My Thanks to "Tom Johnson"

By Chris Mooney | October 26, 2009 12:32 pm

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

Last week, the New Atheist comment machine targeted the following post, in which I republished a preexisting blog comment from a scientist named “Tom Johnson” (a psuedonym). In the comment, Johnson had related  how some of his New Atheist-inspired scientist colleagues had behaved toward religious folks at bridge-building conservation events.

The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more. But it struck me as worth highlighting, in light of my many well known concerns about the New Atheist movement.

I’m a bit surprised how much hoopla the simple elevating of a comment into an individual post, with minimal additional commentary, has caused. Clearly, Johnson really touched a nerve. Accordingly, my post unfortunately subjected him to various attacks; fortunately his real identity remains unknown (though I am aware of it).

In light of all this, this post is simply to thank “Johnson” for commenting here, for sharing his story, and for being willing to defend it as vigorously as he has done. It is one person’s perspective, but as I said before, I consider it a striking one. I’m glad we’ve heard it, and I hope Johnson and others like him will continue to comment here on science, religion, and the New Atheism, despite the heat it can sometimes cause.

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Comments (169)

  1. gillt

    Are you saying you’re surprised some people questioned and rejected the personal testimony of an “Area Man” commenter on your blog? Now that is surprising.

    I suppose if we gather enough of these personal testimonies you can publish a “Chicken Soup for the Accomodationists Soul” bestseller. Seriously, until someone generates some actual data, wouldn’t an agnostic position (or at least more cautious) over NA tactics seem most reasonable?

    Do NAs have a history of destroying people’s careers that I’m not aware of, or am I needlessly haggling over semantics, such as the meaning of the word “fortunate?”

  2. bilbo

    Actually, gillt, you just still sound bitter.

  3. gillt

    I don’t understand bilbo; is there a point you want to make?

  4. disappointed...again

    Chris,

    I have no problem with “Tom” making his comments offering his perspective. But I think it was silly of you elevate one person’s comments to the level of a post with days of ongoing discussion. You repeatedly say its just one person’s perspective. Not true–you have made it more than that. This was an anecdote, provided by an anonymous person, which no one (except you apparently) has any way of judging the veracity of. You took it and made it exhibit 1 that atheist scientists are out doing harm to the cause. This after being called out for months for not offering a shred of evidence that the New Atheists are having any negative effect at all. Forgive me for suggesting that this is a bit convenient for you.

    My main objection, besides relying on an anecdote as evidence, is that there is no way for any of us out here to know whether it is accurate. First, it is clear that this has always been a heated debate, demands for evidence have been made and not forthcoming, then, all of sudden “Tom” shows up with a story that fits your argument to a “T”. None of us even know that Tom is really a scientist or that he knows scientists. Not the best basis for an argument. Second and to me more important: “Tom” may well be honestly relating his story, but that doesn’t mean it is accurate. I know a person who thinks Jesus fish are a perfectly respectable car ornament but thinks Darwin fish are not because they are insulting and making fun of the people who have Jesus fish. It’s ok for the religious majority but not the atheist minority. This type of distorted view is rampant–the mere stating that there may not be a god is not considered a valid viewpoint; it is considered an inappropriate “attack” on religious people. So, my point is that “Tom” may be telling us what he honestly thinks happened, but he may be in fact one of these all to common over sensitive types. But then, we have no way of knowing this.

    This post and the one bring “Tom”‘s comment to post level used to be beneath this blog. I have no animosity toward “Tom”. I just think his story is irrelevant and another excuse for this blog to lather up both sides of this never ending debate in a way that proves nothing and solves nothing.

  5. bob

    “New Atheist comment machine”? Really? “[Your] post unfortunately subjected him to various attacks”? Really?

    You desperately, desperately need to get a grip, Mooney. I can’t say that this is getting ridiculous, because it’s been ridiculous for quite some time now. Settle down, pal.

  6. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m sure the owners of this blog are so grateful for the ample advice they get on what its standards should be from people who spread dirt about them all over the web. And I’m sure they’re so happy to be reminded that they should “get a grip” from people who might know a thing or two about not having one.

    As to Tom Johnson’s report of his experience of what happens at meetings when new atheists are being obnoxious, anyone who has experienced them on blog threads, even of blogs which don’t cater to them or their critics, will be very, very familiar with the scenario. Just last night, if I had chosen to press it, I could have gotten into a blog brawl on the topic of the gay marriage referendum in my state of Maine. I left it at noting that there is a coalition of religious groups and clergy who have been quite active in promoting the defeat of the referendum to overturn gay marriage here. And, that no matter which side wins, most of those voting for either of them would be religious believers because most of the population is.

    But hypocrisy, double talk and denying the reality that stares everyone in the face are the order of any given new atheist day. The new atheists are not credible, they are fanatics who are fundamentalists. Perhaps not every last one is addicted to dishonesty but most of the ones you encounter on the blogs are.

    Welcome to the club, Tom Johnson, you’ll find that you will always be the target of the new atheists when you are noticed by them, you will probably find all kinds of lies on new atheist blogs are already out there, if you can be bothered to look. It’s what they do.

  7. Skeptic

    Here’s my prediction; at one point (and this is already happening), people who don’t agree with Mooney’s views will simply get tired of reiterating the same points over and and over again and give up commenting (it seems Mooney is never going to answer many people’s objections about Pluto and Carl Sagan). The blog will then simply become a forum for Mooney supporters and yes-men who will congratulate him, pat each other on the back and gang up on any stray dissenters, doing something of the sort that has happened on Myers’s blog. That’s when this blog will pretty much fail to start adding any value to the discussion.

  8. Luke Vogel

    I was just out the door when I saw this. As I’ve said, I think I’ve been fair on this issue.

    However, the way this post is presented is disappointing. Just because Tom has come under unfair attack does not nullify the concerns expressed about the story and how it was used. However, after all that’s been said, and Tom’s willingness to defend himself does deserve some thanks considering how it was used.

    >>>”Clearly, Johnson really touched a nerve.”<<>”Last week, the New Atheist comment machine”<< is just so disappointing. It really does point to the fact that what I was afraid of happening, that instead of staying on track that our concerns our primarily using the authority of science to foster ridicule, contempt and so on, you are also fostering an "us vs. them" mentality yourself.

  9. Luke Vogel

    Skeptic,

    >>”The blog will then simply become a forum for Mooney supporters and yes-men who will congratulate him, pat each other on the back and gang up on any stray dissenters, doing something of the sort that has happened on Myers’s blog.”<<

    Well, you could be right. Though, I will continue to support Chris and Sheril, this situation for me and some of the conversations I've seen have been troubling and in the end, yes, create more harm than good.

  10. Sorbet

    The new atheists are not credible Anyone who disagrees with me is not credible, they are fanatics who are fundamentalists.

    There, I fixed it for you. No, you don’t need to thank me, you just need to carry on, which I am sure you will do.

  11. Davo

    To be honest I feel sorry for Tom Johnson; his story was one among dozens of others, and Mooney, Myers and Rosenhouse just blew it out of proportion.

  12. John Kwok

    @ Davo,

    I concur with your assessment. But it also shows you just how pathetic some of those posting over at Rosenhouse’s and especially, Myers’s blogs can be.

  13. The whole question of the need for “data’ in this argument still rubs me the wrong way. gillt says, and here I’m paraphrasing to show how I personally read the comment:

    “Thanks for telling us how you MIGHT have experienced an interaction with New Atheists, but I choose not to belive you until I hear n such stories, which then becomes (in gillt’s view) a robust data set which can be analyzed statistically. Absent such a set, Chris et al. need to stop saying the NA’s have any impact in science-culture relations,much less a negative one.”

    Do I have that about right?

    Here’s the problem. One is a statistically valid number (as is zero, FWIW). And one story, among many, is no less powerful just because you can’t ascertain (to your liking) the veracity of the author. Sure, its hard to draw a believable line without more points, but who says we need to draw a line in this discussion anyway.

  14. Luke Vogel

    >>”As to Tom Johnson’s report of his experience of what happens at meetings when new atheists are being obnoxious, anyone who has experienced them on blog threads, even of blogs which don’t cater to them or their critics, will be very, very familiar with the scenario. Just last night, if I had chosen to press it, I could have gotten into a blog brawl on the topic of the gay marriage referendum in my state of Maine.”<<

    Anthony,

    You continuously and needlessly belie your own argument, or the rationalizations. You connect the idea of what has happened on blog threads to the scenerio which Tom has outlined. This does *not* in any way make any of us *very familiar* with Tom's situation. You compound the problem over an issue of gay marriage, which you don't bother to even say what the circumstance actually is, just to create another anecdote to unfortunately mislead to create the false impression thier is familiarity to Tom's story.

    I'm starting to think the concern Skeptic expressed may come to fruition (if not there already). I can also understand the concerns expressed by the poster "disappointed @ # 4", and it almost appears Chris want to take the heat off himself for the attention *he and Sheril* have created and place it on Tom, therefore neglecting a defence of what the issue actually pertains. Not only that, but very, very importantly is part of the title of the blog post was "Exhibit A" – this explicit implies that this is it so far, this is our first piece of 'evidence', and instead of defending this fact…. well we see what happens…..

  15. gillt

    Well Philip yes and no.

    You’re correct, you cannot map a line or spot a trend when n=1. Even an over-simplified two column comparison is impossible. So my basic argument is that if we can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge a plurality of tactics for different situations–as many prominent accomodationists are unwilling to do–then what justification do we have for saying x not only doesn’t work but also does real harm?

    Philip: “…just because you can’t ascertain (to your liking) the veracity of the author.”

    To my liking? I’m not asking for dental records. There was absolutely nothing to ascertain.

    I rejected Tom’s story out of hand because I don’t know Tom. He literally appeared out of the blue one day. So one second-hand anecdote from a passerby on the internet is just that.

    I only wondered out-loud why anyone, especially Mooney, would take an anonymous commenter at this word, especially when Tom admitted that Mooney hadn’t asked for any verification before he used the quote.

    I don’t think Mooney needs to stop saying anything. I’m saying he’s being unreasonable is all.

  16. Sorbet

    I have to agree with Luke and Skeptic. Myers’s blog has become a hotbed of yes-men who pounce on anyone who dares to disagree with him. This has basically made any dissenters extremely averse to commenting. I am afraid I see a similar thing happening to Chris and Sheril’s blog and it will definitely diminish the value added to their posts. Their blog will then be one big carnival full of McCarthys who have too much time on their hands and vigorous head-nodding. The law of diminishing marginal utility rings true as a toothpick.

  17. Tom Johnson

    Disappointed and others:

    In response to your comment, “None of us even know that Tom is really a scientist or that he knows scientists. Not the best basis for an argument.”:

    Chris took the initiative to contact me and corroborate my identity and to gain some specific details of my story, which I gladly provided. Chris knows exactly who I am and hopefully has enough specific details of who I was working with to lend some credibility to my story…although, as Chris emphasized in this post, it is an anecdote, nothing more.

    My “evasiveness” and anonymity are not an attempt to be shady but an attempt to protect my reputation. Despite the strong objections by many of you, it is absolutely no doubt that any scientist critical of a New Atheist stance on this issue gets attacked with full veracity, not just on his/her opinions on this issue but on related professional/personal ones, as well. If anyone doubts this or doubts Chris’s comment of a “New Atheist comment machine,” consider the following. All are comments from EvolutionBlog, Pharyngula, and the rest of the NA blogosphere about my opinion, and all were made before it was aware I was using a pseudonym, and before I had ever posted on any of the forums:

    “”Tom Johnson” has clearly been to the land where the wild new atheists are. One can only imagine the frightful scene as they gnash their terrible teeth and roar their terrible roars at the nice old religious ladies attending Toms ‘conservation’ meetings”

    “Tom Johnson is a Liar for Jesus.”

    “Don’t blame others for your petulant ignorance.”

    “Here’s a typical smartass who has to blame others for his lack of knowledge.”

    “Tom Johnson, you stupid fuck. You are a liar….Opinionated assertions won’t cut it, you stupid piece of shit.”

    And it could continue. I know such rubbish is the nature of the internet, but I (or anyone else, I think) would enjoy not having my real name and reputation inserted in place of the pseudonym there.
    Forgive me if I somehow can’t grasp that these comments are not the very epitome of petty immaturity.

    All of the above aside, Chris has another point: what I said really ticked some people off. Anecdotal or not, it must be pretty damning stuff to hear, because I’ve now endured three to four days of people trying to discredit me and my integrity from every angle possible. As I’ve told some others, if it was all that silly, why are so many of you trying to find ways to attack me? In other words, why do you act so scared? I’m not trying to discredit atheism (I am an atheist, after all). I’m simply stating that, when I see people generally act like 4-year-olds around the religious (despite the fact that the religious have asked us to help them), the religious clam up. I hardly find that so shocking.

  18. Sven DIMilo

    his story was one among dozens of others

    ? I don’t recall even one other anecdote purporting to document how those mean New Atheists have impeded science education efforts. Tom’s has been the only one, and this discussion (and request for evidence) has gone on for months.

    any scientist critical of a New Atheist stance on this issue gets attacked with full veracity

    Veracity?

  19. Sven DIMilo

    I’m simply stating that, when I see people generally act like 4-year-olds around the religious (despite the fact that the religious have asked us to help them), the religious clam up. I hardly find that so shocking.

    What’s shocking is that anybody behaves like your colleagues and superiors are alleged to.

  20. gillt

    Mooney: “The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

    And here I thought Tom’s testimony was burdened with the implication that it was representative of something far larger.

  21. Tom Johnson

    I know, Sven. That is the very reason why I wanted to post my story.

    …and you got me with word choice. Kudos. “Ferocity” would have been a much better choice.

  22. Sorbet

    Tom, agreed. I have no reason to doubt your veracity, but I think you will agree that one data point does not make a fact. As I have mentioned before, I have met several people who call themselves New Atheists who are much milder than your NA colleagues. That’s a point I have been trying to drive home for a long time, that even among NAs there are shades. It’s people like McCarthy who want to dump all NAs into one oversimplified, one-dimensional bigoted cabal and rail against them from their self-righteous pulpits. That’s completely kooky. However you do seem to recognize these shades, so thank you for that. I do agree that personal comments about you like the ones you cited above are completely unwarranted and add nothing to the debate but spite.

  23. Luke Vogel

    Tom Johnson,

    >>”Chris took the initiative to contact me and corroborate my identity and to gain some specific details of my story, which I gladly provided.”<<

    I for one, for what's worth, am pleased to see this. Believe it or not, that does matter at this point. As I have maintained, I think PZ exagerated and quoted him directly and pointed to where I think others came up with the idea of *indictment* – which lead to baseless accusations against Tom worse than the claim of the problem of anecdotal evidence (they really should be ashamed — haha, it's all a game, right!?). I have also stated the attacks on you have be mainly unfair. With this said, I maintain my doubt, and I still question how the Intersection used the story and hope a lesson may have been learned. I say this while still accepting and agreeing with Chris main point made.

    Here's something to concider folks, think about this…

    *Take what has been said about this on pharyngula blog and elsewhere. Much of it by "new atheist" pertains (directly and indirectly) to something outside of the question of evidence and the Intersections post. *There is extreme defensivness that this event may have occursed at all and that it could be turned into something to paint PZ in an unkind light of influence! In other words there is obvious concern of it's potential to taint "new atheist" and to distance themselves form it. You don't see much "Rah, rah, rah for those badass scientist at conservation events." There is something of a repudiation of the event as "fact".

  24. Luke Vogel

    *comment in moderation. The second part of being more of a general observation we all may consider.

  25. Luke Vogel

    I want to apologize for some misspelling and bad gammar. I’m often rushed when I’m in these converations and I’ve taken a great deal of time reading and commenting. Even that may show the importance I place on this stuff, it’s lead to less than ideal reading post, sorry biatches :)

  26. Anthony McCarthy

    — this does *not* in any way make any of us *very familiar* with Tom’s situation. Luke Vogel

    I don’t know whether or not it makes you very familiar with new atheists spouting off and annoying people. I’d think anyone who frequents political blogs of the left would have run into it quite often. Almost daily at some of those I frequent, not to count the ones I don’t bother going to any more.

    —- You compound the problem over an issue of gay marriage, which you don’t bother to even say what the circumstance actually is, just to create another anecdote to unfortunately mislead to create the false impression thier is familiarity to Tom’s story.

    The issue of the upcomming gay marriage referendum in my state quickly turned into a blanket and indiscriminate attack on all religious people, specifically Christians, though “xians” seems or some other derisive term is often used.

    I’m very familiar with the politics of this issue in my state, I know that every step of the way that there has been considerable religious support for gay rights in my state. I really don’t think we need to have anyone taking up the time of those of us who are involved with this issue with petty and divisive religion bating at this point.

    If that isn’t explicit enough an analogy I don’t know what could be.

    I believe the anecdote is accurate because of years of experience with new atheists and their forebears. Even, as I mentioned, my beloved Latin teacher who was mild by comparison to today’s new atheists.

  27. bilbo

    gillt,

    You do know the more you gripe the more it lends credence to Tom’s post “touching a nerve,” right?

  28. Luke Vogel

    I have to back track really quickly here. I do have a comment in moderation where I make a point which just got me to realize something.

    Chris Mooney said:

    >>”Clearly, Johnson really touched a nerve. Accordingly, my post unfortunately subjected him to various attacks; fortunately his real identity remains unknown (though I am aware of it).”<<

    I said that no, it's Chris who touched a nerve. Well, that doesn't matter to the point I realize now. That blog post did touch a nerve, very deeply and I take note of that in my comment in moderation.

    I see what you mean now Chris. I was looking at it to centered on my concerns and the general idea of anecdotal evidence. So, I apologize.

  29. Tom, it might help if you were to give a bit more detail about what happened (not about who you are, who was there, etc., but about the content and context of what was said, any pre-existing grudges there might have been, etc).

    I don’t exactly doubt that something like this would happen, incidentally. Academia is not necessarily nice — actually, it’s often quite hostile and alienating. The problem is that sometimes academia feels alienating to me because I’m just upset people don’t agree with me, while sometimes it feels alienating because people really are conceited, unwelcoming, hostile, and uncooperative. And if we don’t know anything about the context, we aren’t in a place to figure out if it’s the former or the latter.

  30. Luke Vogel

    I’m not at my computer, so I’m doing a flurry here. I have no idea when my post will be out of moderation. So, I’m going to post part of my moderated post, because at this point I think it is something to consider (with fixes). This will also be it for me today.

    *Take what has been said about this on pharyngula blog and elsewhere. Much of it by “new atheist” pertains (directly and indirectly) to something outside of the question of evidence and the Intersections post. *There is defensiveness that this event may have occurred at all and that it could be turned into something to paint PZ in an unkind light of influence! In other words, there is obvious concern of it’s potential to taint “new atheist” and to distance themselves form it. You don’t see much “Rah, rah, rah for those badass scientist at conservation events.” There is something of a repudiation of the event as “fact” taking place.

  31. gillt

    I think you’re off in this guilt by association Vogel. It’s a little implausible to place the bad behavior of a few random scientists who self-identify as NAs at the feet of PZ or Dawkins or Harris. Maybe, but I find it hard to believe even the most ardent PZ supports are going to get defensive for that reason. I hate to speculate, but I think more plausibly some NAs feel betrayed and a little perplexed with Mooney’s behavior since the framing wars. That’s pretty much it.

    What would be helpful (maybe) is if one of these a-hole scientists told their side of the story. Since they’re Tom’s colleagues, perhaps he could ask them. Has he at least done his colleagues the courtesy of informing them that he’s been talking smack about them on the internet?

  32. Gill, he’s posting anonymously, so it’s understandable that he won’t want to talk to his colleague(s) about this.

  33. Tom Johnson

    “There is extreme defensivness that this event may have occursed at all and that it could be turned into something to paint PZ in an unkind light of influence! In other words there is obvious concern of it’s potential to taint “new atheist” and to distance themselves form it. You don’t see much “Rah, rah, rah for those badass scientist at conservation events.” There is something of a repudiation of the event as “fact”.

    That is a point, Luke, but it doesn’t belie the fact that NAs often advocate just the kind of behavior showed by my colleagues. Take this comment from the blogosphere, for example:

    “It’s not naughty to have a ‘very nasty’ or highly critical attitude at the religious. Look at what they’ve done to us. We should be attacking them.”

    As Sorbet said, not all NAs are like this, but what that comments espouses is, in essence, justification for harsh criticism against ‘the religious’ – not fundamentalists, not creationists. The religious. As long as believers are lumped into a stereotyped category such as this, it follows that people will see attacks on religious progressives as justified.

    The fact that comments such as those above coexist with those you pointed out, Luke, seems to me that are some NAs out there with a godo head screwwed on their shoulders. It should be the ones making those comments like the one above that should be the focus of criticism.

  34. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    My point, mainly, is that there’s no support for the scientist even if we were to take the story as fact (well, to a minor degree I could interpret some comments as giving tacit defence of the scientist – but, even there they didn’t appear serious). This would tell me that such behavior is not welcome by the “new atheist” as a whole. The defensiveness shown reveals simply that this wouldn’t be seen as a good thing that would paint “new atheist” in positive light.

    This of course is beyond the direct discussion of evidence and the use of anecdotal evidence, which I have been clear as I can about it.

    BTW, it’s not often that when I give my full name that I’m referred to with just my last name when spoken to directly. Strangely, when I saw you use it the other day it reminded me of my father, which was quite nice. Do you often refer to people by their last names?

    Ok, that’s it for the day…

  35. Tom Johnson

    @ Benajmin (#29): I’ll gladly relate a bit more about what happened. I believe some people took my phrase about “spitting in their face, kicking dirt on them” and whatnot to be literal, but it was entirely figurative. Before Chris posted that snippet, Anna K. and I had a quite lengthy comment conversation about the incident in question where more specifics of the incident were laid out.

    My colleagues don’t “mob” the religious, as some have suggested. They do, however, make it a habit of guffawing (in an overly loud and obviously forced nature) when believers make a comment they don’t agree with. I’ve seen several one-on-one conversations end with “well, you’re just ignorant, so believe whatever Stone Age values you want.” I’ve seen a colleague tell a pastor at an event that “You believe in GOD?! We don’t NEED your help!!!” At the most confrontational of the several religious events we’ve taken part in, a colleague bounced around the conference room gleefully taking photographs of exhibits about biblical justifications for conservation repeating “how ignorant! how ignorant! what lies!” at the top of his lungs.

    All of that sounds silly, but put yourself in the place of the religious people hosting the event. They’ve asked scientists to come, with the expressed purpose of forming partnerships with scientists, just to see those scientists call them “ignorant,” tell them “we don’t NEED your help!”, and laugh in their face (that part of my original comment was meant to be literal). None of this, I’ll add, is outside the range of what most of the “big” NA shoutingheads advocate.

    Regardless of what’s said or how serious it “seems” to you, the benchmark here should be the reaction of the religious. In literally every case where I’ve seen a colleague do one of the above things, the religious cease dialogue, become visably offended, and in a few cases have even expressed frustration at my colleagues. From my personal experience (and this anecdote should not extrapolate beyond that), their “tactics,” if you can call them that, simply don’t work.

  36. Luke Vogel

    I… must… stop…. pos….

    Well, one more…

    Tom,

    >>”“It’s not naughty to have a ‘very nasty’ or highly critical attitude at the religious. Look at what they’ve done to us. We should be attacking them.”<<

    I understand your point, but the quote above does not say the behavior is condoned in the public fashion which your story reveals.

    That quote goes a fairly long way in illustrating what we need to keep in mind regarding the times we are in and how historical events are playing out. Also, what brings your story home goes beyond "culture war" aspects and into the deep mire of the science and society domain. But, there are lots of people pissed off at religion, they are annoyed as hell with the overreaching of many religionist, some of which make no bones about their "anti-religious" views. However, what that points to again is we must be careful in our general assessments.

    Again, my general main concern being the use of the authority of science by scientist (usually already in positions of authority in roles in academia and elsewhere) to use as a tool for using and dvocating ridicule and contempt, even in areas which are not actually scientific in nature. However, this can often be a fine line. First, as private citizens people, scientist included of course, can say whatever the heck they want. Second, scientist however without recourse to possibly unhelpful ridicule can indeed highlight what is actually what Sean Carroll and Lawrence Krauss are pointing out, which is the divide between scientific knowledge about nature and religious beliefs – thi areas Chris Mooney openly understands and clearly wants to help with.

    Another concern of mine is that in the forwarding of ridicule and contempt, to even increase what we already see regularly, that the same scientist do not seem to fully appriciate what it means to be speaking as scientist with the authority of science and the influence this has which spills out in different ways (their personal agendas then seem to dominate – yes to even sell books). Of course a rebuttal to the thrid would be what I see PZ say, which is we get crazies in all movements, but that misses the point and also highlight a Fourth problem which is not calling people out who do appear to be "crazies". Also, certain scientist, and some well placed philosophers, using the authority of science and their positions of authority appear to be speaking from both sides of their mouths.

    That the "culture war" and the science and religion is very active by many scientist is in an of itself not a bad thing. In fact, in *many* ways it is very good.

  37. Luke Vogel

    correction:

    “make no bones about their “anti-religious” views”. @ my post #36

    “anti-religious” is supposed to be “anti-science”

  38. Tom Johnson

    I’ll give you that, Luke. Scientists (including my colleagues, for that matter) can say whatever the heck they want about religion. But when they do so at a religious event where they have been asked to attend as scientists, they are representing the scientific community instead of themselves personally.

    And you’re correct – that’s a fine line that we should be careful in crossing. Look at Jerry Coyne’s WEIT, for example. Jerry does a stellar job of communicating evolution without a ton of religion-bashing in his book, but what is his blog (made to promote the book and with the same name) mostly about? Religion bashing. What are 99.99999% of “Dr. Jerry Coyne”‘s book reviews doing? Bashing pro-religion books. I’d almost guarantee that 70% or more of the posts on his blog, in fact, are either bashing religion and/or religious scientists. Yes – some of them deserve it, but Jerry is doing so not as an atheist, but as a scientist – most importantly an advocate (a representative) of evolution. PZ, by hosting a science blog, is doing the exact same thing. Outside of the “Monday Metazoan,” there’s not much science on PZ’s blog.

    Is that science? Or is it atheism and metaphysics disguised as science? If science can empirically address some metaphysical claims, then yes – why not? But science never encompasses ad hominems, smear campaigns, poll sabotage, and pejoratives (or at least by definition it doesn’t).

    This “line” is something that, I think, we should be examining more closely. Should New Atheists shut up? Of course not. Should New Atheists who let their rancor and rhetoric bleed over into science advocacy and their stature as a representative of the scientific community shut up? I would say yes, probably so….unless we’re going to change the definition of science.

  39. gillt

    I use whatever name is easier to spell and/or remember, I suppose.

    Vogel: “This would tell me that such behavior is not welcome by the “new atheist” as a whole. The defensiveness shown reveals simply that this wouldn’t be seen as a good thing that would paint “new atheist” in positive light.”

    Of course this behavior’s not welcome! His account is so one-sided, in such stark chiaroscuro between innocent and guilty…why would anyone back adults behaving like 4 year olds? Yet this is the picture Tom has painted, and a problem a lot of people have with Tom’s reporting.

    And don’t forget Tom’s constant reminder that this is all the “big NA shoutingheads'” fault.

    Actually, I find it kind of amusing. I mean if accomodationists were praying for something, isn’t an evolutionary biologist AND atheist at a major University with a story that beautifully illustrates they entire argument exactly what they’d be asking god for?

  40. Anon of Ibid

    Oh My! Anonymous people on the internet are RUDE when commenting to another anonymous poster! News at 11.

    I guess you’ve never made it to Digg or Reddit?

  41. Jon

    The behavior Tom describes sounds like it’s a kind of revenge, a venting, against religion. No doubt there’s been a lot to be angry about over the past eight years.

    There can be a kind of clarity in anger, but it can often just be indiscriminate–the exact opposite of reason. At the very least, the NA’s need more discrimination about who’s actually been doing them wrong (and everybody wrong). Otherwise, they just duplicate the indiscriminate anger of their opponents, with their overblown, poorly directed rage against “elites,” etc. (For that matter, by behaving high-handedly, NA’s actually step into the right’s stereotypes and do their PR for them.)

    So again, the plea here is not “shut up.” But “don’t become what you despise.” Don’t be Bill O’Reilly. Have some degree of self-awareness, knowledge certain beyond certain narrow confines, and some cognizance that the behavior you’re modeling may be taken farther than you would go in the same situation.

  42. Tom Johnson

    “At the very least, the NA’s need more discrimination about who’s actually been doing them wrong (and everybody wrong).”

    From what I’ve seen, that seems to be very true. In terms of science, religious progressives who claim to be against creationist bunk are likely not the best target.

    For gillt: if you’re only here to troll some more and be the complete 180 persona of the gillt that comments on the NA blogs, I have no interest with you past this comment. But at least don’t misrepresent me. I’ve used the term ” ‘big’ NA shoutingheads” once, not as a “constant reminder.” And it is not their fault…as long as they don’t espouse the kind of behavior I’ve seen. If their motives are something different, then people are interpreting it incorrectly. I’m simply saying that if this appears to be the case, it would be nice to see some clarification from the big names of the community…especially so since the NAs I’ve encountered here and in person seem to discredit anything from someone who’s not a NA at face value. You simply can’t have a discussion with someone who discredits an opinion a priori based only on its source. You’re quickly becoming fine proof of that.

  43. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    >>>”Of course this behavior’s not welcome! His account is so one-sided, in such stark chiaroscuro between innocent and guilty…why would anyone back adults behaving like 4 year olds? Yet this is the picture Tom has painted, and a problem a lot of people have with Tom’s reporting.”<<>”..blog comment to the unverified evil behavior of some unnamed atheist..”<>>”…isn’t an evolutionary biologist AND atheist at a major University with a story that beautifully illustrates they entire argument exactly what they’d be asking god for?”<<“mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like”< is called "evil behavior" by PZ is good and amusing.

    Done with your slimy cesspool of a shrill echo chamber? Or should we continue and I pretend you're not a bullshit artist trying to score points and hone your skills? You're a very intelligent guy, seems your concerns are right on, but you appear naive at times, perhaps you're not so much in support of forwarding critical thinking and science and reason, but taking on the big dog of religion and wasting time on blogs because of your empty life… haha j/k dood.

  44. gillt

    Tom: “I’ve used the term ” ‘big’ NA shoutingheads” once, not as a “constant reminder.” And it is not their fault…as long as they don’t espouse the kind of behavior I’ve seen. If their motives are something different, then people are interpreting it incorrectly.”

    Look how you backtrack from your previous posts.

    Tom: “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.”

    Tom: “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”

    Tom: “A huge misconception about believers that has been nurtured by the likes of Jerry Coyne is that believers are responsible for creationism”

    Tom: “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…”

    You’ve been blaming prominent NAs from day one for advocating and inspiring this type of behavior. You’ve put this at their feet. To backtrack now is unseemly of you. If you’re pointing fingers at least own it.

  45. bilbo

    “That this: >“mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like”< is called “evil behavior” by PZ is good and amusing."

    Hear, hear!

  46. Tom Johnson

    9th grade reading comprehension should be a prerequisite for blog commenting.

    “And it is not their fault…as long as they don’t espouse the kind of behavior I’ve seen.

    See the part of Luke Vogel’s comment that our hobbit friend just quoted. Or, better yet, go read a handful of posts from PZ Myers and/or Jerry Coyne. I’m afraid they’re very much espousing the kind of behavior I’ve seen. I must agree with Luke and Bilbo – it is quite ironic that PZ would denounce his own behavior.

    If you want to argue that someone like PZ Myers does not espouse mocking of the religious, etc. to prove that you’re not just making up an argument here, then by all means go ahead. From what I’ve seen so far, the regular commenters here will have a field day with you.

  47. gillt

    I haven’t said anything about Myers; I’m only quoting what you’ve been saying, which is increasingly contradictory and muddled.

  48. Luke Vogel

    bilbo,

    PZ’s a funny guy for sure.

    Seeing that quote posted by you suddenly brought to mind something I read him say just a few days ago.

    It’s from his: “Shame on the University of Minnesota!” blog post. A funny and strange story about Goldy the Gopher, the mascot for UM mocking a playing praying publicly.

    PZ added to the story saying:

    >>>”He was too trying to trivialize a religious ritual (although, admittedly, he wasn’t trivializing it quite as much as the clueless goon who thinks the almighty ruler of the universe will help him win a game), and we like him for it. I think it ought to be a Minnesota tradition to point and laugh loudly at any player who thinks he gets holy credit with a deity for catching a ball.”<<<

    He's so funny, and of course his reader's wouldn't do anything like that!

  49. Tom Johnson

    gillt, I haven’t been on the blogosphere long, but I’ve been around the block enough to know how to use qualitfying statements to bait a self-righteous smartass into thinking he’s “trapped” me, and you just bit rather hard.

    Now please either mature about 20 years so you can join the rest of those here or go crawl back into the troll cave you came from. I’m through with you.

  50. bilbo

    That’s a perfect example. There’s no way PZ would ever engage in such “evil behavior!!” He’s sooooo beyond that!

  51. bilbo

    It’s only fitting that gillt, the semantics king, could be successfully baited with semantics. Point, Johnson. (Oh wait. We’re not supposed to be keeping points. Damn you gillt!!!)

  52. the New Atheist comment machine

    This seems a really unfortunate way to phrase it, both because it implies (to my ear, at least) something manufactured/inauthentic, and because it hasn’t actually gotten much of a response, as far as I can tell w/ a quick peek around. It would be one thing if PZ and Coyne and Rosenhouse and etc. were sending hordes of angry commenters over, but the whole “Counterproductive Attacks” thread here showcasing Tom’s account seems to be mostly just the regulars. , It doesn’t look like any of them even have a front-page post on it – just a (rather snippy, to be fair) side conversation in comments to an evolutionblog post. (I feel like I must be missing something obvious; if so, let me know! I’m sleepy – sorry!)

    it is quite ironic that PZ would denounce his own behavior.

    Here’s the thing, Tom – the way you describe your colleagues behaving – in the context of religious-moderate-hosted conservation events they’ve been invited to – is really shockingly unprofessional and . . . well, dumb; my impression is that PZ & Co. *wouldn’t* actually ever act like this. Strongly criticizing religion on their blogs, etc., sure – and you could argue that this is pretty counterproductive too, and we’re back to the same old argument – but this sort of hospitable coalition building? I mean, if someone’s seen evidence to the contrary, let me know, but . . .
    I think this is one reason some folks are doubting your story – it’s almost a caricature of the rude, gross, horribly-counterproductive “New Atheist”, the academic counterpart of the mythical atheist whose “few words” at a loved one’s devout funeral service turns into a hectoring lecture about how they’re just so much meat, and heaven a ridiculous fantasy for gullible fools, etc.

    Of course, there probably *is* one or two of those somewhere – there’s one or two of anything, esp. on the internet. And unfortunately, it’s not like PZ or Dawkins have some sort of infallible control over atheists everywhere – inevitably this sort of discourse takes on a burgeoning life of its own. Still, it’s genuinely hard to believe.

    I guess you’ve never made it to Digg or Reddit?

    Seriously – I’m not saying it’s good, or you should be lapping it up with a big ol’ grin, or even just not defending yourself – but I think there’s perhaps a bit of culture shock here. I mean, by internet standards, this is almost gentle kidding.

  53. Tom Johnson

    Dan S.:

    Judging from the responses I’ve gotten, if there is one refreshing thing out of all this it’s that some NAs find that kind of behavior shocking and reprehensible (as I would expect that virtually anyone should). I’ve discussed my colleagues’ actions with them, and as I discussed with Anna K. in the original comment thread that prompted this whole debacle, I’m usually met with the sentiment that any religious believer is guilty of enabling fundamentalism (as are accomodationists/faithiests) and should be treated as equals to creationists, e.g. met with the same mockery, ridicule, and criticism. I’m then called a faithiest, predictably.

    As much as I would like to say that this sentiment is silly and is in no way representative of the NA writers, I’m sad to say that I cannot. Why? Because, as just one tiny example, look what Jerry Coyne says (18 June 2009) on the subject:

    “You know what I think about this: religion is really the root cause of creationism, which won’t dissipate until we loosen the grip of faith on America.” (In other words: “kill religion first and worry about science later.”)

    I’ll acknowledge that my colleagues are likely taking this attitude a bit far, but seriously – how can you read the above and still find their actions “unbelievable?” By that logic, it doesn’t matter how much you’re trying to combat creationism (including inviting scientists to educate your flock); as long as you simply go to church, it’s all your fault.

  54. bob

    I, for one, am aghast. The horror … people were loudly guffawed at in person, and one other person was treated meanly on the internet. Why, oh why, did no one think of the children?!

  55. lol, Chris. You really are gullible if you believe a story like this from the pseudonymous “Tom Johnson” who could be making it all up for all you know. Even if he’s telling you how he genuinely interprets some incident that happened around him, I’d give zero credibility to someone who so comprehensively misunderstands/misrepresents what PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne say.

    Oh well, there’s one born every minute.

  56. Bruce Gorton

    Tom Johnson (The real one, the other, if it goes through, was me highlighting how stupid it is to take an anonymous post at face value. )

    Here is the thing TJ, this is a modern era where people go to these things and record them. There are articles written about atheists “behaving badly” which fail to bring up specific instances on a daily basis. About the best they can do is mention that atheists are forming social clubs and writing books that don’t accept the religious’ authority.

    So I actually think you are lying – because frankly if your personal experience could have been verified we would have heard about it by now.

    It would have hit Youtube for one thing, the creationists would be bringing up clips of it to support their victim-mythology. Yet we don’t see that do we? We see Mooney, in his utter desperation to find something to pin the the new atheists, taking anonymous posts with zero evidence on the internet. The bottom of the barrel has been scraped out and now the floor is developing scratch marks.

    You are an anonymous person on the internet – and you strive to maintain than anonymity while at the same time putting yourself forward as an expert witness. I could claim to be the Pope for all anybody here knows, and I would be about as credible. If you are a serious biologist, then please, give us your name and your university, otherwise learn to live with the fact that your claims in that regard are worthless – and in fact count against your credibility.

  57. Bruce Gorton

    “The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

    No, actually it was an accusation of fact, with zero corroboration. What is worse, the nature of the accusation is such that it should have had corroboration – other witnesses, religious people putting up Youtube videos, religious journalists writing articles about it. Heck you could even have phoned around and put in other witnesses to the events in question but you didn’t.

    Yet you called that accusation “Exhibit A”, you used it as evidence when at best it would be anecdote, at worst it could be completely false and we have no way of telling which it is because you, a journalist, ignored your professional training and presented nothing for us to go on.

    I am not angry about this because I am an atheist, this is not me as a “new atheist” slamming you here, this is me as a journalist. You know better than this, yet here you are playing games.

  58. Anthony McCarthy

    —– “ the New Atheist comment machine ”

    This seems a really unfortunate way to phrase it, both because it implies (to my ear, at least) something manufactured/inauthentic, and because it hasn’t actually gotten much of a response, as far as I can tell w/ a quick peek around. It would be one thing if PZ and Coyne and Rosenhouse and etc. were sending hordes of angry commenters over, but the whole “Counterproductive Attacks” thread here showcasing Tom’s account seems to be mostly just the regulars. , It doesn’t look like any of them even have a front-page post on it – just a (rather snippy, to be fair) side conversation in comments to an evolutionblog post. (I feel like I must be missing something obvious; if so, let me know! I’m sleepy – sorry!) Dan S

    Dan S knows this is dishonest as he participated in a number of blog swarms sent my way back when I wrote blog posts.

    The first time it happened to me the swarm came from Pandagon, sent my way by Amanda Marcotte, others have come from other parts of the new atheist blogosphere. One of them was an off shoot of a blog swarm sent Chris Mooney’s way back when he was at Science Blogs.

    I don’t know if Dan, himself, was directed my way by another blog or if he participated in that first one but he certainly joined in with those who were sent on by a distortion of what I said by other bloggers.

    And once you’ve been targeted, any new atheist theme blogger who is looking for some cheap and easy post will try to distort your more recent pieces, and when they can’t find something you’ve actually said, they will start making stuff up. Coming up with instantly invented lexicography and etymology are especially popular with that crowd.

    It’s not just the new atheists who do it, there are other, equally fanatical blog communities that can target you but none are any worse than the new atheists.

  59. Chris, perhaps it might be useful to remember what Carl Sagan said about extraordinary claims, namely that they require extraordinary evidence to back them up.
    Nobody is saying that Toms claims are impossible. On the other hand nobody, apart from Tom, knows if they are true or if they are lies. What we can say, however, is that they are extraordinary.
    Most of us here have heard or witnessed the most prominent new atheists in debate with religious individuals. Their behaviour in these situations simply doesn’t compare to that described by Tom for their PZ Myers or Coyne quoting followers, who, as others have mentioned, are pictured as petulant four year olds. In fact some of their behavior (that of bounding around the room shouting “how ignorant! how ignorant! what lies!” at the top of his lungs. “) sounds more like symptoms of mental illness rather than anti religious rudeness.
    One would imagine that behavior like this would be noted by the religious individuals themselves, seeing as it has happened on several occasions according to Tom.
    What I would suggest that Chris takes the advice of Carl Sagan here and verifies the extraordinary evidence that must underlie this situation.
    I understand that Tom might have good reasons for preserving his anonymity online, especially if he is working with a group of individuals including his boss, who think nothing of behaving in this manner.
    I, for one, while I cannot take the word of an anonymous commenter, am quite prepared to take Chris’ word on this matter if he does the following.
    1. Verify that Tom is indeed an evolutionary biologist.
    2. Verify from an independent source that the behavior, as described by Tom had occurred.
    The first one might have already been done, as far as I understand.
    The second should be easy – all you need to do is contact one of the religious individuals who was so disgusted by the “new atheists” behavior that they stopped working with them.
    I’m sure Tom can give you the contact details.
    In the event that this is all shown to be true then I wholeheartedly condemn the behavior of these individuals.

  60. Anthony McCarthy

    — it might be useful to remember what Carl Sagan said about extraordinary claims, namely that they require extraordinary evidence to back them up. Sigmund

    First and foremost, it’s not an “extraordinary claim”.

    Carl Sagan was actually paraphrasing Marcello Truzzi, a genuine skeptic. I seem to recall reading that at least one of his friends said that Truzzi was thinking of retracting the statement near the end of his life, with good reason.

    It’s a violation of scientific procedure, isn’t it. If the normal level of evidence wouldn’t be sufficient to falsify or confirm an allegedly “extraordinary claim” then how could the normal level of evidence be reliable to falsify or confirm ” un-extraodinary claims”? And what are the criteria for deeming claims “extraordinary”? As the anecdote that has the new atheist echo machine going full tilt this week certainly is not.

    This overused aphorism is too convenient a chestnut to pull out when you don’t have anything else to work with, as in this instance, and on occasions seems to have some legitimate persuasive power with some truly outlandish claims, but it’s certainly not scientific.

    You can reject anything for any number of reasons, but pretending that this tool of personal evaluation, if not personal whim, is some principle of logic or science is a pretty extraordinarily unfounded claim, in itself.

  61. gillt

    Hahah Tom, the more you post the less plausible and more crazy you sound.

    You should have stopped at the anecdote, because your sounding as feverishly crude as those NA colleagues you so righteously denounce.

  62. Anthony McCarthy

    That’s a product of having to answer the likes of gillt and other new atheist blog trolls. Unfortunate but unavoidable. Since new atheists don’t hold themselves to standards of coherence or consistency, individually or amassed, things get surreal very quickly.

  63. Anthony McCarthy #60 said:
    “It’s a violation of scientific procedure, isn’t it.”
    You are obviously not a working scientist Anthony. It is entirely consistent with how scientific research operates that the evidence required to back a claim should be commensurate with the claim itself. That is the reason why there are different levels of scientific journals – the level of evidence required for publication in the top journals being much higher than that of the lower ranked publications.
    In this particular case Chris called Toms anecdote “Exhibit A” – a courtroom title. Would anyone here like to be a trial lawyer with that as their prime piece of evidence? An anonymous individual makes a claim about some other anonymous individuals saying something nasty in an anonymous setting in both time and place. There is a specific term to cover this type of ‘evidence’ in a trial setting – ‘hearsay’ – and it is quite rightly considered non-admissible in a court of law.
    If you had bothered to read the rest of my post you would have noticed that I made some specific suggestions to Chris as to how he can easily verify this claim if he wants to use it as evidence but still allow Tom to keep his anonymity.

  64. Sorbet

    -You are obviously not a working scientist Anthony

    Sigmund, welcome to McCarthy’s world. McCarthy has eminently demonstrated this fact in almost every thread over and over again. This by itself would not have been a problem had he not insisted on actually being proud of this ignorance and cloaking it with pseudo-scientific analysis.

    And generalizing to any extent from one data point is definitely an extraordinary claim. It would like deducing global warming based on temperature increases in a single year.

  65. Sorbet

    McCarthy, as Sigmund notes, if you had actually published you would have known that Sagan’s statement is true; publishing a bold idea in Nature requires running many more controls and rigorous experiments than publishing a mere extension of someone’s work in a lesser journal. As it is, you have never had any idea of how science is done by scientists working in the real world; witness your gross ignorance of exobiology and the scientific method which everyone can see.

  66. gillt

    What are the chances that one day out of the blue a complete stranger happens across The Intersection, and not just any stranger but an atheist evolutionary biologist at a major University with a story as equally remarkable as it is confirmatory of all of Mooney’s assumptions about New Atheist bad behavior?

    Oh, and as icing on the cake this stranger, this godsend, uncovers who the real villain is–none other than Mooney’s arch-nemesis, The Myer-Coyne Monster.

    I’ll gladly submit that there is maybe some truth buried deep within Tom’s story, but I’ve read enough fiction to spot a caricature, and the NAs in Tom’s story are caricatures.

    Exhibit-A

    Tom: ““You know what I think about this: religion is really the root cause of creationism, which won’t dissipate until we loosen the grip of faith on America.” (In other words: “kill religion first and worry about science later.”)”

  67. Tom Johnson

    Sigmund and Bruce have just shown something that I think is very disturbing: they seem to be assuming that what happens on the internet is simply not feasible in the “real” world.

    For example, someone calling another person “ignorant” in a one-on-one conversation is “extraordinary,” and it simply shouldn’t be believed. Yet PZ Myers publicly desecrates a communion wafer (by his own admission, just to insult), hops on a triceratops at the Creation Museum, and tells people to “fuck off!” on his blog all the time. His commenters call people a “stupid fuck” and “stupid piece of shit.” Jerry Coyne frequently employs the labels “woolly-headed,” “ignorant,” and “garbage” when he’s on a rampage against someone he simply disagrees with.

    But somebody calling someone else “ignorant” or laughing at them face-to-face is extraordinary?! Really?! Given the history of behavior above, is it really extraordinary?

    What we’re seeing here is an absolutely remarkable double-standard. Sigmund and friends seem to be acting as if behavior on the internet gets a free pass, as if it’s a moral-free, no-holds-barred zone for slander, libel, childish parlor tricks, and insults. Sure, NA bloggers are guilty of worse all the time, but how dare you suggest that you’ve seen someone call another person “ignorant” in real life? And how dare you suggest they quote PZ, Coyne, and others (the people telling others to fuck off, etc.) when pressed as to why they think it’s appropriate? Wow. That’s quite the willful ignorance of reality.

    Really, guys? Really? Is it really “extraordinary,” or is it just something that you were hoping you wouldn’t see?

  68. Luke Vogel

    Wow, the thread is still hot, and a celebrity gadfly has graced this site with his presence on the issue.

    Russell Blackford, you’re a little late to this conversation, not sure what you think you’re doing – but as you seem to have become a kind of self promoting gadfly who frowns on in-group criticism (though I did find your “hey look I criticized Dawkins on his 747 argument” quite moving and the lets be civil in disagreement was hilarious), lets take a look at your profundity.

    Of course, I have no idea what you’ve read of my or any other post here, and knowing you, you’d probably just wave it off with some excuse. So, I won’t give a run down of my opinion (besides, it seems to have made no impact on gillt and he’s been at this conversation since the original post).

    >>>” Even if he’s telling you how he genuinely interprets some incident that happened around him, I’d give zero credibility to someone who so comprehensively misunderstands/misrepresents what PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne say.<<<

    Your conclusion does not necessarily follow form your premise, this is exactly what I think Anthony has done on several occasions in *defending* the likelihood of the story. The story as fully expressed make clear the "offenders" in the case do realize this is done as sport with the attention of making religion (revealed religious belief, behavior etc.) the target.

    Now, we can do two things. We can take *your* word for Tom's interpretation, or you can provide evidence of your claim?

  69. Jon

    Imagine what kind of pile on he’d get if he wasn’t anonymous.

  70. Tom Johnson

    Exactly, John. Now you see my motivation.

  71. Luke Vogel

    Sigmund,

    Look, I’m not going back over my criticism, but a few have said things, inlcuding Chris and Anthony, that have a general tone to which we are to take your word for something which if inspected even without my reading glasses look suspect.

    >>”I, for one, while I cannot take the word of an anonymous commenter, am quite prepared to take Chris’ word on this matter if he does the following.”<<

    Now, you follow this with a protocol Chris would need to follow to make Tom's story more believable. No problem there, in fact, much of it I've out line in one way or the other. As I have said, if there is anyone who has documented and criticized Tom's story more directly, I'd like to see it.

    But, your above quote has now been said by a few people. Are you telling me that you have not taken the word of an anonymous poster's comments on the internet as "true" and may have in fact saw what was said as evidence possibly confirming your own bias?

    The fact it may confirm your reasoning doesn't really matter at this point, but I would suspect with all the story telling I see on many sites we know (Dawkins', PZ's, Coyne's etc.) by anonymous posters that are followed with statements that appear to accept the story (in fact I've really yet to see this as a problem, even with what may appear to be the more extraordinarily stories – and isn't that what this is largely about, that this appears extraordinary and may paint "new atheist" in bad light – even though it doesn't directly).

  72. Luke Vogel

    Sigmund,

    BTW, your first – 1. Verify that Tom is indeed an evolutionary biologist.

    Has been, and I’ve been personally assured of this.

  73. Anthony McCarthy

    How would you determine if an idea in science was “extraordinary” enough to require an enhanced level of evidence? And what would prevent an ever increasing level of “extraordinary” evidence being required of any novel idea in science? And who determines all of this?

    I don’t have any problem with people deciding these things in daily life but if you want me to accept it as a rule of logic or science, it’s your responsibility to explain how you would apply it objectively.

    I’m with Truzzi, it’s a badly thought out idea.

    In Sorbet’s world these things are unimportant details once a celebrity atheist has spoken.

  74. Luke Vogel

    O’ boy, I’m off to a good start. I really should wait till I have coffee before posting. I apologize, painful to read…

    corrections: #66 – attention = intention , form = from

    #69 – without = with – first sentence is fairly mangled.

    Sorry folks…

  75. Tom Johnson

    As I just discussed with Chris via email, I think this “situation” is deserving of some clarification, especially so since it seems to be getting blown out of proportion by some commenters. Perhaps some of that is my fault for not being clear. If so, I apologize.

    Contrary to some of the interpretations I have seen in comments, the events in question did not devolve into a no-holds-barred shouting match between religious followers and scientists. The abrasive comments in question were not made from a microphoned podium to the entire religious group, nor was the incident something akin to hurling rotten tomoatoes at the religious.

    The “incidents” in question were simply abrasive comments (such as those I have already related) made to individuals (not entire groups) within the larger context of what was a rather civil and productive meeting. On this one-on-one basis, those who were commented to simply tuned out the people making the abrasive comment, but what is important is that those individuals also tuned out the rest of our discussions on science.

    Let me be clear: this is not some large-scale conspiracy. It is a few foolish individuals taking things to extremes and, in general, acting foolishly. I do not mean it to be some large-scale indictment against NA figureheads, but I do think that those figureheads are indirectly responsible when individuals use their words (in my opinion, not all that much out of context) as justifications for foolish actions. Nonetheless, the reason I posted the original comment is because I think their actions are highly unproductive (in fact, I’ve seen as much), and I simply wanted to share them as an example of how the NA rhetoric and stance on attacking all believers, regardless of affiliation, is a silly one. It should be taken as nothing more than that – a personal example made by a commenter on a blog.

  76. Anthony McCarthy

    — That is the reason why there are different levels of scientific journals – the level of evidence required for publication in the top journals being much higher than that of the lower ranked publications. Sigmund

    Top journals and lower level journals. While I’m sure there are better and worse as there are in any kinds of publications, better and lesser quality, that doesn’t have much to do with what I said.

    If the ordinary level of evidence required by scientists was insufficient to falsify or verify a claim that someone wanted to call “extraordinary” how could they be sufficient to falsify or verify an “ordinary” claim? How do you account for that difference objectively? How could that be administered formally in science?

    You can read many stories of people in science who refused to accept new ideas because they didn’t like them, but that didn’t stop these new ideas from being accepted eventually. Those ideas were certainly “extraordinary” until they gained currency. If there was some kind of formal requirement, I suspect those ideas would often get exactly the same kind of treatment as so many have here, the ever escalating demand for further verification.

    And there’s nothing extraordinary about the idea that people can be obnoxious cranks during meetings. I’ll bet that many women who have worked in science can tell you some analogous anecdotes from their experience. I have heard other gay men in science tell some. Stories of faculty members who are jerks in meetings are common enough. When people feel they have the permission to act badly, people take that permission and run with it. And the new atheists have explicitly given themselves permission to act badly.

    There isn’t anything out of the ordinary about this anecdote except the frantic need of the new atheists to deny its clear believability. Which only tells us about the nature of the new atheism, which is a shallow, dishonest, bigoted intellectual fad.

  77. Anthony McCarthy

    Luke, it’s blog commenting, quick and messy, mistakes are not “extraordinary” on comment threads.

  78. Luke Vogel

    The phrase – ‘extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence’ – is being pretty well represented by Anthony.

    Yes it was brought to us by Truzzi – who was a founder of the magazine and organization that published *Zetetic* which then became *Skeptical Inquirer* after Truzzi’s departure – Truzzi was willing to bring in “both” sides of the claims of the paranormal, others thought there was already enough claims of the paranormal events without skeptical insight out in the public already so rejected Truzzi’s idea, and so….

    The general idea of the use of the phrase is summed up nicely by James Lett.

    >>”If I claim that it rained for ten minutes on my way to work last Tuesday, you would be justified in accepting that claim as true on the basis of my report. But if I claim that I was abducted by extraterrestrial aliens who whisked me to the far side of the moon and performed bizarre medical experiments on me, you would be justified in demanding more substantial evidence. The ordinary evidence of my testimony, while sufficient for ordinary claims, is not sufficient for extraordinary ones.”<<

    However, as Anthony points out there are obvious problems with the overall use of the phrase. This has been pointed out repeatedly, even in Skeptical Inquirer, and the concerns of the over use on relying on the phrase does *not* come from those who support woo, they come from concerned skeptics.

    The other problem recognized, as in this discussion is it becomes way to subjective depending on the bias of the claimant who is acting the critic using the phrase.

  79. Luke Vogel

    Anthony,

    >>”Luke, it’s blog commenting, quick and messy, mistakes are not “extraordinary” on comment threads.”<<

    Ha! very good news.

  80. bob

    TJ: “[My story] should be taken as nothing more than that – a personal example made by a commenter on a blog.”

    Does Mooney agree with you? Can we expect another blog entry explaining that your story isn’t actually “Exhibit A” of anything whatsoever? Or will he just do nothing and falsely blame (or let his sycophants false blame) some nonexistent conspiracy of blog commenters for misconstruing his meaning?

  81. Jon

    The reaction to the story is interesting in itself. As CM said, it seems to have touched a nerve. Hmm. Why would the NA’s feel so vulnerable about this?

  82. Sorbet

    Jon, a global warming denier makes a claim. There is an outpouring of protests and statements from warming advocates. Does that mean they are “vulnerable”? I am not saying the analogy is perfect, but the point is that just because a community voices itself vocally does not mean it feels vulnerable or insecure.

  83. Tom Johnson

    bob:

    I obviously can’t speak for Chris, but I never got the impression that he was meaning to take things further than that. He practially said as much in his remarks in this post. From what I have seen, anyone taking this further than a simple comment that was highlighted in a new post (I’ll note that some NA bloggers also do this practice occasionally) seems to be doing so out of his/her own interpretation of things – not what anyone else has said or claimed.

  84. Sorbet

    -In Sorbet’s world these things are unimportant details once a celebrity atheist has spoken

    I could care less if the phrase was invented by Sagan, Truzzi or Woozi. But it does hold up as a working principle in most scientists’ research, that much is clear. The bolder the idea you are proposing, more the evidence you need.

  85. Luke Vogel

    Tom,

    Thanks, that and your other explanation does help (which appears not everyone read). I also feel a bit more comfortable after a few pieces of information have been put together for me.

    However, I still maintain a certain level of doubt and don’t wish to rehash my comments. My doubt however, after having some things clarified for me, has waned a bit and a fuller picture has emerged.

    However, there’s an even more important issue….

    As we’ve seen with not only my reaction, but that of PZ Myer’s and several others, the post presented an unnecessary problem which leads to thinking as displayed by Blackford and gillt. The supposed Exhibit A in other words is just part of other “evidence” thought to confirm claims being made against the Intersection. Let me stress again, going at this with something like an “us vs. them” mentality is not only harmful but wrong. It’s quite clear from being a regular reader of PZ’s, Coyne’s, Dawkins’ sites that the overall view of Chris Mooney is extremely bad. Ad hominem’s are common and constant claims of being told to “shut up” are used consistently.

    I do think skepticism of the claim was warranted, and why not. A lot of it clearly was exaggerated (which I’ve pointed out directly – again I fear my words today will be used inappropriately even after two days of comments showing serious doubt).

    I mean, look at Russell Blackford’s statement..

    >>”I’d give *zero credibility* to someone who so comprehensively misunderstands / misrepresents what PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne say”<<

    Zero credibility? On what, this story(?) any story(?), see that's the thing, this kind of vague pointless rhetoric is useless, but expected and caution must be given.

  86. Re Davo at Comment 11:

    To this point I have not said a word about Mr. Johnson or his stories. I did a post commenting on M and K’s letter to the editor in Science. I don’t think they made their case that Coyne misrepresented their book, and I think they are harping on trivial issues of phrasing to avoid dealing with the substantive arguments Coyne (and others) have made. I have not blown anything out of proportion.

    The issue came up in the comments, and while a few of them were obnoxious many others raised reasonable objections to what Mr. Johnson has been saying. Sorry, but a handful of rude comments hardly constitutes some nefarious NA comment machine and it does not constitute a smear campaign. Let me suggest to Mr. Johnson that if he would like to continue participating in the blogosphere he should try thickening his skin. I have people yelling at me all the time for things that I write. The difference between us is that everyone knows who I am and where to find me.

    As for the stories themselves, I am very skeptical. We have an anonymous commenter telling us that other unnamed people behaved rudely at some vaguely described event. What am I to make of that? I suspect I am seeing huge amounts of exaggeration, at best, when I read:

    At the most confrontational of the several religious events we’ve taken part in, a colleague bounced around the conference room gleefully taking photographs of exhibits about biblical justifications for conservation repeating “how ignorant! how ignorant! what lies!” at the top of his lungs.

    But if Mr. Johnson actually works with people who behave this way, then my reply is that he has some real jerks for colleagues. What has that to do with any broader issue? As I noted at my blog, I have seen Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris speak in front of predominantly religious audiences, and they are models of decorum when they do so.

  87. Jon

    As I’ve said here before, dialog is important. When things are decidedly less Plato and more Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, dialog effectively doesn’t exist. With the new atheist comment machine, you don’t have dialog, you have monologue. It says “I know science. I don’t need to know anything else, bub.” What happens when that’s applied to the real world? It’s embarrassingly easy to see.

    There’s an important difference between questions of climate science and questions of religion. German social scientists didn’t distinguish between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften for no reason.

  88. Jon

    Sorbet in 82: As I’ve said here before, dialog is important. When things are decidedly less Plato and more Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, dialog effectively doesn’t exist. With the new atheist comment machine, you don’t have dialog, you have monologue. It says “I know science. I don’t need to know anything else, bub.” What happens when that’s applied to the real world? It’s easy to see (hence the vulnerability).

    There’s an important difference between questions of climate science and questions of religion. German social scientists didn’t distinguish between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften for no reason.

  89. Jon

    …they are models of decorum when they do so.

    Their followers obviously feel they have more license. (And I think Dawkins is concerned about that, which is why he’s had second thoughts about making comments about “child abuse”, etc.)

  90. Luke, I have certainly accepted some things written on internet sites on face value, I freely admit, but things that seem to be as highly caricatured as the scenario posted by Tom set off warning bells in my mind, particularly when he sees fit to completely misrepresent what people are saying – as he does with myself in post #67
    The idea that not one but a group of professional scientists, invited to a meeting, would go there and gratuitously insult their hosts is not something I have experience of, and by the reaction here it sounds out of the ordinary for others who have read the claim. That anonymous PZ blog commenters say rude things on his site is not disputed, but I would suggest that this is somewhat different from scientists going to a meeting with a religious group and behaving the way Tom claims. Its not impossible but its surely unreasonable for us to believe it without some sort of corroboration. As a scientist Tom should have no problem with the question – “wheres the evidence for that?”

  91. Tom Johnson

    Jason:

    Was that really directed at Davo or me? You are correct: Davo was wrong in stating that you’ve made comments on this whole overblown mess (until now). As I commented on another thread about this, from what I’ve read from you, you seem to be quite levelheaded and above the childish fray that seems to envelop these discussions. Thanks.

    I expected a certain level of doubt to come out my claim because: a.) I was doing so anonymously, b.) anything coming off of this blog seems to get immedate doubt from the frequent commenters on the other blogs, and c.) I was simply relating an anecdote. And that’s fine, because up until this point I have yet to see anyone on this end of the “debate” (myself, Chris, or anyone else) use it as some sort of far reaching indictment. (Before the retorts come from all sides on that last statement, read what Chris said about how my story should be taken at the beginning of this post. That’s far from making this a claim about NA, in general).

    As I said a few comments ago, I feel like my colleagues are simply individuals acting in extremes and being foolish – in other words, they’re being the “jerks” that Jason just described. They’re not representatives of any NA blogger, or NA in general. However, their use of NA blogger arguing points does, in fact, upset me some.

  92. Luke Vogel

    Sorbet,

    >>”I am not saying the analogy is perfect”<>”But it does hold up as a working principle in most scientists’ research, that much is clear. The bolder the idea you are proposing, more the evidence you need.”<<

    Referring to the phrase "extraordinary claims….." You are missing the point. Besides, the story behind the phrase is actually important because it pertained mainly to paranormal claims then later by Sagan as not just paranormal claims but to claims of alien sightings and abductions etc. In fact, you are highlighting why there is concern over the over use of the phrase (and in fact may be wrong to use in many circumstances). In science there is a fundamental framework to which someone works from, not often does something come completely out of the blue without basic lines of evidences leading to a theory or claim of fact.

    *The fact that someone would mock someone publicly, laugh at them and be abusive to them personally is *not* and extraordinary claim. Bringing in the idea of scientific claims is simply absurd and points to the problem of the overuse of the phrase.

    In Tom's story the direct blame is on the people doing the what he claims, by extension and explained further he is being implicit in pointing the finger at the advocacy and commenting on the sites of PZ and Dawkins. Again, it's glad you see such behavior as being bad, gillt called it the behavior of a 4 year olds and PZ Myer's called it *"evil behavior"* (still cracks me up, he's a funny guy no doubt, such effect a comment like that makes, plus through in the word *indictment* all in a brief description).

  93. Tom Johnson

    “As a scientist Tom should have no problem with the question – “wheres the evidence for that?”

    I don’t have a problem with that, Sigmund, and unfortunately I don’t have a videotape of the incident (although I now wish I did). As I said earlier, most of what happened were isolated incidents between individuals – not attacks on the whole group – so the whole situation is far from the conspiratorial, controversial religion/science fight some have tried to paint it as, despite my many protestations to the contrary.

    Bottom line? My story is anecdotal, and in the absence of evidence should be taken as such. I don’t pretend to have any. I’ve said that. Chris has said that. In fact, the only people I have seen take it as anything outside of anecdotal are commenters here who are accusing Chris and/or me of this being some kind of an indictment. It’s simply not. If we can get past that, I don’t think this would be such a big blow-up.

  94. Luke Vogel

    Let me be more clear with Sorbet, because I have feeling I know what’s coming next.

    You may reply by saying – what makes it extraordinary is the fact it’s done by scientist at conservation events. I agree that creates doubt, it seems unlikely to me as I’ve outlined, however (again pointing to why using the phrase is problematic and is often over used for effect), it does not make the claim extraordinary (nothing to the level to which Truzzi and Sagan had it mean, not close – and it does matter what the coiner of the term meant by it and how it was used by its greatest promoter – who would laugh at how it’s being used here without a doubt). I can simply turn around and say, have you ever been to a scientific conference? It can be one hostile environment, I’ve watched scientist literally screaming at each other. There was even a few moments during those Beyond Belief conferences where you have mainly atheist going at it to the point of saying the others being crazy and dangerous and pointing fingers.

  95. disappointed...again

    I would just like to point out that we are coming up on 100 comments on this post and Mr. Mooney has not yet graced us with his presence. Anyone remember back in the day when bloggers actually engaged in the comment section and defended their actions and statements when they were substantively criticized? Not on this blog anymore–just lob the hand grenade and get out of the way.

  96. Tom, I am not saying you are telling the truth or that you are lying, simply that without corroborating evidence for your claim I don’t have a good reason to believe it. It’s quite possible that you have jerks for colleagues but the way you say they were behaving sounds much more like good old fashioned militant anti-religious behavior and that is very rare amongst working scientists in my experience – although, again going on experience of the blogosphere, it is much more common amongst non scientific atheists.
    What caused the fuss was Chris’ headline to the post highlighting your claim:
    “Counterproductive Attacks on Religion–Exhibit A”
    As I said previously, without evidence to support it your claim is merely hearsay.
    If backed up then it deserves to be taken seriously – and I even suggested a way that this could be achieved that would allow you to maintain anonymity – provide Chris the name of the Pastor that was gratuitously insulted by your female new atheist colleague and let him contact the pastor to verify the incident. I am prepared to take Chris’ word on the matter without him revealing details that would identify yourself.

  97. Anthony McCarthy

    —- I could care less if the phrase was invented by Sagan, Truzzi or Woozi. Sorbet

    What passes in the new atheism for witty repartee. And diversion, since that wasn’t the little detail there is with this old chestnut of scientism.

    —- But it does hold up as a working principle in most scientists’ research, that much is clear. The bolder the idea you are proposing, more the evidence you need. Sorbet

    How do you differentiate what constitutes a “bolder idea” from a less “bold” idea?

    If the standards you judge to be sufficient evidence for an “ordinary” idea isn’t able to deal with an “extraordinary” one, then that means the “ordinary” level of evidence is inadequate. You keep making assertions but you don’t provide any explanation or evidence of how this makes sense.

    Then we can get to the obvious question of how you grade the various gradations of “extra” ordinariness. Is there an idea so “ordinary” that it doesn’t require any evidence at all? Clearly, any idea that the new atheists don’t like are so extraordinary that any amount of evidence is declared insufficient, even for the most ordinary kinds of ideas.

  98. disappointed...again

    Tom @93 “In fact, the only people I have seen take it as anything outside of anecdotal are commenters here who are accusing Chris and/or me of this being some kind of an indictment.”

    Can you please stop making this silly argument? Chris, by elevating your story to a blog post, bringing it front and center for the world to read, is using for a specific purpose. It might not be your purpose and maybe your story is being used as evidence of something that you would not claim that it is evidence for, but yet, here we are. It is absolutely being used as an indictment. Your above statement is either naive or dishonest. I actually think it is the former.

  99. Tom Johnson –

    It started out directed at Davo but ended up being directed at you. Sorry about that.

  100. Luke Vogel

    Tom, (and others)

    >>>”Bottom line? My story is anecdotal, and in the absence of evidence should be taken as such. I don’t pretend to have any. I’ve said that. Chris has said that.”<<<

    Look, I understand. But, and again here's a point I made earlier, that this isn't all on you, nor should it be and I've seen you personally attacked (yes, attacked for those that are keeping track of how often that word is used) which is to bad really. But, it was presented as Exhibit A, that may seem trivial on a blog, but it's not for a few reasons (even if we can show a double standard is in place). First, the Intersection is under many microscopes and for some good reasons (and in that same vain we can expect things to elicit a great deal of attention if presented negatively towards "new atheism", I've made that damn clear). Second, as I have maintained, Chris and Sheril when presenting such things must *hold themselves to a higher standard* (and yes it does matter that ones a scientist and the others a journalist, it matters greatly – to say otherwise only shows a double standard and bias – same with insisting "it's only a blog"). Third, this wasn't "Exhibit A" even if confirmed, that's an important point.

    I have expressed my concerns at length, I do wish we, perhaps with a blog post by the Intersection, that I (we) can return to defining and defending and idea of "accomodationism" since I had begun the process, which includes highlighting the paper by Austin Dacey which gave us the terms as used now in the science and religion debates. I think this focus can highlight our complete agreements with people like Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Shermer and many others, while also recognizing the primary concerns that are shared by all of us that seem so intensely interested in what happens at The Intersection.

    Lets admit this was not the best move, and move on.

  101. Tom Johnson

    Tom @93 “In fact, the only people I have seen take it as anything outside of anecdotal are commenters here who are accusing Chris and/or me of this being some kind of an indictment.”

    Can you please stop making this silly argument? …
    It is absolutely being used as an indictment. Your above statement is either naive or dishonest. I actually think it is the former.”

    Disappointed, I’ll direct you to what Chris himself wrote on this above.

    “The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more.”

    No matter what it was originally presented as, it’s not any indictment of the sort. Stop making mountains out of molehills.

  102. Jon

    Your above statement is either naive or dishonest. I actually think it is the former.

    Is it even possible to have a conversation here without impugning the motives of someone disagreeing with the new atheists? It’s as if when there’s a disagreement, the other party is never just trying to clearly state their argument, but lying.

  103. Tom @ 35, thanks for that. I would agree that it’s certainly not very reasonable behavior, and probably counter-productive behavior as well. (FWIW, that kind of thing is actually quite distinct from what PZ Myers advocates. i.e., When he went to the Creationist ‘museum’, he was explicit about how everyone ought to have a good time, but not be nasty.)

    That having been said, I arrive at a conclusion that is distinct from yours. The benchmark for evaluation cannot be the response of the religious, esp. the failure to upset them. The benchmark has to first and foremost involve reference to reasonable standards of behavior which can be publicly explicated and defended — etiquette, not manners (to use Jon’s distinction). i.e., “All other things equal, don’t force a laugh just to upset people”. Sure, these standards themselves might be designed to appeal to an abstract idea of what a reasonable person is like, and what a reasonable religious figure is like. But there has to be a standard to live up to, or else the discussion is mere casuistry. Do you see what I mean?

  104. Luke Vogel

    disappointed at #95,

    Even though I understand your concern (though question the intent). Chris’ actually created a blog post about whats been going on, oh right, we’re on it (he did comment a little on the main blog – though I”m sure you want more). It’s also very clear that Chris is very busy, which is evident by the itinerary he’s presented on The Intersection, and that goes for Sheril also. *I mean, whats new that has really been said, disappointed?* Chris has confirmed that at least he knows who Tom is and his position, that was a big deal just yesterday, but seems to revisit us like a rubber duck.

  105. Tom Johnson

    “Lets admit this was not the best move, and move on.”

    Agreed. Let’s move on. There are much more important issues to discuss about this issue than what “exhibit” means and waxing poetic about someone else’s motivations. This is obviously a sensitive topic with a lot of passionate people, and I’d rather not let the stupid actions of a few blowhards at a conservation event or two drag the discussion down into personal arguments and petty semantics. It’s pretty clear that after 3 different posts and over 300 comments on the subject, we’re still sitting at square one.

  106. Davo

    Mr. Rosenhouse, I meant the commenters at your blog and not specifically you. Apologies if I suggested otherwise.

  107. Jon

    On manners/etiquette, I’d say it’s bad manners not just etiquette. It’s hardly considerate or wise about the situation. Remember, the scientist was invited. If I were a pastor, there’s a good chance I’d be unenthusiastic about doing anything else with these scientists. I might be alienating my flock by continuing to associate with people who insult me and my kind.

  108. Sorbet

    -What passes in the new atheism for witty repartee. And diversion
    You would know, since you were the one whose comment diverted me to commenting.

    -How do you differentiate what constitutes a “bolder idea” from a less “bold” idea?
    Good question. Let’s come back to our example of enzyme catalysis. There is a large body of empirical data from organic and biochemistry backed by theoretical frameworks which deem certain enzyme mechanisms as being plausible. If I publish a paper detailing the discovery a new enzyme from a already known family which works by an established mechanism, then it would be deemed “ordinary” enough to need a few pieces of careful evidence. But if I discover a completely new enzyme mechanism that seems to proceed by a novel pathway unprecedented in previous literature, then in addition to the above few tests, any journal referee would ask for many more divergent tests that should converge on the same result. That’s how it always is in science. Now do you understand the difference between “less bold” and “more bold” ideas?

  109. gillt

    Vogel: “However, I still maintain a certain level of doubt and don’t wish to rehash my comments. My doubt however, after having some things clarified for me, has waned a bit and a fuller picture has emerged.”

    As far as I can tell Tom gave us a caricature of what happened at an event(s) involving unbecoming behavior from scientists toward common religious folk. Mooney slapped a sensational headline on it and ran with it. end of story.

    So what was clarified, Luke Vogel?

  110. Tom Johnson “105 said
    “Agreed. Let’s move on. There are much more important issues to discuss about this issue than what “exhibit” means and waxing poetic about someone else’s motivations.”
    Tom, you are too modest.
    You are potentially highlighting an truly important point that, if verified, shows a dangerous aspect to the message of the new atheists.
    Surely the new atheists supporters themselves (including me!) have something to learn from this scenario – if only to re-emphasize the value of good manners in meetings with the religious and one unforseen consequence of new atheist thinking you have witnessed.
    Give Chris the name of the pastor or church group where the bad behavior occurred and let him verify your important story.

  111. Tom Johnson

    Sigmund:

    Chris knows the name of the group. As I mentioned before, however, the interactions were all on a one-on-one basis and I didn’t bother to jot their names and Social Security Numbers down, primarily because I didn’t plan beforehand to use it as some kind of damning evidence later at the time it happened (which is now going on 2 years ago). The reason that I know that one of the people in question was a pastor is because he told me so prior to being confronted. I frankly don’t remember his name, and he never told me his church. Since the organization was fairly large, I doubt that anyone in any position of authority in it even noticed the situation, much less recalls it.

    I know you’re not going to like that (and it will only bring more groans from the Peanut Gallery), but I’m trying to be as honest as possible here. I’ll promise you and everyone else that I’m telling a truthful account of what happened, but given the lack of evidence that I’ll even acknowledge, this should be taken as anecdotal. I’ve put that in bold because I’ve had to say it so much that I sound like a parrot now. Again – too many people are trying to make this some huge, sweeping generalization about the nature of NA behavior. Anyone who reads the now ridiculously-repetitive comments here, however, will find that it is anything but.

  112. Luke Vogel

    gillt,

    >>>”Mooney slapped a sensational headline on it and ran with it. end of story.”<<>>”So what was clarified, Luke Vogel?”<<>>”involving unbecoming behavior from scientists toward common religious folk.”<<

    Well, ok, "unbecoming behavior", seems a moderation on your part? Doesn't sound to much like 4 year olds or "evil behavior", or should we chalk those comments up to creating effect?

  113. Sorbet

    The problem here is not with Tom Johnson (who acknowledges that his story is an anecdote) but with Chris, PZ Myers and others who saw it as being representative of problem with NA. Admittedly Chris started it and then the others ran with it.

  114. Tom, Chris can still confirm one important part of your story due to the fact that one colleague of yours “bounced around the conference room gleefully taking photographs of exhibits about biblical justifications for conservation repeating “how ignorant! how ignorant! what lies!” at the top of his lungs.”
    Something like that MUST have been noticeable to a sizable number of attendees.
    I would certainly remember it if it happened at a conference I was attending.
    Again, Chris, using his journalistic skills, should be able to get a confirmation from one of those in attendance if you simply provide him with the name of someone who was there during this disgraceful incident.

  115. Tom Johnson

    Sorbet:

    This is from Chris, at the top of this post:

    The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more

    How exactly, then, is Chris treating it as anything but anecdotal when he acknowledges it as such? I’m starting to think all the “backlash” about this is just some weird extension of a collective hatred of Chris Mooney than it is a concern over the actual issue.

    As for all the unrelated comments I’ve gotten suggesting that New Atheists would never disrespect moderate interfaith religious groups, do I really need to post the excerpt from Christopher Hitchens over at Slate where he calls such groups “insincere?” That’s been awfully well-timed.

  116. Luke Vogel

    Sigmund,

    Just out of curiosity, since I missed it and I have documented the story.

    Could you point me to the post which has Tom say:

    >>>”“bounced around the conference room gleefully taking photographs of exhibits about biblical justifications for conservation repeating “how ignorant! how ignorant! what lies!” at the top of his lungs.”<<<

    Thanks.

  117. Luke, its post number 35 in this thread.

  118. Tom Johnson

    As bat-sh*t crazy as that sounds, Luke and Sigmund, I still stand by it.

  119. Luke Vogel

    Sigmund,

    Thanks (I did miss that). See, there’s just to much to the complete picture, even with how it has been moderated in many instances, to really be believable to the point of of how it was used in the blog.

    Now, I certainly wouldn’t want to say Chris should run these stories down (now, keep in mind, I say this mainly for those not reading all my post, that I have added to my criticism by saying as a journalist and a scientist this should have been handled better, the provocative title was absolutely inappropriate and a mistake on two levels, I also don’t let them off the hook because “it’s just a blog” – lets maintain that standard throughout the blogesphere for those posting here since a double standard could easily be charged).

    Now, I could see certain crazy shiat happening with fellow workers getting out of line and being very inappropriate (I got some stories). But the *trend* as spelled out with scientist at a well-known research institute doing this seems unlikely (the occurrence and effect is also very questionable), even if true and they are influenced by “new atheist”, what I’m reading here is still not Exhibit A, well maybe for idiotic workers, perhaps. But, then we have to get into what effect this has caused etc. and we end up back to the fact this was handled badly, period. dot. the. end.

    My advice, Tom, if you want to keep fighting this battle. Make sure you’re prepared next time with your coworkers, even take this problem to your superiors supervisors, to the universities scientist department head or even the dean or president for christ sake.

  120. Sorbet

    Tom, then why post only this anecdote and not others (such as my own experience) which would suggest the opposite? I am very sincere when I say that many people I know who call themselves New Atheists are extremely mild mannered and prone not to be given to voluble criticism of religion. I think you will agree that for a balanced perspective this fact needs to be equally highlighted.

  121. Tom said:
    “As bat-sh*t crazy as that sounds, Luke and Sigmund, I still stand by it.”
    If it’s the truth then you are quite right to stand by it.

  122. Tom Johnson

    “I am very sincere when I say that many people I know who call themselves New Atheists are extremely mild mannered and prone not to be given to voluble criticism of religion. I think you will agree that for a balanced perspective this fact needs to be equally highlighted.”

    I don’t question that, Sorbet. My colleagues are even civil most of the time, in fact. There’s a context and a background to every situation, and people have a tendency to act foolish and step outside the bounds of good decorum every so often. That’s all that I believe happens here, and there’s wrong with relating that.

    If you’ve got some experiences that show otherwise, let us hear them! I won’t object. This thread is definitely in need of some balance.

  123. disappointed...again

    Apparently I’m just confused and I’m more than willing to be set straight. Tom points again to Mooney’s statement “The comment obviously reflected one individual’s experience and point of view, and nothing more”. Please explain why Tom’s story was elevated to Exhibit A, new post status if is simply meant as an interesting anecdote. I agree with Sorbet above that the beef shouldn’t be with Tom, it is with Chris. I would suggest that no one even slightly familiar with the context of this long running argument, on either side of this issue, could take the elevation of this story as just an interesting anecdote, innocently put forward for some unknown purpose. That is simply not the case. It was put forward flat out as evidence that Mooney is right and others are wrong. You can slap a disclaimer on anything. It’s kind of like saying “I don’t mean to offend anyone” right before you say something offensive.

  124. Luke Vogel

    Tom,

    >>>”As bat-sh*t crazy as that sounds, Luke and Sigmund, I still stand by it.”<<>”What has that to do with any broader issue? As I noted at my blog, I have seen Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris speak in front of predominantly religious audiences, and they are models of decorum when they do so.”<<

    I think a vital point is being missed here and this is often the fall back position. I see this a lot when one says something to effect that Dawkins is "hostile" to religion. The reply is often an accusation of exaggeration then pointing to is (well deserved) excellence as an orator and eloquence in some debates. But, Dawkins does admit to be "hostile" and not only uses and advocates ridicule and contempt, now even to a greater degree, he sees as being successful, that "we have made more progress than in decades of being nice". Coyne has also gone this route in defending himself by saying "everyone has failed" in the past while quoting statistics on belief in evolution.

    However, just taking that alone is not enough. I have written extensively on moving forward and defined areas of agreement and disagreement in the past few days on the Intersection. I am hoping to bridge areas which have been needlessly flooded by heated rhetoric.

    There are indeed broader issues at play.

  125. bilbo

    Wow. I go to work for the morning and everyone goes berserk.

    Get over it, people. This is really nothing.

  126. Anthony McCarthy

    -What passes in the new atheism for witty repartee. And diversion
    You would know, since you were the one whose comment diverted me to commenting. Sorbet

    Sorbot has gone into automatic Eliza mode. He just spits out reactions instead of responses and it’s futile to try after that happens.

  127. Anthony McCarthy

    — Mooney slapped a sensational headline on it and ran with it. gillt

    How do you get through a grocery store checkout without fainting, gillt? Sensational? More so than Coyne and Myers? I don’t think so.

  128. Sorbet

    -Sorbot has gone into automatic Eliza mode

    McCarthy’s (admittedly unintelligent) programmer has programmed him to elicit a standard output when someone actually answers his questions and he cannot understand the answer.

  129. gillt

    Vogel: “Well, ok, “unbecoming behavior”, seems a moderation on your part? Doesn’t sound to much like 4 year olds or “evil behavior”, or should we chalk those comments up to creating effect?”

    First, the 4-year old comment was a phrase Tom used to describe the NAs behavior. I quoted it because it sounded like a caricature. Now since Tom has swayed between standing by his words and describing a less sensational account of what happened, you should be asking Tom whether the phrase holds.

  130. Tom Johnson

    Gillt and Luke:

    To clarify, it was me who used that term originally. Yes, it was hyperbolic.

    But as for my story, it has not changed one bit. It has become more specific with respect to detail, but I haven’t made it “less sensational.” The idea that my colleagues were somehow attacking hoardes of religious folks, the idea that it was done from some podium in front of the whole group, or the fact that there was some war going on between sides are all characterizations that came not from me but from those critical of my story. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I originally posted a pretty vague description of the incident that was open to wild, winde-ranging interpretation and, ultimately, did everyone (including Chris) a disservice. My apologies for that.

  131. Luke Vogel

    Tom,

    >>”If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I originally posted a pretty vague description of the incident that was open to wild, winde-ranging interpretation and, ultimately, did everyone (including Chris) a disservice. My apologies for that.”<>>”He was too trying to trivialize a religious ritual (although, admittedly, he wasn’t trivializing it quite as much as the clueless goon who thinks the almighty ruler of the universe will help him win a game), and we like him for it. I think it ought to be a Minnesota tradition to point and laugh loudly at any player who thinks he gets holy credit with a deity for catching a ball.”<<<

    gillt,

    Ok, glad Tom didn't say "evil behavior" then. We all know it's just in fun…

  132. Luke Vogel

    Tom,

    I may have meant, double standard, no, right, higher, wait……..

  133. gillt

    Sounds reasonable Tom.

  134. Tom Johnson

    Agreed again, Luke. I noticed that PZ even has a post up right now that’s making some conjecture based on blog comment. It’s a widespread deal to post those throughout the blogosphere, and it’s much ado about nothing, I’m afraid.

  135. Chris

    Tom said: “The idea that my colleagues were somehow attacking hoardes of religious folks, the idea that it was done from some podium in front of the whole group, or the fact that there was some war going on between sides are all characterizations that came not from me but from those critical of my story.”

    Tom also said, in the original comment: “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.”

    No offense Tom, but your original story really does sound quite different (“attention disappears from the crowd”) than the one-on-one scenario you’re now painting.

    But my problem isn’t really the truthfulness (or not) of the original story. It’s, as other’s have said, the promotion of it as “Exhibit A” when it’s not very difficult to go to PZ’s place, or richarddawkins.net (check the ‘converts corner’) or elsewhere to find Exhibits A through ZZ of productive attacks on religion – stories of people who have been turned on to science and/or atheism by Dawkins et al’s anti-religious words and writing.

    Of course, these are also anecdotal and as such carry about as much weight as your story does. I think that’s what people (or at least I) want when asking for evidence – even if we grant your story as 100% true, how do we know that’s the norm, or that it outnumbers the ‘productive’ instances?

  136. Tom Johnson

    “even if we grant your story as 100% true, how do we know that’s the norm, or that it outnumbers the ‘productive’ instances?”

    That’s simple, Chris. We don’t. And I don’t pretend to. My story is admittedly one out of a thousand potential ones that have different scenarios and different outcomes. It’s my experience. My anecdote, if you will. I think it’s a fair assessment to say that it has not been promoted as representative of a “norm” anywhere throughout this whole incredibly overblown, tortuous process by myself, by Chris Mooney, or by anyone else. I’ve said that it seems to stem, in my case, from an extreme interpretation of some more well-known NA bloggers.

    I beleive it was Jerry Coyne who published a post recently detailing a comment he’d received (an anecdote similar to mine) from someone who had been “swayed” by some of the anti-religious tone you’re talking about. He offered no corrboration, no accompanying evidence as to its validity. It was met with little skepticism and disapproval but instead with wild applause on the blog.

    Why should an example showing a case to the contrary (both cases equally uncorroborated and dealing with identical subjects) be subject to a different kind of scrutiny altogether? Unless there’s something I’m missing, there seems to be an odd kind of double-standard going on here as to what we trust and what we automatically discredit.

  137. Tom Johnson

    For anyone who’s interested, here’s the link I mentioned above (I was incorrect in saying that it was an “anti-religious tone” that caused the convert).

    This is great to hear, but to keep objective…where’s the corroboration? None. It’s an anecdote! Jerry even goes one step further than Mooney does and calls it “data.”

    Where’s the anger? Where’s the 100-comment backlash. Where’s all the guffawing over the use of an anecdote as data?

    Nowhere. That’s where.

  138. “Where’s the anger? Where’s the 100-comment backlash. Where’s all the guffawing over the use of an anecdote as data?
    Nowhere. That’s where.”
    The idea that a good book about evolution would convince a religious person, who had previously been simply fed stories about the falsity of the theory, is hardly new. Religious scientists like Ken Miller and Francis Collins have both claimed similar effects following the publication of their books and Dawkins has an entire subsection of his website dedicated to stories like this.
    As an evolutionary biologist that point should be blindingly obvious to you.
    It is the fact that the scenario is entirely commonplace that caused so few people to question it – and also resulted in so few people using it as “Exhibit A” of anything.

  139. Luke Vogel

    Sigmund,

    That “photoshoped” picture of Richard and Eugenie at NCSE is pretty funny. The “pit bull” and the “golden retriever” of evolution. I’m surprised “new atheist” aren’t making t-shirts out that one.

    http://sneerreview.blogspot.com/

  140. Tom Johnson

    Sigmund, Jerry called that anecdote specifically “data.” I don’t care if it seems to confirm something we all know as good – if we’re going to split hairs over what is appropriate to be used as “data” on a blog, we shoouldn’t turn a blind eye to our standards of evidence on a case-by-case basis, should we?

  141. Anthony McCarthy

    —- This is great to hear, but to keep objective…where’s the corroboration? None. It’s an anecdote! Jerry even goes one step further than Mooney does and calls it “data.”

    Where’s the anger? Where’s the 100-comment backlash. Where’s all the guffawing over the use of an anecdote as data?

    Nowhere. That’s where. Tom Johnson

    So succinctly put, it doesn’t need elaboration.

  142. Anthony McCarthy

    I will say the comments here are a lot more interesting.

  143. Jon

    there seems to be an odd kind of double-standard going on here as to what we trust and what we automatically discredit.

    It’s not odd at all. Data that doesn’t fit your case, gets a temper tantrum. Data that does, gets promoted. It’s pretty simple. It’s advocacy for a particular view, not science.

  144. Paul W.

    I asked this in the older thread, but I should probably ask it here…

    Tom,

    Are you a student, a postdoc, a professor, or what? Are the “colleagues” that you mention professors, or what? Are their “superiors” deans, or professors, or what?

    Sorry if I’m off-base here, but there’s something odd-sounding about the way you talk about colleagues and their “superiors.”

  145. Paul W.

    Jon,

    Did you see this comment in “A Trio of Responses…” thread? (It was in moderation for a whille)

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/10/21/a-trio-of-responses-to-jerry-coyne%e2%80%99s-attack-on-unscientific-america/#comment-33991

    Maybe you missed it; it’s got some questions for you.

  146. Jon

    Advocating *liberal* views to move the “overton window” is one thing (eg, single payer healthcare, nationalizing banks, etc.), advocating illiberal views is another.

    You say it worked for George W Bush and the Republicans? Did it?

  147. bob

    Paul W, haven’t you been paying attention? Tom can’t answer your questions. He is under attack! By a New Atheist machine!

  148. Anthony McCarthy

    As bob demonstrates, it’s a very simple machine.

  149. bilbo

    I can’t believe this is still going, but I’m glad the comment furor has died down. This all got blown miles away from proportion…and relevancy.

  150. Bruce Gorton

    But somebody calling someone else “ignorant” or laughing at them face-to-face is extraordinary?! Really?! Given the history of behavior above, is it really extraordinary?

    Your original claim which you have now backed down from involved people being invited to speak at events and then trashing the speakers.

    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.

    The clear implication there is that these are people who are invited as speakers who alienate the crowd. You have since been forced to back down to “Well some jackasses in the crowd” like somehow PZ Myers invented heckling.

    The other element here is what was the actual subject of the gathering? Was this a lecture on evolution where suddenly religion came up thanks to one of the lecturers shoe-horning it in (In which case the heckling was due to inappropriate subject matter and thus, on the speakers head be it) or was it the actual subject being discussed?

    Further, the “Well is it really so unlikely” line of argument demonstrates that the anecdote is of dubious quality in and of itself. The fact of the matter is we have had no evidence for this claim, extraordinary or otherwise other than your account, and that renders even that claim inherently unreliable.

    While it is not hard to imagine that any event given a large enough audience is going on, that we can imagine it doesn’t make it so. You weren’t presenting a scenario, you were presenting “this is what is happening” and that requires evidence. Ordinary claims still require ordinary evidence, and we don’t even know what the events you were talking about were called.

    We literally have nothing to go on.

    That a lot of us reacted to your line of argument pre-clarification that it was the speakers behaving in that manner as opposed to it being not the speakers, demonstrates why we were calling you a liar (an accusation I now retract thanks to your clarification) but also why Chris’ skill as a journalist is brought into question here.

  151. bilbo

    Bruce, you’re dragging up old claims that have been made a thousand times here already, and which have been addressed by Tom and others, some much more than once. Give it a rest.

  152. truthspeaker

    Well, it turns out Tom Johnson wasn’t real, and his story was fake. Is a retraction coming soon, Chris?

  153. Def-Star

    Tom Johnson was neither a scientists no a grad student and lied about everything. And you fell for it. Congrats.

  154. Chris Mooney

    As I just posted at the Buddha is not Helping:

    “I am shocked by this, and appalled. William/”Tom Johnson” directed me the website of specific person, a Ph.D. candidate at a reputable university.

    I will be looking into this further.

    I had never checked IP addresses or for sock puppets before, but I certainly will be doing it now.”

  155. Sammael

    http://thebuddhaisnotserious.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/the-curious-case-of-the-youre-not-helping-blog/#comment-526

    Any chance we can get a retraction on this since Tom Johnson wasn’t real, and the guy who made the remarks just made them up? Also, can you please check your sources in the future? “Anonymous guy claiming to be a scientist saying things I want to hear on a blog” doesn’t quite cut it.

    Thanks, Chris.

  156. Michael Jordan

    I attended the University of North Carolina. A career decision caused me to leave the insititution prior to receiving my degree, but I can attest to the New Atheist influence on college athletics. Pre-game prayers were mocked by atheist athletes. I was personally called “Mikey the Bald-headed Believer” by one particularly virulent teammate. I can’t begin to tell you how many religious athletes were turned away from sports by New Atheist players!

    You can “verify” my identity at this website: http://www.nba.com/playerfile/michael_jordan/index.html

  157. truthspeaker

    “I am shocked by this, and appalled. William/”Tom Johnson” directed me the website of specific person, a Ph.D. candidate at a reputable university.”

    Did you contact the person listed on that website to confirm that he was the Tom Johnson who contacted you? Isn’t that what it means to verify a source?

  158. spurge

    So Mooney, are you a liar or just incompetent?

  159. Isn’t it blogging best practice to put an “Update” on an old post that has been found to be based on false premises?

  160. @spurge, “So Mooney, are you a liar or just incompetent?”

    Or maybe you’re just an ass. You’re not a liar or incompetent for having good faith that a person isn’t lying to you when they tell you who they are. It was obviously an honest mistake. So shut up and get a life you jerk.

  161. Chris Mooney

    This post will be updated, and much else will be done, once I get to the bottom of things here.

  162. You’re not a liar or incompetent for having good faith that a person isn’t lying to you when they tell you who they are.

    …unless you happen to be a professional journalist.

  163. truthspeaker

    You’re not a liar or incompetent for having good faith that a person isn’t lying to you when they tell you who they are.

    If you’re a journalist, or even just a blogger, then yes, that would be incompetent. This may have been an honest mistake, but it was a very, very stupid one.

  164. spurge

    My reply was moded out of existence. Typical.

  165. Kagehi

    Sigh. That wasn’t fully coherent, but I am getting ready for work. I left off the ends of several thoughts in there. Hmm..

    taking the words of those who try to “work with”… -and using them to make it seem they support there side-

    … and hope the person falls for it -, isn’t at all a surprise.-

    Posting when annoyed, and short on time isn’t good for careful prose. lol

  166. Kel

    Clearly, Johnson really touched a nerve.

    No Chris, you touched a nerve. The way you are going after the “new atheists” is ideological, and incidents like this show your bias.

    If your methodology truly worked, then I’d be all for it. But without showing that it’s working, all you are doing is projecting a “holier-than-thou” attitude over all the people who share those same goals as you. We’re all meant to be on the same side! Not because we share the same philosophical position on religion, but because we all want the promotion and public understanding of science.

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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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