The Island of Doubt

By now we’ve all seen the John McCain ad that juxtaposes Paris Hilton and Britney Spears with Barack Obama. Most of us probably recognize it as disingenuous use of imagery to make a flawed argument. Sadly, the same technique is being used by one of our own here on ScienceBlogs. The culprit is Matt “Framing Science” Nisbet. Take a look.

Matt is off on yet another crusade against the “new atheists” as represented by fellow SciBlogger PZ Myers. His post is full of nonsense, and I don’t say that lightly. But what really annoyed me is his choice of photographs to illustrate his point. At the top we have an out-of-focus, poorly-lit amateur, candid shot of PZ in a casual, party atmosphere. To illustrate what Matt says is the “other image of atheism,” one of tolerance and open-minded inquiry, Matt gives us a sharp, posed, professionally lit and framed shot by Angie McQuaig for National Public Radio’s web version of recent feature on a camp for secular humanist teens.

I have long disagreed with Matt on the subject of framing, but until now I have mostly valued his contributions to the conversation on how best to communicate science. He draws our attention to the uncomfortable polling results that make it clear whatever we’re doing now isn’t working when it comes to climate change, for example.

But this kind of juvenile attack on PZ ;;;; who can defend himself quite ably, so there’s no need for me to get into that ;;;; is beyond what should be the pale in this corner of the blogosphere. I call on him to apologize to the ScienceBlog community at large and promise to stick to honest debating tactics from now on.

Comments

  1. #1 Katharine
    August 10, 2008

    If they stick to honest debating tactics, their argument falls through. Which is why they use dishonest debating tactics.

    We PZ-supporters automatically win.

  2. #2 Tyson Koska
    August 10, 2008

    I don’t agree with his criticism of PZ (or new atheists generally)… but we certainly do need voices like his as well… there needs to be an array of tactics to get non-theological perspectives out there… as a slightly off topic comment/request, I’m hosting a survey on my blog to collect data about people’s use of religious labels — and I’d really sure appreciate your input! Thanks in advance. http://truthisawoman.wordpress.com/2008/08/09/religious-labels-an-online-poll-please-help/

  3. #3 J-Dog
    August 10, 2008

    Excellent post and point. It looks to me like Nesbit wants the terrorists like McCain and Bush to win. And that’s not change we can belive in.

  4. #4 Pierce R. Butler
    August 10, 2008

    What a limited and inadequate framing!

    Give Nisbet a little more time, and he’ll be the Karl Rove of ScienceBlogs…

  5. #5 Matt Nisbet
    August 10, 2008

    Jim,
    If you do a google image search “PZ Myers,” it’s the first photo that comes up. So it’s not as if I went digging around for the worst photo I could find!

    Also, in featuring PZ in his favorite scarlet letter “A” t-shirt, I think the photo makes a point, one that I have argued in the past and in this particular blog post:

    Identity politics are not going to get us very far, either in boosting the image of atheists or in engaging the public on areas of science that we care about. Walking around in black T-shirts and ridiculing the religious might be fun (for some), but in the process we are just reinforcing a bunch of nasty stereotypes about atheists while further alienating the moderately religious.

  6. #6 pough
    August 10, 2008

    Walking around in black T-shirts…

    Did you just seriously say that? What an odd thing to say.

  7. #7 iRobot
    August 10, 2008

    I love black tee-shirts with funny or odd things on them. Whats wrong with that? Do people who believe in god not wear black tee shirts or ever look faintly silly in a photo. I read the post and it did really remind me of Karl Rove. Will the next post say that the new atheists look vaguely french or windsurf?

  8. #8 Scott Simmons
    August 10, 2008

    “If you do a google image search ‘PZ Myers,’ it’s the first photo that comes up. So it’s not as if I went digging around for the worst photo I could find!”

    You sure? It doesn’t even show up on the first page for me …

  9. #9 Scott Simmons
    August 10, 2008

    Oh, no, there it is, at #5.

    Original source is Coturnix’s blog, at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2007/08/science_foo_camp_friday.php … Just for some context.

  10. #10 gillt
    August 10, 2008

    Matt’s correct about the image being a firstie on google images. But the only message that sends is that Matt is lazy, sloppy and also innocent of the charges. Based on the framing strategy of preparedness, picking that photo for maximal discredit was obviously a calculated decision on his part.

  11. #11 Aerik
    August 10, 2008

    Is anybody else imused at Matt’s image of himself with the audience looking bored to death and he looks like his ass is tighter than a snare drum?

  12. #12 Susannah
    August 10, 2008

    I googled “PZ Myers”. The first one that came up for me was this one. And very handsome he looks, in a suit and all.

    I won’t say Nisbet is lying, but I do wonder how many times he tried before Google co-operated.

  13. #13 OmegaMom
    August 10, 2008

    Like Susannah, the first result for me was PZ in a suit. (Ah! Solved it–when one searches on PZ Myers without quotes, the one shown is first result; when one searches on PZ Myers *with* quotes, the suit comes up first.) What I’m curious about is why bother Googling for an image, when there’s a perfectly good one available at the Pharyngula blog? All rather disingenuous, IMO.

  14. #14 Janne
    August 10, 2008

    So our framer managed to reframe his own intellectual dishonesty into one of Google image search performance. Which of course is exactly the kind political slimeball tactics that honest people loathe about Nisbet and his cronies.

  15. #15 reboho
    August 11, 2008

    If you do a google image search “PZ Myers,” it’s the first photo that comes up. So it’s not as if I went digging around for the worst photo I could find!

    What he meant to say is that it was the first “worst photo” that comes up.

  16. #16 Feynmaniac
    August 11, 2008

    Yeah I like how he was saying atheists need to be more respectful of their opponents and then posts the most unflattering picture of PZ.

    Nisbet seems to think that a major source of atheists’ so called ‘image problem’ stems from atheist themselves. In reality the major religions have been doing everything they can for centuries to make atheists look bad. Does he honestly think if atheist just sit quietly and try their best not to offend anyone at all that Catholic magazines will write kindly about us?

    “Walking around in black T-shirts and ridiculing the religious might be fun….”

    What’s wrong with wearing a black t-shirt? Is wearing them bad PR?

  17. #17 Pierce R. Butler
    August 11, 2008

    pough, iRobot, & Feynmaniac – Black t-shirts may be acceptable up thar in Yankee country, but down here in the deep South they represent extreme thermal masochism, or a totally indoors lifestyle.

    Possibly in Nisbet’s mind they represent Mussolini-casual.

    Does anybody besides me find it odd that Nisbet has posted (partial) replies to his critics here and at Greg Laden’s blog, but none whatsoever at “Framing Science”? (Maybe, like so many other comments there, his responses have been blocked indefinitely for moderation? It’s clearly no place to attempt a conversation.)

  18. #18 debaser71
    August 11, 2008

    “we are just reinforcing a bunch of nasty stereotypes about atheists while further alienating the moderately religious.”

    JUST? Really that’s all? JUST that? Not anything else? Only just that?

  19. #19 ponderingfool
    August 12, 2008

    Where is the actual data showing Myers and Dawkins are overall making things worse for atheists? Worse for science? Where is the data? I have not seen any.

    Another question, does Nisbet really think the best view for science or atheism should be an overly dressed guy who is boring tween girls? Doesn’t that play into negative stereotypes? Comes across to me as elitist, pompous and boring. Not exactly good. At the very least Paul Myers looks like an average working class person and not an elite.

  20. #20 Max Verret
    August 13, 2008

    I saw the two contrasting images of atheism. Perhaps Nisbet was drawing a parallel between traditional atheism which is sophistocated and demure – or passive if that appeals to you more – and the New Atheism which is more rabid or active. So, he contrasts the old atheism which was CLEAR but non-intrusive with the New Atheism which has a fuzzier more ambiguous kind of in-your-face type of character. The New Atheism speaks of a wish to dialogue but they’re interested only in their own position. The traditional atheism would have genuinely welcomed a disputation along the apologic lines of someone like Plantinga or PZ Philips.

  21. #21 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 14, 2008

    Tyson Koska: but we certainly do need voices like his as well

    We need more whiney self-promotion at the expense of more accomplished and better-known individuals? I personally feel no need for more of that.

    MN: Walking around in black T-shirts and ridiculing the religious might be fun (for some), but in the process we are just reinforcing a bunch of nasty stereotypes

    Ooh, black shirts; how morbid. I like it! Maybe we could set them off with white collars, and wear death/torture symbols around our necks. That wouldn’t be reinforcing the stereotype too much, would it?

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