepted as truth only to have it overturned. When talking about behavioral sciences, such as the one Dawkins championed, there’s really not that much difference.

    The belief that there is a single thing that is “religion” is superstitious. And lazy.

  108. Peter Beattie

    Could someone please fix the markup screwup in Anthony McCarthy’s long post?

  109. Peter Beattie, by that criterion, any criticism I’d make of Michael Behe would be as invalid as my criticism of Jason Rosenhouse, only I’ve read Rosenhouse’s blog and he’s a lightweight. He should read stuff he comments on instead of skimming or just repeating the common received POV of his ideology.

    By the way, Michael Behe is all wet about ID. Now repeat your point since I’ve done it again.

  110. Yeah, this time it was my post that did it. I guess. Though the bold is a lot easier to read.

  111. I just read up the thread all the way and see that Jon made substantially the same point I did. At some blogs that means I’m supposed to buy him a drink.

  112. Oh, c’mon TTT, let’s be fair to Baruch. Religion is distinct from superstition because religion ostensibly has a connection to reason, which in turn is connected to virtue.

    But it should be noted that, for Spinoza, insofar as the motivation to do good arises from the mere desire to avoid the bad (suffering), that thing is NOT in accord with reason. Relatedly, he thinks superstitions exist for the sake of condemning vice and not to laud virtue, and so, superstitions “have no other intention than to make the rest as miserable as themselves”.

    So, to answer Matti, Spinoza would say that the difference between religion and superstition is that the former fosters love and harmony and reason, while the latter indulges in fear-mongering. It follows that, were he alive today, he would be far more animated than any of these so-called new atheists in trying to get people to get away from evangelical America.

  113. Peter Beattie

    » Anthony McCarthy:
    He should read stuff he comments on instead of skimming

    So how do you know he didn’t read the book? He seems to quote a lot from it.

  114. Peter Beattie, I’m referring to things he’s written about Richard Lewontin, Charles Darwin and Jerry Coyne on other occasions. I could mention his refusal to weigh in on a serious mathematical fallacy promulgated on his blog when that was repeatedly pointed out to him.

  115. Peter Beattie

    Why don’t you just refer to the post you were referring to in the first place, the second part of his review? You specifically said M&K should forget about it because JR is a lightweight. Then you said he’s a lightweight because he doesn’t read the things he purportedly reviews. How was one not to get the idea that you were saying that JR hadn’t read UA? And in any case: do you have any specific criticisms concerning his review?

  116. John Kwok

    Anthony,

    BTW these religiously – devout scientists have produced far more substantial research in evolutionary biology than have any of the Militant Atheists including the one who wrote “The Selfish Gene”:

    evolutionary geneticists Francisco J. Ayala, and his mentor, Theodosius Dobzhansky.

    ecologist Michael L. Rosenzweig

  117. Peter Beattie

    » John Kwok:
    But, in this case, his assessment of Collins’s “persecution” by the Coyne/Myers Militant Atheist Borg Collective is quite fair and to the point.

    Okay, I give up. If you won’t address the issue and just repeat statements that fly in the face of the evidence, then you’ll have to go talk to a wall or something. I’d like to have a discussion, but it seems I’m not getting one from you.

    And regarding your comment over at JR’s blog: I didn’t say your opinion didn’t have any weight. I said that it didn’t have any weight as long as you didn’t care to provide evidence or arguments in favour of it. And that goes for anybody. Nobody should give a rip about my opinion if I didn’t provide any reason to do so other than stating that that was my opinion.

  118. windy

    windy, my policy is to subject the new atheists to the unfavorable half of their double standard, the one they apply to their opponents. To do otherwise is to allow new atheists to rig the rules in their favor. People who don’t practice a double standard get the normal rules.

    I wasn’t talking to you was I? Nobody cares about your “policy”, you colossal bore!

  119. “Colossal bore” goes through the filter.

    I don’t care if I’m boring, though I’m actually pretty svelt and short. That’s something I want on the record. That’s “svelt” not “scrawny”. Also for the record.

  120. John Kwok

    @ Peter –

    I provided you with some evidence, and you chose to ignore it. Moreover, I have said more than once that we need a sociologist interested in the intersection between religion and science to do sufficiently rigorous research.

  121. windy

    Since it’s going on the record and all: it’s spelled ‘svelte’.

  122. Peter Beattie

    » John Kwok:
    I provided you with some evidence

    Oh, so now you have provided evidence that Miller’s claim that Harris says that “Collins’s sin … is that he is a Christian” is valid? Where? Point me to it, because on this thread you have done no such thing. If only because it’s patently false, as I have shown by giving you the relevant quotes. And you say I ignore evidence? That’s crazy-talk.

    And no, we don’t need a sociologist. M&K could have produced even just a small number of case files of people who have been turned off of science because of the Rightly Famous Atheists, perhaps something comparable to RD.net’s Converts’ Corner. That would at least been actual evidence—not strong, but evidence. All they do give, however, is people’s opinions on the matter (Eugenie Scott’s and Mr Stover’s), and as support for the claim that the Philosophically Savvy Atheists’ combativeness is “strongly counterproductive” that’s simply ridiculous.

  123. I also don’t care about standard English spelling. I’m shameless.

  124. — All they do give, however, is people’s opinions on the matter (Eugenie Scott’s and Mr Stover’s), and as support for the claim that the Philosophically Savvy Atheists’ combativeness is “strongly counterproductive” that’s simply ridiculous. P.B.

    I think John Dewey would have something to say about that. I seem to recall he was mightily influenced by Jane Addams’ arguments on that issue. I wonder if the Humanists are going back to their roots after a period of futile and counterproductive antagonism.

  125. Skeptic

    It doesn’t make sense to keep on bringing up Dawkins et al.’s lack of publications. While publication is nice and all, it’s not necessary to be a good scientific thinker. After all, how many peer-reviewed research publications does one of the authors of this blog have? That hardly makes her a bad scientific thinker and she is still called a scientist.

  126. Peter Beattie

    » Prof McCarthy:
    I think John Dewey would have something to say about that

    Well, what did he have to say, Anthony? Enlighten us!

  127. He said that Jane Addams convinced him that his endorsement of the inevitability and value of antagonism was fallacious, as I recall. It’s a long time ago that I read that book which mentioned it and my library books aren’t due for another week.

    Until then, you can get some idea of it here.

    http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/446999.html

    I disagree with the author about the extent to which her position changed but Dewey, himself, said that he was extremely impressed with Addam’s point of view.

    As to “Prof. McCarthy”, I don’t play ragtime other than for my own edification, so “Prof.” isn’t a title I can lay claim to. A couple of my students have called me “Mack”. Others have called me other things.

  128. John Kwok

    @ Peter –

    We do need a sociologist to look at the issues you’ve been raising for weeks. I admit that the best I can do is to provide anecdotal evidence. As for Ken’s recent remarks, I endorse them completely (BTW, I think Ken was being a bit sarcastic in his The New York Times letter, but that still works for me.).

  129. Anthony, I think you may have Addams in mind more than Dewey. Addams’ thesis was that there are real objective differences between persons which will inevitably settle themselves, and that antagonism only arises when these objective differences are infused with personal reaction. These personal reactions are typified by fear of cowardice, sense of reckoning, and shaudenfreude. When Jesus cast the moneylenders from the temple, he was being silly. He should’ve just, I guess, pointed out the separation of church and market, and let the objective difference resolve itself.

    Although Dewey abandoned the view that antagonism had any charm, he maintained his view that conflict had historical functions. The take-home lesson, from that article on Dewey, is that we can observe conflict in retrospect, but ought not anticipate its inevitability, as it might take hold of the mind in an unhealthy way. In other words: it is inevitable over time, but not in any particular instance, and is only made worse if you expect it.

    So hooray. But what if they were both mistaken in some contexts? How would we know? To find out, shouldn’t we get out of our armchairs and actually start looking around in the world?

  130. Peter Beattie

    @ Anthony McCarthy:

    Pity about the ragtime. ;> What kind of students do you teach?

  131. Benj. S. Nelson, I was thinking of it specifically in the difference in tone among the various Humanist Manifestos, the possible influence of Dewey on those, and the reaction of the self-indulgent antagonists that are the new atheism to E. Scott’s unenthusiastic attitude towards pointless antagonism. Perhaps there’s something to be learned.

    Pointless turns to counter-productive quite frequently when it comes to antagonism. Whatever proposed usefulness the macho proponents of antagonism come up with is at least matched with potential for it to be turned on their side. When an unpopular group turns to antagonism they should count on it being used by their opponents because history shows that’s the side that often gets the better of it.

  132. Motley students. But paying ones, too.

  133. Anthony, yes, but that’s something everyone can agree on. Every person has their own role in the arguments, so let a thousand flowers bloom — unless you can show the limits of the effectiveness of this manner of rhetoric or that form of argument.

    Since M/K persist in empty chiding of the New Atheist Blogosphere, one can only suppose that they’re either framing themselves as the political enemies of secular activism as a lifestyle choice, or they have compelling evidence that secular activists like Myers have alienated bible-belt America.

    Among the paltry evidence in UA (if we want to call it evidence) was testimony from a loonie Republican politician. From my vantage point, there’s the distinct possibility that the Republicans are doing everything they can to alienate the Democrats from their own organizational base. So they adopt a “clutched pearls” attitude to threaten the loss of possible reconciliation and bipartisanship, and appeal to the “good guys and girls” ethos that already exists in a reasonable populace. If you get tempted by this deal with the devil, as the Ben Nelson (D-Neb) sort do, then you weaken your ties to the base. You alienate yourself from your own spine.

    In this scenario, your competitor is all the while waiting to perform the bait-and-switch, as they are covertly amassing their own very unfriendly forces to take over. (Among those unfriendly forces, it is worth noting that Bill Nelson, a member of the Christian wirepulling sleaze lobby called “The Family”. And for the record — I am not casting aspersions on her character — but Bill Nelson was Sheril’s old boss, which should at least tell you something about the direction which conventional wisdom travels.) The amassing of the nut wing involves creating a sense of victimization, etc., and will surely involve outright lying and distorting opposing figures like Myers for their own scapegoating purposes. But they’re going to do that no matter what happens, no matter who says what, which is why it’s so pointless for science-friendly types to so harshly and emptily condemn activists like Myers on those grounds. But what’s even more significant for my point here is that if you pull the trust away from the activists, you pass up the opportunity to build your own community, your own base. So long as both parties have strong bases, the game will be zero-sum, with no clear winners or losers. But when the clutched-pearls crowd distance themselves from their own base, the system slips out of their grasp; as if it were a game of table-tennis, and the table were tolerably tilted in the other direction.

  134. J. J. Ramsey

    Benjamin S. Nelson:

    Since M/K persist in empty chiding of the New Atheist Blogosphere, one can only suppose that they’re either framing themselves as the political enemies of secular activism as a lifestyle choice, or they have compelling evidence that secular activists like Myers have alienated bible-belt America.

    Falsely dichotomize much?

  135. JJ, admittedly, the dichotomy only has the power that it does when one substitutes “new atheist” for “secular activist (as a lifestyle choice)”, as I have. If you think there’s a distinction, the dichotomy will seem spurious. I don’t acknowledge any distinction.

    But to answer your question: I can’t think of a third alternative that’s realistic, no. Well, sure, we can always postulate that M/K are confused and don’t quite know what they want. This is possible, but it’s not very charitable.

  136. J. J. Ramsey

    “JJ, admittedly, the dichotomy only has the power that it does when one substitutes ‘new atheist’ for ‘secular activist (as a lifestyle choice),’ as I have.”

    But one can be an activist for secularism without taking or even endorsing the “new atheist” approach of caricaturing religious believers. Heck, one can do that without even being an atheist, as Ed Brayton from Dispatches From the Culture Wars does.

  137. J.J., I would rejoin that there is nothing characteristic of “new atheists” that involves caricaturing the positions of theists. I would then boldly suggest that theists and their fellow travelers caricature themselves quite a bit more, and to a worse degree.

    But, as usual, we should not be surprised if the debate comes to a screeching dogmatic halt… unless, of course, we abandon general labels for a motley crowd, and instead criticize specific individual thinkers and accuse them of holding specific propositions.

    Take the trope, “The new atheists don’t appreciate the diversity of religion.” Now look at Dawkins. In The God Delusion, Dawkins sets up a working definition of religion that is meant, for his own narrow purposes, to deal with theistic religions (excluding atheistic ones, which he suggests don’t really have much in common with the rest of the lot). These working definitions do not exhaust all uses of the kind, “religion”, and yet we hear that he condemns the Buddhists / Taoists with the Christians and Muslims. Not so.

    Moreover, in his section on Einstein, he considers himself an ally with Spinozan pantheists, against both the deists and the theists. If this is who he regards as a friend, then what work are we supposed to think the word “atheist” is really doing in his philosophy? It is central, sure, but we might call him instead a “secular activist” and have the label be just as helpful.

    So really at this point I would need you to say more for me to give an articulate and considered reply.

  138. Absurdist
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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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