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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jerry Coyne clears the air

I've avoided posting on the whole You're Not Helping/Tom Johnson debacle, although I've been up to my neck in it on some other sites. If there's anyone in existence who is likely to read about the latest here - before seeing it from Jerry Coyne, Ophelia Benson, or PZ Myers, go and have a look at Jerry's new post. This does a lot to clear the air.

The situation now looks as follows. The events described by "Tom Johnson" last year did not take place; nothing at all like them took place; if there was any kernel of truth at all, it related to events wildly remote from the story that was told; the story was not only a complete fabrication, it was always totally implausible on its face, as well as uncorroborated; various people said this to Chris Mooney at the time (I was not the first, though I was one of the most forthright), but he took no real notice; Mooney's bullshit detector was obviously rendered inoperative by his biases; those biases led him to a very serious misreading of the intentions and impact of the "New Atheists" (in this case Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne, who were the individuals blamed by "Johnson").

It would now be nice if Chris Mooney thought about it and acknowledged all this. So far he’s been too proud to do so, and, yes, I do understand not wanting to admit making a serious error of judgment. But he did, and it's not - as has been suggested around the internet - just snark to point this out. Damage continues to be done as long as the implication remains that the story had some facial plausibility, as Mooney has suggested up until now and as various other people continue to insinuate ... or to state explicitly.

How about it, Chris? An unequivocal statement on this can only help your reputation, which has been harmed by the whole episode.


NewEnglandBob said...

I doubt Mooney will admit an error in judgment. His blog is handled in a disgusting and underhanded way. There are many people who comment on many other blogs who are banned at the "Intersoction" for either disagreeing or even for asking a question. There is no fairness in Mooney's writings, whether blog or books or articles. He appears to not how how to research either. I stopped visiting the "Intersoction" many months ago and write it off as another schlub blog.

Wowbagger said...

Why would Mooney apologise? It goes against what his mission statement appears to be, i.e. a) ensuring the religious don't ever have to as much as contemplate the validity of their faith, and b) bashing vocal atheists in order to force them to get back in the closet/go to the back of the bus where there'll have less chance of inspiring a) to occur.

Admitting he made a colossal mistake does nothing to further those goals; therefore, he's not going to do it.

Russell Blackford said...

I would in his position.

Michael said...

But Russell, you're not dealing with such a strong cognative bias.

Mooney's position can only be, "yes this story may be false, but that doesn't mean that the jist isn't true." From the position he's taken, the jist MUST be true. "New" Atheists are damaging to the cause of science. Otherwise he has no blog. No reason to write.

It's like writing a lucrative blog about the truth of homeopathy, only to then find it's false. Do you drop the entire blog or save face and make money?

I've never found Mooney to be intellectually honest in any other pinch, so what would you expect now?

steve oberski said...

I've never considered the TJ incident as damaging to Mooneys reputation.

There were already lots of examples in his posts at the Intersection and in his book that he has formed his "New Atheists bad, Chris Mooney good" conclusions without any evidence and in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Hopefully the folks at CFI finally see through him and remove him from POI.

MosesZD said...

Glad to see you're back and posting.

MosesZD said...

I doubt Mooney will admit an error in judgment. His blog is handled in a disgusting and underhanded way.

I thought about something along this vein (which a response to something written by Russell at Butterflies and Wheels):

You know, in the Southern States they used to lynch black men. Between 1896 and 1922 at least 3,500 black men were lynched. The number one excuse was “threats to/attacks upon white women.” That is, said black man was either alleged to be a threat to commit (regardless of evidence) or was blamed to have committed (regardless of evidence) some type of sexual assault. This, of course, was enculturated with the intentional stereotyping of blacks who were portrayed as hot-blooded, uncontrollable-rapist sex-fiends.

I think the culmination of this particular idiotic train of thought sparked the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 in which the segregated afro-American area was destroyed and scores of people died. All because a black man tripped and bumped into a white girl in the elevator.

Well, that’s what Mooney does… Oh, not as directly vile. But that is what he does when he slanders Athiests with false charges. And I bet he doesn’t even realize it. Or, if he does, he doesn’t care. He’s clearly made up his mind that any atheist with an opinion needs to get to the back of the bus.

But no way am I going to beard the liar in his den. I did point out (more or less) that he was the "anti-Martin-Luther King" of science relations. That is, he'd rather have injustice and peace than to do the right thing.

Surprisingly, it got through.