Pharyngula

You just knew Matt Nisbet was itching to voice his opinion, and we all knew exactly what he’d say.

As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education. Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals.

If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support. Lay low and let others do the talking.

So Richard and PZ, when it comes to Expelled, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for science. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog.

Fuck you very much, Matt. You know where you can stick your advice.

I’m much more impressed by the fact that the Expelled crew is in damage-control mode and is beating a hasty retreat than the pontifications of a mealy-mouthed hack.

Comments

  1. #1 Marcus Ranum
    March 23, 2008

    Someone who’s such a great communicator that I’d never heard of him before I started reading this blog – thinks that the author of “the selfish gene” is not a good messenger for science?

    That’s just WTF city.

  2. #2 rmp
    March 23, 2008

    Having been involved with a legal argument now and then, the last thing you do is argue from a position of weakness. Being nice isn’t the point. Winning is the point. Sure, you don’t want to be jerk in casual conversation but when in an argument, win it.

    my $0.02

  3. #3 Brownian, OM
    March 23, 2008

    I agree completely with Nisbet and Mooney, except they don’t go far enough. Scientists need to stop publishing in academic journals and teaching courses in the universities. Let’s face it, no matter how you try to divorce these activities from the socio-political arena, they are unmistakably political in nature. (Doubters may consider the research by the Oppenheimer group in Los Alamos and its relationship to the outcome of WWII via its application in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.) The problem lies in the fact that scientists are not trained in communications and often have very little experience in explaining difficult concepts to large groups. Add the fact that the public’s general perception of scientists is that they are awkward and emotionally distant if not beset with a host other psychosocial disorders (witness the Simpsons’ Professor Frink), and you have a recipe for a communications disaster of unimaginable proportions.
    Still don’t believe Matt, Chris, and me? Consider this: the number of scientists in the world has been growing exponentially for the last half-millennium. Yet, so has the number of religious believers. In fact, if one looks at the raw numbers by sheer population one can safely conclude that we are living in the most religious period in the history of humanity. Can this be what science hath wrought?
    I could go on at length, but, like Matt and Chris, I fear more rational discussion in any form, on any subject, anywhere on Earth, past, present or in the future will only increase publicity for the producers of Expelled and earn Ben Stein more booty (definitely in woman form, possibly also in doubloon form). And as someone who loves science, I cannot in good conscience be part of that.
    So please, PZ, Dr. Dawkins, and all scientists, everywhere, stop publishing your papers and teaching your classes, sit down, and shut up. We heartily thank you for your commitment to progress over the last few centuries (the germ theory of disease has been especially useful), but you’re really just screwing everything up for everyone.
    Let’s let the communications experts take it from here.

  4. #4 Sue Laris
    March 23, 2008

    Matt should be more in the business of taking his own advice and shut up!

  5. #5 trrll
    March 23, 2008

    I think that evolutionary theory can and does stand alone independently of atheism. Like many scientists, I am pretty much indifferent to religion except when fundamentalist crackpots blow up a skyscraper or try to force schoolteachers to lie to kids about my profession.

    I do think that it is important to get out the message that one doesn’t have to abandon one’s religion (unless it is crackpot fundamentalism) to accept evolution. But that is not PZ’s responsibility, nor Dawkins’.

    We have a good chance of getting a woman or a black president in the next presidential election. Anybody want to guess how long it will be before we see an avowed atheist elected to high office? So if it makes it a harder sell for those of us who consider evolution to be a more important issue than atheism, well that’s just tough. I will not be the one to tell yet another oppressed minority, “Wait, stay in the closet, it’s not your time yet.”

  6. #6 Andrew
    March 23, 2008

    “You are a professor, not a 5 years old kid.”

    No but it sounds like you are.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 23, 2008

    Comments 2, 3 and 93 have saved my day! ROTFL! :-D

    Honestly, PZ, every time you resort to name calling and pointless swearing, you just make yourself look like a five year old throwing a tantrum. Disagree with someone, sure, but lame tactics like this really make me lose respect for you. Grow up.

    So you really agree that, when asked about his own experience, he should effectively tell reporters “I’m too embarrassed to comment myself, ask the NCSE instead”?!?

    Or are you only, like edt and bubuka, holding your ears and thinking “OMGWTFBBQ — oh noes!!! He said the F word!!!1! AAAAAAAARGH!”? Because in that case I wonder who’s the one who has the growing-up to do.

    What’s ironic is that PZ and Dawkins have more confidence and respect for the intelligence and reasonableness of human beings than Nisbet does. They also have more appreciation for science and truth.

    Nisbet is Malthus; PZ and Dawkins are Condorcet.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 23, 2008

    This has disappeared from PZ’s quote file, but I found it elsewhere on teh intartoobz:

    “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
    – H. L. Mencken

  9. #9 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 23, 2008

    This has disappeared from PZ’s quote file, but I found it elsewhere on teh intartoobz:

    “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
    – H. L. Mencken

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 23, 2008

    Congratulations, PZ! You have reached the German blogosphere. From WeiterGen (top and most German):

    Aus dem Film “Vertrieben” vertrieben zu werden, im Abspann aber noch dankend Erwähnung zu finden, ist in seiner bizarren Komik der Ausstrahlung von “Stirb langsam” an Karfreitag sicher ebenbürtig.

    “To be expelled from the movie ‘Expelled’ but be given a grateful mention in the credits is certainly equal in its bizarre comics to the broadcasting of ‘Die Hard’ on Good Friday.”

  11. #11 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 23, 2008

    I think Nisbet just wants more traffic.

    That and the satisfaction to sticking it to PZ and Dawkins for trying to opinionate on science and religion and instead ending up in a crockumentary.

    Luckily the crockumentary is an even better example of why Athletic Atheists? should energetically push on religion to step back from claims on science. So Nisbet needs to do some damage control for religion to divert this very fact.

    Notice how most of Nisbet’s “communicators” aren’t interested in science and science education as such but on the interface between science and religion, the very area that PZ and Dawkins wanted to discuss in the first place. Nisbet is erecting a catch-22 strawman.

    As I said earlier, I think there are two dynamics here.

    I think so too, but I happen to believe it is more complicated. In the short time scale the recruitment of theists to support science is helpful. On the long time scale the work to make an Overton window room for atheists will diminish recruitment towards religiosity. Both between theists and fundie theocrats, and between atheists and theists.

    I don’t think there is an ultimate conflict between the correlation between scientists and atheism on the one hand, and the goal of increasing knowledge in society. To make an analogy, always a risky business: it can be viewed as a self consistent state so more stable if achievable.

  12. #12 decrepitoldfool
    March 23, 2008

    Dr Benway: “I can’t believe I’m listening to grown-ups talking about appropriate use of the word “fuck.”

    I don’t know how valid it is, but Stephen Pinker has done considerable study of the evolutionary and neurological basis of profanity, and “fuck” in particular.

    It is my belief that some people are impacted far more strongly than others by specific profanities. A quirk of their upbringing? Something biological? Who the fuck knows? (Stephen Pinker, perhaps) I say fuck, with the idea of insulting them and slapping them with my glove, but they hear something entirely different that completely obscures the point I am trying to make. Anyway when communicating with such individuals, silly as it sounds, it might actually make sense to avoid profanities or stick to ones to which they have been desensitized by television.

  13. #13 Joe Blow
    March 23, 2008

    I use the term “cunt” in technical definition which is “a driver who double parks on busy city streets” and the usual reference to a fornicating vagina.

    I’ve never double-parked on a city street.

    Further more, using terms like “data point” only make you like smug little weasel. You might as well just say “Simpsons did it” because to the average reader of these posts, I afraid that’s who they picture when they read your writings.

    What does a long-defunct Canadian department store chain have to do with anything?

  14. #14 Stanton
    March 23, 2008

    If you’re so sure of your position, why are you acting as though you have something to hide?

    Because he wants to see exactly how many comments it will take for you to either get an aneurysm or develop varicose veins in your forehead.

  15. #15 rmp
    March 23, 2008

    OK, maybe it’s just me but I think we should focus on
    1) Matt Nesbit
    2) PZ’s right to drop the F bomb in the context of his own web site

    and NOT Joe.

  16. #16 Azkyroth
    March 23, 2008

    I have every right to observe what I see (or think I see).

    As I pointed out three posts ago, having the right to do something is irrelevant to whether choosing to do so is morally defensible.

    Since this particular piece of sloppy thinking/phrasing (as applicable) seems to function as a memetic plague that reduces the population’s resistance to the far deadlier meme of “people who criticize me are violating my rights!” I really wish that Freethinkers could commit to burying it with a stake through its heart.

  17. #17 Kevin Miller
    March 23, 2008

    Sounds like Matt hit pretty close to home, huh PZ? Ouch.

  18. #18 Jenny
    March 23, 2008

    Just as an aside: Whenever I see video footage of PZ (e.g., in the discussion with R. Dawkins on You Tube), he always seems like the nicest, calmest, most soft-spoken man…such a stark contrast to the vitriol in the comments section of his blog.

    That said…

    “Look at it this way: profanity is a form of sentence filler. Frequent use of sentence filler reveals a lack of vocabulary. A lack of vocabulary is indicative of a lack of education and/or intelligence.”

    Profanity is much more than that. Cursing can be extremely cathartic. It is also frequently used for emphasis.

    Joe, you are a damn bunghole! And now I, at least, feel much better.

    Get ‘em, PZ!

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    This thread is teh hawt.

    I like a lot of his stuff, and I agree with him on some of the framing issue. HOWEVER, this has me totally mystified. If anything screams “perfect framing”, it’s “Expelled participant expelled from a showing of Expelled”.

    Good point. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the concept of framing. But as people noted on this thread, Nisbet comes up empty on the original concept and its implementation. He looks like a concern troll.

    I too like a lot of Mooney. But a minor bitch here: Mooney 2008 supports Nisbet. While Mooney 2006 supported PZ’s type of actions. For some superfluous reason Mooney wants to claim he is consistent.

  20. #20 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 24, 2008

    The winner of this thread

    … and of many other threads. I like the fitness of this selected Quote too:

    To say that well, this kind of rationalization will make people accept more science than they do right now seems to me like a betrayal of the scientific enterprise itself. One accepts a theory because of the weight of the evidence in its favor: one should not accept a theory because it will provide you with a personal benefit.

  21. #21 Nick Gotts
    March 24, 2008

    I’ll pass on “rough men” with all their chest thumping and dick waiving
    Posted by: Jennifurret | March 23, 2008 5:05 PM

    I think it’s only male-to-female transsexuals who go in for “dick waiving”! I really think that phrase is worth copyrighting, Jennifurret.

  22. #22 Rey Fox
    March 24, 2008

    “As least Dick Dawkins has maintained a certain level of salon — which is why he was admitted to the screening.”

    Seriously, wasn’t Dawkins the horrible fire-breathing secular horror just a couple months ago? Why is he all the sudden being treated like the nice guy? You guys aren’t…flip-flopping, are you?

  23. #23 Matt Penfold
    March 24, 2008

    Has anyone noticed how Nisbett thinks the moderate theists he claims are put off by Dawkins, PZ et al must be really really stupid ?

    He assumes that they are unable to understand that a messenger may well have more than one message to get across. Both PZ and Dawkins are vocal atheists but are also vocal biologists speaking out not just against creationism but seeking to explain evolution and other aspects of biology to the public. Does Nisbett really think that only atheists buy Dawkins’ books on science ? And if Dawkins is such a turn off, why are so many religious people willing to work alongside him to stop creationism gaining a foothold in UK schools ?