Casaubon's Book

I Am Really PZ Myers!

It was a busy weekend here – figuring out whether we were moving, my sister was visting, other friends were visiting, we hit the local County Fair, worked in the garden, you know, life. So until just now, I hadn’t paid any attention to the empty meanderings about science blogs in the Times Magazine. But I did have to read it eventually – Monday comes eventually to all of us – and lo and behold, I got me an awesome dig from the Times - Virginia Heffernan attacks all science bloggers for being part of the “religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd.”

Now that’s kind of funny, because I wasn’t aware that constituted a crowd. I’m pretty good on peak oil crowds, and I’ve never met this one. Now I’m sure that PZ Myers and I have some overlapping readers, despite the fact that I’ve got 1/1000th his traffic, if that, but given that I’m a professing theist, a moderately observant Jew who regularly writes about my religion, I can’t say I ever thought we were anything but colleagues (my husband is nervous now that he’s heard we’re part of the same crowd – he knows I think bearded geeks are hot!)

A quick googling around suggests that the only references I can find to PZ and peak oil are response to Heffernan’s article – it clearly hasn’t been a major focus for him, although hey, ASPO is looking for speakers! As far as I know, I’m the only science blogger presently writing regularly about peak oil, although a few others talk about it now and again, but I have to think that Heffernan’s “peak oil” reference is to me. Oooh, I’m so proud – the New York Times Magazine tech columnist knows who I am – woot! Gotta run out and get Mom a few copies of her screed!

Now there are plenty of atheists in the peak oil community, and I’m sure not a few peak oilers among the atheists – the proportion of atheists among scientists including petroleum geologists and geophysicists alone would suggest this to be likely. Given that the peak oil movement has long been driven by physical scientists, I’m assuming that’s the case – but are they organized? Do they have parties? Are there religion-baiting, peak-oil drinking occasions that I’m not invited to? If they have margaritas, I might be willing to give up my faith.

Hey, I admit, I’m curious. What religions do you have to bait to join the club Heffernan knows so much about? Do you have to accept than any resources are peaking besides oil? Can you be an atheist and a peak coaler and get in? What religions do I have to bait to stay on science blogs, since I’ve got the peak oil thing down?

There’s another possibility here – that Heffernan is on to something deep and important. I mean, how many of you have ever seen Myers and I in the same place? Is it just possible that a thirty-something Jewish mother, farmer and science writer from upstate NY is actually a bearded atheist Prof from Minnesota with one of the highest traffic blogs on the planet, trying to covertly expand the atheist community by infiltrating the enormously powerful peak oil movement? Maybe….just maybe. Or it could be the other way around – that I’m not really a peak oiler, I just wanted to get my readership hooked before revealing my true agenda and plan to take over the world by moving the peak oil and new atheist communities together into one unstoppable political force.

Could be. Or, maybe, just maybe there’s no conspiracy and Heffernan just has no idea what she’s writing about. After all, she doesn’t seem to know what Deconstruction actually is, she seems to feel free to meander around her stated “technology” subject, but doesn’t think anyone else should be allowed to go off topic. For that matter, she doesn’t quite seem to get what blogging is, and why some of us like being able to say things that you can’t say in the New York Times.

She also doesn’t seem to realize that the paper she writes for has policies on advertorial that are pretty much exactly the same ones that Science bloggers were asking Seed to implement. And she doesn’t seem to have read carefully enough to realize that many of the departing bloggers explicitly said the primary issue wasn’t Pepsi, but things like wanting to actually get paid. The funny thing is that there’s a tiny grain of truth in Heffernan’s piece – there are class issues in the dynamics of science blogs. They just aren’t the ones Heffernan identifies:

Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?

One of those class issues is that the writers here, unlike the Times writers, weren’t getting paid regularly. Another one is that we make a lot less than the Times pays its columnists, and quite a number of the writers here are graduate students who depend on that income. I somehow suspect that Heffernan might complain if she didn’t get paid.

Heffernan seems to imagine that real “science writing” should be a. more boring and b. more boring. Don’t get me wrong – there’s more than a little place in science writing for reporting on papers and results and “reviewing experiments” – and some science bloggers do a lot of that, and some a little. Heffernan seems to think that science writers should never talk about society, culture, politics or anything other than data and experiments. I’m sure that’s totally because science has no relevance to any of those things – we never use scientific evidence to make decisions, imagine the future, or to affect our lives in any way, shape or form, so there’s no reason to talk about those things – nope, not science!

Moreover, Heffernan does seem to have been, as she suggests, out of a major loop for some time. Maybe she was out of the one where the Times missed the financial crisis, and the energy price spike – while dozens of bloggers predicted them? Or maybe the loop she was out of was the one where blogging, which isn’t exactly like column writing, was invented (yeah, we bloggers paid $200 month are way, way more privileged than a New York Times columnist…sure) and came to be not exactly the same as newspaper writing.

You see, the problem is that the bland, always in exactly the same style, emotionless, neutral “gotta make sure there’s two sides to every issue, even when one of them is stupid” science reporting niche was already taken – the Times beat me to it. I, like other bloggers, was left to make my way in the wilderness, and find the tiny leftover audience from the Very Important Paper that didn’t want the crap bored out of them, and didn’t want to only hear about peak oil and climate change and the deeper problems of our society after they’ve already occurred.

It is sad – I would, of course, have preferred Heffernan’s job and the chance to write blandly and inaccurately for the Times, but we all have to make the best of things. So that’s why I started up my alter-ego, writing as PZ Myers – because I knew that the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd was just out there waiting for me…I mean us.

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 PZ Myers
    August 2, 2010

    Show yer beard or GTFO.

  2. #2 moonkitty
    August 2, 2010

    Alternate hypothesis: PZ is all in your mind. He’s the projection of your daring, dashing, soap-making and cephalopod-loving shadow side.

    Good job pwning that ninny Heffernan.

  3. #3 The Science Pundit
    August 2, 2010

    Well said PZ!

  4. #4 John Morales
    August 2, 2010

    Sharon, this OP ain’t boring IMO.

    But I do find your snark perhaps too genteel — such that it takes a (not unexceptional amount of) nous to find the passion beneath.

    Maybe that’s a leaf you could copy from PZ’s playbook… ;)

  5. #5 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    August 2, 2010

    Lol PZ is like Vishu who has many incarnations and avatars. XD

    Anyways, Hefferman wants science bloggers to “be quiet and stay neutral” so that her side (I’m guessing the right) can say whatever they want with out being held accountable for it.

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    August 2, 2010

    … religion-baiting, peak-oil drinking occasions …

    Do you have to drink the peak oil straight?

    Is it just possible that a thirty-something Jewish mother, farmer and science writer from upstate NY is actually a bearded atheist Prof from Minnesota …

    Not if, as a quick search indicates, there are zero references to squid/octopus/cephalopod porn on this blog…

  7. #7 Dana Hunter
    August 2, 2010

    So that’s why PZ gave me the eerie feeling I was hanging out with a Jewish mother last Tuesday! LOL. This was a seriously great smackdown. I’ve read a lot of Heffernan-spankings over the last few days, so I’ve got a good baseline for comparison. This is the one I’ve enjoyed the most! Premium gourmet snark, exactly what that idiotic screed deserved.

    Oh, and we do have margaritas.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    August 2, 2010

    Great. Now I’m picturing PZ Meyers with his hand up a goat’s vagina.

    Thanks a lot.

  9. #9 Jadehawk
    August 2, 2010

    you have no idea how immeasurably happy it would make me if it turned out PZ and you were the same person, since you’re my two favorite bloggers. Plus, I could totally go for New Strident Atheist Peak Oil Party :-p

  10. #10 dg
    August 2, 2010

    You see, the problem is that the bland, always in exactly the same style, emotionless, neutral “gotta make sure there’s two sides to every issue, even when one of them is stupid” science reporting niche was already taken – the Times beat me to it.

    Classic!

  11. #11 razib
    August 2, 2010

    it’s a hazard being on the domain. i was regularly accused of being a white leftist when i was on scienceblogs, though i’m a colored non-liberal :0)

  12. #12 Isis the Scientist
    August 2, 2010

    I thought I was PZ Myers. Seriously though, I’m just watching to be sure he doesn’t nail my cracker.

  13. #13 Ronsullivan
    August 2, 2010

    I am Spartacus!

  14. #14 Emily
    August 3, 2010

    Lol PZ is like Vishu who has many incarnations and avatars. XD

    That would explain the multiple arms… are all the other sciblings his sockpuppets?

  15. #15 Chiral
    August 3, 2010

    It’s all you bloggers’ fault for letting your personalities show. You can’t possibly be scientists if you ever mention anything except data and experiments! How dare you try to act like you’re really just normal people?!?1!? Next you’ll be wanting us to believe you have families and hobbies! /snark

    Another vote here for an Strident Atheist Peak Oil Party. Especially if it means I somehow magically get a small bit of land to grow veggies on. ;)

  16. #16 Crunchy Chicken
    August 3, 2010

    Holy smokes! What a revelation! ScienceBlogs is “science blogging by science bloggers”?

    Perhaps the author of this article doesn’t quite understand what blogging means. A quick Wikipedia search should help with this. It’s that whole commentary part that is so confusing!

    BTW, I like your beard.

  17. #17 Sharon Astyk
    August 3, 2010

    PZ, Crunch – Well, I do, at least in the Miller’s Tale sense, but I can’t exactly post pictures on the internet. Or I could, but I won’t.

    Derk was the nyght as pich, or as the cole,
    And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole,
    And absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,
    But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers
    Ful savourly, er he were war of this.
    Abak he stirte, and thoughte it was amys,
    For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd.
    He felte a thyng al rough and long yherd,
    And seyde, fy! allas! what have I do?
    Tehee! quod she, and clapte the wyndow to,

    Teehee, quoth she ;-)

    Sharon

  18. #18 Brad K.
    August 3, 2010

    Sharon,

    I think the NY Times piece was horrible. Not only inaccurate and hateful, but they didn’t mention your name. That is a terrible injustice – tarring you with a broad broad brush.

    Not only that, but the piece doesn’t add to your name recognition. Horrible, just horrible.

    Frankly, the piece is bigoted and wrong-headed, and can only add to the stature of those it rails against.

    But I did like the imagery of that “SciBling” snark.

  19. #19 Sharon Astyk
    August 3, 2010

    Razib, I know you are secretly a grey-haired, white ponytailed aging boomer with a Prius – but I’ll never tell ;-). As for Isis, well, being PZ Myers is a full time job – we can split it, every other day. But can PZ walk in her shoes? I sure as heck can’t!

    Sharon

  20. #20 rheather
    August 3, 2010

    I must have missed this-”jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers?”

    I’m thinking of the reasoning that you accuse people of doing ‘bad’ things because you do them(or want to do them) yourself…..

  21. #21 dewey
    August 3, 2010

    I thought most of the NYT criticism was spot on, except for the “peak oil” throwaway line – most of the techno-triumphalists around here would never accept the idea that there were going to be hard limitations, coming from nature worse yet, on (Western) human achievement. Gratuitous insults toward religious people, members of other cultures, political opponents, average non-scientist Americans, and yeah, even fat people are not hard to find here.

    I think it’s great for scientists (and everyone else) to discuss cultural issues, but around here there are a few problems with the implementation of the concept. Many of the regulars seem to believe science provides a basis for value judgements, and even requires us to hold certain values, and at least some of them therefore feel free to slander not just the character but the intellect and education of anyone who does not agree with them on any pet subject. Too bad that’s not how science works in real life.

  22. #22 jennie
    August 3, 2010

    Dewey, I have to agree a little bit. I’ve found that some of the regulars to sciblogs can be just as closed minded as the most strident religious nut.

    I am however peeved that the vibrant pagan peak oil crowd is so often left out of these margarita parties!

    I’ll contribute some rum. I’m fun, really! No goat sacrificing required, Sharon would never stand for such a thing anyway. :-D

  23. #23 Aratina Cage
    August 3, 2010

    The funny thing is that there’s a tiny grain of truth in Heffernan’s piece – there are class issues in the dynamics of science blogs. They just aren’t the ones Heffernan identifies:

    That’s the part of Heffernan’s piece that bothered me the most. Like you say, it’s the opposite of what Heffernan wrote. Not only are the Scienceblogs authors not rich and not all educated at Ivy League schools, neither is the readership. PZ’s blog in particular draws in people of all ages (teenagers+), all education backgrounds, and all economic circumstances (even people just starting off in the working world as well as those struggling to pay bills) from around the world. I can only guess that the same is true of your blog.

    The key to the success at Scienceblogs is not elitism or playing to rich snobs, it is excellent writing on interesting topics, and there is a diversity of authors to choose from who don’t have to follow some stodgy style guide or give up clarity to some pedantic editor. Scienceblogs is actually cutting through whatever classism and elitism there is in science and, thanks to PZ, atheism. Heffernan, in her tower at the New York Times, was likely projecting everything she dislikes about her own elite upper class writing position in a jealous fit of rage.

  24. #24 Raven
    August 3, 2010

    For sweet pity’s sake, the NYT now thinks it has the high ground to accuse anyone else of “baiting”?

    With an article that…urm, baits people?

    Sheesh.

    I didn’t like the Times before this–there’s the whole inaccurate reporting/plagarism/making up articles scandal, and the general haze of self-importance–but this has made it final. I’ll never be giving them a dime, no matter how much my grandmother thinks it means I’m uninformed.

  25. #25 eNeMeE
    August 3, 2010

    The key to the success at Scienceblogs is not … playing to rich snobs

    Pshaw! That’s all Mike the Mad Biologist ever does!

    And all this stuff about being more self-sufficient, that’s clearly just an attempt to have more stuff left for the rich people…

  26. #26 darwinsdog
    August 3, 2010

    Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?

    Yep. I’d say that she hit the nail squarely on the head.

  27. #27 Crunchy Chicken
    August 3, 2010

    Sharon – You’ve actually managed to make me sound even more naughty than usual. Kudos.

    Oh, and I haven’t forgotten about that calendar business…

  28. #28 Aratina Cage
    August 3, 2010

    …jeer at smokers, fat people…

    Apparently Heffernan has not yet seen what happens when people try that at Pharyngula. *wide grin*

    Pshaw! That’s all Mike the Mad Biologist ever does!
    -eNeMeE #25

    I don’t think I’ve been there, but a quick perusal shows that you are right and that Mike got Heffernan’s message and has finally begun taking short breaks from hate-mongering to crank out some posts with real substance. LOL

  29. #29 Mike the Mad Biologist
    August 3, 2010

    “we bloggers paid $200 month are way, way more privileged than a New York Times columnist”

    1) You get $200/month? Damn.
    2) I also find the relgion-baiting stuff silly; like you, I’m Jewish.
    3) Re eNeMeE, for the record, I play to poor snobs.

  30. #30 Mal Adapted
    August 3, 2010

    She “didn’t recognize the weatherspeak on the blog as ‘denialist’”; she “didn’t even know about denialism.” Yet she mentioned the Denialism blog!

    IMO, you’d have to be a denialist to occupy that “bland, always in exactly the same style, emotionless, neutral ‘gotta make sure there’s two sides to every issue, even when one of them is stupid’ science reporting niche” (tell ‘em, Sharon!) without eventually committing suicide or at least changing careers.

  31. #31 Sharon Astyk
    August 3, 2010

    Hi Mike –

    1. No, actually, not consistently, but Erin claimed that was the mean here when she hired me. Not sure if that’s still true.

    2. I think I knew that, and I’m kind of glad I’m not the only token Godbotherer.

    3. And there are so many of them!

  32. #32 Don
    August 3, 2010

    I LOVE the Miller’s Tale! We read it in high school. Yes, really, we did.