I would like to take a moment to examine Catholic League president Bill Donohue’s statement regarding PZ. (Details of the CL’s attack on PZ Myers here) Here is the statement:

“The Myers blog can be accessed from the university’s website. The university has a policy statement on this issue which says that the ‘Contents of all electronic pages must be consistent with University of Minnesota policies, local, state and federal laws.’ One of the school’s policies, ‘Code of Conduct,’ says that ‘When dealing with others,’ faculty et al. must be ‘respectful, fair and civil.’ Accordingly, we are contacting the President and the Board of Regents to see what they are going to do about this matter. Because the university is a state institution, we are also contacting the Minnesota legislature.

“It is hard to think of anything more vile than to intentionally desecrate the Body of Christ. We look to those who have oversight responsibility to act quickly and decisively.”

That first bit is in reference to a strange rule we have here at the University of Minnesota. If I have a web site hosted here at the U, there are certain things I can’t put on there. Like child porn, or anti semitic hate material, and so on. The University further stipulates that I am also personally responsible for anything I link to, and implies that I am responsible for anything that is thence linked to out farther in the internet. This makes sense at first glance. I should not link to a child porn site. But what if I have a link to a site about Bambi that later turns into a child porn site when I wasn’t watching? There are those at the U’s IT units that feel that that counts, and therefore that no one should like to anyone. Others remain silent about the issue (I’ve been asking around about this for years). I think everyone is just hoping that this odd rule is never tested.

The Code of Conduct does not cover PZ in his private life. But since PZ’s blog is on the internet and everything on the internet is connected to everything else, that means that his blog is covered under the Code of Conduct via this strange rule. Or at least, that is the implication and the hope, I assume, of Bill Donohue.

My final comment (but see below) is about Donohue’s statement that it is vile for anyone to intentionally desecrate the Body of Christ.

Absolutely! Of course it would be! That would be horrible, desecrating someone’s body, especially a well known and widely loved individual such as Jesus. (But really, anyone’s body).

If PZ Myers ever desecrated anyone’s body he would not be my friend any more, and I’d be the first to turn him in if I knew about it.

The trick, for Mr Donohue, wold be to make the link between the cracker and the Christ child.


To put a finer point on how the University of Minnesota’s internet policy is unworkable and kinda dumb ….

I like to call this the Architect law. Say you are an architect. You design a window into a home. Later, someone is sitting at that window, gazing out, and they witness a horrific site that disturbs them emotionally to the point that they become non-functional for the rest of their life. Now, you are sued because you put that window there. Had the window not been there, this could not have happened. Your fault.

That is the nature of the UMN linking policy. Not enforceable, I would think.

When I got on the phone with Amanda a few minutes ago, and mentioned this attack on PZ Myers, she said “So, do you think this is some sort of emerging social and legal phenomenon that is going to change the face of the internet and society as we know it?…”

… quite possibly, I thought. Quite possibly.

But probably not.


  1. #1 freelunch
    July 11, 2008

    Mr. Donahue whines about others not being tolerant of his particular version of Christianity, but seems incapable of understanding what tolerance is. Very simply he has no right to expect others to take his religious doctrines seriously. None.

  2. #2 ERV
    July 11, 2008

    When I joined SciBlogs, the first person I went to was the head of my Uni. I was like ‘Dood, I blag. You might get some emails about me.’ Head honchos were like ‘Dont say ‘The University supports torturing babies’, dont do anything to ruin your career. Have fun.’

    If they are that reasonable in Oklahoma, Im sure PZ is in no real danger.

  3. #3 Stephanie Z
    July 11, 2008

    Greg, is it just child porn? I knew someone whose job it was to look for porn on the U’s servers so it could be removed. Don’t think that ever made it onto his resume….

    I think something like this is more likely, if the professors stand up and stare the administration in the eye, to get the policies quietly rationalized. In the long run, it would be a lot easier to adopt a more liberal, less specific policy in keeping with an academic institution’s goals than it would be to explain to every whacko who comes along why their complaint that could kinda, sorta be covered under the rules won’t be acted on.

  4. #4 Learned Foot
    July 11, 2008

    The “Architect law,” as you call it, only establishes “but for” causation (as in “but for the window being there, the emotional distress would not have happened.”) The law also requires a party to prove “proximate causation” which is the law’s way of saying that if it wasn’t forseeable that a person could be injured by the act that establishes “but for” causation, no liability attaches. In your example, it is highly unlikely that proximate causation could be established.

    What this means for the linking issue, I have no idea.

  5. #5 BJN
    July 11, 2008

    The policy you’ve outlined seems to be at odds with legitimate academic use of the internet. If a professor teaching a class on modern hate groups provided links to sites precisely to show offensive speech and images for study, it sounds like anyone finding the links offensive could cite the university’s rules.

    Although I think PZ should be able to say any antagonistic thing he wants on his blog, I’ll let others run to his defense in the letter writing campaign to university administration. There are civil ways to communicate but PZ relishes the attention he gets being juvenile, intentionally obtuse, and inflammatory. If he wants to be the Bill O’Reilly of strident secularism, then he’ll face this kind of push back attack on his carreer on a regular basis.

  6. #6 Stephanie Z
    July 11, 2008

    BJN, “Bill O’Reilly of strident secularism”? Really? I’m going to assume that was a throwaway line you used because you thought it sounded clever, because I can’t see any way to defend it–and I like taking the tough side in an argument.

    How is choosing an unpopular action, fully knowing its consequences, “juvenile”? How is pointing out that others are reacting instead of thinking being “intentionally obtuse”? How does calling death threats absurd make him the “inflammatory” one?

    And while I appreciate your permission to “run to his defense,” I used my letter to congratulate Bruininks on having a professor who did so much to encourage critical thinking.

  7. #7 Tony P
    July 11, 2008

    I’ve gone off on Blowhard Donohue’s various speeches and pronouncements from time to time.

    But this tears it. Meyers blog has nothing to do with his UMN life. Just like my blog has nothing to do with my professional life.

    I hope Donohue is walking along and is swallowed up by a sinkhole someday.

  8. #8 Becca
    July 11, 2008

    University Whackaloon Facist policies- they aren’t just for students anymore!

  9. #9 llewelly
    July 11, 2008

    Vague content policies of this character, which illustrate a general lack of comprehension of how internet content can change and migrate, are almost universal. Back when I first started using the internet regularly, in 1995 and 1996, I read numerous very long discussions of real and potential problems caused by poorly-thought-out policies like this one. Over 10 years later, the polices remain largely the same. This is why substitute teachers can face prison time because malware on an unfamiliar and poorly administered machine popped up some porn the substitute teacher didn’t know how to deal with. The internet is a realm where all control is partial at best. But people don’t want to think about the consequences of partial control.

  10. #10 Coriolis
    July 11, 2008

    BJN, last I checked tolerance includes being tolerant of people who do not share your beliefs or even ridicule them, unless they happen to be actually doing you harm. And no, pretending that taking a cracker is causing you harm doesn’t count.

    Can you imagine a bunch of scientists sending death threats to a student because s/he stole a science book from a library? Even if s/he proceeded to burn it with much fanfare and said that all science was junk?

    Yeah I didn’t think so. The most that would happen would be somebody calling him/her a moron.

  11. #11 Ritchie Annand
    July 11, 2008

    Bill Donohue is the Nancy Grace of Catholicism… and then some πŸ™‚

    He should be angered as much as possible, for his anger so often indicates that societal progress is being made somewhere πŸ™‚

  12. #12 Mister Almost
    July 11, 2008

    While I don’t think PZ’s statements were well enough thought out before he published them given his status as an employee of a public institution, I don’t think they’re any worse than being told your “eternal soul” is going to burn in “hell” because you haven’t accepted “Jesus Christ” as your “savior”.

    Christians have been denying and belittling the beliefs of other faiths from Atheism to Scientology for long enough that they should expect a little of it to come back to them.

    On another note: Would they object to “implied desecration”? Maybe Ritz crackers or digestive biscuits instead of wheat pucks.

  13. #13 dusty59
    July 11, 2008

    What’s interesting to me is, the lack of disgust with the obvious cannibalism that Donohue espouses. Pretty wretched in those terms.

  14. #14 themadlolscientist, FCD
    July 11, 2008

    If the university hasn’t interfered with PZ’s blog before in spite of everything he’s written that various wingnuts, whackamoles, IDiots, et al. have gotten their knickers in a knot over, what makes Bill D. think they’re going to give a flying fish in a hurricane about just one more of PZ’s regular skewerings of stupidity-in-religion’s-name?

    Bah. Humbug. Vanity of Vanities, sayeth the Preacher’s Kid: all is Vanity.

  15. #15 JimRL
    July 11, 2008

    Can’t I eventually reach almost any site on the internet from most large news sites? If you go blog-hopping you can definitely find your way to some twisted stuff with about a dozen clicks or so, especially since a lot people do link to things they are ranting against.

  16. #16 Anne Gilbert
    July 11, 2008

    I just don’t understand this. What, exactly, is PZ Myers doing that “desecrates the Body of Christ”? I mean, is he getting into some church’s Communion wafers or something, and then describing the process? If that is the case, what is Mr. Donohue raving about? Half of what he raves about isn’t even good Catholicism!
    Anne G

  17. #17 Barn Owl
    July 11, 2008

    State universities, especially those associated with medical centers, typically receive money from private donors (individuals, foundations, corporations) for research, buildings, lab facilities, seminar series, and scholarships. Private donors can get their panties in a wad over any issue they choose, and yank the funding – it doesn’t have to be a reason that’s intelligent, fair, logical, unbiased, rational, or even sane. Nope, bunched panties is reason enough. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize some students’ scholarships, no matter how righteous my indignation, unless I was able to pay for them myself.

    Which I’m not, of course; perhaps this explains in part why many of us blog under pseudonyms, and/or without any university affiliation stated or linked on the blog, none of which is ever composed or posted using university computers.

    Alternatively, you can dump a load of cyber-dung on my pseudonymous feathered head for merely suggesting that university-affiliated blogging could have negative consequences for others.

  18. #18 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 11, 2008

    I think it’s a fine idea to send Foley’s bodyguards to Minneapolis, since the convention is in St. Paul. He’ll be unprotected against my churlisness and nasty nods.

  19. #19 Jon H
    July 11, 2008

    I would suggest checking the university libraries for the work of Martin Luther. Not King, the German guy. Or maybe John Calvin.

    I bet they had some choice things to say about crackers.

  20. #20 Kristine
    July 11, 2008

    I hope Bill Donohue and the Blowhards turn this eucharist lick into a full-fledged rock opera at the Republican National Convention. They should bring communion wafers with Purple Hearts drawn on them. I’ll pretend to “convert,” consume one, and then barf it into Senator Craig’s toilet in the Mpls/St. Paul airport toilet. What will they do to me then? Take my boop-boop-be-doo away?

    Is this all that the Republicans have, besides “Barak Obama is a Middle Eastern, African-born, Muslim Arab atheist!”

    Desecrating someone’s body? Oh, that never happened in the Catholic church. No, never.

  21. #21 Jonathan Vos Post
    July 11, 2008

    I got in mild trouble in the early-mid-1970s when I printed a thousand or so copies of a flyer, about my qualifications for election as Town Councilman, on a state university’s computer. I did get elected, and delivered to my constituency everything that I promised. But there was an obscure rule about not using State equipment for political purpose, so I reimbursed the university computer center the $200 or so that I’d thought I’d saved over printing expenses.

    When I got elected as City Councilman in another city, another state, I kept receipts, for about 2,000 flyers, from the photocopying place. And then … Oh, it’s a long story. Jesus H. Christ! What’s the “H” stand for? HAPLOID. Sorry…

  22. #22 greg laden
    July 11, 2008

    Barn Owl: What you say may make sense, but I’ve never heard of anyone at the University of Minnesota hinting even in the most circumspect way that academic freedom or first amendment righrs or ;protection should be put aside for the sensibilities of donors, potential or actual. (none of this applies to athletics… I don’t get that site of it at all and would prefer not to comment)

    Stehanie: I’m guessing it was YOUR job to find the porn on the U’s site!

    Yes, as several have mentioned, this policy can’t actually work. for all, the reasons cited.

  23. #23 Stephanie Z
    July 11, 2008

    No, Greg, the person whose job it was blushes much more easily than I do. It’s kind of fun to watch him talk about it.

  24. #24 wazza
    July 11, 2008

    Well, Greg, it can work…

    but only if their internet doesn’t.

  25. #25 wazza
    July 11, 2008

    As one Bash.org quote has it:

    “I’m pretty sure that if they took all the porn off the internet there would be just one site left, and it would be called “Bring back the porn!””

  26. #26 Romeo Vitelli
    July 11, 2008

    “The trick, for Mr Donohue, wold be to make the link between the cracker and the Christ child.”

    No problem. All you have to do is say something like “Don’t say mean things about the cracker or the baby Jesus will cry”.


  27. #27 Alan Kellogg
    July 12, 2008

    Doesn’t Seed Media host scienceblogs.com?

  28. #28 Trinifar
    July 12, 2008

    I wrote to UM’s president in defense of PZ’s free speech, but then wrote this post http://trinifar.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/paul-myers-little-hypocriy/ as an act of personal hygiene.

  29. #29 Virgil Samms
    July 12, 2008

    Can’t I eventually reach almost any site on the internet from most large news sites?

    Why don’t you ask Kevin Bacon?

  30. #30 Virgil Samms
    July 12, 2008

    Jesus H. Christ! What’s the “H” stand for? HAPLOID.

    I heard it stands for Hussein.

  31. #31 joel_m
    July 12, 2008

    It stands for “Hell mother f&*k@n”

  32. #32 Virgil Samms
    July 12, 2008

    Professor solicits hosts to desecrate

    Mr. Wolter said the Web link was taken off the biology’s department’s page because “it was a violation of university Web policy” to link to personal sites without a “this does not represent university views” disclaimer. He said the content of Mr. Myers’s speech was not at issue.

    That should be simple to fix. I’m surprised PZ didn’t already have disclaimer like that.

  33. #33 greg laden
    July 12, 2008

    My guess is that PZ hacked the usual disclaimer off his site, or that Morris does not include it. Here at the Twin Cities, the disclaimer, in all it’s absurd obnoxosity, sits at the bottom of every page.

    Or, perhaps, a more close up and personal disclaimer is required with the link itself. In which case the University has done something very wrong by singling out PZ, unless I’m wrong in thinking that there are thousands of un-disclaimered links all across the UMN websites. If so, the University is now obliged to tell every single member of its community (including those on UThink blogs) to address this policy violation. Every. Single. One. Or, the administration officials who have done this are hypocrites. Tell me it ain’t so!

  34. #34 decrepitoldfool
    July 12, 2008

    John.H, Luther argued for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, against the other Protestant theologians who said it was just symbolic. Too bad, because when Luther got his dander up about something, he made PZ Myers look like a complete milquetoast.

  35. #35 zbart
    July 12, 2008

    “desecrate” a wafer = eternal burning at the stake in hell.

    Sodomize innocent children = move along nothing to see here.

  36. #36 Dr. Octoploid
    July 12, 2008

    I somehow doubt this rises to the level that would prompt drastic action by the university, but schools get very touchy if they think they’re going to offend donors (if we’d actually fund our public universities respectably maybe they wouldn’t…), and they can and do react to situations.

    I’d be surprised if UMN doesn’t have some clause in its professors’ contracts which allows them to give them the boot for basically “conduct unbefitting a university professor”. I was stunned to find such a big loophole, even for tenured faculty, in the last two universities I worked at, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s pretty standard. I know it’s been used in the past to get rid of professors.

    The other thing the university is fully capable of doing to tenured faculty is to make it essentially impossible for them to work. They can take away funds, lab space, students, even offices. How long do you think most people would put up with that?