Counterproductive Attacks on Religion–Exhibit A

By Chris Mooney | October 22, 2009 8:53 am

After much controversy and much investigation, it now seems clear that the story told by “Tom Johnson” below is not credible. Details are here and here. I regret giving it the attention that I did with this post.

Reacting to a previous post, a scientist named Tom Johnson left a comment so striking that I believe it deserves greater attention. Here it is:

Many of my colleagues are fans of Dawkins, PZ, and their ilk and make a point AT CONSERVATION EVENTS to mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like – and these are events hosted by religious moderates where we’ve been ASKED to attend. They think it’s the way to be a good scientist, after all.

So what do you think happens when you spit in someone’s face, mock them openly, figuratively throw them to the ground and kick dirt in their face – and then ask “now we really need your help!!”? When my colleagues do this, you can watch the attention visibly disappear from the crowd when you finally start talking about conservation and real science.

That’s the problem with the blogosphere – you can say all the extreme, controversial things you want without consequences. But when your readers start echoing those things to the public (the people that science desperately needs to translate research to action), I’m afraid the consequences are rather severe.

Exactly. In the real world, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, than to score intellectual points when only a small and relatively homogenous intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.

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Comments (213)

  1. Chris,
    Not all scientists live in the real world . . .

  2. Ian

    Religion and science are both in search of truth – as such they will have things to say to each other. For that to happen we need to listen.

  3. Tom Johnson

    Thanks for posting that comment, Chris. Those same collegaues of mine keep asking me “where’s your data?” when I tell them they’re hurting our cause. Apparently they aren’t looking in the mirror – or watching the crowd turn their backs to them.

  4. Exactly Tom. As Philip H. alludes to, this is not the approach of those actively working on the ground in communities with real people holding multiple perspectives who share a common goal such as conservation or sound policy.

  5. Jon

    … only a small and relatively homogenous intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.

    For right now, you mean. I bet there are some on the right who would love to have some select New Atheists as foils. Just like now, how they find random professors to mouth the alleged secret views of the “elite,” if we have a generation who perpetually talk trash about religion, there is going to be an abundance of poster children to quote and put on talk shows and bait into making culture war spectacles. (And I guarantee not all of them will be as well spoken as Richard Dawkins.) The idea that science should spend its credibility with the public on this fight, when there are obviously so many other important issues that need discussion, is more than foolish.

  6. bilbo

    Something tells me that, as harmful to science as Tom’s example is, we’ll hear nothing about this from the new atheist rant-o-sphere…despite all their calls for “show us how we’re hurting science!”

  7. The idea that science should spend its credibility with the public on this fight, when there are obviously so many other important issues that need discussion, is more than foolish.

    Jon,
    I wish I could agree with you, but science’s collective ability to be heard on those other important issues is directly linked to the outcome o fthis fight. If we scientists appear to the general public to be aloof, uncaring, righteous bigots who do nothing more then slave to the Scientific Method and deride believers, we will NOT be standing in the forefront of the resposne to . . . for instance . . . climate change. Science ignores its public image at its own peril, or so Chris and Sheril have shown rather well in their work.

  8. Sorbet

    To be honest I would like to meet these scientists who Tom Johnson is citing. In my personal experience as a scientist, most of the scientists I have met are fans of Dawkins and Myers and still emphatically don’t share the more combative opinions of the two. Most of my scientific friends are quite mild mannered when criticizing religion and yet call themselves New Atheists. That’s why I noted the importance of recognizing shades even among the new atheists themselves earlier.

  9. Matt Penfold

    Religion and science are both in search of truth – as such they will have things to say to each other. For that to happen we need to listen.

    Only one has the tools for arriving at the truth. And it is not religion.

  10. Tom Johnson

    Sorbet, I don’t doubt that you have NA friends who are not combative, but please don’t doubt that I have NA colleagues that are. For what it’s worth, I’m not exaggerating my case or making things up.

    I would chalk things up to my collegaues generally being combative people, but when I ask them about why they feel that they need to chastise the faithful when they’ve asked us to come help (trust me, we have heated discussions), they directly quote PZ Meyers, Jerry Coyne (especially), and Dawkins as why it should be a “good” scientist’s job these days to attack the faithful – no matter how moderate the faithful may be. I then get called a faithiest (thanks, Jerry Coyne) for NOT calling the religious ignorant and stupid. Despite all the calls for “this is all about philosophical compatability,” the NA’s readers are certainly not applying it that way.

    Regardless, the NAs have a responsibility to squash this kind of stuff before it gets worse.

  11. andrew

    What if ‘our’ shared goal is to make people who openly profess religious affiliation in public feel embarrassed and shameful knowing that most reasonable people find their views ridiculous, just like we do to astrologers and fortune tellers.

    And what if, as you say, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, ie. make nice with conservative atheists (if I’m a liberal)… etc… Then we’d be doing exactly what you say we should do.

    Maybe you don’t understand that we have different goals – I don’t care about the creationists because the bigger problem is institutionalized irrational belief that is given a free ride in too many aspects of society.

    That being said, there is a time and place to make fun of people’s retarded beliefs, and maybe the example above wasn’t one of them. But it depends on the context. If the conference opened with something like “We must help protect the X because God made them and loves them so much, as we can see from the follow passage from Romans…” then, yes, open ridicule would be an appropriate response.

  12. andrew

    Tom, I also hear about super religious people who question people who don’t believe, I see them picketing our hospital that performs abortions, passing out pamphlets telling be I’m going to hell, etc… is this about amassing lists of the bad theists/atheists and comparing? Do you have any other anecdotal evidence for the court?

    Atheists usually get scolded for telling stories about dumb theistic behavior because it is picking the worst of the lot and generalizing that they are all like that. Is this what you’re doing now, only with rude atheists?

    Seems like you guys are running out of material on your half of the anti-Atheists debate.

  13. Anthony McCarthy

    — Only one has the tools for arriving at the truth. Matt Penfold

    What’s the scientific tool that discovered the truth that women shouldn’t be subjugated by men? That people shouldn’t be discriminated against due to their ethnicity?

    I’m not talking about any science that has produced evidence that women and minorities are the equals of men and the predominant ones, I mean that it is wrong for those with power to subjugate those without it. Because I can point to a considerable body of “science” that has and still asserts either side of that moral issue. Just as I can religion that does the same thing.

  14. andrew

    Another issue I see in this debate is that we (atheists) don’t see popular religion being any different than pseudo-science/creationism/cults, things that scientists should rail against (have a duty to oppose). One is more widespread than the other, but that in no way gives it any credibility.

    The question I would like to ask is how do you people (anti-atheists) differentiate popular religion from less popular theoretical trash? (Some would say one mans trash is another mans religion.)

  15. Jon

    Phillip H.:

    science’s collective ability to be heard on those other important issues is directly linked to the outcome o fthis fight.

    This is precisely the New Atheists position (thank you for stating it) and it is precisely wrong. And naive. It’s oblivious about history. These questions have been around for centuries and they are not going away now, no matter how loudly and high-handedly the NA’s insist on butting in on everyone’s personal choices of belief.

    And almost no NA’s have any idea how the right exploits this stuff. Check out this Thomas Frank video (especially at about 4:15 where he starts talking about scientists). Scientists’ expertise is study of the physical world. Period. You can believe that that is the only subject matter worth knowing about. Fine. But there are plenty of educated people who disagree with you (never mind the uneducated people). It is not a debate that has an end. As this TNR reporter says, you can’t prove a negative (eg, God does not exist in any manner). So never mind the public at large, even in the ivory tower, you cannot “win” this debate. And as Thomas Frank argued in that video, the right has it down to a science how to exploit the backlash. This stuff dates all the way back to Buckley’s *God and Man at Yale* in the 1950′s, where Buckley made a bottomless amount political hay out of the statements of certain stridently atheist Yale professors.

    In short, to anyone who’s informed beyond certain narrow confines, this is an incredibly stupid public debate to be having. Private philosophical debates, no problem. But shoving it into the public square like this? Very stupid if you have other important public priorities, as we obviously do.

  16. Tom Johnson

    I’m not an anti-atheist, Andrew. I’m an atheist. But I’m an atheist that sees the value in working with the moderately religious instead of against them – especially when they are the ones who extend a hand first. I don’t give credence to their belief or agree with them; I often have lengthy discussions with ministers and others at the events like the one mentioned in this original post where I will tell the believers that I disagree with them…but I do it without laughing loudly at them, making it my job to mock their belief, or calling them “ignorant.” In my experience, I get much better dialogue and a much better willingness to help on conservation issues when disagree without vitriol versus my colleagues, who make it a game to see who can be the most rude and abrasive and end up with zero dialogue and an unwillingness to help on the part of the faithful.

    A huge misconception about believers that has been nurtured by the likes of Jerry Coyne is that believers are responsible for creationism (and don’t care about its effects) even if they’re religious moderates who accept evolution. When I actually work with the faithful (versus just making assumptions about them on a blog), I find that it’s quite the opposite: religious moderates are angry at creationism and want to help stomp it out – but they’re upset that scientists (or at least the vocal ones that get all the attention) have decided to blame them as a scapegoat and turn their back instead. In other words, the world of apathetic religious moderates that Jerry Coyne paints makes for an easy argument on his part, but it’s far, far from reality.

    I’m trying to provide some personal experiences here versus the “here’s what I think” assumptions of most of the New Atheists. Hopefully, someone will listen.

  17. TB

    Tom: “Those same collegaues of mine keep asking me “where’s your data?” when I tell them they’re hurting our cause.”

    Pointing out how common decency and diplomacy works requires no evidence. But if they really insist, point them to this series on New York cops and tactical communication:
    http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=593

    As far as your collegaues go, you should point out that they’re the ones introducing a new idea into the mix, it’s up to them to come up with data to justify their position. At this point, I’ve yet to see any. Only one person has pointed to a study on the effectiveness of “aggressive” communication, and that was only a synopsis of the study. Plus, it seemed to focus on how that communication was effective with people viewing the communication, not the people on the receiving end. And sure, there’s always going to be voyeurs who appreciate a good show. But you’re not there to entertain voyeurs, sounds like you’re there to inform.

    Tom, I wonder: At these events, are these people there representing the organization you work for? Is that an educational organization, like a college? Wouldn’t there be repercussions if their superiors heard of this behavior?

  18. TB

    Andrew: “The question I would like to ask is how do you people (anti-atheists) …”

    I’m decidedly not anti-atheist. Since that premise fails, it’d be helpful if you rephrased your question so I can understand what you’re asking.

  19. Matt Penfold

    I’m decidedly not anti-atheist. Since that premise fails, it’d be helpful if you rephrased your question so I can understand what you’re asking.

    I think you might need to re-think how you come across then.

    You certainly come across as being anti-atheist. If that is not in fact your position then you seem to have a communications problem.

  20. Vindrisi

    “Pointing out how common decency and diplomacy works requires no evidence.”

    TB, you haven’t spent much time here, have you? Pointing that out draws attacks about how decency and diplomacy don’t work, aren’t justified, are irrelevant, and so on. Heck, I have seen some of the more vehement fire-breathers on the NA side here and elsewhere even oppose the very idea that people are entitled to respect as human beings.

  21. Tom Johnson

    TB:

    The organization I work for is a large, well-known research university (I won’t say which or name names as I don’t want to go down that road). We go to events representing the university, and many (most, actually) of the events we go to are ones in which we are specifically invited because we advertise ourselves as providing educational scientific outreach. (We also advertise about the need for scientists to work with diverse audiences but, as you can probably guess, that claim leaves much to be desired.)

    Personally, I go into these events viewing them as a chance to reach out to groups that may not always get goood exposure to scientific topics. The state that I happen to work in is miserably lacking in scientific awareness, so these events are a great chance to “spread the word” in a way that doesn’t put the public off to science further. What happens, however, is that my collegaues turn the purpose of the events from spreading scientific knowledge to ppromoting atheism (by only bashing religion). As I told Anna K. later in the comment that brought on this post, these collegaues of mine act like they’re gearing up for battle on the way to the events, saying things like “this is our chance to tell these religious bimbos off.” When we get there, however, there’s no battle. Instead there a bunch of normal people who happen to go to church who are looking to help and instead get laughed at and mocked for an hour.

    I’d like to say that the superiors in this case would chastise such behavior, but in reality, the superiors are part of the group partaking in it. I can’t stress enough how the writings of PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne (especially) are quoted by them when they’re gearing up for a “fight” or discussing their behavior with you. The sentiment that religious moderates are no better than a creationist comes up frequently (a common theme on Jerry’s blog), as does the sentiment that NOT showing vitriol is somehow really just giving support to religion (another common theme). I get frequently told that I’m a ‘bad atheist’ because I’m not willing to figuratively spit in the face of everyone I meet who is religious. Honestly, I’m more interested in being a good scientist.

  22. Jon

    Phillip H.:

    science’s collective ability to be heard on those other important issues is directly linked to the outcome o fthis fight.

    This is precisely the New Atheists position (thank you for stating it) and it is precisely wrong. And naive. It’s oblivious about history. These questions have been around for centuries and they are not going away now, no matter how loudly and high-handedly the NA’s insist on butting in on everyone’s personal choices of belief.

    And almost no NA’s have any idea how the right exploits this stuff. Check out this Thomas Frank video (especially at about 4:15 where he starts talking about scientists). Scientists’ expertise is study of the physical world. Period. You can believe that that is the only subject matter worth knowing about. Fine. But there are plenty of educated people who disagree with you (never mind the uneducated people). It is not a debate that has an end. As this TNR reporter says, you can’t prove a negative (eg, God does not exist in any manner). So never mind the public at large, even in the ivory tower, you cannot “win” this debate. And as Thomas Frank argued in that video, the right has it down to a science how to exploit the backlash. This stuff dates all the way back to Buckley’s *God and Man at Yale* in the 1950’s, where Buckley made a bottomless amount political hay out of the statements of certain stridently atheist Yale professors.

  23. TB

    Hi Tom

    No, I appreciate your desire for some privacy. Just wanted to understand the situation a bit more.
    As far as superiors, there’s always a bigger fish. Can’t imagine behavior like that won’t get back to them.

    Vindrisi: Thanks, but I’ve been around here a bit. Trying to lurk more, post less.

  24. Tom Johnson

    Jon:

    Reading your comments and the other comments to this post, I’m seeing an important point. There’s a dichotomy in the scientific world and even in the New Atheist one, I believe, and it has to do with motivation.

    On one side, there are people like Chris/Sheril and myself who’s primary goal is to improve scientific understanding, mainly due to pressing threats from conservation-related issues (global warming, biodiversity loss, and so on and so forth). On the other side, there are those who still have an interest in these things, but they are in the background to a larger goal of promoting a philosophical worldview (ontological naturalism). To this latter side, it seems that working with those they disagree with philosophically means a weakening of their own philosophical stance, and this cannot be tolerated no matter the cost. I think until people on both sides can see this dichotomy and realize that we’re all not just arguing for points in a philosophical dispute, the stalemate will just keep going, and science itself will keep falling backwards in the public.

  25. Gadfly

    Tom and Sorbet — while there are undoubtedly strident vs. non-strident NAs out there — and likely the non-strident are the majority — the strident, by their very nature, get the attention. And they are also the ones doing damage to any reconciliation with religious moderates. Who, by the way, vastly outnumber the young-earthers etc.

    Jon
    “the right has it down to a science how to exploit the backlash”
    Let’s not forget that the “left” is just as adept at exploitation. As witnessed by the typical anti-religious statements on this and other blogs here at Discover. As was stated earlier…the vast majority of religious are moderate, don’t question the age of the earth, evolution, etc. But we’re contiually mocked and lumped in with radical evangelists.

    Extremists on both ends of the spectrum are the problem. In this, and pretty much every other, endeavor.
    I would point out that as long as school boards are elected positions they are vulnerable to ignorance. If you care at all about scientific education, you need to work at educating the ignorant. And, as Tom rightly points out, educating someone while simultaneously spitting in their eye is unlikely to be productive.

  26. Luke Vogel

    This has all fairly interesting. Jerry Coyne has a post up today “Back to the barricades” where he is accusing Mooney and Kirshenbaum of intellectual dishonesty.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/back-to-the-barricades/

    What example does he use to make this charge, well see for yourself.

    >> Coyne: “..the Twins seem to have become intellectually dishonest. One of many examples is their citing Robert Wright’s beef against my New Republic review of his book The Evolution of God, a tactic designed to show that when reviewing books I habitually misrepresent them. Yet they fail to mention my long response to Wright, showing that his beef turns out to be thin gruel.” <> “There are the accommodationists/faitheists who are afraid of their own shadow. Those people have no backbone so they chastise those who do.”<>”Well neither is actually a scientist.

    Kirshenbaum has a MSc in Marine Biology, but in my view to be called a scientist you have to do scientific research.”<>”The “Intersection” comments section reflects the quality and substance of the posts: a slimy cesspool of smear tactics.”<>”Been quite a while since I’ve looked over there. The comments section has turned into quite a shrill echo chamber, hasn’t it?”<<

    Again, absolutely incredible. What they are revealing is defining intellectual dishonesty.

    For Jerry and the others.

    ….
    Intellectual Dishonesty Defined:

    * the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows or believes to be false or misleading
    * the conscious omission of aspects of the truth known or believed to be relevant in the particular context.

    If a person is aware of the evidence and agrees with the conclusion it portends, yet advocates a contradictory view, they commit intellectual dishonesty.
    …..

    BTW, here is Jerry’s response to Wright:

    I think Jerry makes some very good points, I simply can not go the distance Wright advocates and he deserves criticism, he comes close to a Michael Ruse argument in several areas. Ruse was upset with S.J. Gould when Gould proposed that these attempts to meld scientific discovery with science (ie science Explaining religious beliefs) was nothing more than “wooly metaphor” and Gould was clearly advocating a stop to such nonsense.

    That said, I have a great deal of respect for Michael Ruse and Robert Wright. However, it seems clear that Jerry Coyne also goes on to misrepresent Wright’s words in his Response. In fact, I’d say Mooney should contact Wright, go back over Coyne’s Response and slam it, there is plenty to slam.

    Right from the get go, he states Wright’s first complaint as Wright arguing for a deistic god, then quotes Wright form his books, The Evolution of God and NonZero (both deserving of criticism), then goes on to argue that Wright is not only arguing for an evolution being guided by a god, but that Wright himself may in fact believe this.

    Here’s the money quote from Coyne:

    >>”Contra Wright, what he describes above is very different from what Henry Ford did with his cars. Ford built his cars, but it was up to the driver to determine where they went. For Wright, God not only built evolution and human societies, but did it in such a way that where they went was inherent in their design. God apparently made his cars with built-in autopilots and GPSs.”<>”Let me defend the 900-foot-Jesus bit. Peter, are you telling me that if a 900-foot Jesus apparition appeared in New York City, and was amply photographed and documented by everyone, and precautions were taken to ensure that it wasn’t a hoax (e.g., asking the Great Randi to investigate)–that you wouldn’t consider THAT at least tentative evidence for the supernatural? And suppose that Jesus told you how the Dow Jones average was going to fluctuate over the next month. (Anyway, as you note, I adduced a lot of other potential evidence.)”<>”supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science”<<

    Since then has come many a bizarre defense, mainly from his philosophy mentor, Russell Blackford who wrote a poor defense of overlapping science and the supernatural in his blog post; Natural and Supernatural again (its as good or better than what you find on the Discovery Institute web site, and I stand by that, for a quick confirmation put "naturalism" into the DI search).

    My complaint to you, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum – though let me state up front that I did enjoy your book, though I did find it light in areas, was still an excellent edition to get out there in the public to create awareness of the problem and get some remedies in place. With the chapter on "new atheism" you really should have seen what the fall out would be and I am a bit disappointed you were not more prepared for the craziness. You are criticizing certain people that spend nearly every day (just read PZ, even today) reminding themselves they are victims (and to some extent we are, but holy shit they've blurred the lines like I've only seen religious zealots or radical conservatives in the U.S. do – it's a constant; "oh we all know they want us to stay silent and be little cuddly bears, but, we ain't gonna do it").

    However, I think you go to far in the what appears to be advocacy of not criticizing religious claims and beliefs. You have decided (well I am speaking of Chris here, going on what he's has said only after being called out by Jerry Coyne, quite expertly I might add) to flip the coin of going from very radical to very accommodating. So, now the debate revolves around this "accomodationist" bullshit, though that is clearly not entirely your fault, you like many others, have become convenient targets in debates when issues are dealt with with blinders on (this complaint cuts both ways).

    I think the complaints about "accomodationism" are valid, up to a point. Here I think Jerry Coyne clearly can find it easy to go wildly off the tracks. Science and reason advocacy in and of itself is seen by many to be confrontational when discussing a broad range of topics. To place non-science at the helm of your atheistic advocacy while claiming your advocating science at the exact same time has created something akin to religious claims of science shedding light on the "supernatural" god. I think Coyne has clearly set himself up to argue at times much like an Intelligent Designer would (and do) when there is absolutely no need to do this, no need to insist that the supernatural is within the realm of science.

    Just because science can dispute claims of "supernaturalistic" causation does not tell us "science is studying the "supernatural". If Jerry insist on "what if" scenarios that would convince him that a "supernatural force" or god exist, then that is his personal argument, he should stop pretending otherwise. He appears burnt by religion and can't see past it.

  27. andrew

    TB: Sorry, I mean anti-’atheists expressing their views’.

  28. Luke Vogel

    Can we please fix my comment? It appears the link ran a bit to far :)

    I apologize if it was something on my end creating that problem.

    Thanks.

  29. Chris Mooney

    I would like to fix that comment but right now I am trying and baffled at what happened–fixes don’t seem to work. could be a bug. i don’t know.

  30. Yes, I would agree with this. But it doesn’t really generalize to the cases that have been disputed for the past 6 months.

  31. Luke Vogel

    I see what happened, when I copy/pasted the link to Jerry Coyne’s blog post, “Responce to Robert Wright” it (more likely I) screwed up. So now it appears I’m quoting Jerry, this is awful and I apologize to the readers, to Jerry and Chris and Sheril.

    You can click anywhere in the light shaded areas to read Jerry’s blog post.

    But, here it is anyway. Again, I apologize.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/response-to-wright/

  32. Luke Vogel
  33. Sorbet

    -What’s the scientific tool that discovered the truth that women shouldn’t be subjugated by men? And why do you think the fact that women should not be subjugated by men is the “truth”? Just because science cannot tell us something about social mores does not mean that social mores have something to do with the “truth”. Plus, it is not inconceivable to come up with a fairly scientific reason for men respecting women; there’s better chances of raising stable and well provided for progeny. Now it may not be the explanation but it’s not inconceivable. Tom Johnson, I am not doubting that you have met people who are more vociferous than what’s necessary for persuasion. But I hope you also don’t doubt that I have met people calling themselves New Atheists who are much milder. A lot of what the New Atheists want to do is call a spade a spade. The exact words they use for doing this are open to debate and yes, I do agree that some words are more persuasive than others. But mild-mannered persuasion is also not the same as sugar-coating.

  34. Vindrisi

    TB – I thought I recognized your handle. I figured my point had to be made, though.

    As for your statement: “Trying to lurk more, post less.” I know exactly what you mean.

  35. TB

    @ Andrew 27

    “TB: Sorry, I mean anti-’atheists expressing their views’.”

    Yeah, that new premise still fails.

  36. Luke Vogel

    One more on a comment on Coyne’s site. It’s just to good not to mention.

    Ophelia Benson, who has written an outstanding book I recommend to everyone; Why Truth Matter’s, she is also a great defender of science and reason.

    However, she has a knack to be a dutiful defender sometimes done is bizarre ways – again I see part of this as what is going on with Coyne, not only seeing themselves as victims now and reminding themselves of this regularly but appearing more and more not like advocates for science and reason, but for atheism mainly and looking for the world like religion has burned them badly (this is not to be confused with focusing on the insanity of religion, and to speak out against all forms of irrationality, including religion and irrational defenses of irrationalism – that is an important distinction).

    She has a reply now which is worth a look on Coyne’s blog on “Back to the Barricades” about the Intersection’s blog “A Trio of Responses to Coyne’s Attack on UA”

    >> Benson: “Sigh. It never changes. From the first sentence – from the very title, it goes off the rails, by calling a review an attack. And Mooney accusing other people of attacking him is just bizarre given the series of ‘attacks’ he published in major media outlets over the summer.” <>”Two months have passed since the prominent journal Science published a highly misleading review of our book, Unscientific America, by Jerry Coyne. From the very first sentence, Coyne misrepresented the text…”<<

    Some kind of transference taking place, maybe? Beside's that, for all the confidence that yes, Coyne wrote a review, are you seriously saying it wasn't on the attack? And if you believed your own argument then why bother with the apologetic; "but look how he has attacked" bit.

  37. M.

    Interesting.

    I’m a working scientist, and I know exactly two people who behave as described in the comment section. They are a**holes all around in other areas of life, and the higher-ups know very well to keep them contained when others are present.

    I have literally *never* seen anything of the sort. But maybe it happens.

    One thing I don’t understand is what do you exactly want to do? We forbid the active atheists among scientists from talking about atheism? Do we also shut up religious scientists (what about, say, Collins – is he allowed to talk about science)?

    Yes, if scientists start lying about their opinions in order to make them more palatable to the general public, the general public will be more likely to receive them favorably. How do you propose to implement this “speak dishonestly” strategy?

  38. Anthony McCarthy

    — precautions were taken to ensure that it wasn’t a hoax (e.g., asking the Great Randi to investigate)

    Jerry Coyne said this? Relying on James Randi?

    —– And why do you think the fact that women should not be subjugated by men is the “truth”? Just because science cannot tell us something about social mores does not mean that social mores have something to do with the “truth”. Sorbet

    I’m asserting that it is the truth on the basis of experience and observation and on the basis of political and religious conviction. It’s as true as the idea that atheists should not be subjugated by the dominant religious tradition where they happen to live.

    You going to argue with that?

    I’d really like you to make science that demonstrates that women shouldn’t be subjugated by men, it would be a neat trick to see you demonstrate how science could discover a moral position. You’d have achieved something no one else has ever done, and science could never be the same again.

  39. benjdm

    So, to support your claim that attacks on religion are counterproductive, you show how insulting religious people is counterproductive.

    How about you move the goalposts back to attacks on religion instead of personal attacks on people?

    k, thx

  40. andrew

    TB: Fine, you’re whatever you want to be… the question is still pretty clear…
    (you wouldn’t see be turn down a question because someone called me a New Atheist, even though I despise the term. If it helps you to answer the question I think you’re a really swell guy.)

    How do you (enter your personnel definition here) differentiate religion from psudeo-science/creationism/cults/and varies degrees of Mumbo-Jumbo?

  41. Luke Vogel

    Anthony McCarthy,

    >>”Jerry Coyne said this? Relying on James Randi?”<>”If I were going to respect a God, it would be the kind of God, the sort of God, Carl Sagan, might have worshiped.”<<

    The kind of god Carl Sagan might have worship? Why the heck do people let these guys get away with such nonsense. I know he's talking about a deistic god – he even gets into the idea of being "possibly persuaded" by a "creative force" god argument (or some evidence maybe, though he avoids that issue mainly – its very similar to Coyne, in fact I think Coyne has gotten the ideas from Dawkins and relies on Blackford to explain them to him). Coyne likes going the next step of creating "what if" scenarios that would convince him a 'supernatural force' /god exist – then by extension saying this proves his point that the supernatural is within the realm of science (though he's evolved to the point of saying, well wouldn't give us reason to say there's "tentative evidence for…" just absurd crap!). Coyne is making his argument for atheism, while at the same time arguing against Gould, and in the mean time he's making a mockery of basic scientific understanding (this from a brilliant scientist and communicator, just goes to show).

  42. Matt Penfold

    “What’s the scientific tool that discovered the truth that women shouldn’t be subjugated by men? That people shouldn’t be discriminated against due to their ethnicity?

    I’m not talking about any science that has produced evidence that women and minorities are the equals of men and the predominant ones, I mean that it is wrong for those with power to subjugate those without it. Because I can point to a considerable body of “science” that has and still asserts either side of that moral issue. Just as I can religion that does the same thing.”

    There is no scientific tool. Of course I never claimed that science was the tool that tells us subjugation of women is wrong. Ethical and moral philosophy would be the tool for telling us about the wrongless of subjugating women.

    Religion seems to rather tell us that such subjugation is acceptable. I will grant some religious groups have moved on, and now have a more enlightened attitude towards woman, but even the liberal C of E have only just decided women can become bishops, and there was considerable disagreement over that. Religion has been a handicap to enlightened social attitudes.

  43. gillt

    Wait, who is this Tom Johnson commenter who argues from anecdote?

    If we are to rely on someone elses personal experience they should be an informed and reliable source, and Tom hasn’t come close to demonstrating this here for the readers…you know, so we can make up our own minds.

    We all have personal experiences. Is Tom Johnson’s more valuable than mine because the owners of this blog happen to agree with it?

  44. Tulse

    “Those same collegaues of mine keep asking me “where’s your data?” when I tell them they’re hurting our cause.”

    As any scientist should know, the plural of anecdote is not data — I can just as easily cite posters on various blogs who say that reading Dawkins, Myers, et al. convinced them of the truth of evolution against their religious upbringing. Ever since Nisbet and Mooney began claiming that the New Atheist behaviour somehow “hurts the cause”, people have reasonably asked for data. So far, none have been forthcoming, despite this presumably being a fairly straightforward claim to test. This anecdote doesn’t really change that.

  45. Luke Vogel

    I just reminded myself of Carl Sagan’s great line that science is like informed worship.

  46. Anthony McCarthy

    Tom Johnson hasn’t lied here yet that I’ve seen, gillt.

  47. Luke Vogel

    gilt,

    It’s almost strange to see you say:

    >>”We all have personal experiences. Is Tom Johnson’s more valuable than mine because the owners of this blog happen to agree with it?”<>”The “Intersection” comments section reflects the quality and substance of the posts: a slimy cesspool of smear tactics.” [snip] “It’s sometimes fun to sharpen your rhetorical tools and mock McCarthy and Vindrisi and the rest over their spitting mad hatred of all things Richard Dawkins but that’s about it.”<<

    Now for some reason I should listen to you? You've made it clear your view and purpose.

  48. Anthony McCarthy

    You do have to admit, it’s very big of Richard Dawkins to theoretically consider the possibility of his respecting a god, albeit one that doesn’t seem to do much for us or who would seem rather indifferent to your respect, never mind worship. And one that I don’t really believe anyone has ever believed in.

    I can’t help shaking the idea that worshiping an indifferent and listless god is more servile than worshiping one who you think is concerned with you and who does something for you from time to time. Theoretical as that “worship” would be in Dawkins’ case.

  49. magistramorous

    I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.

    -Baruch Spinoza

  50. gillt

    Vogel, what does my comment from Coyne’s blog have to do with accepting anecdotes from unnamed sources as the “reality on the ground” that Mooney claims it does?

  51. Anthony McCarthy

    —- It’s sometimes fun to sharpen your rhetorical tools and mock McCarthy gillt

    You mean like the time I showed you were lying about what I said about epignetics, or the time you claimed Richard Feynman would never have said what I said he said only to have me produce the quotation, or when I produced a Richard Lewontin’s quotation about the fact that scientists frequently had to rely on authority, after you said no scientist did that, or a number of other times like that? Because I really really had a good time when you did that, especially when I recommended that you sit corrected instead of standing corrected, as you said you were, since you were in the habit of saying so many untrue things. But maybe you should just take it lying, as you so often do.

  52. Sven DiMilo

    Tom Johnson hasn’t lied here yet that I’ve seen, gillt.

    Of course you have no possible way of knowing whether Johnson’s anecdote happens often, as he seems to imply, or happened once, or if he is just making it all up. We have no idea whether he’s even a scientist, or a “he,” for that matter. You and the Twins agree with him, therefore you believe him. It’s ridiculous.

  53. gillt

    McCarthy, as usual, in all the noise you make you forget to add the context or content to your comments.

    Anyone here can revisit the crazy things you stated about epigenetics and exobiology as they are all cataloged on this blog. This is also true of Feynman and your odd reliance on Lewontin’s opinion for all things science. There are other scientist out there besides someone who said some interesting things back in 1970.

  54. Sven DiMilo

    I would like to fix that comment but right now I am trying and baffled at what happened

    Just close the tag after “here,” O Great Communicator.

  55. Sorbet

    McCarthy on exobiology

    McCarthy displaying his ignorance about the true nature, history and methodology of science

    McCarthy asserting that “other ways of knowing” are as valid as rational scientific inquiry.

    McCarthy insisting that the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection could be true since they “happened only once and are therefore beyond the purview of science”.

    I could go on of course.

  56. Jon

    You and the Twins agree with him, therefore you believe him.

    There is such a thing as common sense. I don’t need to conduct an experiment to know that being rude turns people off. My mother taught me that when I was 4.

    Just like you calling people the “toothpaste twins” convinces me that it’s not much worth arguing with *you.* Because as far as I can tell, you seem to think a sneer and a substantial argument are essentially the same thing.

  57. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, I’ll leave it to the objective readers of our respective comments to judge who is what. Coyne seemed to not belittle his mentor’s generally positive review of his last book by noting his age, I’d take the recent Lewontin over the recent Dawkins and though what I’ve read of Coyne’s book is very good, his magazine journalism is largely awful. Unlike Lewontin’s which is on form.

  58. Luke Vogel

    gilt,

    >>”Vogel, what does my comment from Coyne’s blog have to do with accepting anecdotes from unnamed sources as the “reality on the ground” that Mooney claims it does?”<>gilt: ”The “Intersection” comments section reflects the quality and substance of the posts: a slimy cesspool of smear tactics.” [snip] “It’s sometimes fun to sharpen your rhetorical tools and mock McCarthy and Vindrisi and the rest over their spitting mad hatred of all things Richard Dawkins but that’s about it.”<<

    Besides that (which obviously your bias is perfectly clear as are your motivations from your own account) – you claim an "unnamed source", but it clearly reads as an experience related by "a scientist named Tom Johnson". It appears you are also paraphrasing Chris, which is fine, but you are clearly misrepresenting the post, especially the last paragraph to which I think you are referring. If I am wrong, then you are simply misquoting chris.

    I've read what you've said about Chris and Sheril and this blog. Don't think for a second you're going to bullshit me into thinking you want honest discourse. See, that's part of the problem now isn't? I can see it now, you will translate that to say; "see, they don't want the truth, they're just going to keep up their slimy cesspool of smear tactics". It's incredible you actually that you don't seem to understand that, you're making generalized accusations and stating purposeful motivation which says nothing about truthful discourse and yet you still act the victim – all on the same damn day.

  59. Tulse

    I don’t need to conduct an experiment to know that being rude turns people off.

    Actually, you do, or at least to test the notion that being rude fails to shift public opinion and policy in the direction you want. Google “Overton Window” for this contrary view.

    Honestly, when people resort to “common sense” when challenged for data, you know they got nothin’.

  60. Let’s pretend, for example, you are an conservation biologist who happens to think that your country is in dire need of health-care reform.

    Is it ok for you to write a letter to the editor on your position?
    Is it ok for you to write an article on your blog with your position?
    Is it ok for you to write a book, or give a talk specifically about this subject, advocating this position?
    I think yes.

    Is it ok for you to advocate your position to students in a conservation biology lecture?
    Is it ok for you to advocate your position in a public rally on conservationism?
    I think not.

    The problem here, I think, is that some people don’t recognise that advocating certain positions isn’t part of their day-job, not that they shouldn’t be able to advocate such positions in their own time.

  61. Tom Johnson

    Sven and gillt,

    I can assure you that:

    1.) I’m not lying.

    2.) My “anecdote” is not an isolated incident.

    3.) I’m am an evolutionary biologist at a major research university.

    4.) I am ‘a he.’

    and

    5.) I hesitated even posting the original comment that generated this post because I figured it would only result in responses such as yours who immediately try to discredit my story (and even question my integrity) on the grounds that it simply does not give credit to the values of your ideology. I was hoping it would generate some useful discussion on the topic, as apparently Chris also did by posting it. Until your rather immature and predictable comments, there was some quite interesting dialogue going. Here’s to hoping that it keeps up.

    (P.S. You’re not helping your cause by personifying the actions that I discussed in my original comment.)

  62. Jon

    I know what the Overton Window is. I don’t think moving large numbers of people into the “rude atheist” column is going to do the country any favors.

    But if someone’s got a poll, or a social science experiment, fine. I don’t have time to do one (I don’t even have time to waste on this stuff, really). I just don’t think we should need to prove our opinions to the point of autism. Large numbers of rude people produce a backlash. I don’t have a spreadsheet that says that. And if I did, something tells me the online nerd contingent would contest every single detail of the study … So I reserve the right to make claims for common sense.

  63. Anthony McCarthy

    Sven DiMilo, I should tell you that I see this as a political fight, not one that has anything to do with science and that I have no scruples about matching tactics in political fights. But in this case there’s no need to.

    If Jerry Coyne wants to spend that much of his intellectual credibility and his status as a credible and responsible adult by calling the owners of this blog “The Twins”, pointing out that is jr. high level behavior will suffice.

    I’ll bet he’s a real joy to his colleagues in Chicago.

    You have any evidence that Tom Johnson has lied about what he said, present it or accept that you can’t refute it.

  64. Matt Penfold

    I know what the Overton Window is. I don’t think moving large numbers of people into the “rude atheist” column is going to do the country any favors.

    What do you mean “the country” ?

    Why should everything in the religion/science debate be about one country ? Why do you assume that your country is the only one that matters ?

    I grant you might have made a slip, and meant “the world” but given your past comments here it would be a telling slip.

  65. gillt

    Jon, you don’t need a spreadsheet. You just need to understand that anecdotes from anonymous people on the internet aren’t worth much. And certainly aren’t to be mistaken for examples of “THE REAL WORLD.”

  66. Jon

    OK, then. Don’t just go by your own intuition that being rude gets results. Lay your study of the “real world” on me.

  67. Sorbet

    My comment documenting McCarthy’s trail of ignorance is in moderation

  68. Skeptic

    Jon, it’s the accommodationists who are making the positive claims. It’s the accommodationists who are saying “Dawkins harms scientific literacy” so it’s up to them to provide evidence that backs this up. The burden of evidence is on them. The fact that Dawkins’s book has sold millions of copies means that a large number of people like it, and surely not all one million who have bought his book are foul mouthed combative, rude atheists. It would simply be statistically improbable. Dawkins has also received letters from thousands of people who have thanked him for making them bolder about their atheism. Surely not all of them have suddenly started hurling bile at religious people around them. Just think about the effect Dawkins’s or similar books must have had on a closeted and repressed atheist in any one of four or five large states in the Bible Belt. Think of that atheist group in Oklahoma which quietly meets every Sunday at someone’s place for fear of being marginalized by the religious.

  69. Luke Vogel

    Sorbet,

    Don’t complain to much, I’ve had a couple now go through moderation.

  70. Tom Johnson

    Sven and gillt,

    One more addendum to what I just previously posted. What makes you doubt that I’m telling the truth? I apologize for not videotaping the incidents in question, nor my discussions with my colleagues (as that’s what it would apparently take to turn off the automatic doubt machine), but I can assure you that what I’m commenting on here is true and not truth exaggerated by hyperbole.

    It is your responsibility, as the ones accusing me of lying, to prove so. The burden of proof rests on the accuser. I’m not trying to start a smear campaign; I am simply reporting what I have seen as an example (yes, even an anecdotal one) of New Atheist vitriol missing the mark (badly) when it comes to scientific issues and the public which, unless I’m mistaken, is a common focus of discussion on the value of this kind of rhetoric.

    I have already admitted here that I see value in portions of “New Atheism” and take issue only with certain aspects of it, albeit severe issue. I would appreciate some maturity and thought – not predictable, allegiant flaming – in return.

  71. gillt

    @Jon
    Please show me where a prominent NA wrote that being rude was the one and only and best tactic for teaching evolution.

    The Overton Window, as was already pointed out to you, isn’t based on my own intuition but somebody’s research.

    I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t the best tactic in all situations, and I think most NAs would agree here. Wouldn’t you agree it depends not only on the topic and the context and the audience, but on your goals, whether it’s raising atheist awareness or promoting evolution or something else entirely?

    Accomodationists stubbornly refuse to acknowledge a plurality of tactics. They seem to be under the impression, as communicators, that they found the best way to communicate and all other ways are now inferior. We should all just follow their lead in keeping the status quo.

  72. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh dear, Sorbet is on the case too. Prepare to discover I’ve said that exobiology doesn’t have an example of “other life” and other hair raising revelations of my cluelessness.

    Sorbet, gillt, hey, what do you know, the Doubletalk Twins.

  73. Sorbet
  74. gillt

    Tom Johnson:

    “Sven and gillt,

    I can assure you that:

    1.) I’m not lying.

    2.) My “anecdote” is not an isolated incident.

    3.) I’m am an evolutionary biologist at a major research university.

    4.) I am ‘a he.’”

    How can you assure us…by willing it so? What if someone comes along and refutes everything you said based solely on their own personal testimony? How will you respond…with one more anecdote?

  75. Luke Vogel

    ~ If some here think I’m being overly biased, please read this post.

    In Unscientific American, Sheril and Chris state:

    >>> “If the goal is to create an America more friendly toward science and reason, the combativeness of the New Atheists is strongly counterproductive. If anything, they work in combination with their dire enemies, the anti-science conservative Christians who populate the creation science and intelligent design movements, to ensure we’ll continue to be polarized over subjects like the teaching of evolution we don’t have to be.” <<>>Dacey: “I have a name for the broad thesis that there exist important conflicts
    between science and religion: I call it “agonism”. Those who accept “agonism” — and also wish to publicly discuss such conflicts—are “agonists”. The view that there exist no important conflicts between science and religion I call “accommodationism”. Those who either recognize no conflicts between religion and science, or who recognize such conflicts but are disinclined to discuss them publicly, I call “accommodationists.” <<>> Dacey: “I surveyed arguments by Miller and Pennock, Nisbet and Mooney, and concluded that they do not provide evidence for the stronger accommodationist thesis.
    Surely this is an important research program. At the same time, it would be useful to explore the Dawkins Effect; namely, the hypothesis that the presence of messages of science-religion conflict makes messages of science-religion harmony better known and more palatable to religious believers.” <<<

    I think this is a fair view by Dacey. I do however think Dacey glances over other important issues with regards to science communication and "atheist" advocacy (for example, such as I've point out with Jerry Coyne's "supernaturalism" within the realm of science claims).

    Interestingly, Dacey begins his paper with a quote from Charles Darwin – the reference for the quote is from Michael Shermer's essay, Rational Atheism. It can be assumed by this measure that Shermer's paper may be included in the direction of the discussion, especially since the concern is acquiring evidence and how to evaluate the situation.

    Now, many atheist were very critical of Shermer's essay, but the points he actually raised are nowhere addressed by Dacey directly. Why is this important? Well, because with each point Shermer provides explanation with evidences for the claim (his essay is very brief and is very much apart of the discussion). Without getting to far into this, the questioned that can legitimately be raised by Dacey's essay is – how much is Dacey actually concerned with the evidence and why doesn't he supply some kind of road map (he essentially is using negative evidence for his argument). The other problem of course becomes 'issue' and 'case' sensitive – if evidence is forwarded by something outside of "science and religion", "science advocacy" or the like, and involves "combative approach's", will it count. "Does ridicule work" may already provide some groundwork.

    There are other problems as well. Such as how the questioned is asked may simply reflect a bias – this goes both ways. For example, demanding evidence with the statement; "Dawkins harms scientific literacy" may be invalid simply because many that have disputed approaches used by Dawkins have indeed applauded him on his successes with forwarding scientific literacy. So, the question of evidence may simply be biased and there may not be a satisfactory answer for the questioner.

    What has happened now, obviously, is the issues, which are very important have become grossly and needlessly black and white with the illusion of entrenched sides in combat of military proportions each holding the mantle of the truth out to save human kind.

  76. TB

    @ 41 Andrew: “How do you … differentiate religion from psudeo-science/creationism/cults/and varies degrees of Mumbo-Jumbo?

    I’m not trying to get your goat, I think your question is kind of muddled. If I had to define it, I would probably start researching how it’s defined anthropologically:

    http://www.aaanet.org/sections/sar//sar_newsite/index.html

    While I don’t know their exact criteria, I do know they differentiate religion from simply psudeo-science or various degrees of mumbo-jumbo. So when someone equates religion with, say, a belief in elves then I don’t think that’s scientifically correct.

  77. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, for crying out loud, Sorbet, we’ve been over those things over and over and over again. You’ve got nothing, you’re distorting my positions and depending on people not being interested in going through the arguments. That’s just so new atheist of you.

  78. TB

    While I understand Tom is an anonymous commenter on a blog, I also know that in order to post a comment here you have to put in an email address. So presumably, before elevating the comment, the person was checked out initially.

    As for the highly vaunted “Overton Window,” that only speaks to a tactic that over time is useful for theoretically making unacceptable ideas more acceptable by pushing extreme ideas. In other words, defining a new “normal.”

    It says nothing about getting in someone’s face and insulting them and/or their personal beliefs. On the other hand, tactical communication and verbal judo are being used by police departments, as per my link in comment 17

  79. Anthony McCarthy

    Tom Johnson, if your experience turns out to be anything like mine is, it doesn’t matter what you are or what you’ve said because the new atheists who troll this blog habitually distort and invent and lie about their opponents. Any point, any argument, any explanation will be turned into what is most convenient for them, especially if your argument is in any way nuanced. And they’ll drag your name across the new atheist blogs, see gillt quoted from Jerry’s blog above for an example.

    The biggest problem with those of us who object to the new atheism is that so many new atheists are just plain dishonest, a trait they share with their feuding cousins, the religious fundamentalists. They don’t value the truth, they don’t value accuracy. Like I said, this is a political brawl, it’s not got a whole lot to do with facts or logic or reason or even science. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with promoting science. The new atheists want it all their way, they can’t stand, just can’t stand someone not thinking exactly the way they do.

  80. Tom Johnson

    “Like I said, this is a political brawl, it’s not got a whole lot to do with facts or logic or reason or even science. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with promoting science.”

    As much as I would like to disagree with you, Andrew, I believe it is, although I didn’t come here thinking so until Sven and gillt started a smear campaign against my integrity for simply providing evidence that didn’t jive with their opinion. I thought both the NAs and myself shared a common goal in wanting to promote science, but from gillt and Sven’s comments, at least, it appears their interest is more in taking sides and keeping points on the internet.

    I hope everyone who doesn’t have a dog in this fight takes notice of that.

  81. Tom Johnson

    “While I understand Tom is an anonymous commenter on a blog, I also know that in order to post a comment here you have to put in an email address. So presumably, before elevating the comment, the person was checked out initially.”

    Precisely, TB. If Chris or Sheril want me to substantiate my identity, they may email me personally and I will provide them with evidence.

    I’m refraining from revealing my true identity because, in what I’ve seen in the New Atheist blogosphere, once someone criticizes their tactics, their name, reputation, and work all get dragged through the mud, regardless if it’s relevant, by at least Jerry Coyne and PZ. I’d rather not have my research record smeared for simply pointing out an observation that gives me pause.

  82. Tulse

    “I know what the Overton Window is. I don’t think moving large numbers of people into the “rude atheist” column is going to do the country any favors [...] Large numbers of rude people produce a backlash.”

    Arguably it was large numbers of very vocal, rude, and extreme people that got the Republicans elected to two terms in the White House. This one example seems an “existence DISproof” that public opinion is only shifted through gentle accommodationism.

  83. Anthony McCarthy

    Arguably it was the enormous campaign chests matched with a willingness to steal the state of Florida,, with Jeb as governor, and a Supreme Court willing to hand it to a member of their own party that stole it in 2000 and a crooked election run in Ohio in 2004 that may have done it that year.

    Rude and obnoxious gets a small minority of a small minority not much but the enmity of the majority they are rude and obnoxious to. And anyone else they can drag down with them too.

  84. Jon

    Arguably it was large numbers of very vocal, rude, and extreme people that got the Republicans elected to two terms in the White House.

    Just barely, and then they destroyed their party. One thing that’s interesting about the NA’s with regard to politics is that, 1) they’re largely ignorant of it, 2) to a large extent, they confuse correlation with causation. Did “the religious” sweep the Republicans into power? One group of “the religious” helped to do so, but that group was not really that much in charge. Another interesting fact is that of the three most influential intellectual architects of the conservative movement, only one was religious. The NA’s don’t seem much interested in the fact that the culture wars are at least as much about class as they are about religion. Of course, that has nothing to do with the physical sciences, and it’s much more fun to taunt uneducated people about their backward religious beliefs than it is to consider where their lives are at, so this factor can be ignored.

  85. Jon

    Arguably it was large numbers of very vocal, rude, and extreme people that got the Republicans elected to two terms in the White House.

    Just barely, and then they destroyed their party. One thing that’s interesting about the NA’s with regard to politics is that, 1) they’re largely ignorant of it, 2) to a large extent, they confuse correlation with causation. Did “the religious” sweep the Republicans into power? One group of “the religious” helped to do so, but that group was not really that much in charge. Another interesting fact is that of the three most influential intellectual architects of the conservative movement, only one was religious. The NA’s don’t seem much interested in the fact that the culture wars are at least as much about class as they are about religion. The thing is, though, this has nothing to do with the physical sciences, and it’s much more fun to taunt uneducated people about their backward religious beliefs than it is to consider where their lives are at, so this factor can be ignored.

  86. Sorbet

    People can read those threads and decide for themselves, and also decide who is the troll after looking at net word count and relevance of arguments. Meanwhile I am sure you must be charmed with the frequent mention of your name in the comments section of your favorite bigot Coyne’s blog. Now start whining about how you are banned there (in spite of Coyne noting in an email that you are not)
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/back-to-the-barricades/

  87. Sorbet

    I have no comment on Tom Johnson’s identity but just want to note that you don’t need a real email address in order to comment.

  88. Sven DiMilo

    Sven and gillt…it would only result in responses such as yours who immediately try to discredit my story (and even question my integrity) on the grounds that it simply does not give credit to the values of your ideology

    W?T?F? You really talking to me? I made one comment, to the effect that I don’t automatically believe anything I read in blog comments. It’s the uncontroversial idea that on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog. It’s called skepticism. I made no attempt to discredit your story. It’s kind of silly getting huffy about having your integrity questioned, too, when nobody really knows who you are and you decline to provide any corroborating details. I make no assumptions about anybody’s integrity and take people as they come to me. You have come to me as somebody named Tom on the internet who has shared an anecdote that just doesn’t ring true to me.
    You (an evolutionary biologist) and your colleagues (presumably also biologists) are invited to speak on issues of conservation, but your colleagues think it’s more important to bash people’s religious beliefs to their faces? Sorry, man, but I know a lot of biologists and not one is that much of an asshole. Either you work with some really extreme sociopathic jerks, or your story is exaggerated.*shrug* Sorry for questioning your integrity, but it’s a simple smell test and nothing to do with values or ideology (by the way, where do you get off assuming that you know anything about my values and ideology?).

    You have any evidence that Tom Johnson has lied about what he said, present it or accept that you can’t refute it.

    Of course I don’t have any evidence, McCarthy; in fact, my entire point was that none of us has any evidence relevant to judging the veracity of Tom’s claims. If you believe he is truthful, it has to be because you want it to be so. If I suspect he is not truthful, it’s because I habitually suspect that people I don’t know are not necessarily truthful.

    So presumably, before elevating the comment, the person was checked out initially.

    Right. Because Mooney has proven over and over again how painstaking and above-board he is about verifying blog comments.

    Sven and gillt started a smear campaign against my integrity for simply providing evidence that didn’t jive with their opinion.

    A smear campaign? Seriously? a) A single comment does not a campaign make. b) It is hardly a “smear” to state the obvious fact that nobody has any idea who you really are. c) You provided zero “evidence;” you related an anecdote that, for all a reader could possibly know, is as likely to have been made up of whole cloth as to have happened the way you claim. d) The word you were looking for is “jibe.” e) What do you know about my opinion? Where have I expressed my opinion? (As it happens, my opinion is that if you really have colleagues who behaved the way you claim, they are unbelievable asses. Emphasis on the “unbelievable.” If this keeps happening, why do you keep bringing them along?)

    from gillt and Sven’s comments, at least, it appears their interest is more in taking sides and keeping points on the internet.

    *rolls eyes* I’m on the side of science all the way, dude.

  89. gillt

    Tom: “Precisely, TB. If Chris or Sheril want me to substantiate my identity, they may email me personally and I will provide them with evidence.’

    So what you’re saying is that Mooney (a journalist) quoted some random person because he happened to agree with him–in fact wrote a post based on the unsubstantiated fact that you are who you say you are? Did he at least make you pinky swear?

    If that’s really what you’re admitting happened you’ve proven my point that anonymous (and you remain anonymous) personal testimony is worthless on the interubes, with the additional unsavory fact that the Intersection is only interested in confirming their own biases.

  90. gillt

    Tom: “…but from gillt and Sven’s comments, at least, it appears their interest is more in taking sides and keeping points on the internet.”

    All my comments here have amounted to is questioning the rationale of quoting and relying on the personal testimony of an anonymous nobody. Take it personally if you must but try not to put words in my mouth.

  91. bilbo

    So what you’re saying, gillt the hilariously-literal troll, is that you hold a blog (a place, by definition, to express opinion) to the same standards as a researched news article.

    I think that would frame your entire problem quite well. You know that’s the same mistake global warming deniers and creationists make, right?

  92. Tom Johnson

    gillt:

    You’re throwing angry haymakers at a strawman.

    Why so eager to try and discredit my story: first by trying to call me a liar and now by attacking the strawman of Chris’s credibility? Does my personal experience threaten you somehow? You certainly seem to be reacting to it that way.

  93. Anthony McCarthy

    I’ll point out that gillt has claimed to be a geneticist, a tutor and a human guinea pig. And he may be all or some of those, but we have no more reason to believe him than we do Tom Johnson, except maybe that Tom Johnson hasn’t clearly lied here.

    As to the authors of this blog making a comment into a blog post, it’s their blog. When you own a blog, you get to control its content. Something that seems to sail right past the brilliant minds of some of those who troll this blog.

  94. Jon

    “the Intersection is not interested in confirming our biases.”

    There, fixed that for you, gillt.

  95. Sorbet

    People can read those threads and decide for themselves, and also decide who is the troll after looking at net word count and relevance of arguments. Meanwhile I am sure you must be charmed with the frequent mention of your name in the comments section of Coyne’s blog. Now start whining about how you are banned there (in spite of Coyne noting in an email that you are not)
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/back-to-the-barricades/

  96. Sorbet

    McCarthy, gillt has at least backed up his claim that he is a geneticist by citing some actual science and so have I by citing current research in the origins of life, unlike you who thinks he is an expert on science without having a dust mite’s brain’s worth of knowledge about how actual science is done. Simply witness your grand statements about epigenetics and exobiology in the links above.

  97. gillt

    Tom: “Why so eager to try and discredit my story:”

    I’m not trying to discredit your story, (Please provide a quote!) and your anonymity prevents you from being perceived as a threat, but thanks for the concern. You may very well be telling the truth, but for Mooney to quote an unsubstantiated source and for you to demand that everyone take you at your word is absurd.

    However, after a reply like that, my doubts that you’re a practicing scientist are growing Tom.

    Tom, if you have a case to make that doesn’t rely on all your alleged personal experience, then why not make it.

  98. Tulse

    “So what you’re saying, gillt the hilariously-literal troll, is that you hold a blog (a place, by definition, to express opinion) to the same standards as a researched news article.”

    M&K claimed Tom’s story as data — I don’t think it at all unreasonable to point out that some anonymous person’s claim of an experience is not exactly data. This isn’t about Tom, it’s about basic journalism. And yeah, given that Mooney is a journalist, I might expect at the very least that he would do some basic source-checking before relying on the story so much, if for no other reason than to prevent being embarrassingly hoaxed by some nefarious New Atheist ne’er-do-well.

    Oh, by the way, I personally know a scientist who told a big church group of moderate liberal Christians that evolution may suggest some of the bible may not be completely literally true, and they all got angry and took up a huge collection for Answers in Genesis. You can quote me.

  99. Jon

    As usual around here, never address the issues someone raises when you can impugn their motives instead.

  100. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    You are completely full of shiat.

    >>”However, after a reply like that, my doubts that you’re a practicing scientist are growing Tom.”<<

    Explain that. It's funny watching you work, now on three different sites. I doubt you're actually being honest, you may not know if Tom is who he says he is and what he says actually happened, but you are not saying what your doubt is really based on. I can say it's good to be skeptical of anecdotal evidences such as this (if we are calling it evidence of anything), but just now laying doubt on Tom being a scientist just because of how you read his reply would even a hint of why tells me you're just playing a game.

    I submit you're a dishonest debtor and you know you are. You feel like you're out to get someone, still playing the victim all the while. I atleast have two pieces of evidence for my claim, one is your admitted motivation and thoughts to commentator's here, and now this new baseless yet purposefully provocative claim.

  101. Luke Vogel

    Corrections: I apologize, I’m tired.

    “would” = without

    “debtor” (wtf) = debater

  102. gillt

    Well, I’m happy to discuss the issue so long as Tom doesn’t hurl any personal testimony my way. Arguing from authority is sad, especially when you consider yourself the authority.

  103. Tom Johnson

    Gillt, if you would like to argue the larger issue within which my personal experience is framed, then I’ll be more than glad to. But I’ve noticed all you have offered so far here are wild accusations about my story being false and, now, allegations that I’m lying about my profession. You seem very disinterested in arguing the actual issue and more at attacking it via petty trivialities and strawmen.

    Show me an ability and willingness to argue the larger issue here, and I’ll gladly oblige. Continue to do nothing more than troll and hurl unfounded accusations for the sake of character assassination and you will be ignored. I noticed while browsing Jerry’s blog earlier that you seem to have an ability to argue like a mature adult over there without purposefully circumventing the issue at the heart of the matter. I would like to speak to that gillt if it is possible, please.

  104. gillt

    Tom obviously thought it would help his case if he said he was a scientist so I took him to task for it.

    I just find it hard to believe a practicing scientist would keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case. Maybe Tom’s out of practice.

  105. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, I’ve never claimed to be a scientist here or anywhere else. I do understand what science is and what it isn’t and it isn’t the ideological tool that you and gillt take it to be. It also can’t do more than it can do, though it can do what it can. Unlike you, I don’t harbor an excessively romantic, hagiographic or aristocratic view of science. It’s enough to say that when it works it produces some of our most reliable information about what it studies. What more should it do than what it was made to do? That’s not a question for you to answer, but for any thoughtful person who might be reading this.

    —- I’m not trying to discredit your story, gillt

    Oh, no . How, oh how could anyone possibly come to the conclusion that you were.

    —- (Please provide a quote!) gillt

    Of course, since gillt’s demands for evidence of credibility requires that someone who wisely has decided to use a pseudonym expose himself or, by gillt’s determination, anything he says is not credible, it’s the entire pattern beginning at #44 that is the the campaign to discredit what was said. To point out that gillt, himself, Sorbet, and many of the new atheist trolls who come here also use psudonyms doesn’t deter him, because he practices the customary new atheist double standard.

    — However, after a reply like that, my doubts that you’re a practicing scientist are growing Tom. gillt

    And here we can see the hypocrisy of his demand for a quote, because it’s quite possible to attempt to discredit someone while avoiding a direct charge. Though, perhaps, the gillt education didn’t include the funeral oration from Julius Ceasar.

    Gee, gillt, if I’d held you to that standard during that time you were pretending that I was denying the validity of epigenetics, I’d be within my rights to have doubted your claims to work in genetics. Instead I just pointed out that you were being dishonest for ideological purposes.

  106. Tom Johnson

    If anyone wants to get back to the original issue here and discuss it with me, I will. Otherwise, I won’t continue feeding the troll and his/her unsubstantiable accusations.

  107. Jon

    Frustratingly, This is getting caught in moderation and it’s an important point:

    Tulse above said: “Arguably it was large numbers of very vocal, rude, and extreme people that got the Republicans elected to two terms in the White House.”

    Just barely, and then they self-destructed their party:

    http://www.democracycorps.com/focus/2009/10/the-very-separate-world-of-conservative-republicans/?section=Analysis

    One thing that’s interesting about the NA’s with regard to politics is that, 1) they make sweeping comments about it but they’re largely ignorant of it, and 2) to a large extent, they confuse correlation with causation. Did “the religious” sweep the Republicans into power? One group of “the religious” helped to do so, but that group was not really that much in charge:

    http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/062703.php

  108. Jon

    Another interesting fact is that, of the three most influential intellectual architects of the present conservative movement, only one was religious:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2231128/entry/2231131/

    The NA’s don’t seem much interested in the fact that the culture wars are at least as much about cl@ss as they are about religion. The thing is, though, this has nothing to do with the physical sciences. And it’s much more fun to taunt uneducated people about backward religious beliefs than it is to consider where their lives are at, so this factor is never discussed.

  109. gillt

    It’s amazing how many of you can miss a very simple point. I couldn’t care less whether Tom is who he says he is, Mooney probably should have been because he quoted him. I’m only dismissing, repeatedly, Tom’s argument from testimony, because I don’t know who the heck Tom is…and I don’t care to know.

    Essentially, Tom wants to make a point that can’t be debated: He experienced some things, he told us about it, and anyone who questions the validity of arguments based on these claims is de facto trying to discredit him. It’s a silly rhetorical trap.

  110. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    Now, at least you’re not denying that you’re a dishonest debater. One that has the bias that comments here – “reflects the quality and substance of the posts: a slimy cesspool of smear tactics.”

    You said: >>”I just find it hard to believe a practicing scientist would keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case. Maybe Tom’s out of practice.”<>” I’m trying to provide some personal experiences here versus the “here’s what I think” assumptions of most of the New Atheists. Hopefully, someone will listen.”<<

    gillt, you certainly exemplify a slimy cesspool of smear tactics.

  111. I’m neither a scientist or a religous person but I would like to interject with my opinion on your piece. The fact that people(some being scientists) throw muck on beliefs is sad to be honest, to believe in something is in human nature and the fact that many religions in fact maybe all, have no proof to back up what they call “faith” is also regrettable but it is for science to provide the cast iron proof and for religion to have a theory-belief for people with religion that helps them live with the unknown quantities and variables , this theory has yet to be proven wrong, as in science a theory can stand for a very long time only to be bowled over then sometimes for it to picked on again. Even if Higgs theory on mass was to come to something it will still not encompass all the loose ends and who’s to say ones theory is more accurate or true than the others, without the knowledge to explain everything. The person that goes about acting in this fashion is by definition, stupid and more ignorant themselves. No offence.

  112. bilbo

    Then it’s amazing how you harped on who Tom his for 3 posts, gillt. That’s quite the change of mind you’ve shown with this latest one.

    I suppose you’d like us to discuss the implications of hypotheticals that exclude knowable consequences by default, then? I’ll admit – it certainly is easier for any side to argue a “what if?” than it is to try and discuss something that’s actually happened.

    I never even got the feeling that Tom was making a solid argument about the nature of things to begin with. He was sharing a personal experience and his opinion based off of it. Later in the comments he even admitted that he didn’t think it provided justification for maligning all of New Atheism, and that others would likely reach different conclusions had they experienced the same thing. Chris posted Tom’s comment because it made for an interesting discussion point and anecdotal evidence of something that New Atheists say won’t happen. It was meant to generate comment. Over 100 posts and one laughably angry gillt later, it has hit its mark.

  113. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    This is beautiful.

    >>”I’m only dismissing, repeatedly, Tom’s argument from testimony, because I don’t know who the heck Tom is…and I don’t care to know.”<<

    Of course you know you're saying something, well, rather like what a fundamental religionist would.

    If you are claiming now that you don't care to know who Tom is, you are also saying the level of providing additional evidence of his experience would be greatly hampered if not dismissed out of hand, by you.

    With the same tone you provide it that post, I can easily turn it around and say; It's hard to believe that you miss my simple points. I haven't defended the claim by Tom, nor taken it as factual for any other claim. I'm taking you to task directly for your claims and what you've said elsewhere, which points directly to your bias in being here and attitude towards others. You give me ample reason to be very skeptical of you.

  114. Luke Vogel

    I think we may all be experiencing moderating delays (which is somewhat frustrating). Also, some of my post, obviously, have had strange formatting problems, which appear possibly do to bugs in the system.

    So, I’m done on this thread.

  115. M.

    One more question.

    The authors published an entire book on how atheists are destroying science communication.

    Upon repeated requests for data and examples, the best and only thing so far provided is…a copy of a comment made on a blog?

    Am I the only one who thinks this is odd?

  116. Anthony McCarthy

    M, you clearly haven’t read the book because that’s not what the entire book was about. The critique of new atheism wasn’t even a very large percentage of the book.

    And you clearly don’t read this blog regularly because this is hardly the first time this has been discussed here since the beginning of last summer.

    As to the repeated calls for evidence, many of us who have come here regularly have presented evidence on a number of issues only to have it never be sufficient, never be enough or to have the subject abruptly changed by the new atheists who demanded the evidence of the original point. This habit is evidence of the fundamentalist nature of the new atheism, it’s what fundamentalists do.

    Moderation happens to us all, I’d guess. Few owners of blogs the ability to control its content in real time.

  117. Anthony McCarthy

    —- And it’s much more fun to taunt uneducated people about backward religious beliefs than it is to consider where their lives are at, so this factor is never discussed. Jon

    Which gets back to your first point about them not knowing much about politics, because those people vote and they are not going to vote for people who they know despise and look down on them. The way I see it, the religious fundamentalists tell them that they’re valued by God, that they and their loved ones will be saved from eternal damnation and that they can live forever if they follow their prescription. The new atheists tell them they’re stupid and a bunch of molecules that are going to rot in the ground and that they’re worthless unless they master huge masses of mathematics and science that their paltry educations have largely precluded them from learning and their daily lives wouldn’t allow.

    And the new atheists think their program is going to convert the masses. Enough said?

  118. Sorbet

    McCarthy has always liked to portray himself as some kind of Don Quixote, the intrepid underdog who shakes the establishment with his devastating critiques of science. In reality he is someone who knows virtually nothing about how science is actually done (for instance he volubly criticized exobiology without knowing nothing about current research in the field), an infamous internet troll who fills up comments sections with long-winded obfuscation, and about as much of a maverick as McCain was. He has also lied at least twice (ref. Matt Penfold’s comment on Coyne’s blog) and has not bothered to rectify these lies.

  119. Friends,
    We’re now up to 117 comments. And I’d say slightly more then half of them (roughly 60%) are attackes from one “side or the other” about a “Lack of evidence” or veracity of identity. So, 40% on topic, 60% not – sadly it seems about right for this blog.

    A number of folks on both sides have called for evidence – by which I think you mean empirical data, rigorously obtained through well designed, statistically robust experimentation, which then goes through proper peer review and publication. Thus the rejection BY BOTH SIDES of anecdote, emotion and personal observation.

    Any of you ever read Joe Romm? His piece today on why the latest polling results show fewer people BELIEVE in global warming is worth your time. And yes, I said BELIEVE because at the end of the day, on global warming and a whole host of other science based policy issues, public belief is what drives policy decisions, not hard statistically robust scientific fact.

    More to the point,however, is Joe’s older piece on why scientists aren’t persuasive in policy arenas. What’s most fascinating to me – if you read what Joe has written – is how his insights on science commmunication ARE PLAYING OUT IN THIS THREAD! His main point is that global climate deniers use rhetoric and emotion to sway the public, while scientists drone on and on about facts and data and are completely dismisive of personal experience, emotional appeal, and the like. Its all right here, today, in this thread.

    And it more then proves Chris and Sheril’s original point in Unscientific America that scientists, and how science communicates with the “outside world” of non-scientists, is in fact a huge part of science’s problem in being heard and believed on issues of policy.

  120. Tom Johnson

    Good post, Philip H.

    Let me clarify that I never meant my personal, anecdotal experience to be the equivalent of a broad, published study on the consequences of confrontational New Atheist tactics. I was simply posting it as an example of what I have seen (and yes, it is true and yes, I have seen it on multiple occasions) when people take the “destroy religion first and worry about science later” approach to New Atheism that, obviously, not all New Atheists hold. I did so because there are absolutely no comprehensive data to date showing these negative effects.

    BUT – there are also no comprehensive data to date showing New Atheism’s merits. The fact that “playing nice hasn’t worked so far” doesn’t mean that being confrontational works. The fact that a high number of Amercians don’t accept evolution is pathetic, but it doesn’t mean slapping them around first and then teaching them will work, either. The data are lacking both ways with this one.

    It is interesting, however, to see the New Atheists ratchet their burden of proof ever higher in this debate. 10,000 scientists could come forward with anecdotes like mine and I have no doubt (after this comment thread) that there would still be demands for more evidence to refute their stance but little to no calls for data to support it. Until the last couple of days, the only other group of people I’ve seen have an ever-increasing ratchet of proof standards is conservative science deniers. Just a thought.

    Lastly, if anyone needs further proof of the immaturity of New Atheism, go check out Jason Rosenhouse’s blog. I’ve never posted on his blog, but as of yesterday I had been dragged through the mud and accused of all kinds of vagaries by multiple commenters simply for posting an anecdote on a different blog. (If you couldn’t grasp why I’ve chosen to use a pseudonym, then hopefully now you do.) If a simple story like mine can threaten New Atheists to the point to where they have to hurl accusations my way to try and discredit me, then I would say it must be quite full of the truth.

  121. gillt

    I never asked on this thread for a broad published study, Tom. Though I hope you understand why that would be a gold standard.

    And yes, you shared you experience with all of us. But then you extrapolated from that experience a point of view that’s illogical: arguing that attacks on religion are counterproductive by giving examples of insulting religious people.

    I don’t want to disparage you; I’m only wondering why anyone, especially Mooney, would take you at your word without even knowing who you are?

    Tom: “BUT – there are also no comprehensive data to date showing New Atheism’s merits.”

    This is disingenuous. The burden of proof was on the authors of UA for making the accusation that NAs were hurting the cause of science education.

  122. Tom Johnson

    I suppose I shared my experience just for shits and giggles then, gillt? When someone shares a personal experience, they’re usually doing so to support an opinion they hold. My opinion is that the confrontational “kill religion first and get to the science later” approach to New Atheism is silly and doesn’t work. In my little corner of the world, I have yet to see it work. BUT IT’S ONLY AN OPINION!! I form my opinions off of the results that I see when my colleagues apply that tactic to scientific outreach and education. I never said all New Atheists would get such results, nor did I say all New Atheists are like my colleagues. Those are points that you have instead falsely attributed to me in your odd crusade to try and discredit me and my comments. (Although, I must admit, your comments are beginning to give credence to that latter point).

    For about the fifth time: I’m not treating my little personal experience as “data.” Chris isn’t either. This is a blog – by very definition a place to share experience and opinions, not to publish empirical data on the nature of belief. Everyone else here but you seems to be well aware of that….and I only can figure you’re not is because you know it allows you to discredit the post at face value.

    Again: why so defensive and threatened? You seem quite worried about me, for some reason, and you’ve tried attacking me from about five different angles now. Does it threaten you that I’ve seen a few people act foolishly at outreach events? Why? Or is this all some overblown extension of a vendetta you have against Chris/Sheril and UA? If this was all really as silly as you keep repeating it is (for two days now), I hardly think you’d be giving it this much of your undivided attention.

  123. Chris Mooney

    If the question is about data on how the public feels about science and religion, then there is plenty here

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/03/the-survey-data-on-science-and-religion/

    The strategy sometimes called “accommodationism” is based on inference from these data about what will work to break down science-religion conflicts and make people more accepting of scientific findings, particularly with regard to evolution.

  124. Anthony McCarthy

    — McCarthy has always liked to portray himself as some kind of Don Quixote Sorbet

    McCarthy has portrayed very little about himself other than to say he is a gay, socialist, leveler who is a professional musician, who supported Barack Obama in the election and today on the basis that he was the best available choice for president. And he’s experienced enough of blogs to know it’s a bad idea to give too much away.

    He isn’t responsible for any cartoon images of him that anyone happens to construct around what he says here, though he finds it instructive that the new atheists are so wedded to their stereotypes that they can’t imagine a religious person who would be considered to be of the left.

    Which is another thing you get used to when dealing with blog trolls.

  125. Luke Vogel

    Guess I’m not done on this thread – woke up to find another one. This comment I think is what is partly driving what I’m reading over on PZ’s and Coyne’s site by commentator’s. The book has been so thoroughly trashed by them and Ophelia Benson in the some of the most demeaning ways possible, that I highly doubt their regular readers have read the book, but yet are coming here and elsewhere commenting, sometimes at length on the book.

    Just yesterday Coyne, PZ and Benson had all thrown out “attacks” on the book, again!

    So, here we go.

    M. says; >> “The authors published an entire book on how atheists are destroying science communication.” <<

    Again, you're being a dishonest debater, much in the same fashion as gillt (and if you have read my comments, espeicially the longer ones, I have plenty of criticism for Chris and Sheril and UA).

    You belief about the book is not true, you are not arguing from the truth. Though, I'll be dollars to donuts that you think you are and that it comes mainly from comments by those mentioned above.

    On that Note, if Ophelia reads this – Ophelia, what happened to you – are you not noticing this crap happening, it seems the person I thought I'd recognize just a few years ago no longer exist or she would be setting the record straight, why? Because truth matters.

  126. Skeptic

    Maybe I need to reiterate my point above. It’s the accommodationists who are making the positive claims. It’s the accommodationists who are saying “Dawkins harms scientific literacy” so it’s up to them to provide evidence that backs this up. The burden of evidence is on them. The fact that Dawkins’s book has sold millions of copies means that a large number of people like it, and surely not all one million who have bought his book are foul mouthed combative, rude atheists. It would simply be statistically improbable. Dawkins has also received letters from thousands of people who have thanked him for making them bolder about their atheism. Surely not all of them have suddenly started hurling bile at religious people around them. Just think about the effect Dawkins’s or similar books must have had on a closeted and repressed atheist in any one of four or five large states in the Bible Belt. Think of that atheist group in Oklahoma which quietly meets every Sunday at someone’s place for fear of being marginalized by the religious

  127. Sorbet

    Well, at least you admitted you are religious. Now we know where you are coming from and can at least put things in perspective. And anyone who wants to know who the troll is can look over your past long-winded comments where you evade issues. You, not we, are the one who stays at home and has too much time on his hands.

  128. Anthony McCarthy

    — based on inference from these data about what will work to break down science-religion conflicts and make people more accepting of scientific findings, particularly with regard to evolution. Chris Mooney

    That is the most important part of it, finding out what will work to convince people to support science and those policies that will prevent the environmental catastrophe that we are seeing around us. And as Philip H notes, the preferred methods of the science side of the political struggle are a clear failure.

    In the infamous “framing” fight of a few years back, it was stunning to see how many science siders stated flatly that they weren’t going to “lower themselves” to speak to non-scientists in language that they could understand. They apparently cared more for the trappings of status than for the essential fact that to win politically you have to convince people on their own terms. And these guys thought they were showing everyone how smart they are.

    I’ve made the same criticism about the supporters of national health care and the experiment in public insurance in my state, Dirigo Health. You would hear the people who were pushing the policy on the radio or TV and the streams of insider jargon and technical talk would have even people who had some familiarity with the issue nodding off. Well, a lot of people hear that stuff and they resent it because they either figure they’re being talked down to or they figure it’s some kind of language based flim flam, like the insurance and other financial institutions use to cheat them.

    You have to remember that you don’t have to convert every last person in the electorate to your point of view, you have to gain an effective majority of the voters and of their elected officials. Our side is clearly at a monetary and media disadvantage, we can’t adopt an elitist agenda that is a clear loser politically. That is the only reason I’d ever bother addressing the new atheists, they are a counterproductive waste of time.

  129. gillt

    Tom, you seem to have a hard time understanding that my concern has more to do with Mooney than you–it’s just that Mooney hardly ever responds in the comments. However, he’s apparently taken a shine to you, and you seem willing enough to defend his position.

    For the record, I’ve never attacked you only your argument from authority. I asked a simple question, you responded that Mooney hadn’t vetted you and I registered my opinion on that. And you’re right. I do dismiss this post at face-value for that exact reason.

    Buy why do you keep confusing defensiveness with skepticism?

    @Mooney, the strategy sometimes called Overton Window is based on inference from data about what will work to advance previously unaccepted ideas into public acceptance by expanding arbitrarily defined limits and make SOME people SOME of the time more accepting of scientific findings by weakening widespread deference to religious authority.

  130. Luke Vogel

    Skeptic,

    What’s interesting here, especially my considering my criticisms of Chris and Sheril, is what is going on with a few commentator’s here.

    This is incredible, you say, “may I should reiterate my point” – No, what you have done is copy/pasted your entire post, for absolutely no reason.

    I actually had addressed you comments directly in my longer post. That’s the thing here, it’s become very obvious to me you, Skeptic and gillt especially are not here for honest debate. The most honest thing I think both of you could do is admit you are the tolls (from what I can tell, that would go for the other repeater, Sorbet).

    Here, part of what I wrote in post #76, I actually think you should take a minute to read it. You can even learn, if you don’t know, why you now say “accomodationist”.

    >>> “There are other problems as well. Such as how the questioned is asked may simply reflect a bias – this cuts both ways. For example, demanding evidence with the statement; “Dawkins harms scientific literacy” may be invalid simply because many that have disputed approaches used by Dawkins have indeed applauded him on his successes with forwarding scientific literacy. So, the question of evidence may simply be biased and there may not be a satisfactory answer for the questioner.” <<<

  131. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    You are priceless.

    >>”For the record, I’ve never attacked you only your argument from authority.”<<

    Ok, technically sure, but when it comes to honesty, no. You claimed to cast doubt on Tom (someone neither of us know) as being a scientist, you used the argument that his response does not reflect that of a scientist. Your reasoning there was you charged that a "scientist would keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case." Though, as you know he has not "insisted" on any such thing. Now you say this is about Mooney, again being dishonest in debate, you had indeed "attacked" the veracity of Tom's claim of being a scientist based on a false premise, indeed, you personalized this long ago.

  132. Luke Vogel

    Correction on my last post # 132.

    gillt’s claim was that his casting doubt on Tom being a scientist stemmed from that a scientist would NOT keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case. Of course, he has not shown evidence of this insisting for a simple reason, it hasn’t happened, and I think he knows that. Again, gillt has provided numerous reasons to be skeptical of his claims.

  133. gillt

    Vogel, stop. Go back through the thread. My first post was directed at Mooney.

    “Wait, who is this Tom Johnson commenter who argues from anecdote?

    If we are to rely on someone elses personal experience they should be an informed and reliable source, and Tom hasn’t come close to demonstrating this here for the readers…you know, so we can make up our own minds.

    We all have personal experiences. Is Tom Johnson’s more valuable than mine because the owners of this blog happen to agree with it?”

  134. Skeptic

    Luke, please point out where you have addressed my arguments. I don’t agree with your statement that even asking the question is biased because M & K seem to focus only on what they see as his combative atheism and not really on his efforts to further scientific illiteracy which you cited. For instance in a magazine they unnecessarily tied his recent book on evolution to his atheism. And more fundamentally, the question is hardly biased because it’s the authors who make the claim in the book. If the question regarding the claim is biased, then so is the claim itself.

  135. Skeptic

    And by the way my comment was a reply to the assertion that there’s scant evidence that Dawkins has actually furthered scientific literacy. I think that evidence is evident in the widespread appreciation of his books on science and evolution. There is little doubt that he has furthered scientific literacy and therefore there should better be a good reason for asserting that he has actually harmed it.

  136. Luke Vogel

    Skeptic

    I addressed a quote of yours directly and pointed out the problem of how the question is asked.

    For example (the part I referred to directly) you say: >>”It’s the accommodationists who are saying “Dawkins harms scientific literacy” so it’s up to them to provide evidence that backs this up.”<< (BTW, did you see where I point out where the word "accomodationist is coming from?)

    The problem I pointed to is the claim or question can be misleading by the fact that many who you may call "accomodationist" have in fact applauded Dawkins on his success with forwarding scientific literacy. You have basically summed it up to generally, I'm sure you could find a quote to support your claim, but you would then be missing the point. Again, I quoted UA directly in the same post I quoted you.

    The question of bias is simply in your statement if done without taking in the full context of the debate and/or discourse (which it clearly appears you have, in fact all you did was copy/paste something you had already said). I have no problem with the question of evidence as I pointed out in post #76 (which has your quote and one from UA). Nor, by the way does Dacey neglect the fact the so-called "Dawkins effect" is a worthy research protocal.

    The other problem of bias I point out is what evidence is allowed when one wants to search out the relation of "science and religion", "atheism" and "science advocacy" primarily. The point partly being, can we show the charge or claims of certain "counterproductive" approaches (ie ridicule, contempt etc and the use and advocacy by scientist of these methods towards religion and believers) via the same approach in other domains. This actually cuts both ways, and many times falls outside of science. For example, ridicule, mocking and contempt may get a team to play harder in a football game, is that evidence for those methods in science advocacy (again, are we talking science and reason advocacy or simply a focus on religion – because obviously the twain do not always meet since we could all point to less than rational claims and beliefs by "atheist" and reasonable lives by "religionist" etc. etc.). A positive piece of evidence I see certain atheist use is the one of "conversion" and people speaking out, in fact someone brought it up here (it could be equally noted this is often done by the religious).

    I watched Sam Harris recently say that reason was bigger than "atheism", that the question really wasn't religious belief as a mental disorder, but that we have a "conversational disorder", appropriately then calling religious beliefs "unsupportable bullshit" (he also went on to talk about the experiences of the religious as what is the core truth of religion). He also goes on to say that in his mind what it boils down to is that he is giving his religious neighbors more credit than a "be nice" approach because he says they can take it, again we are sort of back to an Austin Dacey approach of opening the public square to open ridicule, "atheistic" advocacy and religion and let chips fall where they may.

    The problem once again is does this actually address the overall concerns. I can turn around and say that Harris and Dacey are making positive claims without evidence of where it all leads with regards to the focus of peoples understanding and appreciation of science and reason and societies more centrally based on humanistic values.

    Another aspect that can be discussed is other countries, used by both sides in this debate. One may point out the positive aspects of the more "atheistic" society, but one should also recognize that in those societies there was essentially no push for "atheism", no outright ridicule and contempt attacks in large measure against religion or the religious. So, we can say well the U.S. is a special case, but then you may turn around and say, wait lets not be country specific. Of course it appears the Soviet Union is virtually off the table unfortunately, we can show an outright campaign against religion, but then some turn to say well Stalin and communism are religious, thus nullify their use in open contempt for religion. Or go further and say, that's not fair because you can believe what you want, we're just talking about being openly ridiculing and showing contempt, not persecution. Again, we end up not addressing the essential core issues.

    Anyway, I have to leave it there for now. I'll probably be do a quick response to the a slimy cesspool of smear tactics forwarded by gillt (hey! is that fair?).

  137. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    Look, it should seem perfectly obvious by now that the question of anecdotal evidence is in my opinion a legitimate one. Again, I have been rather specific with you, I have gone over points in a few post now and you continue to market yourself as a out to be an honest debater after truth, and I don’t buy it, you are biased to the extreme and I’ve given damn good evidence for that claim.

    You have yet to produce the evidence that Tom was insisting that using anecdotal evidence was a valid form of making a case. He made clear he was speaking from personal experience and he made no argument as you claim, the claim which you used to cast doubt on Tom being a scientist (you’re not fooling me, that’s a B.S. maneuver and you know it and you’ve used it twice). You are making unsupportable claims and being a dishonest debater.

  138. Anthony McCarthy

    Thinking about this more, this insistence on absolute evidence that the reports from experience are accurate could point to a symptom of the political ineffectiveness of the purists’ tactics. Look at the world around you. The clear evidence is that to be politically effective you DON’T need for there to be absolute proof, with statistical data, etc. You need to point out something that matches peoples’ experience and addresses their concerns. You can clearly sway people with convincing lies, the far right does that quite well. Our job is to find ways of presenting the truth that will be even more convincing.

    I believe the report of Tom Johnson’s experience because it matches what I’ve observed, Obnoxious, divisive behavior is counterproductive, an observation you wouldn’t think would need defending. Have these people never sat through meetings? Given the polling numbers that the new atheists are always moaning about, the non-acceptance of evolution high among them, the data driven methods they use aren’t a political success with many. It is an abject failure.

    There are words for people who insist on continuing to do what doesn’t work, none of them noting success. Insisting on levels of evidence that would stand up to rigorous peer review in political matters is just a dodge, one that they seem to not feel any need to abide by themselves.

    I’m at the point where I’ve given up on the new atheists, they’re not really interested in anything that doesn’t feed their emotional fix of narcissistic scorn and disdain. The most that anyone should do in that regard is to try to minimize the damage they do. It’s not among them that we’ve got to influence people, it’s in the ones who have some chance of bringing over to our side.

  139. gillt

    The issue is that Mooney used an unverified anecdote as an indictment of New Atheism.
    Did he not?

  140. Jon

    The issue is that Mooney used an unverified anecdote as an indictment of New Atheism.

    Sure, if by “indictment” you mean “blog post.” (Why does the melodrama always start cranked up at 11?)

  141. Sorbet

    Look, I have said before that I have NA friends who are quite conciliatory, disagree with some of Dawtchensarris’s more combative words, and YET call themselves NAs. They are quite polite when they debate with religious folks and they quietly but very firmly make it clear where they stand. The essence of NA is the attitude, not the exact words. And I am being very honest about this. I don’t see why my experience would be any less valuable for Mooney et al. than Tom Johnson’s. But neither do I claim that my sample is representative of all NAs. However, it does provide an exception to the some of the more generalized, sweeping claims being made here about NAs.

  142. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    >>>”The issue is that Mooney used an unverified anecdote as an indictment of New Atheism.
    Did he not?”<<<

    Of course what you're doing has nothing actually to do with this, considering what you've said and your unsupported claims meant to be cast doubt. Since I've been open in my criticism of UA, Chris and many posters here, I think it's time for the next step.

    However, before I post my next post, this will reveal it's relevancy after an answer from gillt. I'll ask you gillt – have you ever read a post somewhere or a blog which relied on anecdotal evidence that was an indictment of religion that you then accepted as true (or in the very least commented as if it was true – so we don't end in a debate about what is "truth" with your comment)?

  143. gillt

    Vogel: “You have yet to produce the evidence that Tom was insisting that using anecdotal evidence was a valid form of making a case.”

    lol, of course he thought it was valid, why else bother mentioning it?

  144. Luke Vogel

    Anthony McCarthy,

    Even though I can’t accept the your complete generalization, I must say I have come to agree to large degree (see quote below). There is some emotional baggage going on, just look at the back and forth here with me and gillt. This is not honest debate, this is feeding some emotional need, even his comments from the WEiT shows this. Twice from posters I’ve seen unsupported casting doubt on someone being a scientist in very strange ways and neither have corrected themselves or supported their claims, Matt Penfold claiming that Sheril isn’t a scientist and gillt’s bizarre display (Matt, it really isn’t that hard to find out she’s a researcher, your claim is just not reasonable, there must be a reason behind it – I’m thinking Anthony is right).

    >>>”I’m at the point where I’ve given up on the new atheists, they’re not really interested in anything that doesn’t feed their emotional fix of narcissistic scorn and disdain.”<<<

  145. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    There you go again. You made a claim, which I once again highlighted.

    When I asked why you doubted he was a scientist now you replied that no “scientist would keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case.”

    No, trying to distract now from your claim is B.S. again, keep trying to run but you can hardly crawl at this. He didn’t “keep on insisting” as you claim, he presented his story.

    If you wanted to say, well I’m withholding judgment on Tom’s claim until further proof, fine (let’s face it, you’re not here for that). But, you didn’t stop gillt, you then went on using the claim above to cast doubt on Tom being a scientist – you see that doesn’t follow, especially since you never substantiated the claim.

    The problem of course, which also reveals your B.S., is that you said you didn’t want to know who Tom is. Revealing who Tom is would be essential to offer further evidence of the situation.

    Here’s what you said: >>>”because I don’t know who the heck Tom is…and I don’t care to know.”<<>>”You have yet to produce the evidence that Tom was insisting that using anecdotal evidence was a valid form of making a case. He made clear he was speaking from personal experience and he made no argument as you claim, the claim which you used to cast doubt on Tom being a scientist <<<

  146. Luke Vogel

    Again, far to many moderating delays.

    So, that’s it for me.

  147. Luke Vogel

    Though, my question in #143 to gillt I would like to see answered, then I may post one more for that.

  148. gillt

    I still don’t want to know who Tom is because I respect his anonymity, and it shouldn’t matter whether he’s a scientist or not. His arguments should stand on their own and be supported with reasoned debate.

    I was merely goading Tom to give us something else besides his personal testimony by appealing to the scientist in him, if in fact he is a scientist.

    You should probably move on now, because you’re forcing me to repeat myself and I hate sounding redundant.

  149. Luke Vogel

    I do have to offer one more. I don’t know if this story is true, I haven’t seen a reason why it wouldn’t be. IMO, to much has been made of it and some claims being made are less believable than story in the blog (especially given the absolute condemnation of comments on the Intersection as presented elsewhere – lets not deny the ad hominem attacks on Sheril and Chris in the comment blogesphere).

    But, lets get something clear because this weaselly crap is entirely dishonest (even if gillt thinks he’s honing his skills in the cesspool which has become a shrill echo chamber).

    When gillt goes on about no “scientist would keep on insisting that anecdotes are valid forms of making a case.”

    We know damn well what he’s doing, stop pretending otherwise, that those who seem to be on gillt’s “team” don’t have the courage to call him on this (even trying some of the same moves) is, well, cowardly. What’s the next move? You know, he’s shown his hand long ago – he’ll simply say he’s saying, oh Tom’s insisting the story is true, that’s what I mean. B.S. and you know it’s B.S.

  150. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    >>>”I was merely goading Tom to give us something else besides his personal testimony by appealing to the scientist in him, if in fact he is a scientist.”<<<

    What a load of crap. I've shown that to be B.S. several times now, by using your own claims. This is the third time you've backtracked into the pose of the honest debater (though hinting you may not be entirely), it's just so obvious gillt you're not being an honest debater, don't you get it by now?

  151. gillt

    I honestly can’t make sense of what your saying. You’ve shown nothing you’ve claimed to have shown and your writing is getting a little weird and hard to understand. Maybe you need a break.

  152. Anthony McCarthy

    — Sure, if by “indictment” you mean “blog post.” (Why does the melodrama always start cranked up at 11?) Jon

    Maybe pooh hasn’t taken his elevenses yet.

    —- And I am being very honest about this. I don’t see why my experience would be any less valuable for Mooney et al. than Tom Johnson’s. Sorbet

    Let me break this shocking news to you, people get to decide what they find credible and what they don’. They even get to do that on the basis of intuition and not just on the basis of verified evidence. People do it all the time, including you and your pals.

    As to why someone might not take your word, maybe it’s because they’ve been paying attention to what you say.

  153. Sorbet

    That does not mean it’s right, a point which seems to have sailed over the top of your pointy head. People choose Scientology, that does not mean it makes eminent sense. There is no objective reason why Tom Johnson’s experience should be regarded as more right than mine.

  154. Anthony McCarthy

    Just because the incident was not duly recorded, documented, quantified and analyzed doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, most of life is like that. Having been the secretary of a few non-profits, we don’t tend to put those kinds of things in minutes unless there was some action taken to shut the time wasting, distracting big mouth up.

    And it doesn’t mean that when that kind of thing happens, that it doesn’t have a real life effect. Which anyone with much experience of meetings would know from experience. From what I’ve read, not even new atheist meetings get by without that kind of thing happening, that is from what I gathered from the available documentation of the coup at CFI is accurate.

  155. Luke Vogel

    I’ll take a break. But, please, answer this question that I posed at #142. I will post a reply if you answer this question.

    gillt, have you ever read a post somewhere or a blog which relied on anecdotal evidence that was an indictment of religion that you then accepted as true (or in the very least commented as if it was true – so we don’t end in a debate about what is “truth” with your comment)?

  156. Luke Vogel

    Before you answer gillt – can you tell me if you are the same gillt from comments on Why Evolution is True and Pharyngula?

  157. Sorbet

    It doesn’t mean it did not happen but anecdotes still don’t equal reality whereas some on this blog want to imply this.

  158. Luke Vogel

    Anthony,

    >>’From what I’ve read, not even new atheist meetings get by without that kind of thing happening, that is from what I gathered from the available documentation of the coup at CFI is accurate.’<<

    I've gathered this also. It's a fairly strange set of affairs. I got a call from someone who said just last year that CFI had financial trouble clearly related to the economy (donations down, expenses rising etc. – the same thing I've heard from many non-profits). Then suddenly (I hate to say this – but a campaign came about and the "atheist" agenda was pushed hard, if I understand correctly they also recognize what's selling), a certain "group" pointed the finger at Kurtz, I nearly dropped. He busted his ass to get money rolling in and was open about the problem (plans had already been put in place before the financial problems in the country – again this is/was happening to many people, especially non-profits). Now, it is being claimed that Kurtz had become draconian and "demanded" more money be spent unwisely. Is this more anecdotal evidence lol. Now, it's less than a secret what's going on, that Kurtz shot back is being said it's because he "regrets relinquishing his chair" or to quote Donnelly, his "absolute power".

    I can't say for sure, but reading the correspondents that have been going on with Tom Flynn on atheism, and others at CFI, it seems likely these "atheist" debates and what's selling may win out against, well, humanism(?) That may be going to far, but some have openly said they're not "humanist", like PZ Myers or that "humanism" should not be advocated like Sam Harris and quite a few "newcomers" are adamant about his approach.

    Oh well…

  159. gillt

    OMG Vogel, are you trying to ensnare me in an awkwardly devised plot, lol!

    What your asking of me is different than what Mooney has done, so try rewording it.

  160. Anthony McCarthy

    Reality doesn’t depend on documentation and verification. Which is nice because documentation and verification are rather recent, human inventions. And it can be accurately reported by anecdote. Most of reality is noted without formal recording of any kind.

    Sorbet, has it never passed your notice that the entire range of Paleolithic “behaviors” that evo-psy is founded on, I’d say invents for itself, has far, far, LESS documentation than this report of recent behavior by an eye witness? And yet your typical new atheist swallows those creation myths by the volume.

    I’m definitely going to remember who has insisted on this level of documentation, when and to what extent. It might come in handy, probably by the end of this weekend.

  161. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    Ok, I’ll reword.

    Here’s a statement of yours which you posted as a kind of summation;

    >>”The issue is that Mooney used an unverified anecdote as an indictment of New Atheism.”<<

    My question is.

    Have you ever used an unverified anecdote as and indictment of religion (I'll say religion, but after a little more searching, I'll throw in of a religious person too)? In all fairness, how you have framed this, It doesn't have to be religion at, it could be anything.

  162. Luke Vogel

    correction to my last post.

    and = an

    So, have you ever used an unverified anecdote as an indictment…

  163. gillt

    To the best of my knowledge I haven’t quoted a stranger’s personal testimony to support my own sweeping generalization or indictment against a group of people.

  164. bilbo

    Several points:

    1.) Luke and gillt, do either of you have a day job? Or do you get paid to argue silly points on blogs?

    2.) After reading gillt’s posts over on Pharyngula and WEIT, I’ve decided gillt has split personality disorder. If other New Atheists are in the room, he’s cordial and surprisingly levelheaded. If they aren’t, he’s a troll. Talk about blind allegiance…

    3.) gillt only has the ability to argue semantics. I’m trying to figure out if that’s because he lacks the mental ability for anything greater or if it’s a tactic to try and derail an argument he finds personally threatening.

  165. Tom Johnson

    Chris said: “If the question is about data on how the public feels about science and religion, then there is plenty here

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/03/the-survey-data-on-science-and-religion/

    The strategy sometimes called “accommodationism” is based on inference from these data about what will work to break down science-religion conflicts and make people more accepting of scientific findings, particularly with regard to evolution.”

    I apologize for coming in late on this. I wanted the Vogel/gillt word-choice-kerfuffle dust to settle first.

    Chris and Jerry’s poll disagreement highlights the trouble with polls in this whole “how can we communicate science best” debate: their results (as always) can be interpreted differently to appear to satisfy the argument of either side. Chris has a good point. So does Jerry. And, if the truth were known, they both have approaches to attacking the same problem that could ultimately solve it. My anecdote that has caused all this discussion seems to suggest that an extreme interpretation of Jerry’s stance may not work, but it should be taken as anecdotal and nothing more.

    Since I haven’t been very active in the blogosphere until recently, this whole experience has been incredibly enlightening. In other words, I’ve found that this whole “debate” isn’t really taking place with a common goal in mind (with the two sides arguing on the best way to get there) but instead as a war of egos and tribalism. Both sides claim to be reaching for a common goal, but that goal gets far overshadowed by personal interests, and that’s disgusting.

    Consider this, for example. If both New Atheists and accommodationists, etc. were REALLY interested in furthering science, wouldn’t an anecdote like mine cause both sides to step back, consider its limitations, and consider both the positive and negative implications of it? Instead, the New Atheist blogosphere immediately (and I can’t stress this enough) began character assassination and a blind rejection of the entire thing based solely on its source. Some commenters here accepted it (wrongly) as the gospel truth that New Atheism is all bunk. Both sides are silly and immature, and if there’s any solid proof that comes out of this post, it’s that BOTH sides appear more interested in winning a blog war than they are in doing one damn bit of good for science.

    Until we can get past this immaturity and act like adults, this whole ‘issue’ is, for lack of a more elegant term, a fucking waste. It’s no wonder science is in such a terrible state in the country if these are the people “trying” to represent it.

  166. Vindrisi

    My vote is for it being a tactic. Gillt seems to bend over backwards to not understand those who are not in complete agreement with her to be sincere. She would have to be quite pathological for it not to be purposeful.

  167. gillt

    When you start whining about my tone and manners you’ve run out of things to say. What do you say we kill this thread finally.

  168. bilbo

    gillt is also apparently a member of the “I win the argument as long as I get the last word” lobby.

    We certainly don’t want to kill the thread, gillt, not after we’ve learned so much about the finer points of semantics from you! I mean, until today I had no clue someone could argue word choice for 7 hours and never get anywhere. You’re a machine!

  169. Anthony McCarthy

    Gillt’s tactics include that but also the bored, aristocratic. superior tone that is apparently supposed to intimidate people. Doesn’t seem to work here, though.

    As to commenting on tone and manners, that’s what this argument has been about ever since I came into it last June when the topic was the civility of the new atheists. That was the topic because that’s what the owners of this blog decided to make the topic, and, again, that’s their prerogative.

  170. Anthony McCarthy

    I predict that gillt will note this comment and declare it proves his point that we’ve run out of things to day. But as that was the topic set at the beginning and the new atheist establishment has decided to join the discussion, that’s clearly not the case.

  171. Tom Johnson

    Andrew and bilbo:

    I honestly think that gillt and the others over on Jason Rosenhouse’s blog have just further exemplified the kind of behavior I was relating in my original comment rather than refuting it. (Note that Rosenhouse hasn’t taken part in the immaturity, however, as I get the feeling he’s a bit beyond that, despite disagreeing with him on some of his posts).

    After Chris posted that portion of my comment in this post, I seriously hoped I would get some responses that showed that my colleagues are alone in the New Atheist world when it comes to overblown incivility and purposefully quashing scientific discourse. Sorbet seemed to suggest this, but Sorbet’s comment is now about 1 out of 30 NA responses that have shown anything but the opposite.

    That’s disappointing. Not just for blogging, but for science.

  172. Tom Johnson

    Excuse me, Anthony. Feel free to chastise me for calling you Andrew.

  173. Anthony McCarthy

    Tom, you should see what my friends call me. It would definitely get caught up in moderation.

  174. bilbo

    Holy cow, Tom Johnson! You did get quite the smear campaign unleashed on you over on EvolutionBlog, without even posting a thing. I always knew the New Atheist blogosphere superficially judged the merits of a commenter solely on their philsophical leaning, but that’s taking things to a whole new level.

    Kudos to keeping yourself anonymous. I wouldn’t want those things said about my real name if I were an evolutionary biologist. Stay classy, New Atheists….

  175. Luke Vogel

    bilbo, @ #174

    Well, that actually explains a lot.

    Comment #18 (out of 82) by PZ Myers:

    >>>”Their latest entry is really baffling. Who the hell is Tom Johnson? And why should we regard a second hand account in a blog comment to the unverified evil behavior of some unnamed atheist individual to be an indictment of Myers, Dawkins, and the whole danged New Atheist movement?

    M&K have really lost it.

    Posted by: PZ Myers | October 22, 2009 3:48 PM”<<>>”Counterproductive Attacks on Religion–Exhibit A

    Reacting to a previous post, a scientist named Tom Johnson left a comment so striking that I believe it deserves greater attention. Here it is:
    [...]
    Exactly. In the real world, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, than to score intellectual points when only a small and relatively homogenous intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.”<<<

    The last paragraph is actually a response to Tom's last paragraph and this is obvious. So, it is clear there was an incredible over reaction to the post.

    My first few comments had nothing really do to with this debate that is so neatly outlined by PZ. He appears again to play victim, something to which is now become master (it's also obviously where gillt came up with "indictment" at least that's likely where it started).

    Chris Mooney and Sheril, if you read this, some of the criticism coming your way is deserved. Even with this post, even though I do understand the point made, you must realize that you are under many microscopes. Knowing that, which I'd hope by now you would, you must take special care, because you *know* the concern of anecdotal evidence is legitimate. You must use better foresight.

    If you continue to support your claims which you have outlined several times, including in UA with regards to certain "new atheism" (doesn't necessarily have to be tightly focused on that label either) approaches and what it means in the larger picture (which I favor you doing) – you will be, and rightly so – *held to a higher standard*.

    You can *not* continue to appear to trivialize what are important aspects of these debates. A title like that on your blog is going to draw a lot of attention, and you need to support such a claim, which even though your point is well taken, it deviates a bit from the provocative title, consider this further when names are involved in this anecdotal piece of evidence, such as PZ and Richard (you should be concerned further when a good look at the conversation, which I have now done, gives no greater credence to this story, in fact it appears weaker and even I question the veracity of Tom Johnson's story and with damn good reason – if you wish to email him and get some of back story and do a little leg work, great, you can let us know how that goes – but why do I fear that you fear doing that?)

    Lastly, let me say that even though I am supportive and see no reason not to be of your overall concerns and approaches – though we can disagree and I am certainly more aggressive than you may like – but I do think there is a *great* deal to be weary of with the "new atheism" without question and I've pointed that out in various venues – *however*, you can not pretend the people you target so generally at times are stupid and not deserving of their 'following' (even while recognizing problems). You must be more vigorous and thoughtful, they deserve that much – and we know that.

    I would add that my comments to Chris and Sheril really should go to others I see who support them on a regular basis.

  176. Luke Vogel

    I’m going to do something which puts me, well, I have no idea, but I certainly feel like it and I need to be honest with myself.

    Tulse said:
    >>”This isn’t about Tom, it’s about basic journalism. And yeah, given that Mooney is a journalist, I might expect at the very least that he would do some basic source-checking before relying on the story so much, if for no other reason than to prevent being embarrassingly hoaxed by some nefarious New Atheist ne’er-do-wel”<<>”I’m refraining from revealing my true identity because, in what I’ve seen in the New Atheist blogosphere, once someone criticizes their tactics, their name, reputation, and work all get dragged through the mud, regardless if it’s relevant, by at least Jerry Coyne and PZ. I’d rather not have my research record smeared for simply pointing out an observation that gives me pause”<>”Many of my colleagues are fans of Dawkins, PZ, and their ilk and make a point AT CONSERVATION EVENTS to mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like…”<>”I’d like to say that the superiors in this case would chastise such behavior, but in reality, the superiors are part of the group partaking in it. I can’t stress enough how the writings of PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne (especially) are quoted by them when they’re gearing up for a “fight” or discussing their behavior with you.”<>”The organization I work for is a large, well-known research university (I won’t say which or name names as I don’t want to go down that road). We go to events representing the university, and many (most, actually) of the events we go to are ones in which we are specifically invited because we advertise ourselves as providing educational scientific outreach.”<>”directly quote PZ Meyers, Jerry Coyne (especially), and Dawkins as why it should be a “good” scientist’s job these days to attack the faithful”<>”my colleagues, who make it a game to see who can be the most rude and abrasive and end up with zero dialogue and an unwillingness to help on the part of the faithful.”<<

    Ah, com' on ….

    Be honest, how plausible does this all sound. This isn't exhibit A, this is A-Z since it's happened more than once, it's some kind of game and the superiors at the research university are in on it !!

  177. bilbo

    Luke Vogel and literally everyone else who is a frequent poster on a New Atheist blog:

    I could understand all your red-faced, sweaty wailing and gnashing of teeth (now bordering on hilarity) if Chris had published this as an editorial in Science or Evolution. But this is a fucking BLOG!! HIS fucking blog!!! Chris could say that banana-flavored pudding pops are better than the chocolate ones and you guys would get mad that he didn’t provide proof and would claim he was just out to get you. Get over yourselves – this would be hilarious if it wasn’t so pathetic! You guys have literally sat down and parsed through every individual word out of those 100 or so words. And when you’ve discussed that post, not a single one of you has even approached the issue at hand but have argued over stupid semantic minutae like what Chris REALLY means by the word “exhibit.” Several of you have literally blamed Tom Johnson for not videotaping his story. Literally, you’ve done that. I feel like I’m in a Republican-majority Senate hearing on global warming here. In fact, I’ve never seen illogical doubt come at face value this much outside of any group EXCEPT hardcore Republicans on science. This is troubling, and silly.

  178. Sorbet

    That’s why there is a problem with his published statements in his book. And you have got to be friggin kidding me; everyone and their mother (and especially their mother) knows that vanilla-flavored pudding pops are the best.

  179. Constant Mews

    bilbo, the real issue here is the same issue that pervades M&K’s recent book: lack of evidence. Vague stories about vague problems are interesting, but they don’t constitute EVIDENCE; they constitute anecdote. One of the great criticisms leveled at M&K’s work is it’s shoddy support – this post is simply more of the same.

  180. bilbo

    Constant Mews:

    That might still be a valid point – if the post had not already been acknowledged as such about 10 times now. Now you’re just harping on something that has already been addressed.

    About evidence in UA. Tell me, how exactly does one get evidence when they’re fleshing out ideas about what might work in the future regarding a problem that currently knows no solution? Hop in a time machine to go see what has worked and what has failed, perhaps?

    That’s my problem with most of the criticism of UA: there are a ton of people stomping around their living rooms and screaming “EVIDENCE!!!!” that seem to be unable to grasp the point that M/K were giving their opinion on a topic for which absolutely no evidence exists with regard to good solutions – for New Atheists or otherwise. In other words, it’s impossible for M/K (or the New Atheists, for that matter) to back their argument up with evidence when none exists….yet. But strangely, New Atheists get a free pass from other New Atheists when they argue that they are unequivocally correct without offering one shred of evidence.

    Double standard, anyone?

  181. Anthony McCarthy

    the real issue here is the same issue that pervades M&K’s recent book: lack of evidence.

    There is no evidence that the “host” that PZ Myers desecrated was a consecrated host other than PZ’s saying it was. We had a discussion about that here a while back.

  182. Constant Mews

    And you were shown to be wrong, Anthony. And what is the point, in any event? Your failure to believe the data PZ used to verify the host is irrelevant to the M&K habit of presenting “crap” as evidence.

  183. bilbo

    “And what is the point, in any event?”

    I can’t speak for Anthony, but I think the point is that everyone’s overblowing simple opinions as evidentiary claims about the nature of things.

  184. Chris

    “There is no evidence that the “host” that PZ Myers desecrated was a consecrated host other than PZ’s saying it was. We had a discussion about that here a while back.”

    In other words, tu quoque.

  185. Anthony McCarthy

    Constant Mews, there was no evidence, PZ destroyed the “evidence” and the story that was related to me about its origin, by wowbagger, and not corrected by PZ sounds quite a bit more unlikely than the anecdote that the new atheist Amen choir have been on their high horses about since Tom Johnson related it. It was wowbagger’s attempt to defend his hero against a charge of obtaining the host by deception that was its undoing, as far as credibility was concerned. I said all along I wouldn’t have doubted that it had been, in effect, stolen by one of PZ’s minions. The rest of it followed from looking closely at the photo, asking around and finding that you wouldn’t have to haul in James Randi’s foetid mind to debunk the PR stunt.

    I don’t really care if you want to maintain your child like faith in PZ’s, well, I guess you’d call it integrity. But his story is far more far fetched than Tom Johnson’s.

  186. gillt

    McCarthy, you were shown to be wholly ignorant of what a host even looked like or whether ti could be removed from a church right here on this blog by a bunch of former Catholics.

  187. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, you were part of that blog brawl so you would know I used to be a Catholic, I consulted a relative who is a Eucharistic Minister and I checked out the many on-line sources of communion wafers. I believe I even speculated that PZ could have printed out one of their photos and used that as the ersatz communion wafer in his indistinct photos.

    As I recall the “evidence” was some You Tube of an anonymous young man who allegedly sent the wafer that he just happened to have been filmed receiving at communion, which story doesn’t mesh well with the one wowbagger told and which PZ didn’t refute, even though he was participating in the blog thread as well.

    There is no evidence other than personal testimony that the communion wafer was ever consecrated or that PZ even used an unconsecrated wafer in his would be sacrilegious diorama. So, does it pass his own test? Here’s what he said at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog

    Their latest entry is really baffling. Who the hell is Tom Johnson? And why should we regard a second hand account in a blog comment to the unverified evil behavior of some unnamed atheist individual to be an indictment of Myers, Dawkins, and the whole danged New Atheist movement?

    M&K have really lost it.

    Posted by: PZ Myers | October 22, 2009 3:48 PM

    Just off hand, if you want to see people losing it you could consult that blog thread to see them playing an elaborate game of Twister to defend the objective reliability of PZ’s stunt.

    How does PZ know that what was sent to him wasn’t a wafer ordered at no danger online with a credit card? Considering how much of his fame rests on this story, you’d think he might have done a better job of documenting it. Or has he and he doesn’t want to reveal any more than Tom Johnson does, in which case his far less elaborate and more consistent anecdote rests on a similar level of verification?

    If you want to go through this whole thing again, ask your pal, Jason, to sponsor it. I think this blog has done enough in that regard.

  188. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and, gillt, you gone to shake your finger at Hitchens for his journalistic lapses yet?

  189. bilbo

    “Just off hand, if you want to see people losing it you could consult that blog thread to see them playing an elaborate game of Twister to defend the objective reliability of PZ’s stunt.”

    I can only think of David Sloan Wilson’s “Atheism as a Stealth Religion” when people start sacrificing logic and reason to defend their favorite New Atheist blogger, specifically the “unquestioned authority of its leaders” part. In fact, the entire comments section of a New Atheist blog is full of people raising their hands to the sky and screaming “Yes, Lord!! Yes, Lord! I’ll do anything for you, Lord!!!” And the first people to open the floor to critical discussion is met with a collective, vitriolic opposition – just like religion.

    This Wilson guy is onto something here…

  190. Sorbet

    McCarthy I think you are still a catholic since you seem to be enamored of the virgin birth and the resurrection. For instance people can take a look at this thread where you rambunctiously defend both. On the other hand your ignorance about even the nature of a wafer is clear in this thread; you weren’t even aware of the physical composition of a wafer and utterly embarrassed yourself, so it’s ludicrously hard to believe you were ever a catholic.

  191. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, I think you’re still a silly billy.

    I never defended either the Virgin Birth nor the Resurrection I only pointed out that you couldn’t honestly address either with science. I even gave an historical reason to suspect that the Virgin Birth was invented by Paul in response to the ubiquitous contemporary political propaganda about the alleged virgin birth of Augustus Caesar as Jn. D. Crossan has explored.

    That’s one of the interesting things about the new atheism, they figure that it’s mandatory to believe anything that science can’t disprove whereas real life is so much broader than their puritanically restrictive scientism dogmatically requires. Though even scientism, as it’s less fanatically held, doesn’t logically require that.

    The new atheists are nutters.

  192. gillt

    Ah yes, good morning McCarthy,

    I was level with you in that the only Hitchens I’ve ever read was his latest book. If you have documented evidence of Hitchens’ “journalistic lapses”–curiously vague, noncommittal word choice as is typical with you–why don’t you just present it instead of wasting everyone’s time? Based on your prior performance, your threats towards others exist only in your head.

    btw., my comment didn’t say you weren’t a catholic only that you’ve demonstrated to most everyone’s satisfaction that you are not qualified in deciding what is and isn’t a communion wafer, much less a consecrated one.

  193. bilbo

    “That’s one of the interesting things about the new atheism, they figure that it’s mandatory to believe anything that science can’t disprove.”

    Can I rephrase?

    That’s one of the interesting things about new atheism, they figure that any discussion outside of ridicule and pejoratives equates to agreement.

  194. gillt

    Bilbo; “About evidence in UA. Tell me, how exactly does one get evidence when they’re fleshing out ideas about what might work in the future regarding a problem that currently knows no solution? Hop in a time machine to go see what has worked and what has failed, perhaps?”

    I read the book and it wasn’t about “fleshing out ideas.” If presented and diagnosed a problem: science illiteracy in America. It pointed fingers: religion, Hollywood, the internet, PZ Myers. It offered a solution: more communication education for scientists and a few other vague patches.

    bilbo: “In other words, it’s impossible for M/K (or the New Atheists, for that matter) to back their argument up with evidence when none exists….yet.”

    Wouldn’t admitting that there’s no evidence “yet” incline one to somewhat soften their stance toward the effectiveness of NA tactics?

    Remember , it is prominent accomodationists, like Mooney, Rosenau and Nisbett, who are telling NAs that their tactics are harmful to the “cause.” The other side argues for a plurality of strategies.

  195. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m so chastened, to have been declared by no less an authority than “The” gillt to have “demonstrated to most everyone’s satisfaction that you are not qualified in deciding what is and isn’t a communion wafer, much less a consecrated one.”

    gillt, the foremost authority on the blogs of what “most everyone’s satisfaction” consists of in such a matter.

    The same gillt who seemed to have, despite his claims to have had an extensive Catholic education, failed to identify the doctrinal definition of transubstantiation. And notice who it was who provided the refresher course in Eucharistic dogma to gillt at comment 93 on this thread.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/24/responding-to-sean-carroll-what-if-there-had-been-a-camera-at-the-resurrection/

    You can thank Sorbet for forcing me to go over that recent history for this, gillt.

    And here, as always, we see the gillt MO of making a categorical statement, gilded with baseless arrogance and expecting that to stand for evidence.

  196. Anthony McCarthy

    And, didn’t you declare this thread dead a while ago, gillt? Yet it seems to have arisen from your declaration that it was dead in its tracks. You would appear to be a false god.

  197. gillt

    1. I didn’t declare any such thing.

    2. I quoted either the dictionary or Catholic Catechism definition of transubstantiation; if you don’t like it take it up with them.

    You’re getting lazy in your lies, but you never seem to tire of ways to change the subject.

  198. Anthony McCarthy

    Which any such thing didn’t you claim, gillt?

    Anyone who wants to look at that link will see who it was that provided the link and pointed out why what you said was all wet. Have you had a neurological check up lately, gillt?

  199. Sorbet

    McCarthy you have implied that “anything goes” as far you make it sound so vague that it cannot be addressed by science. So according to you every creation myth is worth considering since it “happened only once”. It’s pretty clear who is the nutty nutter here. And your cluelessness about the physical integrity of a wafer is pretty clear here so either you were a catholic so far back that your memory has deserted you and you feel like making stuff up, or you are simply prevaricator. Seriously, you are a large black blemish on piano teachers and Accommodationists everywhere.

  200. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorbet, there’s this little thing called physical evidence that makes all the difference. I’m beginning to think you learned everything you know about science from cable TV.

    Did you ever answer my question as to why you believe in the creation myths of evo-psy, which have no evidence at all or any possible witnesses but you can’t see that Tom Johnson, an eye witness, makes it far more probable that his story is accurate? No, of course you didn’t. Why don’t you explain to me why this is a false idea?

  201. gillt

    Hank Fox sums up McCarthy’s tactics well.

    “It’s an attack on the very meaning of words. If you can force people to accept your definitions of certain words, and then define those words to make them progressively less meaningful, you destroy the ability of your audience to communicate — or understand — anything solid at all.

    Refine the meanings, make them more tangible and definite, and you can communicate precisely. Turn them into mush, and you can’t talk about anything.

    Precision is the domain of reason and science. Mental mush is the domain of religion.

    They’re deliberately redefining the words so that you can’t actually communicate about the subject. So everybody involved can stay ignorant.”

  202. Sorbet

    What false idea? Are you keeping true to your character and mis attributing to me something I have never said about evo-psych? And seriously, you have just redefined irony by castigating someone else for supposedly ignoring physical evidence and then ignoring the necessity for it yourself in another case; you demand physical evidence and in the same breath trust Tom Johnson’s testimony as an eye-witness. LOL, cognitive dissonance personified.

  203. Anthony McCarthy

    gillt, you are deranged. You’re the one who doesn’t remember who said what in an argument and can’t be bothered to go and see that you remember doing things that, in fact, other people did.

    Go look at # 93 at the link I provide at # 197 above to see. That’s for any rational people who might be following this part of the discussion, then look at #2 of gillt’s comment at 199 on this thread.

    Sorbet, you are just silly.

  204. bilbo

    gillt@#195: “Remember , it is prominent accomodationists, like Mooney, Rosenau and Nisbett, who are telling NAs that their tactics are harmful to the “cause.” The other side argues for a plurality of strategies.”

    Really, gillt? You’ll say that the NAs argue for a “plurality of strategies” after the NAs have spent four days now trying to discredit a guy who advocates a strategy other than theirs? Really?! Willful ignorance, anyone?

    Remember, Tom Johnson pointed out in subsequent posts that he doesn’t think the NAs should stop – he just thinks it’s much less effective than a respectful disagreement (I think he even said somewhere he will tell believers he disagrees with them, but without contempt?) Yet the NAs keep on attacking….

    A “plurality,” indeed. *facedesk*

  205. Bruce Gorton

    Exhibit A:

    A random commenter with a known axe to grind against atheists makes a series of claims.

    Points which would get Mooney fired for this post if he actually tried to submit it to a newspaper:

    1: The nature of the claim is that the insults were being thrown in public, in meetings which involved celebrity figures (Dawkins’ face is used to cover most atheist events, no matter how vague to non-existant his involvement in them are.) Yet instead of “Exhibit A: and here is the video/legitimate press coverage so you can see for yourself” Mooney leaves it at that. One anynomous source on the internet.

    2: There are no specific events named and there is no way to check up those claims, yet Mooney again, takes it at face value.

    3: This post was not a statement of opinion, it was not an interpretation of events, it is an accusation of fact, which in journalism always requires investigation. Mooney then goes on to try and paint it as the former two – in order to avoid the negative scrutiny this places on his conduct as a journalist.

    Without corroboration what you have is someone who could be anyone saying something on the internet which could very well be defamation. If this had gone in a newspaper the paper would be open to a lawsuit and the paper would lose.

    4: There are elements of this series of posts which raise major alarms – the poster wants to remain anonymous yet claims professional standing which is held in high regard within this community. The poster refuses to give evidence on this for fear of losing his or her job, a serious accusation against universities which echoes those of “Expelled.”

    It should be needless to say that the accusations within that movie have been thoroughly discredited on investigation, as have similar claims. Not only that, but the official position of most scientific bodies in the US is neutral to religion. The only way such a criticism of PZ Myers, or Dawkins could threaten a posters job in a university is if it was found to be untrue.

    Yet Mooney takes it at face value.

    I am just glad that Mooney doesn’t work for my news organisation, because frankly if this is the standard of critical thinking behind his articles, I shudder to think what he is doing to Discover Magazine.

  206. Anthony McCarthy

    — which echoes those of “Expelled.” Bruce Gorton

    Welcome to the world of new atheist polemics in which nothing is too low for them to imply.

  207. Tom Johnson

    Bruce:

    There were “celebrity figures” at these events? Where did you get that idea?

    And I would ‘lose my job’? Of course not! It might make work a living nightmare for me, but I wouldn’t lose my job.

  208. Paul W.

    Tom,

    Maybe I missed the answer to this, and I respect your desire for anonymity, but could you tell me whether you’re a professor? Are you a student, or a postdoc or a Research Scientist? Are the “colleagues” you mention professors, or students? Are their superiors that you mention deans or something, or are they professors?

    Sorry if I’m off-base here.

  209. Stephen Wells

    Would all supporters of Tom Johnson’s noble stand for the truth kindly report to the washroom to get the egg off their faces.

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About Chris Mooney

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

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