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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

My comment that has NOT appeared (let alone been answered) at "The Intersection"

I.e., in this thread. Note the date when my comment was submitted, compared with today's date. I think I've waited long enough to go public with this, warts and all. I've even left a typo: "minoror" instead of "minor or".

As I said at the end, I believe that the comment is constructive and civil. Indeed, I go out of my way to be nice. It would have been easy for Chris Mooney to respond in kind. He keeps getting offered olive branches and refusing to accept them. It's as if he doesn't want this all to go away.
=========

11. Russell Blackford Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
July 30th, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Okay, Chris, this goes some way towards what I wanted from you. Thank you for that. You’re correct that the issue was the loud, confrontational, just-plain-rude behaviour that was described. That and some other things simply did not make a plausible story. I agree that if “Johnson” had mentioned something a lot less than that, such as a private conversation he’d had with an aggressive Gnu Atheist that rankled with him afterwards, that would have been more plausible – but of course, it wouldn’t have been evidence for anything. I do appreciate that you now regret elevating the story and relying on it.

The story struck me at the time as ridiculously implausible, and I mocked you for believing it. You can have a minoror half-hearted apology from me that I put it as harshly as I did. Obviously I was angry that damage was being done to “my” side by your use of what was, to me, obviously a dishonest or at best wildly exaggerated story. I can’t apologise whole-heartedly, though, because, frankly, I don’t believe that I’d have got far if I’d written something longer and in a more sober and civil tone explaining the detail of why I found the story so incredible. With so many people who seemed to want to believe the story and/or to support your use of it, I would have found myself drawn into a lengthy debate with commenters who, at best, had a tin ear for plausibility, as you yourself had (sorry, but that last bit is true, and perhaps you wouldn’t dispute it in retrospect), and who sometimes seem like your attack dogs. I hope you understand that the people who supported your use of the story were not actually doing you a favour. I may have been unnecessariy harsh, but people like me were giving you better advice.

If you really want to make a gesture of good will towards “my” side, the best thing you can do is unban Ophelia Benson. I’ve reviewed the whole thread that led to her banning, and I still don’t see how it was remotely justified. The worst that she did was get impatient and upset that her comments were being held up in moderation at a time when she felt (justifiably) that she was under personal attack and was eager to defend herself. Her substantive comments were thoughtful and civil, but led to very uncivil responses from some of your commenters, which obviously upset her. If anything, it looks like she was driven off by the attack dogs. If you’re in the mood to accept your own fallibility, read the thread again with an open mind and see for yourself.

If anyone has been abused and mistreated throughout this whole affair, it is Ophelia. You appear to have lost patience with her persistent questioning, but the main question she was asking last year, “How should Jerry Coyne have responded when asked to review the books by Miller and Giberson?” is one that you’ve never answered, and it’s an important question. If you let her back, I suppose she’ll go on asking it, but I don’t see why that’s a hanging offence in your eyes. You seem to think that Jerry did something wrong in agreeing to review the books and in reviewing them the way he did. I don’t see it. If you no longer think that, it would be nice if you said so explicitly. If you do still think it, I’d be interested to know what you think Jerry should have done when asked to review those books. It would be a nice gesture if you’d address this, independently of feeling that Ophelia harassed you about it (if that is what you feel).

I’m not interested in being baited by your usual supporters, so I hope you’ll restrain them if needed. Getting into a fight with those people (I won’t inflame things by naming them, but you can guess who I mean) is a waste of my time. I believe this has been a constructive and civil comment, and I’d like you to answer it directly.

110 comments:

why Egypt ? said...

thanks

NewEnglandBob said...

I hope you now see the kind of person Mooney is and the type of cesspool "The Intersection" is. I stopped going there six months or so because of the censorship and favoritism they show but above all, because of the distaste for nearly everything Mooney publishes.

Jerry Coyne said...

Of course he doesn't want it to go away. This controversy brings him what he loves the most: traffic!

John Pieret said...

I have to confess that the particular "Tom Johnson" tempest has mostly escaped my teapot attention but I'm somewhat confused. Was there something more about the story that was "implausible" than that it was claimed that some Gnu Atheists (I like that, BTW) might have been rude ... you know, acted like "attack dogs" or "abused and mistreated" their opponents ... in other words, acted like jerks? Are we to assume that all Gnu Atheists are above such human failings and that is solely a trait of "accommodationists"?

I can't imagine why Mooney thought it was important but neither can I imagine why you do as well.

Ophelia Benson said...

I don’t believe that I’d have got far if I’d written something longer and in a more sober and civil tone explaining the detail of why I found the story so incredible. With so many people who seemed to want to believe the story and/or to support your use of it, I would have found myself drawn into a lengthy debate with commenters who, at best, had a tin ear for plausibility...

Ironically, of course, most of those many people were not many people at all, they were just one person, and that one person was the same as the person who made up the ridiculous story in the first place. Most of those noisy others-drowning-out people were one determined and fraudulent guy using dishonest tricks to make his own "case" look stronger than it was. Most of those noisy people were just Tom Johnson aka You're Not Helping aka William aka Milton C aka bilbo aka Seminatrix aka Polly-O aka Petra aka many more.

Ophelia Benson said...

I have to confess that the particular "Tom Johnson" tempest has mostly escaped my teapot attention but I'm somewhat confused...I can't imagine why Mooney thought it was important but neither can I imagine why you do as well.

If, as you say, you know little about it, why bother to say what you can imagine? Naturally a lack of knowledge of specifics inhibits one's ability to imagine people's reasons for doing what they do or reacting as they react, but why bother to comment to that effect? Why bother to say, "I know little about this, and I can't imagine why you think it's important"?

I know quite a lot about this, and that comment strikes me as asinine. I might as well tell a physicist I know little about physics and I can't imagine why she thinks it's important.

John Pieret said...

If, as you say, you know little about it, why bother to say what you can imagine? Naturally a lack of knowledge of specifics inhibits one's ability to imagine people's reasons for doing what they do or reacting as they react, but why bother to comment to that effect? Why bother to say, "I know little about this, and I can't imagine why you think it's important"?

Ah! Asking to be enlightened is wrong? Trying to understand is an annoyance to the "knowlegeable"? "Shut up and accept what I say." Very enlighened of you!

Ophelia Benson said...

You didn't straightforwardly ask for enlightenment, you concluded with, "I can't imagine why Mooney thought it was important but neither can I imagine why you do as well." That is much more of an affirmative opinion than it is a request for enlightenment.

It is otiose, yet sadly necessary, to point out that I did not say "Shut up and accept what I say." I didn't imply it, either.

Matt Penfold said...

Ah! Asking to be enlightened is wrong? Trying to understand is an annoyance to the "knowlegeable"? "Shut up and accept what I say." Very enlighened of you!

I must have missed the part where you asked to be enlightened. I did see the part where you gave your opinion that none of it mattered. Given you had previously conceded your ignorance that was a presumptuous and arrogant position to take. However I know you of old, and your being arrogant and presumptuous is not news. I can remember a time when you tried to pretend you were a better philosopher than Russell.

John Pieret said...

That is much more of an affirmative opinion than it is a request for enlightenment.

Really? I directed my question at Russell, who I know to be a reasonable person who does not have to have everything spelled out IN BLOCK LETTERS in order to understand. My "request" was to know if there was something different between the nasty acts he saw in the "accomodationists" and the nasty acts alleged against the Gnu Atheists. Your reaction, however, answers that question I think.

And Matt, I certainly don't think I'm a better philosopher than Russell, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with him. That's part of the "critical thinking" thingie some people talk a lot about.

Ophelia Benson said...

Your reaction, however, answers that question I think.

Excuse me? You're saying that my reply to you is an example of "the nasty acts alleged against the Gnu Atheists"? Seriously?

John Pieret said...

Excuse me? You're saying that my reply to you is an example of "the nasty acts alleged against the Gnu Atheists"?

Acting "like a jerk"? Yes. If there was something more alleged in the "Tom Johnson" tempest, you have yet to enlighten me.

Matt Penfold said...

And Matt, I certainly don't think I'm a better philosopher than Russell, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with him. That's part of the "critical thinking" thingie some people talk a lot about.

Yeah, but you are not good at the critical thinking stuff are you ? I do remember one time you told me you had a come up with a refutation of Russell's teapot. Of course you hadn't. You were just kidding yourself, and trying to kid others.How is that not both arrogant and presumptuous. I would add that the refutation was only published on your blog, and not in a philosophical journal were one might expect such work to appear.

You quite simply are not very intellectually honest, as you show us in your reply to Ophelia. It also seems you are lazy, since you want others to tell you what the "Tom Johnson" affair was about when a little use of search functions would return enough results to keep you quiet for a week.

Ophelia Benson said...

Good god.

Matt Penfold said...

Acting "like a jerk"? Yes. If there was something more alleged in the "Tom Johnson" tempest, you have yet to enlighten me.

Can you not use Google ?

You really are a lazy fucker. However given that you are both lazy and technically incompetent I will explain.

A person calling himself Tom Johnson posted a comment at Mooney and Kirshenbaum's blog, The Intersection. In that comment Johnson claimed to have witnessed a group of new atheist colleagues verbally abuse religious believers at a conservation conference.

Mooney took that comment an elevated to a blog post, calling it exhibit A. He used it as evidence that new atheists were an uncivil bunch. A number of people, including Russell and Ophelia pointed out that 1) there was no evidence to support Johnson's claims and 2) the account simply did not ring true. People at academic conferences do not behave in the manner Johnson claimed they did. Mooney responded to this criticism by saying he had verified Johnson's identity.

We now move forward a few months. A new blog appears, called "You are not Helping". Diligent research reveals that all the blog posts, and good number of the comments are the work of one person. The blog claimed to be the collective work of a number of people. The person behind the blog then reveals that they were the Tom Johnson mentioned earlier, and that the story was made up. He also admits to being a sockpuppet who commented at The Intersection using more than a half-dozen aliases. Many times the comments from these alaises were earnestly agreeing with a comment from another of the aliases.

Russell and Ophelia have a right to be particularly aggrieved since both were sceptical of the original claim and were vilified by Mooney, genuine commentators and Johnson's aliases. In Ophelia's case the abuse was often sexist in nature. Mooney did nothing about the sexist comments.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Penfold, I'm sure that Pieret has already seen Chris Mooney's post where he elevated a post by "Tom Johnson" to "Exhibit A". I think he's trying to prod Blackford into explaining why he thought Exhibit A was, in his words, "ridiculously implausible."

Matt Penfold said...

"Penfold, I'm sure that Pieret has already seen Chris Mooney's post where he elevated a post by "Tom Johnson" to "Exhibit A". I think he's trying to prod Blackford into explaining why he thought Exhibit A was, in his words, "ridiculously implausible." "

Russell has already done that, more than once. Clearly even you agree Pieret is lazy and incompetent. Can you offer any other explanation as why he cannot be bothered to go back and read what had already been said ?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Penfold: "In Ophelia's case the abuse was often sexist in nature. Mooney did nothing about the sexist comments."

I've seen allegations of rampant sexism at YNH (and I'd rather not rehash why I find the support for them to be poor, thankyouverymuch), but not in the comments on Mooney's own blog. Got any links?

"Russell has already done that, more than once."

Not really, no. He's asserted implausibility several times, but the closest thing I've seen to anything beyond hand waving has been when he asserted that no "Baptist minister" (a.k.a. pastor) would have behaved the way "Tom Johnson" described, and that's something he said that was buried in the comments of a smaller blog.

Jerry Coyne said...

Here is what "Tom Johnson" said:

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

Like Russell, I considered this ridiculously implausible at the time. I am supposedly one of those shrill and militant atheists, and I know many others, including Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the like. NONE OF US would ever behave like that at a conservation "outreach" event. It's just plain rude! And it seems equally implausible that Johnson's scientific colleagues would do that. Never in my life have I seen scientists, even of the militant atheistic stripe, behave like that.

That's why it's implausible.

Pieret is just posting here because he wishes, like Mooney, to keep alive the notion that Gnu atheists can be jerks like that. They are desperate to still wring some criticism of Gnu Atheism out of this "episode," though it was totally fabricated.

Matt Penfold said...

Thanks Jerry.

I am not able to provide a link or quotes for the sexist abuse Opehlia suffered at The Intersection as I have to eat and then go out. I will do so tomorrow if possible, and if no one else has done so in meantime.

Ophelia Benson said...

And for the record, I said the story was implausible on its face at the time (as did others).

October 26 2009

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2009/dont-believe-everything-youre-told/

I find that anecdote highly incredible on its face (even before we get to the issues about the reliability of the witness). It just sounds stupid. It doesn’t sound like the way real people really behave in public places – it sounds like someone’s bizarro-world idea of how mean horrid nasty wicked ‘new’ atheists must behave because they’re so new and mean and wicked. It certainly doesn’t sound like the way academics behave in public gatherings with conservationists, even if the meetings are held in churches or temples or mosques. It sounds like the way children behave when they’re excited and acting up – but it does not sound like the way sane adults who have jobs in reputable universities behave.

And the commenter is in fact anonymous – but he insists that he is a biologist at “a large, well-known research university” and he expects everyone to take his word for it. But there is no reason for anyone to take his word for it, and it is not reasonable to expect people to do so, and people refused to do so.


And so on.

Ophelia Benson said...

I've seen allegations of rampant sexism at YNH (and I'd rather not rehash why I find the support for them to be poor, thankyouverymuch)

Thank you very much but I really wish you would drop this particular (disgusting) line. You are not the one who was called a useless, putrid twat at YNH and then derided by multiple socks in subsequent posts for being hypersensitive to sexism. I am. I really really really think you should just stfu on this particular subject.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Coyne: "NONE OF US would ever behave like that at a conservation 'outreach' event. It's just plain rude!"

Yes, it's rude. So is inventing a strawman of the views of an accommodationist and calling him a "witless wanker," but rudeness hardly stopped the "Gnu atheist" who did that. Nor did it stop one of the readers of said "Gnu atheist" from joking about the Intersection bloggers being forcibly sodomized. Why should we expect "Gnu atheists" to consider rudeness an obstacle?

Benson: "Thank you very much but I really wish you would drop this particular (disgusting) line."

The only reason I even alluded to it was because I thought Penfold might have conflated the allegations about sexism at YNH with what had been going on at the Intersection. You know, the way that you mixed up bilbo and TB when you complained about your banning there?

John Pieret said...

Jerry:

Pieret is just posting here because he wishes, like Mooney, to keep alive the notion that Gnu atheists can be jerks like that. They are desperate to still wring some criticism of Gnu Atheism out of this "episode," though it was totally fabricated.

Bullhockey! I think Gnu Atheists can be jerks simply because they're human like the rest of us and we're all guilty of that. I couldn't care less about "Tom Johnson" and don't understand why you do after he has been totally discredited.

Matt:

That was Bertrand Russell's teapot, but never mind. You can take it or leave it but dismissing it because it wasn't published in "a philosophical journal" kinda misses the point of "critical thinking."

Matt Penfold said...

"Bullhockey! I think Gnu Atheists can be jerks simply because they're human like the rest of us and we're all guilty of that. I couldn't care less about "Tom Johnson" and don't understand why you do after he has been totally discredited."

Quit lying. You have cared enough to give your opinion, no matter that it was totally uninformed. Of course most of us here know you, and know that opining about things you know nothing about is the only thing you are good at.

"That was Bertrand Russell's teapot, but never mind. You can take it or leave it but dismissing it because it wasn't published in "a philosophical journal" kinda misses the point of "critical thinking.""

I will leave it.

However you made much of the importance of the refutation. It is therefore surprising you did not seek introduce it an appropriate audience. An important part of critical thinking is being exposed to expert criticism. This did not happen at your blog, but would happen in a philosophical journal. The fact you did not submit your article to one, and thus have it exposed to rigorous criticism is worth noting.

Matt Penfold said...

"The only reason I even alluded to it was because I thought Penfold might have conflated the allegations about sexism at YNH with what had been going on at the Intersection."

Yes, It would seem I did. My apologies for doing that.

John Pieret said...

P.S. I would have found pretty "implausible" that E.O. Wilson would have a pitcher of ice water poured on him at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science too.

John Pieret said...

However you made much of the importance of the refutation. It is therefore surprising you did not seek introduce it an appropriate audience. An important part of critical thinking is being exposed to expert criticism.

Well, I guess we can assume your criticism of it is not expert then.

Ophelia Benson said...

The only reason I even alluded to it was because I thought Penfold might have conflated the allegations about sexism at YNH with what had been going on at the Intersection.

Are you sure? The only reason? I suspect there was an additional reason, to do with malice toward me. I could be wrong, but that's what I suspect.

You know, the way that you mixed up bilbo and TB when you complained about your banning there?

Sure, I do know. I don't recall much sexism about me at the Intersection, myself, apart from Kwok's; of course once I was banned there wasn't much occasion to mention me (though I think Kwok managed it a few times, in his obsessive way, but I'm not going back into that swamp to confirm). On the other hand I do think the febrile atmosphere of the Intersection comments was the parent of the foulness at YNH; I think it helped YNH guy to work himself up into a chronic rage.

Matt Penfold said...

"Well, I guess we can assume your criticism of it is not expert then."

Quite correct. I am not a philosopher.

But then nor are you.

The difference is I do not keep blogging on philosophical issues in order to ensure everyone else is aware I am not philosopher but you do. I presume that you blog on philosophy in order that everyone knows the depths of your ignorance on the subject. I would hate to think you were being serious. That really would be arrogant.

Ophelia Benson said...

Sorry, cross-post; I see Matt has agreed that he conflated the two sites. That sounds right to me. There was Kwokkery - allusions to a song that if you know the song (which I don't) translate to calling me a bitch - but that's all I remember.

John Pieret said...

Quite correct. I am not a philosopher.

But then nor are you.

The difference is I do not keep blogging on philosophical issues in order to ensure everyone else is aware I am not philosopher but you do.


Remind me again why I should be concerned about your opinion that I know nothing about philosophy? BTW, does that apply to Jerry too?

Ophelia Benson said...

Remind me again why I should be concerned about your opinion that I know nothing about philosophy?

Remind everyone why anyone should be concerned about your inability to imagine why Russell thinks the Tom Johnson story is important?

anthrosciguy said...

P.S. I would have found pretty "implausible" that E.O. Wilson would have a pitcher of ice water poured on him at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science too.

Why would you find it implausible that an outside protest group would do so? Your mentioning it, however, makes it sound as though it wasn't such a group.

From Wikipedia's page on the protest group involved:

In February 1978 at a symposium held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, members of InCAR assaulted biologist Edward O. Wilson. Members chanted "Racist Wilson you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!"[2] Members then rushed the stage and poured a pitcher of ice water over Wilson's head.[2] The symposium's moderator Alexander Alland along with Stephen Jay Gould took the microphone and apologized to Wilson and condemned the attack as an inappropriate way to attack sociobiology.

John Pieret said...

Remind everyone why anyone should be concerned about your inability to imagine why Russell thinks the Tom Johnson story is important?

I can't imagine ... other than the apparent outrage the simple question has sparked.

Why would you find it implausible that an outside protest group would do so? Your mentioning it, however, makes it sound as though it wasn't such a group.

Only because it is not, on its face an impossible occurrence. I agree that it is unlikely that conference participants would do so (I hope), but not, on its face, that someone might innocently mistake the miscreants as conference participants.

ben nelson said...

John, I had a similar reaction as you, and similar experiences that led me to those intuitions. But I took the story as being only mildly plausible instead of implausible. And the fact that we were wrong obviously indicates that we both missed some important contextual clues.

Hitch, Russell, and Ophelia suggested a few interesting things in another thread. Like you, I don't doubt that performance activism takes place, and I don't doubt that it can get out of hand, even (or especially) at outreach events. But the case that was presented was a bit too maudlin, a bit too exact in its targets, as if it were saying what certain people wanted to hear. And the American culture wars make it more likely that that sort of thing would have made American headlines.

On galactic teapots. You are right to observe that the burden of proof has to start somewhere -- a standard for what counts as prime facie evidence. Any claim that is beneath prime facie evidence imposes no burden on others. Now, there is probably no single standard of evidence that covers all subject matter. But in the case you're concerned with, the teapot argument, Dawkins has empiricism in mind, which in this case involves the examination of coherent, publicly assessable claims.

That means that millions of God-botherers need to be, at minimum, coherent. They're not. At the very least, until they get their stories straight, the burden lies elsewhere.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Oh, brother. I didn't want to dig into this, but ...

"You are not the one who was called a useless, putrid twat at YNH and then derided by multiple socks in subsequent posts for being hypersensitive to sexism. I am. I really really really think you should just stfu on this particular subject."

First, you embroiled me in the subject by falsely implying that I condoned you being called a "useless" ... you know, ignoring that the insult in question had already been derided by another commenter (who turned out to be a sock, but neither of us knew that at the time). You chose to cast aspersions on me, to use your repute as a (very much non-anonymous) writer and pundit to attack my reputation, and to do it with shoddy evidential support. You dragged me into this.

Second, you were derided for being hypersensitive about sexism because your response to an offhand remark -- where in a post about Greg Laden, you were summarily described as "flustered" about Boobquake -- was to call the one who made the remark a "sexist jerk." Bear in mind that up to this point, the "useless p-----d t--t" insult hadn't been said, nor had any insult similar to that been introduced. Your conclusion about YNH being a "sexist jerk" was entirely based on that one offhand remark.

I do commend you, though, for sticking to the facts this time in your above remarks, even if you did leave out some important details.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Pieret said...

And the fact that we were wrong obviously indicates that we both missed some important contextual clues.

I'm more than willing to admit that. I started out saying I didn't know all the context. I'll even admit I started out to act like a bit of a "jerk" just to see what kind of reaction I got. Unfortunately, it lived down to my expectations.

That means that millions of God-botherers need to be, at minimum, coherent. They're not. At the very least, until they get their stories straight, the burden lies elsewhere.

I agree. But bad arguments are just as bad even when I agree with their proponents.

Matt Penfold said...

"I'm more than willing to admit that. I started out saying I didn't know all the context. I'll even admit I started out to act like a bit of a "jerk" just to see what kind of reaction I got. Unfortunately, it lived down to my expectations."

There is a name for such behaviour on the Internet. It is called trolling.

I must though applaud your honesty. It is not many people who will come straight out and admit they are a troll. It is one of the few occasions on which I have seen you be honest, and even then you could not actually go all the way and use the word "troll".

Ophelia Benson said...

JJR

First, you embroiled me in the subject by falsely implying that I condoned you being called a "useless" ... you know, ignoring that the insult in question had already been derided by another commenter (who turned out to be a sock, but neither of us knew that at the time).

No, that's wrong. I didn't falsely imply that; the fact is that you didn't object. Your claim seems to be (and has always been) that there was no need to object because someone else already had. One, I don't see why that would be the case. (A calls B a nigger; C objects; does that mean that no one else should object too? That D, E and F should go on chatting as if nothing had happened?) Two, and more interesting, you fell into exactly the trap that "Tom" set. That's something he did on purpose, and he did it repeatedly. That was one of his tricks, one of his ways of deceiving the unwary. He would use one sock to say something disgusting or libelous, then instantly use another to say "tut tut" - and let it go at that, leaving the disgusting or libelous comment in place, but giving himself (in his own mind) deniability. So your not saying anything was (inadvertently) complying with his wishes. This is your problem with YNH in general, I think - you seem to forget that everything was planned, everything was manipulated. It's simply absurd, at this late date, to say solemnly that another commenter had derided the comment. Of course she had! That was Tom (I am SO tempted to blurt out his real name at this point) blowing smoke! You say neither of us knew that commenter was a sock at the time - well I suspected it. I was very doubtful of my own suspicion at that point, but I did suspect it - the weirdness of the group voice was already noticeable. There just aren't that many hitherto-unknown people obsessed with me all at the same time. The instant "oh that's a little over the top" comment was too convenient. I did smell a rat.

It's also, and for the same reason, absurd to scold me for noticing the sexism early. This wasn't someone operating in good faith - this was a dedicated serial liar, busily engaged in smearing people. The tone was off. As with the original TJ story, I was in fact right about that, so it's absurd to accuse me of being right too early. Better if more people had been right too early!

You chose to cast aspersions on me, to use your repute as a (very much non-anonymous) writer and pundit to attack my reputation, and to do it with shoddy evidential support. You dragged me into this.

Bullshit. One comment on one blog; that's not an attack on your reputation, and in any case, what I said was true - you did not rebuke that disgusting comment. The fact that someone else had already pretended to do so does not change that. I said something about you that was true. That is not attacking your reputation.

Further, as I have said before and I haven't seen you acknowledge, I also exculpated you at one point - I pointed out that YNH was calling one sock "Ramsey" probably to mislead people into thinking it was you.

Ophelia Benson said...

I'll even admit I started out to act like a bit of a "jerk" just to see what kind of reaction I got. Unfortunately, it lived down to my expectations.

What? You set out to provoke, and that somehow confirms something bad about people who were provoked?

Oy.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "No, that's wrong. I didn't falsely imply that;"

These are your words: "JJ Ramsey spends a vast amount of time lecturing others on civility, yet he is content with people who call someone -- anyone -- a useless, putrid twat."

You did imply that I condoned the "tw-t" remark, and given the circumstances, that implication was false.

Benson: "A calls B a nigger; C objects; does that mean that no one else should object too?"

Of course not, but that's doesn't mean that anyone who doesn't issue subsequent objections should be presumed to agree with A rather than C. Yet you made just such an presumption. Furthermore, there may be reasons not to bother with further objecting to A, like not wanting to get tangled up in another bout of SIWOTI argument, such as the one we're having.

Benson: "I think - you seem to forget that everything was planned"

No, it's just irrelevant to my point. As far as I knew at the time A and B (or "Julie" and "Patricia," actually) were separate people, so what I was content with or condoned has to take that into account.

Benson: "Bullshit. One comment on one blog; that's not an attack on your reputation"

Sure it is. You weren't just alleging that I had slipped or made a mistake. You were making a statement about my character.

John Pieret said...

What? You set out to provoke, and that somehow confirms something bad about people who were provoked?

Ah! So the "harsh criticism" that Gnu Atheists give to theists means that any reaction theists make to it is irrelevant? I'm glad I know that now!

John Pieret said...

Ah! Provoking people on the web is "trolling" is it? What do you call this then?

Sorry if you don't like what's in the mirror when someone acts a bit like a jerk but it's hardly my fault!

Chris Schoen said...

As someone who often *does* need to have things spelled out in large block letters, can OB or RB tell me if I have this right? It seems that you are saying that the Johnson affair is important because upon it rests the contention that Gnu Atheists are socially destructive, and since he was a fraud, so is the claim.

This seems to me rather like saying that because one of the Killian memos was apparently forged, George Bush was vindicated of the charge of being AWOL from the Texas Air Natl Guard.

If I have it wrong I hope you will disabuse me. But John's point seems to me sound in the meanwhile, that it is illegitimate to generalize a moral stance out of one case of fraudulence. The kind of behavior that "Johnson" claimed to witness is commonplace on the internet, and even in the mainstream press--as JJ has cited, e.g.

Is the point that one is only a true jerk when one is rude to someone else's face? Is PZ Myers a gentleman because he only calls Ayala an "airhead" on his blog. never in person?

Coyne seems to be making the point here ("none of us would do that") that civility does matter, after all, despite the long insistence it was an accomodationist muzzle, but on the internet it doesn't count. Or something. Who can straighten me out?

Ophelia Benson said...

You did imply that I condoned the "tw-t" remark, and given the circumstances, that implication was false.

No it wasn't. I literally do not see how you can claim that. You made no objection! That is condoning. There is nothing about the circumstances that changes that.

Now, you could change the wording of what I said. I'll buy that. I could have said you condoned it rather than that you were content with it. I'm not a mind-reader. But you did condone it, by not objecting and by carrying on commenting there as if it were a reasonable place. (A reasonable blogger would have removed the comment, obviously.)

ben nelson said...

Russell, could you please ban DM? The 9/11 atheism spam was pretty funny, but these vaguely satanic death threats are making me dizzy.

John Pieret said...

Russell, could you please ban DM?

Unfortunately Blogger doesn't have that capability. I'm getting death threats from him now (and if I could find out the location of his mother's basement, I'd turn him into the authorities). All Russell can do is manually remove his posts as, I suspect, he'll do as soon as he wakes up. ;-)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "You made no objection! That is condoning."

No, to condone is "to regard or treat (something bad or blameworthy) as acceptable, forgivable, or harmless." Regarding a bad behavior as having been sufficiently slapped down or contained as to not require further comment is not the same as finding the behavior acceptable.

Benson: "A reasonable blogger would have removed the comment, obviously."

Only if the blogger has a policy of heavily moderating comments.

Now onto the actual topic ...

Chris Schoen: "It seems that you are saying that the Johnson affair is important because upon it rests the contention that Gnu Atheists are socially destructive, and since he was a fraud, so is the claim."

I don't think that's quite it.

If the story "Tom Johnson" is plausible, that implies that there is reason to expect some "Gnu Atheists" to behave as boorishly as Johnson described, even if his particular story is untrue. To avoid that implication, one has to not only show Johnson's story to be false, but to have presented Gnu Atheists in a way that is completely out of character. Hence the drive to show the story's implausibility, not just its falsehood.

Ophelia Benson said...

"A reasonable blogger would have removed the comment, obviously."

Only if the blogger has a policy of heavily moderating comments.


Nope. I'm defining a reasonable blogger as one who doesn't allow comments that call women putrid twats; or racist etc comments along the same lines.

(As for "the actual topic," you brought this up, I didn't. I simply asked you to stop bringing it up.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

"I'm defining a reasonable blogger as one who doesn't allow comments that call women putrid twats"

So I guess PZ Myers isn't reasonable, according to you.

Seriously, aside from the issues with Seed's Terms of Service, I would not say that Myers was condoning joking about forcible sodomy simply for leaving the comment there. Now for the dog whistle at the end of another blog post, on the other hand.... And it's not as if you can reasonably say that you don't know about that comment, considering what you wrote in the blog post "Clean up your mess."

ben nelson said...

You can ban IPs using third party services, like http://www.toolator.com/

J. J. Ramsey said...

BTW, Benson, I've noticed that PZ Myers has left up comments even of people he's outright banned, like karol, who spewed hate about gays, so it is not fair to say that the presence of a nasty comment is in and of itself a condoning of that comment. Either you are ignorant of Myers' moderation policies, which seems unlikely, or you have a double standard for what constitutes a moderation policy for a "reasonable blogger."

OB said...

What the hell are you talking about? I've never seen that post before; it's from last March for christ's sake; it's got nothing to do with that recent post of mine; and it's nothing to do with putrid twats or other epithets, either! God you're a loon.

There's an aspersion on your character if you like. You're a loon. You spend masses of time hunting down gnats while legions of camels bed down in your living room.

OB said...

PZ's blog is just too damn big to moderate. That's regrettable (in that sense), but there it is.

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. J. Ramsey said...

"What the hell are you talking about? I've never seen that post before; it's from last March for christ's sake; it's got nothing to do with that recent post of mine"

Are you kidding me? That post "from last March" contains the very "unattractive bluster in a few comments at Pharyngula" that you had mentioned in that recent post of yours. Heck, there was a hyperlink to it in the very post from the Intersection that you were complaining about, and it was quoted to boot. There's no good excuse for you to not recognize that post.

As for straining gnats and swallowing camels, an extended critique of that metaphor would get into more rehashing of what we've both discussed. Suffice it to say that I think you've swallowed a huge camel in the way that you let slide a comment where rape with a rusty knife is treated as a joke, and your complaint that the Intersection post blogging about it is just "an attempt to make Pharyngula, and by extension gnu atheists, look bad," rings hollow when the Pharyngula commenters made themselves look bad defending the indefensible comment. That's not the socks' fault.

And now I'll segue to the actual topic. You complain that it's the accommodationists trying to portray the "Gnu Atheists" as these awful people, but your image problem is mostly your own damn fault. You can't go on about "appeasers" and "witless wankers," and how the Intersection bloggers' ideas are somehow "fascism," and not expect people to think badly of you and expect bad things from you. You are blaming "Tom Johnson" for the hole in your foot when you should be looking at the gun in your own hand.

Russell Blackford said...

Yes, the story that Wilson had a pitcher of water poured over him is fairly implausible on its face, so I would take it with a grain of salt if it were asserted solely by a pseudonymous commenter on a blog. Implausible things do sometimes happen, but you need a lot more than that before you believe them.

BUT the Wilson story is a lot less implausible. The behaviour that people will engage in for the sake of a political demonstration is likely to be extreme - people get pelted with eggs, people get water poured on them, demomstrators turn up naked to make symbolic points, flags get burned. Sometimes tempers run hot and violence ensues. The behaviour that participants will engage in at the sort of conservation events that "Johnson" described is likely to be rather different.

I've discussed in comments elsewhere why the story was implausible on its face, and others have done so in more detail. Some folks who can still read it without finding the implausibility have tin ears in my opinion. They can't recognise a piece of unrealistic fiction when they see it. However, it was really sufficient to quote the story at some length. If John can read the original story and find it plausible, we can't help him and that's all to be said. If he now agrees it's facially implausible, that's also all to be said.

Note that no one is accusing accommodationists of having done anything analogous to the assertions made by "Johnson". One of the questions from John was whether the bad behaviour asserted against Gnu Atheists was analogous to the bad behaviour asserted against accommodationists. The answer is "No."

Nobody is suggesting that at social gatherings, or meetings to discuss common interests such as climate change or whatever, accommodationists gratuitously engage in shouting, spitting (even metaphorically), forced laughter, etc., in the faces of people who are known to be forthright atheists. If someone claimed in a blog comment that Chris Mooney walked up to PZ Myers at, say, a science fiction convention, and acted in that rude, semi-crazy way, I would not believe it. I'd want to see Myers' account of it and some independent accounts before I'd form even a tentative view of what really happened.

Again, indviduals do get into heated arguments and sometimes do things like throw water at each other. Usually when this happens there's some heavy drinking involved. I've seen this happen once and I've heard of another occasion after I'd left a party - and the story was well attested. But the story told by Johnson wasn't about two drunk people getting into a heated argument. It was supposedly the premeditated, sober act of scientists attending an event where they were supposed to make nice with the people who ended up being treated with insane, comic-book rudeness. Sorry, I'm not buying it, and I was never buying it - and I was right.

As for why the story is important, Chris Mooney made it important. It was put forward as his Exhibit A for his thesis that certain Gnu Atheist scientists are doing great social damage. Even Mooney, to his credit, now admits he was wrong to use the story in that way.

Ophelia Benson said...

Yes there is - it's that I read the comments in other places, or maybe one other place, to wit the Intersection. I think I did look at some of them at Pharyngula at the time - but for the reason I gave in my post, I didn't linger on the subject, because I think SK's take is absurd but I also think the comments are unpleasant. Nevertheless I don't think they're the same kind of thing as sexist or racist epithets.

That last paragraph is completely ridiculous. The "you" is all over the place - who is that "you" supposed to be? Me, or gnu atheists in general? It seems to be me half the time, or maybe most of the time, but I don't 'go on about "appeasers" and "witless wankers"' or 'fascism.' I guess what you're doing is both at once - gathering up the things you hate about the gnu atheists, and then addressing me with those things in mind, as if they were my doing.

And as for Tom Johnson - bullshit. Tom Johnson is a raving lying misogynist creep who brought a giant hassle down on the heads of people he works with. He spent three months smearing several people as viciously as he possibly could. I don't do things like that. So just stop talking to me like that. No I should not be looking at the gun in my own hand, because there fucking isn't one. Tom Johnson did loathsome things, and I have not done loathsome things. Gnat; camel. Get a fucking sense of proportion.

OB said...

(That was a reply to J J Ramsey, not Russell.)

Russell Blackford said...

Thread cleaned up.

Jerry Coyne said...

Hey, Russell, you forgot one little crumb:


DM said...
btw, jerry coyne

you are going to be exterminated as well....

Russell Blackford said...

Found it, Jerry.

Yes, John is correct: I can tell people they're banned, and some honour it, but I can't actually stop people from posting unless I moderate all thread comments, which I'm disinclined to do. I can only clean up after trolls like DM.

The police in DM's own city already know about him. They are treating him as harmless, and I hope to Zeus they are right.

John Pieret said...

As for why the story is important, Chris Mooney made it important. It was put forward as his Exhibit A for his thesis that certain Gnu Atheist scientists are doing great social damage. Even Mooney, to his credit, now admits he was wrong to use the story in that way.

So, is it an important story anymore?

Russell Blackford said...

It's a story that now provides a teachable moment. It has that sort of residual importance. I don't believe this post is disproportionate to the importance that remains.

However, I wouldn't have posted the material here if my comment had been allowed through at The Intersection. A frank discussion over there would have been adequate. I think it's worth pointing out that a civil, constructive comment like mine did not get through moderation.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Can I call this 'How to make a Tea Cup' -- I was once acussed of starw manning something through question -- I see this as no different by the way.

Having exchanged words with some mentioned parties I see no reason why a list moderator would post things that did not sit well with how they wish to moderate. To didctate how that moderation is to work from the outside is a pointless excercise, and the posting of a NO-Context reply here is equally dumbfounding.

As said I have dealth with some persons and can see why positions agianst and for them can be taken, but it is of little consequence of who gets to shout loudest and when.

In this position I see the Atheist (gnat - or is it gnu?) perhaps getting some of what it disheshes out and not liking it.

You reap what you sew and if you wish to sew bad tiding that are not suitable for anyone's digestion then you will also reap the same. Ophelia simply gets what she sews, perhaps it would be wise of her and defenders (I need no such defenders myself) to pause and take a deep breath. Even on this blog she attacks...

Sorry but has anyone considered alternatives to the lost in moderation? It isn't your site after all

J. J. Ramsey said...

Taking in your comments a bit out of order ...

Benson: "Tom Johnson is a raving lying misogynist creep"

Sigh. Let's look at the evidence for raving misogyny, shall we:

1) Him offhandedly referring to you as "flustered" by Boobquake

2) Him making fun of you for calling him a "sexist jerk" on account of that offhand remark.

3) A comment from "Zachary D. Tanner" calling Jerry Coyne a "pussy." Not sure if this is a sock or not.

4) A comment from "Julie" calling you a "useless, putrid, t**t", which weirdly enough was called "vile" by another persona, "Patricia."

That's about it. The first three issues are dicey. "Pussy" is an insult that can be said by anyone subjected to the usual societal gender smog, and about the same can be said for the "flustered" bit. Making fun of you for jumping the gun and calling him a "sexist jerk" based on one remark isn't even sexist, and claiming that it's just you "noticing the sexism early" is silly. You had poor evidence to make your claim.

That leaves the last bit, the "twat" remark. Now here we do get some misogynistic behavior, although it only makes sense to pin it on YNH once the sock puppetry is known. Even then, there's some mitigation. "Tom Johnson" was at least smart enough (or schizo enough?) to contradict himself, and was certainly smart enough to stop with such epithets pretty quickly and leave what few there were confined to a single thread. This is also the place where you really fall flat. First, you accused YNH of lapsing into "abuse by female genitalia" before confirming that he even had anything to do with the epithets in question. Second, you tried inventing a "chorus that cheered and jeered" the "twat" epithet, even though no sock ever cheered on the epithet. A lot of Tom Johnson's reputation for misogyny owes to your own exaggeration and to your repeated claims of sexism, rather than the actual content of his blog.

Benson: "He spent three months smearing several people as viciously as he possibly could."

Um, yeah, that explains why Josh Rosenau would have read it and linked to it. Because he's really into viciousness. Seriously though, the level of snark was about the same level as, say, Orac's, and when the blog posts fell flat, they did so more by stretching logic like taffy than by going rabid. Sorry, but they were right to, for example, point out your views on anonymity were ad hoc and didn't make much sense. The sock puppeteer who probably needs therapy somehow managed to be right a lot of the time.

Benson: "Nevertheless I don't think they're the same kind of thing as sexist or racist epithets."

I consider several commenters falling all over themselves to defend a rape "joke" to be worse than a single person who used an epithet two or three times.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "The 'you' is all over the place - who is that "you" supposed to be? Me, or gnu atheists in general?"

The "appeasers" bit was largely Dawkins, though it got picked up pretty fast by others. The "witless wanker" bit is from PZ Myers. The "fascism" bit actually is from you. But yes, the "you" is general.

Josh Slocum said...

Stephenson:

"Ophelia simply gets what she sews, perhaps it would be wise of her and defenders (I need no such defenders myself)"

You sure as shit need a spellchecker, though.

tomh said...

I wish you hadn't linked to that thread. It led me to the Intersection after I've successfully avoided it since I was banned. What an echo chamber it has become! Of the 46 comments, 23 are by Anthony McCarthy and Jon, all bashing new atheists and praising Mooney. Throw in some pathetic whining by Jean Kazez and incomprehensible gibbersh by J.J. Ramsay and it is a hopeless mess. Don't trick me into going there any more! :)

Russell Blackford said...

Oops! I wrote:

If someone claimed in a blog comment that Chris Mooney walked up to PZ Myers at, say, a science fiction convention, and acted in that rude, semi-crazy way, I would not believe it. I'd want to see Myers' account of it and some independent accounts before I'd form even a tentative view of what really happened.

Actually, and this is important, what I meant to say was:

I'd want to see Mooney's account of it and some independent accounts before I'd form even a tentative view of what really happened.

It would be good to have the alleged victim's account in such circumstances, but I'd actually want to see the alleged perpetrator's side of the story.

Aquaria said...

of course Ramnsey is going to lie and get his knickers in a bunch and pooh-pooh sexism.

Remember this JackoffJerk?

Wouldn't normally have been subject to banning, but chose to insult my daughter here, several times, after being warned. If you must insult my family, do it to their faces so they can kick your ass; it's cowardly to try and do it in front of me.

He has a psychotic antipathy to anything vaguely related to Dawkins, and hence to outspoken atheists.

Does everyone remember that moldie oldie of criticizing TGD, even though he hadn't read it (at the time, at least)?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/12/the_courtiers_reply.php

Good times, good times.

That's the kind of moron you're "reasoning" with, everyone, to no avail. You can't reason with that much of an arrogant, psychotically obsessive liar. He will say anything, tell any lie, make up any tale, distort any fact, to "win" a discussion.

Oh, and JumpingJackass:

The rusty knife remark wasn't sexism.

Vulgar. Yes. Rude. Definitely.

Not sexist. Sexist is using words to demean a woman as a woman.

Telling someone to get fucked with a rusty knife is a hyperbolic blow off remark. It is usually said to woman or man, for the exact same reason.

Sexist remarks aren't.

I'm not surprised you can't grasp the difference. Nuanced thought isn't your forte.

Then again, neither is truth or sanity.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Gorton said...

Why this was important is simple:

The story was obviously false. Everyone who didn't have a stake in it being true - noticed as much. It was a bullshit story on its face.

What made it bullshit was not simply the behaviour being described, but the lack of reaction. If the events described happened, the first we would have heard of it wouldn't be some anonymous poster on a blog.

Evangelicals are indeed out to get atheist professors. There are strongly theistic creationists who would have loved this story - it plays directly into their narrative.

Now there is an argument that even if people were rude - rudeness isn't the end of the world - but that isn't why this story matters.

Why this story matters is it represents a point in the argument where a leader of the accomodationist side was willing to take a convenient narrative without properly checking if it was true.

This isn't a reflection on all accomodationists, but it, how hard it was to get Mooney to issue a proper retraction, does demonstrate to me at least, that the guy cannot be trusted.

Bruce Gorton said...

As to JJ Ramsey, it is strange how he will essentially read any Gnu Atheist's writings in the worst imaginable light, yet his standard seems doubled when it comes to people on his side of the debate.

When it is someone on his side of the argument, well we have to strive to read the best into it.

MosesZD said...

Jerry Said:

Of course he doesn't want it to go away. This controversy brings him what he loves the most: traffic!

Short-term. But gains made that way tend to work against you in the long run.

We can most-easily see that proof-of-concept play-out in entertainment. Someone starts with a small shock value to attract attention. They have to top it to keep the int erst going. One day, it's too much, and they start loosing their audience/cachet and they become "has beens."

J. J. Ramsey said...

Aquaria, the story you quoted from P.Z. Myers was largely untrue and even contradicted by his later statements. Even the accusation that I made sexist remarks about his daughter doesn't hold up to scrutiny, since the "insult" to her was to point out that she had insulted other people by calling them "retards."

I repeat: the story that you are quoting from P.Z. Myers is a confabulation at best, and an outright lie at worst. You don't have to take my word on that, and you shouldn't. Just follow the link, follow the links from the links, and take a good look at the documented contradictions from Myers. The stories he's told are at least as dishonest as Tom Johnson's "Exhibit A."

That I screwed up in commenting on the The God Delusion has long been conceded by me, and you can see for yourself whether I have a "psychotic antipathy to anything vaguely related to Dawkins."

Also, if the rape "joke" was so harmless, why did it lead to this reply from Razib Khan:

"i know that a lot of people here have some major disagreements with sheril & chris, but wtf is up with this? someone leaves an offhand comment about physically & sexually abusing someone and the conversation goes on. am i missing the context? if i am, that's one sick context."

Someone largely outside the whole accommodationism debate found the remark disturbing and repugnant.

Also, considering that the threat of rape has been used to put women "in their place," and that even when men are victims of homosexual rape, they are vulgarly described as "bitches" -- a sexist term for women, I wouldn't be too quick to concede that rape "humor" isn't sexist.

Bruce Gorton: "The story was obviously false. Everyone who didn't have a stake in it being true - noticed as much."

Correction: Everyone who had a stake in it being false found it false. There was a distinct partisan divide.

Moses said...

Well, I see this thread has gone sideways...

Matti K. said...

JJR: "Correction: Everyone who had a stake in it being false found it false. There was a distinct partisan divide."

Yes, just like there is a "partisan" divide between skeptics and newagers regarding the belief in woo.

In any case it turned out that the Gnu's had a far better judgement than the "new accommodationists" (or militant accommodationists). Get used to it.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Matti K.: "Yes, just like there is a 'partisan' divide between skeptics and newagers regarding the belief in woo."

More like a partisan divide in who thought the Killian memos were forged or not. Note that in both there and here, it was those who wanted the memos or stories to be false who found the evidence of falsehood.

Matti K.: "In any case it turned out that the Gnu's had a far better judgement than the 'new accommodationists' (or militant accommodationists)."

On some matters, but not others. Who, for example, turned a footnote on Last-Thursdayism and a vague version of theistic evolution into "Creationism? Can't criticize it in our science classes"? P.Z. Myers, who erected a strawman in order to call Michael DeDora a "witless wanker." Who falsely suggested that someone had aimed multiple sexist insults at his daughter and even confabulated a story to explain away the lack of evidence for his claim? P.Z. Myers again. Who apparently wasn't satisfied with YNH's actual faults and chose to imply that sexist epithets were widespread and cheered on that ex-blog? Ophelia Benson. Who turned the position "You can accept evolution if you adjust/reinterpret your religion to fit the science" into bending over backwards to appease superstition? Richard Dawkins. Your side has a persistent problem with demonizing the opposition and resorting to distortion in order to do so. Your happening to be right on this matter is very much like "Little Green Footballs" being right about the Killian memos. It doesn't change your underlying rot.

Bruce Gorton said...

Blogger J. J. Ramsey said...

JJ, just to clear the air of your bullshit:

The De Dora piece was essentially PZ stating his opinion on De Dora's stance, not statements of fact.

Your personal battle with PZ Myers - quite frankly I take Myers' word on it.

Ophelia was perfectly justified given the gendered nature of YNH's attacks on her personally.

Attacks which went to the point where William, when appologising, singled Ophelia out as being particularly abused.

The final example, well link to it because I have seen your interpretations on things - and frankly I don't trust you to not be applying your own special spin on it.

Bruce Gorton said...

P.Z. Myers, who erected a strawman

Oh, and by the way, Myers did not erect a strawman.

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/should_biology_textbooks_include_biblical_myth_language/

A strawman is when you shove words into somebody else's mouth, in order to defeat the arguments those words represent.

It does not mean "Presents my side of the argument in a manner which I think reflects badly on it" or "applying critical reasoning to my side of the argument."

Now I happen to agree with de Dora in this case and not with Myers - mainly because whether you agree with it or not the first ammendment cuts both ways.

But Myers did not paint de Dora as saying anything he didn't say. He did not misrepresent de Dora's arguments, he simply gave his opinion on them.

And quoted de Dora to show what he was arguing against.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "The De Dora piece was essentially PZ stating his opinion on De Dora's stance, not statements of fact."

Myers claimed that DeDora's ideas would lead to this,

"Creationism? Can't criticize it in our science classes. Somebody says the universe appeared magically a few thousand years ago, I guess that has to be a valid answer on the test question, 'How old is the universe?'"

when his "proof text" from DeDora was a non sequitur that quite explicitly had nothing to do with creationist claims that manifestly contradicted empirical evidence, such as the age of the universe. And yes, fallacious misrepresentation of someone's argument is a straw man.

Bruce Gorton: "Your personal battle with PZ Myers - quite frankly I take Myers' word on it."

Which of Myers' words do you take? The one where he said that I "chose to insult my daughter here, several times, after being warned," or the one where he said, "he made the one post about it here" (which would rule out the "several times, after being warned" bit)? He's contradicted himself.

Bruce Gorton: "Ophelia was perfectly justified given the gendered nature of YNH's attacks on her personally."

If when Benson was said to be "flustered" about Boobquake, she had taken a cue from the "How To Tell People They Sound Racist" vid and pointed out what YNH said that looked sexist rather than jump to conclusions about whether he was a "sexist jerk", that would have been justified.

If Benson had -- before the sock puppetry was discovered -- criticized "Julie" for calling her a "tw-t" without presuming that YNH bore responsibility or that those who left "Julie" alone were somehow content with her remarks, that would have been justified. If after the sock puppetry had been discovered, Benson only criticized YNH or "Tom Johnson" for the few sexist remarks he actually made, that would also have been justified.

Criticizing "Tom Johnson" for his actual sexist behavior is justified. Exaggerating the extent of it is not.

Bruce Gorton: "The final example, well link to it because I have seen your interpretations on things"

The final example is Dawkins' Chamberlain gambit, which we have discussed before.

Bruce Gorton said...

Oh for fucks sakes JJ.

Who turned the position "You can accept evolution if you adjust/reinterpret your religion to fit the science" into bending over backwards to appease superstition?

Here's the important bit of the original quote:

Do you believe in miracles? That's okay, it's part of science. Do you believe that God guides evolution in order to produce beings who worship him? That's fine too

What Dawkins is clearly criticising, is the idea that science should be maleable to religious beliefs, not that religious beliefs should be maleable to science.

Bruce Gorton said...

Now back to de Dora:

It is important to note that creationism and related ideas like intelligent design do belong to the field of religion, not science; they are theology and philosophy (bad theology and philosophy, but that's another matter). Hence, science cannot reject them in full -- for how does the scientist answer the claim that God made it look like there's been evolution, and that we are merely natural products, to test our faith? Or that God has been the hand behind the process of evolution? A scientist must here put on the philosopher's cap to continue.

Nothing to do with creationism eh?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Actually, you quoted from Larry Moran, but you also quoted another example of a straw man from a "Gnu Atheist," since the members of the "Neville Chamberlain" school are methodological naturalists and insist that miracles are emphatically not part of science.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "Nothing to do with creationism eh?"

Ok, and now you give me a strawman. I said that the quote from DeDora (which you now quoted) had nothing to do with "creationist claims that manifestly contradicted empirical evidence, such as the age of the universe." And none of the things you mentioned in your quote of DeDora can be refuted through empirical evidence -- which was DeDora's point. Science doesn't deal in non-empirical claims.

"how does the scientist answer the claim that God made it look like there's been evolution, and that we are merely natural products, to test our faith?"

That's basically Last-Thursdayism or a form of the Omphalos theology. Any evidence a scientist can come up with can be explained away as "God touched it with his noodly appendage to make it look that way."

"Or that God has been the hand behind the process of evolution?"

This is the "vague version of theistic evolution" that I mentioned before. Neither of these have anything to do with creationist claims that contradict empirical evidence, like claims about the age of the earth or universe.

Bruce Gorton said...

Okay, my error, Here is part of the Dawkins quote:

One of NCSE's main political objectives is to court and mobilize 'sensible' religious opinion

Again, his argument is not against "You can accept evolution if you adjust/reinterpret your religion to fit the science"

But rather the same larger issue being raised by Moran, of science being compromised in order to build alliances. Of science being something that is even flipping subject to alliances.

It is a very different argument to the way you present it.

Bruce Gorton said...

JJ

It isn't a straw man. It is a quoted footnote...

science cannot reject them in full -- for how does the scientist answer the claim that God made it look like there's been evolution, and that we are merely natural products, to test our faith?

... that very, very clearly dealt with creationist claims that manifestly contradicted empirical evidence, such as the age of the universe.

After all, the argument presented is God could have just made it look that way, which fits just about every empirical argument out.

It is one of the things the Flying Spagetti monster parodies.

The counter to this is an explanation of Occam's Razor and why it is an important part of scientific reasoning. In other words, a big counter to this sort of thing is teaching science.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "Again, his argument is not against 'You can accept evolution if you adjust/reinterpret your religion to fit the science'"

Except when you look at what the so-called "Chamberlain school" actually does to "bend over backwards" and court "'sensible' religion," the message they are sending is "You can accept evolution if you adjust/reinterpret your religion to fit the science." That's pretty clear if you, say, look through the NCSE's web site.

Bruce Gorton: "[the claim that God made it look like there's been evolution, and that we are merely natural products, to test our faith] very, very clearly dealt with creationist claims that manifestly contradicted empirical evidence, such as the age of the universe."

So according to you, a classic example of an unfalsifiable hypothesis, where supposedly the universe looks billions of years old but really was created on fill-in-the-blank date, is really in contradiction with empirical evidence. I suggest that you look up Last-Thursdayism to find out just how little sense you are making. Maybe look up "unfalsifiable" while you are at it.

J. J. Ramsey said...

I took another look at your reply and it makes even less sense"

"... that very, very clearly dealt with creationist claims that manifestly contradicted empirical evidence, such as the age of the universe.

"After all, the argument presented is God could have just made it look that way, which fits just about every empirical argument out."

An argument that "fits just about every empirical argument" has "manifestly contradicted empirical evidence"? Are you even reading what you are saying?

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J. Ramsey said...

And I suggest you look up something called "Straw man" while you are at it.

The point to last Thursdayism is that science has a mechanism for coping with it called Occam's Razor - originally "Do not multiply entities needlessly" but generally "The simplest answer that fits the evidence, is generally the right one."

So, if the universe started last Thursday, you need to explain why it looks so old. It was made to look old? Well, why? Because...

Occam's razor cuts through all of that by saying, "We can dismiss last Thursdayism because it has no evidence in its favour, and frankly it isn't the simplest explanation of the evidence we have - which is that the universe looks so old because it is so old."

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J. Ramsey

You are calling a direct quote, in context, a straw man. You don't get to act like people are stupid you fucking wanker.

When I say fits it means it is a convenient answer to every bit of evidence you could come up with, not that it last-Thursdayism doesn't contradict the evidence.

After all the evidence is still that the universe looks older than if it started off last Thursday.

The most parsimonious explanation is that it is older than last Thursday and frankly, last Thursdayism doesn't have any evidence in its favour.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "You are calling a direct quote, in context, a straw man."

I'm calling a direct quote, used as if it were a proof text when it's an utter non sequitur, a straw man. Indeed, DeDora already made clear that teaching the science would rule out "6,000 years" as a valid answer to the question of the age of the earth on an exam because it is, well, not "what the science says". (See comment #69.) His footnote hardly changes that. Furthermore, contrary to what Benson has said, that's not equivalent to reducing science to rote learning. (See comment #99, same page.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

A couple more things. First, the most a scientist can say about Last-Thursdayism is that it is not science, regardless of whether it is true or false. That, though, is certainly enough to keep it out of a science classroom. Second, and more importantly, look at how Myers follows up his quote from DeDora:

"Somebody says the universe appeared magically a few thousand years ago, I guess that has to be a valid answer on the test question, 'How old is the universe?'. To actually state that it is about 14 billion years old, and make such an answer a necessary part of the student's grade ... why, that is philosophy or theology, and not to be discussed in science class."

DeDora never said that the age of the universe was in general a matter of philosophy or theology, only the special case of Last-Thursdayism (which isn't science anyway and doesn't belong in science class). He certainly never said that bog-standard Young Earth Creationism--which lies about scientific matters such as radiometric dating, etc.--is solely a matter of philosophy or theology, and said outright that exposure of students to "multiple lines of evidence supporting the theory of evolution" would be "discouraging students from believing in creationism."

Bruce Gorton said...

JJ

Who said it? De Dora said it. You can't take something De Dora actually said, that is directly quoted, and claim it is a straw man.

If you are going to accuse someone of straw man tactics it has to actually BE a straw man.

The actual fallacy in PZ's argument (remember I think he is wrong here too) is this:

Those are "beliefs" that must be rejected by any scientist, by any textbook purporting to describe how science works and what conclusions it reaches — anything less is cowardly intellectual dishonesty.

Which is to say it is like saying "Drink urine or you are a complete cretin." It isn't an argument, its just an order backed with the threat of insult.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Bruce Gorton: "You can't take something De Dora actually said, that is directly quoted, and claim it is a straw man."

Are you kidding me? I'm tempted to write a rebuttal, but that is so transparently wrong that I think I'll just quote it for truth and leave it at that.

Bruce Gorton said...

JJ Ramsey

Myers was pointing out the unfortunate implications to de Dora's stated ideas.

You could argue slippery slope, but not straw man.

Note, again I am not saying Myers is right here, I think it is one of those arguments where if you take away all the crap there isn't anything left, but I am seeing way too much misuse of the straw man charge lately.

Its becoming a straw zombie.

Bruce Gorton said...

J. J. Ramsey

Yeah, you can't counter it because usual counters such as "quote mine" don't apply in this instance.

It gets exactly what de Dora was saying, and the whole thing is in the context he was saying it in.

I see a lot wrong with what Myers wrote there, and I mean a LOT, but straw man isn't one of them.

Robert N Stephenson said...

woo hoo and a jolly big woot!

Go you big red ngine!

Robert N Stephenson said...

Straw Man is used when the atheist has no one left to burn...

any argument that does not fit their extremely limited and sometimes (not always) bigoted view of others - is often called a Straw Man argument

There is only one straw man and that is the one who believes they are right...

Allan said...

Russell,

Well, hoping to get things back on track (although that's probably futile), let me ask you this:

Do you seriously think that someone pouring a pitcher of water on someone at an academic conference is LESS implausible than a claim that what was essentially heckling and mocking occurred at the same sort of conference?

Noting that in the latter case the heckling and mocking was claimed to come from a group of people who have at last some very prominent members who say that the best way to deal with religious claims is indeed to heckle and mock them (although perhaps not at academic conferences)?

I came very late to this, and certainly would have been surprised -- but not shocked -- if actual participants had done this. It wouldn't have surprised me of people in the audience did it, especially if those people were students -- even at the graduate level -- as opposed to professors.

Paul said...

I just want to point out that above, JJ Ramsey accepted Kirshenbaum's "frame" that comments of the form "go f*** yourself" or "f*** you" (like "go dunk your head") are "rape jokes". It's horribly dishonest, disrespectful to rape victims, and just plain tacky. Needless to say, little Willy was a big fan of this assertion.

Russell Blackford said...

Allan, I'm saying that childish public rudeness from accredited participants in a scientific conference is implausible, and you'd want to corroborate the story with independent witnesses, etc., before believing it, especially if everyone was supposedly sober at the time. "Childish public rudeness" refers to the sort of thing described by Johnson - forced laughter in people's faces, etc., not just to hostile responses to a paper and so on. There can be objectionable kinds of behaviour well short of what was described by Johnson.

Physical violence involving relatively low levels of danger (such as pouring water, throwing ripe tomatoes, etc.) from political demonstrators is not so implausible, though demonstrators are often demonised, and their actions are often exaggerated, so it would still be wise to check the story if it's alleged that a conference was interrupted by demonstrators who acted in such and such an outrageous way.

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. J. Ramsey said...

Paul: "JJ Ramsey accepted Kirshenbaum's 'frame' that comments of the form 'go f*** yourself' or 'f*** you' (like 'go dunk your head') are 'rape jokes'"

I've already helped this thread get as overlong and off-topic as it has, so I'll be brief and just point you to Razib Khan's comment quoted above. It's pretty clear that his impression was that the comment in question went well beyond a sentiment like "go dunk your head."

Now enough already. You haven't said anything that hasn't been said several times over.

Anonymous said...

@JJ Ramsey:

"P.Z. Myers, who erected a strawman in order to call Michael DeDora a "witless wanker."

Actually, that wasn't a straw man. De Dora was saying something really weird -- a lot of people actually questioned him further to make sure he was really saying what he seemed to be saying.

Basically, he was proposing that we should give up on the notions of universal human rights and democracy -- this was confirmed after asking De Dora many times what he was actually trying to say ("...are you REALLY saying X?"). I can see why that would honk PZ off -- he's really into that sort of liberal politics garbage.

-Dan L.

Paul said...

"I've already helped this thread get as overlong and off-topic as it has, so I'll be brief and just point you to Razib Khan's comment quoted above. It's pretty clear that his impression was that the comment in question went well beyond a sentiment like "go dunk your head.""

"Sarah Palin says healthcare reform includes death panels, therefore I as a reasonable person can make the same statement". Nice. Just because Razib Khan misrepresented a comment does not make it right if you simply repeat said misrepresentation.

"Now enough already. You haven't said anything that hasn't been said several times over."

Nor have you. In fact, everything you've said in this thread has been previously said by you in several locations multiple times already. If you make the same silly statements, don't be surprised if you get the same responses.

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