Holy crap: Trust

One of the many reasons why I love being a science blogger, is it lets normal people peek into the lives of scientists and our culture. I joked at a recent OKC Atheists meeting that no one would ever make a reality TV show about my lab work– while it is conceptually awesome, its just not fun to sit and watch (someone needs to do a montage of a Western Blot to the ‘Rocky’ theme). But I can do little blog posts about the scientific culture, like this one.


If there is one word I would use to summarize being a scientist, its ‘trust’.

Yes, we are highly critical of one anothers work. But we fundamentally trust that the scientist we are being critical of is honestly presenting the data they honestly obtained.

Though most of the scientists I have met and interacted with are wonderful, pleasant people, there are some who are just flat out assholes. How can they get away with that? How can they still be successful? Because in science, whether you are cute as a button or screaming at everyone in your lab, we just dont care. We still trust you.

We have to.

Accusations of fraud are never taken lightly. Thats why I was horrified that Judy Mikovits so casually accused others of fraud, with no evidence (still no evidence to support her claims, nor any apology. I guess Judy really is a… **WINK!!**). I think Judy Mikovits is stupid. She cant explain to Alter why PCR looking for mouse mitochondrial DNA is improper. She cant use the word ‘quasispecies’ right. But even her involvement with snake-oil salesmen and anti-vaxers cant get me to genuinely believe that she is a fraud.

Because no one does that.

Why do you think that when scientists are found guilty, it makes the news world-wide?

There are consequences to breach of that trust. You are completely and utterly abjured from the community. You can no longer win grants. No one will work with you. Youre lucky if another scientist will speak to you about the price of tea in China. If I found out my best friend in the world was a scientific fraud, I would never speak to them again. I would rather I find out a friend was dead than find out they falsified data.

Breaching this trust is not just a matter of momentary personal gain (financial or social). Its breaching a hole in science itself– the trust we all have to have in one another for science to work. Without trust, we would all be repeating the same experiments, over and over and over, never believing anyone elses data until we could do it personally ourselves. Science would never move forward.

What does this have to do with Holy crap.?

I dont blame Dawkins at all for trusting Josh Timonen*. Dawkins is a scientist. Trust is what we do. Like fraud in science goes beyond financial and social gain, and actually damages science itself, Timonens fraud goes beyond letting down his friends and stealing money. It hurt positive atheism, science education, and the secular cause itself.

Its made every damn one of us that loved what the Richard Dawkins Foundation stands for a little more cynical.

In retrospect, there might be any number of ‘warning signs’ or things we personally would have done differently, if we were in Dawkins shoes. But I think the important thing to take away from this horrible event is how we can make sure a similar event doesnt happen again.

Think it cant happen to you?

Something tangentially similar happened to me.

I am not a member of any major atheist organization. I wont subscribe to any of their magazines. I have never been to a major atheist convention. I have never paid dues to be an official member of OKC Atheists. Because of an event that happened several years ago with an atheist organization, I have a fundamental distrust of every atheist organization.

A long-time internet friend invited me to another town to give a talk to their group about evolution. Okay, YAY! I saw an advertisement for the event, where I saw they would be charging something like $5 per person to cover my travel costs. I contacted the president immediately, and said I did not want to be compensated, nor did I want anyone charged to attend my talk (Im a student. You shouldnt have to pay to be my speaking guinea pigs). The president agreed.

When I got to the event, the president then proceeded to pass around a collection plate for donations to cover my travel costs.

I was mortified, but didnt say anything.

After the event, the president took the collection plate, containing a couple hundred dollars cash, and left.

Didnt offer me $1 of it.

*FUMING*, I went home and emailed the friend who invited me. After she threw an EPIC fit on their message board, the pres told everyone that he offered me the money, and I didnt want it. In other words, he was planning on keeping the money and letting the members think it went to me, but now that the members knew I didnt want the money, he was keeping it anyway. He then told my friend that if she ever tried to attend an event again, he would call the cops on her.

He used my name, my age, and my status as a ‘poor student’ to scam a group of atheists.

He eventually caved and sent me a check for a sum of money. I dont remember how much it was– I just cashed it and donated it, wanting nothing to do with that money or who it came from.

And after all of this, he is still the president of that organization. I say ‘president’ loosely, because apparently he refuses to allow elections, and the group is too spineless or too apathetic to care.

Ive never wanted anything to do, officially, with an atheist organization ever since.

But we cant let assholes that that guy and Timonen ruin *our* community. OKC Atheists kicks ass. And I think the TX Atheists kinda kick ass too. I got over my atheist-group-anxiety to speak at the TX Freethought Convention. It was fantastic. Extremely well run. About half a dozen people double checked with me that I had gotten paid (and I didnt even know I was going to get paid to present).

Atheists get scammed just like everyone else. In my experience, the best safe-guard against this is overlapping control. No one person is totally in charge of one thing.

But dont let shit like this ruin *our* community.

* Yes, this are now just accusations of fraud. I have yet to hear a rational reason for why the RD Foundation is suing Timonen and his equally creepy girlfriend for a million dollars that doesnt involve fraud.

These statements, authored by Timonen, included “BUY THE DVD NOW (All proceeds go to RDF),” “BUY THE DVD through our online store (All proceeds go to RDF)” and “All proceeds from the sale of this DVD are donated to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.”

And his girlfriend is a fucking bitch:

Indeed, the Trustees of RDFRS were so impressed with Norton’s supposed “volunteer” efforts and so sympathetic to her purported fiscal plight that they authorized a payment to her of $10,000 as thanks for her efforts in connection with an RDFRS fund-raising event held in Menlo Park, California in 2009…
… Defendants paid an additional $29,045 to Graham Norton (Maureen Norton’s teenage son), $300 to “Michelle Norton,” $350 to “Brittany Norton,” $1,102.75 to Ohana Farms (a business Plaintiffs believe to be owned by Maureen Norton’s parents) and $64.90 to “Pondbiz.”

In all doubt, he owes Dawkins, personally, $14.5K for services not rendered. If he was an honest man and this was all a misunderstanding, that would have been paid up and not mentioned in the suit. And what a coincidence they quit in May, and delivered the books in June. Just read the fucking complaint. Read the whole damn thing. Mother fucking dirtbags. Even if Timonen and Norton ultimately get out of legal trouble, they still have done a moral wrong, and I will happily judge them for it.

Comments

  1. #1 gf1
    October 25, 2010

    Science has traditionally limited itself to the type of work which can be independently validated with relative ease (pls ignore simplification), allowing a culture of trusting scepticism to grow up. Frauds and the intellectually dishonest tend to be uncovered, reducing the incentive for such behaviour.

    If scientists continue with these assumptions of scientific culture in an inappropriate setting, then they deserve to be criticised for that. Some have complained that Dawkins has too sanguine a view of human nature and is too inculcated in the ways of science to understand how human society works outside of academic science – they can now honestly use this episode as an example to back up their assertions.

  2. #2 ERV
    October 25, 2010

    *shrug*

    I dont see the point in blaming a victim for the illegal and immoral actions of others.

    If you see anyone making this argument, please send them my way for a polite, civil discussion on rape.

  3. #3 William Wallace
    October 25, 2010

    Without trust, we would all be repeating the same experiments, over and over and over, never believing anyone elses data until we could do it personally ourselves. Science would never move forward.

    As one of the greatest presidents of all time once said, “Trust, but verify.” A better approach, I think, then parroting results you’ve read about.

    Besides, even in confirming results, you may very well learn more than could be captured in that peer reviewed journal paper you read.

    In engineering, there are sometimes “results” that many egnineers don’t bother to verify, yet repeat to each other as engineering gospel. At times, these results were true at a given point in time, but are demonstrably and easily disproven presently. Even so, rather than spend 30 minutes evaluating a “truism” and demonstrating that the rule of thumb is no longer valid, some engineers are just too busy, too believing, too trusting to be bothered.

    Waste ensues.

    Reading and comprehending peer reviewed papers is one thing, if you’re just trying to get an idea of what is going on in other areas of your field.

    But if your work depends on something being true, better to dig a little deeper, in my view.

  4. #4 Kimberly
    October 25, 2010

    A (minor) clarification about the atheist organization you spoke to in another town: The guy who’s currently in charge of the group is officially known as the “organizer” rather than the “president” because the subscription to the group’s Meetup.com site is in his name. So far as I know (which isn’t very far because I left that group not long after you and the lady who invited you were treated so shabbily), he was never elected. My guess is that many of the folks who are currently active in the group know little if anything about that incident; nearly all of the message board posts about it have since been deleted. (Deliberately/manually deleted, I mean; there are still some posts that pre-date the incident, so it’s not just a matter of older posts being automatically purged by the system.) And based on what I know of the organizer, I doubt he’d mention the subject unless forced to do so.

    What gets me is that some people who were not only active in the group at the time of the incident, but were PRESENT at the meetup where you spoke and witnessed the shit-storm that took place by email/message board immediately after, are still active members. And some of them still wonder why I refuse to re-join their group. Sigh.

    FYI Abbie, your presentation ROCKED. The saddest part of the whole sordid affair is that the group in question cut themselves off from a well-known, well-connected, smart and articulate atheist. Their loss.

  5. #5 Zachary Moore
    October 25, 2010

    Trust is a BIG DEAL, it’s no joke. Atheists and freethinkers can be so disgusted with some of the obvious displays of immorality amongst believers that they implicitly assume those who have a more rational worldview are also their moral colleagues. Sadly, this is often not the case.

    I’ve also been on the receiving end of some really nasty political maneuvering within secular organizations, but I stuck it out. And I’m glad I did, because now I’m affiliated with the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas, which is committed to openness and transparency, and is a member-owned, member-run organization. I hope that other secular organizations throughout the country follow suit – it can be logistically difficult to insist on such transparency, but I’m confident it will pay dividends in the future.

    -Z

  6. #6 gf1
    October 25, 2010

    re: “I dont see the point in blaming a victim for the illegal and immoral actions of others.

    If you see anyone making this argument, please send them my way for a polite, civil discussion on rape.”

    We don’t know much about this particular case, but it’s certainly possible that Dawkins does deserve blame for failing to put in place the proper systems to ensure that his charity was not being defrauded. If he has been naive and incompetent in the running of his charity, that is worthy of criticism even if he also deserves our sympathy for having been taken advantage of by someone he thought he could trust.

    You could compare that to blaming the victim in a rape case… or I could claim that instantly absolving the victim of any wrongdoing would be like claiming that, because America suffered the WTC attacks, past American foreign-policy could not have played any role in stoking Muslim ire. I’ve not really thought much about this, but neither work that well imo.

  7. #7 Josh
    October 25, 2010

    “A better approach, I think, then parroting results you’ve read about.

    Besides, even in confirming results, you may very well learn more than could be captured in that peer reviewed journal paper you read.”

    This is utterly unrealistic. For perhaps a trivial or simple lab experiment it would be practical, but very few of those are the studies that actually concern people. Everything else would require considerable time and money to replicate, at the expense of NEW research.

  8. #8 Prometheus
    October 25, 2010

    Wow.

    I took a peek over at Rationalia to see what the RDF forum refugees were saying while clinging to their little life raft.

    I shouldn’t have done that.

    It seems they are all waving bloody hands in the air and barking “vengeance” at the moon.

    They had been pouring their lives into the RDF forums when Timonen crapped on them and his own mods. When they flipped out over it, Dawkins made a snide little response along the lines of “How dare you pinch my pretty baby!”

    I don’t know how many of you have had an opportunity to interact with Dawkins(other than Erv at the Momford Inn {no link back, let em’ dream})but UK colonial disengagement era guys tend to be…well…disengaged.

    Not indifferent (that’s a Dutch thing) just sort of “not there” reactionwise.

    Then a switch gets thrown and his face goes dark and you wonder if he is going to bite somebody’s nose off.

    Those former RDF guys are pretty over the top (they are on the verge of calling for Josh/Dawk Rule 34)and I hope they cool off before the legal gag routine on Dawkins concludes.

    It is pretty apparent that above and beyond the subject of the suit Timonen played up his own vulnerabilities and exploited the one aspect of Dawkins personality that is neither skeptical nor critical to wit: his fierce(spooky) sense of loyalty.

    I know Abbie…..I’m not saying that Dawkins had no business wearing gold lame’ stretch pants and Timonen is a good chap who plays rugby……

    I am saying that there are good decisions and bad decision and when a few thousand forum users are screaming bloody murder over one “private contractor”, at that point you review the books as opposed to white knighting the twenty nine year old lead singer for a failed grunge band.

    Or as The Bride likes to say “Dude! Mitifuckingate the goddamn damage.”

    I read Josh’s blog btw, I kind of wondered why RDF was approving “articles” wherein the author wrote like he had been recently concussed by a beer bottle. Now I know why.

  9. #9 ErkLR
    October 25, 2010

    Re: Confirming everyone’s results
    This is done implicitly when you base part of your work, or it’s direction on work someone else has done. If they simply made up the results, your work will end up contradicting theirs (unless they are astronomically lucky). THEN you might go back and redo their experiments or verify/refute their result by different experiments. This happens all the time in the case of scientists just being honestly wrong or not thinking of the correct controls.

    If you’re a scientific fraud, the best you can hope for is that no one cares enough about your work to follow a similar path with their research.

  10. #10 gf1
    October 25, 2010

    re: “This is done implicitly when you base part of your work, or it’s direction on work someone else has done”

    I agree… but you need to be limiting yourself to work which provides fairly clear results to be able to take this sort of approach. Towards the edges of science that can be dangerous, with earlier assumptions potentially guiding theories in a way that can become seen as self-validating. Where the boundaries are can be rather ambiguous too.

  11. #11 Mu
    October 25, 2010

    I have to wonder if you actually understood the most important part of the complaint – the first claim is breach of oral contract. Nothing written down, this is a great “he said – he said” case. You might call the guy names as much as you want, but it doesn’t sound like RD has much of a case. If a complaint was the truth and nothing but the truth, Taziz Orly would be president by now.
    I think that proposed class action suit from the customers for false advertising may be much more promising, but that wouldn’t help the RDF, unless the settlement would include a donation to the RDF. But your typical class action suit involves millions of dollars for lawyers, so there probably wouldn’t be anything left.

  12. #12 ErkLR
    October 25, 2010

    @gf1 #10: Sure, things are different when you reach the boundaries. That’s why it was good researchers went and tried to directly replicate Fleishman and Pons’ supposed cold fusion (but with proper controls and tests, like looking for gamma radiation).

    I was more referring to the usual hum-drum research mostly done. The inter-connectedness of any field is another reason why claims of Global Warming and eviloution conspiracies are so laughable. There would simply be too much stuff that did not make sense compared to earlier fraudulent work.

  13. #13 John C. Welch
    October 25, 2010

    Here, a guaranteed way to stop fraud.

    STOP COMMITTING FRAUD.

    That’s right: Don’t Commit Fraud. Don’t misrepresent shit. Don’t divert funds. Just don’t do it.

    If you feel the need to commit fraud, call a friend who you can trust to help you not do that.

    If no one commits fraud, then we don’t have to fucking worry about it, do we. Blaming the RDF because someone’s a thief, and “they should have done more” is in fact, blaming the victim.

    RDF shouldn’t get the blame for this, the little fuckers who stole from them should*. Because, you know, THEY STOLE FROM SOMEONE ELSE.

    *whomever it was that did the stealing, regardless of who that is.

  14. #14 William Wallace
    October 25, 2010

    The inter-connectedness of any field is another reason why claims of Global Warming and eviloution…

    Psst. You must not have read the memo. It is “climate change” now. The phrase “global warming” has been depreciated by the UN and the IPPC, among others.

  15. #15 Mariana
    October 26, 2010

    Psst. William. You must not have read the infamous Frank Luntz (Republican) memo (page 137-8). It is “climate change” now because he deemed “global warming” was too scary, and changing the language was one of the recommended steps in the Republican war against the science. Not hard to Google, even easier to correct your erroneous statement.

    ERV–If I found out my best friend in the world was a scientific fraud, they’d still be my friend. I would want to understand why they did what they did because by understanding you can avoid the same traps yourself. Plus, I love my best friend and couldn’t disown her any more than my sister and brothers.

    Most people caught in scientific fraud don’t just one day decide “I’ll commit fraud”. They slip into it bit by bit, and that can happen to almost anyone. Learn from your friend, and learn to choose carefully from among seemingly innocuous choices in your career and life.

    Best friends are too scarce in this world to throw them away when they make mistakes and don’t live up to your expectations of them. A BFF sometimes requires as much work as a marriage, and some day you’ll be very glad when your best friend stands besides you when others may not. Your best friend may think you’re an a**-hole and will tell you to your face, but they’ll be there for you.

    Please remember what you’ve said here 10-20 years from now. You should be a bit embarrassed about it when you reread it in the future.

  16. #16 William Wallace
    October 26, 2010

    Mariana, have you ever heard of “The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”? Google the date on that.

    Scienceblogs, huffingtonpost, and salon. Soros behind all three?

  17. #17 Ellen
    October 26, 2010

    @Mariana,

    Sometimes the person you think is your BFF is anything but. Sometimes a person you love dearly and absolutely trust turns out to be a sociopath or to have some combination of cluster B personality disorders.

    Such folks look for victims to sucker and they are often very good at what they do. Dawkins, at this point, must be beyond smarting. He’s got to be in all kinds of pain for being conned. It’s an ego slap when you think you are smart, smarter than the average bear, and something like this happens. The heartbreak over having been lied to by someone you care about is horrific. The shame over your own lack of judgment is overwhelming. This is not Dawkins fault, but he’s got to be reeling about now.

    I don’t think you can know how it is that most people become scientific frauds. This business about them slipping into it little by little is a subjective description. You can’t know. Hello, hello, we’re being scientists, remember? You’ve got to have heard that Richard Feynman line that goes something like “The most important thing in science is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest one to fool.” But that’s just what happened to Dawkins and it is just what would happen to you when you put your BFF up on a pedestal. Thinking that way even about a spouse is a dangerous thing. As unthinkable as it may seem to you, you can be conned even in that situation. You can be blindsided and the results can be nightmarish. Best friends forever, partners, spouses, parents, all these people can turn out to be manipulative abusers. If you refuse to back away from someone who is a systematic liar, who causes harm, then you go beyond being idealistic and march right on in to victim territory.

    Good friends are, without a doubt, very precious. But they need to be genuine. This is not the same thing as being perfect. But there’s a kind of destructiveness that turns inward, and quite another that turns outward. When you lie in science, you offer up information that is not valid and you screw up other people’s work. Granted, in the long run, it will sort itself out. That’s the great beauty of science, it filters out the crap. But in the short term, frauds are screwing other people. If someone does that, and over a period of time, not as a blunder, but as a willful habit, then they’re messed up and not in a curable kind of way.

    When someone makes a thoughtless blunder, then yes, forgive them. When it is systematic, you’d better step the hell away from them. I would suggest you do a bit of reading on antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and the other cluster B’s. Follow it up by reading about victim abuse, stalking, bullying and other types of sociopathic behaviors. It sounds like that’s the sort of thing we’re talking about here, not a little misunderstanding between friends.

  18. #18 ERV
    October 26, 2010

    Thanks, Ellen. You said it much better than I wouldve.

    However, I want to point out that though Joshy was the one who lied to and betrayed Dawkins, I am not convinced he is the sociopath in this adventure. He didnt scam things for himself (per se), like things a self-centered arrogant young man his age would want– guitars, amps, video game systems, high-end computers.

    The scam was all stuff for Maureen.

    Her house.

    Her son.

    Her sister (X2).

    Her niece.

    Her diet… and fancy meals at fancy restaurants.

    The salary scammed for her was four times Joshys scammed salary ($40K vs $160K).

    She was the one bemoaning her poverty to Dawkins, and got $10K legit just for being a groupie.

    I think she is the sociopath, and Joshy is too blind/dumb to see what he fucked up for a blonde Shrek.

  19. #19 Prometheus
    October 26, 2010

    I’m no artist with L.A. County property records but it appears Maureen is trying to run a short sale on the house at a well over $60,000.00 loss despite the glass brick fire pit and upgrades.

    Despite the drop in property values she should be at break even on the amortization bell curve by now but I’m betting on a fat re-fi with cash out and the RDFs money in for the remodel.

    Here is the listing and photos of Casa Del Behemoth.

    http://www.movoto.com/real-estate/homes-for-sale/CA/Sherman-Oaks/4532-Mary-Ellen-Ave-203_F1856389.htm

    I know I know $699,000.00 for a 1950s ticky tacky with plastic fixtures buuuut the Olsen Twins and Shia LaBeouf’s house or whatever.

    Gross.

    Looks like whatever they got, they blew on the most shallow self indulgence or to dig a deeper debt hole with shovels made of stupid.

    Bad news for some kid in the Texas panhandle getting the shit beat out of him for his science fair project on natural selection.

    The RDF might have been able to help but Maureen ate his future with Nutella on a croissant and washed it down with a Campari over Japanese ice balls.

  20. #20 ERV
    October 26, 2010

    Christ.

    My parents house would be worth like 5 million dollars if it were in ‘Sherman Oaks’.

  21. #21 John
    October 26, 2010

    “She was the one bemoaning her poverty to Dawkins, and got $10K legit just for being a groupie.”

    Speaking of trust, would most people who gave money to Dawkins trust that he was going to give the money to appropriate causes and not simply to his friends and/or associates?

    This post makes it seem like trust is somehow specific to the ‘scientific culture’ and not an overarching principle of human society itself.

    When I buy a car, I trust that it has been put together properly. When I go to a bank, I trust that they will give me my money back. When I get arrested, I trust that the cop isn’t a psychopath who’s going to take me to the woods and kill me, otherwise why would I let them put me in handcuffs? When I fly in a plane, I trust that the pilot doesn’t happen to have a deathwish that particular day. Trust trust trust, yet I appreciate the existance of various checks, balances and oversight of those in whom I have placed this ‘trust’.

    What’s weird though is that this ‘trust’ can work both ways, and can even be a direct substitution for thinking for oneself. For instance the scientific community, government agencies, policy makers, the general public etc. ‘trust’ that the psychosocial lobby in CFS actually has some sort of clue as to what they’re talking about and isn’t simply bullshitting/making shit up as they go along, etc. Funny story, that.

  22. #22 windy
    October 26, 2010

    The scam was all stuff for Maureen.

    Maybe they thought they were hiding their tracks that way?

  23. #23 Prometheus
    October 26, 2010

    Pending sale they have moved to a loft in the Pearl District in Portland far from maddening scorn and process servers.

    A 1500 sqft loft in the Pearl starts at $430,000. Even if they rent, it is still almost three grand a month not including Uts, fees insurance and parking charges.

    Maureen is gushing over how reasonable fresh flower arrangements are for her new pied-à-terre.

    That’s pretty nice for people who are claiming to have worked themselves to death for the benefit of their fellow humans and the crumbs thrown by the RDF.

  24. #24 Ellen
    October 26, 2010

    ERV,

    If you’ve got your information right, I’d call her BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) because all of that ALL OF IT, is right out of the BPD playbook. In support forums for people who have been victimized by BPDs, there is a saying that goes: “They must all be pod people because they are taking their orders from the same mother ship.”

    That is to say, the stories victims tell about the abuse they suffered can be chillingly similar. You can’t read a personality-disordered person’s mind. You can’t xray their heads or cut open their skulls and see anything that will allow you to make a diagnosis. The only taxonomy, you should forgive the expression, available is based on behaviors, revolting behaviors.

    You say that this gal led Josh astray, and certainly if he is enmeshed and in the spell of this woman, that will be true. But Timonen is still not innocent. It’s pretty standard for abusers to press their partners to do things that go against the partner’s own ethical standards. But many refuse to do so, even when they are terrified of or smitten by their abuser. In a situation that involves physical violence, some will tolerate being hit, but fight/invoke legal action/leave when their children are attacked.

    Even if the scenario you present is exactly accurate, Josh could be guilty. However sharp he is or isn’t, he had to know that what he was doing was not right. He was narcissistic in his handling of the forum situation, completely unconcerned about other people’s feelings or rights. (Not all kids want electric guitars and video games. That ain’t a sure-fire indicator.) And the fact that he had Dawkins so charmed, so fooled, so just-where-he-wanted-him simply reeks of cluster B. You can get two of them in a relationship, him and his lady friend. I would say two of them were working together, but they can’t really, in the long run, WORK together. You simply have two very unhealthy people acting in a creepy sort of parallel for a bit until things fall apart between them. And fall apart they do, in a big ugly way.(That or there is scenario where the dominant one simply sucks the submissive one until there is no blood left.)

    But even if Lady Dracula is undeniably evil, Josh as Renfield still ain’t hapless. He played his part and he hurt a lot of people.

    There is a possible silver lining to the situation. I agree with M. Scott Peck when he pointed out that we leave the diagnosis and treatment of evil to the religions. (Well, I agree with him right up to the point where he starts going into the whole exorcism thing. Yipes.)

    Leaving the examination and definition of evil to religion is a mistake. Religions are not only totally unequipped to handle such things, they also have a stake in keeping evil around because it is good for business. But if someone like Richard Dawkins has to have a good hard think (And I mean him no ill will. I would like to give the guy a hug right now, because I am sure he needs it. I’ve been there!) about why he got fooled, and why this seemingly charming person pulled this shit, it is not a bad thing. And as more people come up to the good doctor and share their stories, he will put that big brain of his to good use and think even harder about it all. And maybe research into these really serious personality disorders will gain a champion.

    From that, we’d all benefit. Every “blessed” one of us.

  25. #25 daedalus2u
    October 26, 2010

    You forgot the one good comment that Ronald Reagan ever said. “Trust, but verify”.

    That is what science is all about, trusting what someone does, but verifying that it corresponds to reality by using it for other things.

  26. #26 Ben Breuer
    October 27, 2010

    Abbie: Given the title of your post: could there be a continuing series of “holy crap” posts in the pipeline, something like PZ’s Sunday sacrileges?

    On the RDF situation: I’ve been following this a bit bemusedly, and feel a bit sore for RD. I suppose that the forum brouhaha (including RD’s first response) were channeled by JT’s interests, and that would explain the disconnect that seemed to be there between the Foundation and the forum members/moderators. And I would imagine that the low profit margin (as an indicator of RDF community’s interest, not of cashing in) skewed the trustees’ opinion about the value of the forums. An ill situation for all concerned!

    On the trust issue: scientists do (and can) trust each other because they know that other scientists don’t trust them. This way you can have close collaborations and friendships even though your collaborators could potentially screw you. (Same goes not just for the sciences but for all evidence-dependent fields.) Someone will find out. It gets more complicated when power differentials are involved: curator/client, PI/grad-or-postdoc, etc.

    In the RD/JT situation, perhaps a bit more distrust on RD’s side might have been useful, but on the other hand it’s o.k. as long as there are others who can do the oversight and have similar power. I’d be more worried if RD converted to a state where he trusted almost no one, due to the present case. Oversight takes energy, and he could probably invest that energy elsewhere more profitably and enjoyably.

    [Even more off-topic: Some have wondered why RD showed such loyalty to JT in the forum situation. I wonder whether loyalty was not a rather highly prized virtue in the time and place of RD’s early upbringing in Kenya, also given that his dad fought in WW2. Perhaps this is a case of internalized virtue? (And loyalty is a virtue, as long as it does not trump other virtues.) But of course, I’m really armchair-psychotherapeuting here!*]

    *That said, an autobiography of RD would be interesting to read.

  27. #27 istanbul tourf
    October 27, 2010

    Science has traditionally limited itself to the type of work which can be independently validated with relative ease (pls ignore simplification), allowing a culture of trusting scepticism to grow up. ;))

  28. #28 sylph
    October 27, 2010

    Here’s a montage of a western blot to the ‘OK Go’ theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3tzNjGU0jo

  29. #29 nejishiki
    October 28, 2010

    #20

    My parents house would be worth like 5 million dollars if it were in ‘Sherman Oaks’.

    Yeah, but then they’d have to live in Sherman Oaks. Surely you wouldn’t wish that on them. The San Fernando Valley is LA’s armpit.

    “People ask me ‘How can you live in Los Angeles with all that smog?’ I don’t see any smog. The only smog is down there in the [San Fernando] valley killing Republicans. I don’t give a shit about that.”
    – Harlan Ellison

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