… in fact, it is kind of an ethico-moral responsibility and a virtual obligation of PZ Myers and his vast readership.
There have been a number of cases recently where an internet (meaning, on a web page) poll regarding a politically charged topic usually linked to science education or creationism was mobbed like crows on a great horned owl by large numbers of pharyngulistas. What happens is this: PZ Myers finds out about the pole (how PZ finds out about things is a trade secret, but his tentacles are everywhere), and he posts a link to the poll on his widely read blog. This causes a very large number, usually a few tens of thousands, of readers to flock to that site and vote a certain way on the poll.
People have complained that this “messes up” the Internet, or that is is immature boring childish behavior. I want to explain to you why none of this is true, why PZ and the Pharyngulistas deserve accolades for this, and why they have to keep doing it.
If this topic interests you, then go to the Pharyngula pages where this is all happening and read through the comments where you will find both the belly-aching and the responses.
See also this.
First, I want to address the fallacy (that not everyone believes but that has been implied) that somehow a poll is “hacked” or “ruined” when PZ sends 89,000 people over there to vote “no” (or “yes”) or whatever. This is a fallacy at two levels. First, PZ never tells people how to vote. That is up to them. He simply informs them of the poll. But the core of this fallacy is about the idea that the poll is somehow invalid after the Pharyngulista’s have done their number.
I assure you that the poll was already ruined. It was already invalid. It was already a non-scientific method of collecting data embedded (usually) in a biased context and controlled (often) by an interested party. The poll was already of no value as a poll. Indeed, one could argue that the poll is more valid after it has been Pharyngulated than it was before.
Which brings us to the second major point I’d like to make. This is a phenomenon of import and meaning. We do not know how many people read Pharyngula. Or at least I don’t. These things are hard to know. But the responses to the poll crashing recommendations vary a great deal. This implies that this is not a case of mindless zombies merely doing the bidding of a cult leader. No. The Pharyngulistas take the suggestion to crash a poll and do what they want with it. The magnitude of the response is in a sense a reflection of the way a large number of individuals feel about the issue, in combination perhaps with the intensity of the poll (as a symbol) itself. I have observed that the pharyngulation effects on these on line polls ranges from a mere 7-8,000 up to nearly a half million. In cases that relate to major issues in the Creationism-Evolution ‘debate’ it seems that not only do nearly all of the Pharynulista’s participate, but a few (I assume) vote more than once, and some people pass the call to action around on other blogs, which recruits even more people.
How is an action of this magnituded fun, childish, or boring? How is it not significant? It is a show of strength, of commitment, of the ability to rise to the challenge, to field an army, to kick someone’s ass, of the strength and breadth of an alliance of many spread across the Intertubes that has formed in response to serious attacks on our society, our educational system, our children, science, truth, and honor.