Pharyngula

There is such a thing as bad satire

Roger Ebert has revealed the purpose behind the peculiar creationist Q&A he posted the other day. I had suggested it was either poorly done satire or his site had been hacked. Ebert has now confessed that it was poorly done satire.

He didn’t say it was poorly done, of course. He says he was trying to show that people have lost their ability to detect satire, that we’re unable to sense the ‘invisible quotation marks’ that surround such exercises, in the absence of overt declarations that it is satirical.

To sense the irony, you have to sense the invisible quotation marks. I suspect quotation marks may be growing imperceptible to us. We may be leaving an age of irony and entering an age of credulity. In a time of shortened attention spans and instant gratification, trained by web surfing and movies with an average shot length of seconds, we absorb rather than contemplate. We want to gobble all the food on the plate, instead of considering each bite. We accept rather than select.

There is a little truth to that — one of the things I really deplore about internet communications, for instance, is the use of those ghastly little smilies. It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.

But I also think Ebert is fundamentally wrong. He’s trying to place the fault on the reader, and I think there’s a serious flaw in his thinking there. One indicator of his error is that he compares what he had done to Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Were there invisible quotation marks about my Creationism article? Of course there were. How could you be expected to see them? In a sense, I didn’t want you to. I wrote it straight. The quotation marks would have been supplied by the instincts of the ironic reader. The classic model is Jonathan Swift’s famous essay, “A Modest Proposal.” I remember Miss Seward at Urbana High School, telling us to read it in class and note the exact word at which Swift’s actual purpose became clear. None of us had ever heard of it, and she didn’t use a giveaway word like “satire.” Yet not a single person in the class concluded that Swift was seriously proposing that the starving Irish eat their babies. We all got it.

Correct. We got it, because no one anywhere else was seriously proposing cannibalism. It was shocking, unbelievable, and there were plenty of clues, as Ebert explains, that the proponent of such an odious plan could not be serious.

But Ebert is no Jonathan Swift. Imagine if, in 1729, there had been a number of letters to the editor by various authors proposing that Irish children be exterminated and eaten. Imagine that laws of that nature were being seriously debated in Parliament, and that one of the parties had made it a part of their platform. While the laws were being regularly defeated, opponents still had to stand up and seriously debate why it was unethical to eat babies. Imagine that a candidate for prime minister actually solemnly suggested that we ought to at least consider the merits of eating Irish children.

In that context, Swift’s essay would have fallen flat as a cowflop dropped from the Tower of London. His efforts to use straight-faced absurdity and hyperbole and satire to expose the lesser injustices of the time would not have succeeded at all. The invisible quotation marks would be undetectable, because there would have been a substantial background of equivalent proposals given in absolute seriousness.

That’s Ebert’s mistake. He presented a plain statement of creationist beliefs with satirical intent, but that intent cannot possibly be seen in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity. Does Ken Ham have invisible quotation marks around the AiG Statement of Faith? No. Was the Wedge Document an amusing practical joke by the Discovery Institute? No. Is Sarah Palin pulling the entire nation’s leg when she attends her speaking-in-tongues, young-earth-creationist, End-Times-worshipping church? I wish.

Irony is dying, but it’s not because evolutionists have lost their ability to sense it, or have become too shallow and unwilling to think deeply. It’s because we’re dealing every day with other people who proffer ‘modest proposals’ that are ludicrous and absurd and unbelievable, yet people do believe in them. I knew enough about Roger Ebert to trust that he hadn’t written it in seriousness, but I’m afraid it was still poorly done. He seems not to have noticed that there are elements of the culture at large that have surpassed the obvious inanity of his essay, and that tossing out one more modest proposal among a multitude would have nothing to make it stand out as illustrative and noticeable.

Ebert is clearly smart enough to understand the correct scientific idea of evolution. His exercise, though, reveals that he’s really out of touch on the nature of creationist belief — he seems to think it is sufficient to state it to see the fallacies, without recognizing that creationists say these same things every day, and accept them as a matter of fact. He tries to credit creationists with being more canny than evolutionists, when they simply could not see anything exceptional about Ebert’s statements at all.

Maybe we need to rename Poe’s Law to Ebert’s Fallacy.

Comments

  1. #1 Quiet Desperation
    September 23, 2008

    I’d say you are being too hard on him, but Ebert evaporated two hours of my life when I rented Center of The World based on his recommendation. Burn, Ebert, burn!

  2. #2 Jason
    September 23, 2008

    Haha, yeah, who is this Poe guy anyway? What did he do to get a whole internet law named after him. (Then again, its the internet, so it doesn’t really matter)

  3. #3 tmtoulouse
    September 23, 2008

    This “poe guy” is Nathan Poe, from an internet forum. Check out Poe’s law for its history.

  4. #4 divalent
    September 23, 2008

    Or, perhaps Ebert is just not steeped in the creationist battles and literature enough to know that (unlike most of the regular readers here) what he wrote was so close to what the creationist really believe. It’s a core concern for many here, but I doubt it is for him.

    And it is even less likely that the average American is aware of the specific claims of the hard YEC “background”. So while it may not have worked for you, it’s very likely that it did for a majority of his readers.

  5. #5 clinteas
    September 23, 2008

    I thought the same thing yesterday when I read his post,but you said it much better,PZ.

    These Creationist claims may look like satire to a Martian coming to visit who is exposed to the insanity for the first time,but to anyone who is familiar with these people,this was just a statement of common creo claims,and not satire at all.

    Then again,there is a reason there is such a thing as Poe’s Law,and certainly this :
    //We may be leaving an age of irony and entering an age of credulity//
    is something we can see right here on Pharyngula every day.But it has to do with people’s increasing lack of education and knowledge,and their religious delusions.

  6. #6 Kome
    September 23, 2008

    Meh. This doesn’t strike me as anything more than a type of Sokal Affair that happened to show that we’re as capable of being just as human, which in part means being flawed and sometimes taking things a little too seriously, as anyone/everyone else.

    C’mon people. Most of you noticed there were satirical elements to the page. The moose bit alone was enough. But many of us kept carrying on about it, and now it’s time to eat a little crow. It doesn’t mean we’re more gullible than creationists, it just means we’re human. Sometimes that means being made to look a little foolish. Own up to it, laugh it off, and go on with life.

  7. #7 Kel
    September 23, 2008

    Surely it wasn’t that badly done, that bit about Neanderthal Man was the giveaway – for me at least. But you are right PZ, the reason it’s not so obvious is that there are loons who preach this material on a daily basis. When the Tyrannosaurus frolicked gayly through the garden of eden eating only plants is considered a staple of their beliefs, there’s no way to up the ante in order to satirise it.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    September 23, 2008

    The moose was not sufficient, I’m afraid. Read about PYGMIES + DWARFS to see what I mean — the moose bit was unimaginative and petty compared to what real creationists actually say.

    But like I said, I didn’t think Ebert had suddenly become a creationist. The choices were that he’d been hacked or that he’d tried some unconvincing satire.

  9. #9 scooter
    September 23, 2008

    I think you are correct in giving Ebert a C- on his satire paper. It doesn’t deviate far enough from the Creo mainstream to be ridicule the intended victim.

    Ebert’s parody was fairly mainstream, not as weird as Ken Ham or Hovind and downright rational compared to VenomFangX.

    HOWEVER, as a practical joke, I give him an A, I’m still laughing. He sure got the wheels spinnin over here

    BWAHAHAHAHAAAAAA Go Roger
    over and out

  10. #10 Escuerd
    September 23, 2008

    I wonder whether there’s a tendency for sarcasm to be less detectable to the scientifically minded. It is for me (though I’m conscious of it, and was pretty certain that what Ebert wrote was satire).

    At my university (where everyone primarily studies math, science or engineering), all admitted students must take a preliminary writing exam before they can take humanities courses. When I was admitted, there were several articles provided, and we had to choose some subset of them to rebut or to support.

    I chose to rebut the one I found most egregiously wrong. It was written by a professor ostensibly extolling the virtues of running a school like a business that was merely selling a product. Of course, it was satire, and the reason it fooled me was much like the one you cite. I knew people who would explicitly made arguments of the same form. I didn’t discover it was satire until a few months later when a professor who’d been among those reviewing it revealed in passing that somewhere between one third and one half of the freshman class had written on this essay without seeing the sarcasm.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that scientists tend to be more forthright, and to expect more forthrightness in their communications than people in general, though I have no data to determine whether this is actually the case.

  11. #11 travc
    September 23, 2008

    Seriously good point about our being in contact with so many insane people that Poe’s law is getting more and more generally applicable.

    Emoticons serve a very useful purpose though. So you can take your dislike of smilies and shove it you old fart :p

  12. #12 Grumpy
    September 23, 2008

    …the moose bit was unimaginative and petty compared to what real creationists actually say.

    The moose bit was about on par with “the banana fits perfectly in the human hand.” As it is, the punchline was the only Ebert-esque line in the whole piece, which made me doubt it was a third-party spoof.

  13. #13 PZ Myers
    September 23, 2008

    Another irritation: Ebert dismisses the evolutionist response by claiming that many of us were claiming he had converted to creationism. We had 131 comments on the subject here: not one made that claim. Most saw it as satire. A large minority thought it was a hack.

    100% failed to see it as a sign that Ebert was actually a creationist. I think he was setting up a straw man there.

  14. #14 Kome
    September 23, 2008

    Ok, perhaps the moose joke wasn’t enough. Either way, I think this is just one of those times where we collectively roll our eyes and then take a moment to just relax. This piece by Ebert basically says that creationists views are so nonsensical that posting them straight up should be a clue not to take the person espousing them seriously.

    Yes, we’re all exasperated when the creationist goon squad tries to turn every instance of a science teacher actually teaching science to his/her class into a federal case. Of course we’re all sick and tired of the super-religious nuts in this country trying to destroy solid, honest education in favor of superstitious barbarism. But Ebert just publicly said that creationists beliefs are too absurd to take seriously. Isn’t that what we want? More people to stand up and say, “These beliefs are stupid! How could anyone be this ignorant?”

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it was particularly good satire, but I don’t think it was particularly bad either. Of course, I am perhaps a little too laid back about a lot of things so I may be in error.

  15. #15 charley
    September 23, 2008

    Two reasons this fails as satire for me: 1) The object of his satire is more ridiculous than the satire itself, 2) The war on science is getting too successful to be funny. For an example of both, here’s a photo blog of young earth creationist raft trip through the Grand Canyon.

    http://deltackett.com
    (scroll down)

    It would be funnier if this guy wasn’t funded by Focus on the Family and blanketing the world with slickly produced anti-science classes and DVD’s.

  16. #16 Kel
    September 23, 2008

    I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that scientists tend to be more forthright, and to expect more forthrightness in their communications than people in general, though I have no data to determine whether this is actually the case.

    Maybe. Maybe though it’s just society in general; we are now exposed to more batshit insane ideas than ever before at a faster rate than ever before. Instant global communication and a sensationalist media have affected our ability to detect satire. Subtlety seems to be the concept that is dying; irony is still alive and well – provided you make it obvious. :P

  17. #17 chuko
    September 23, 2008

    Another thing that bugs me about this is that his argument depends on one knowing something about him. Kirk Cameron could’ve written the same thing in all seriousness. I guess PZ did, but I wouldn’t’ve been able to tell you Roger Ebert’s stance on evolution, or even his general political and religious leanings.

  18. #18 Macron
    September 23, 2008

    Ebert should look up FSM if he wants to see creationist satire.

  19. #19 Mus
    September 23, 2008

    PZ on emoticons:It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.

    Sorry, PZ, but you’re wrong :-P. Emoticons are a couple of different things.

    1) They are an admission that humans express a whole plethora of different subtle things with expressions. A :) can mean any number of a very large array of things

    2) They are the simplest and most efficient way to communicate certain things. For example, those three little characters, the :-P above, completely change the meaning of the whole post. By typing :-P, I am communicating a lot of things which would require dozens of words to fully express, and I am doing so in a very efficient way.

    3) They convey certain things which you COULD express with words, but which would lose their meaning or which would become tiring had they been written in words. The “I’m joking, I hope you do not think I am an arrogant fool by saying you are wrong like that” meaning embedded in the :-P above would simply sound stupid had I actually written it instead of having used the emoticon.

    4) They convey certain things which you can’t really express with words very well. Sometimes words ARE insufficient and crude. They may have a certain denotation, but some word’s connotations simply cannot replace an actual facial expression. Of course, neither can smileys, but they come a little closer. Words can SOMETIMES lack the human aspect to them.

    Using smileys IS a form of communication, just like using words is. Thinking of smileys as a type of word is not at all far from the truth, because both are meant to do the same thing. Using both is not always easy, and well-used smileys can be just as useful and effective as using words (assuming the words are also well-used of course).

  20. #20 chuko
    September 23, 2008

    You could say that irony (and subtlety, and humor) depend on shared context. On the internet, we have less shared context because we’re communicating with a more diverse cross-section of people, necessitating more direct communication.

    I don’t think that we’re becoming less subtle or less sophisticated in our reading comprehension due to the internet; we’re just having to adjust ourselves to our audience in a slightly different way than has been necessary before.

  21. #21 Brian X
    September 23, 2008

    I thought I’d typed this in the previous thread, but evidently not. My benchmark for bad satire has to be the song “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas — intended as a satire of misogynistic and materialistic hip-hop, its deeply unsexy depictions of sex and somewhat forced slang combined with Fergie’s pathetically lightweight delivery made it the song that took the formerly hip Peas and relegated them to the side show. (How Fergie has a solo career after that fiasco, I’ll never know.)

    It’s one of the few songs I’ve ever heard where the most devastating possible commentary was itself, or more accurately Alanis Morrissette’s dead-serious, word-for-word cover (video and all). The Alanis version was quite possibly one of the funniest singles released at any time in 1997.

  22. #22 Brian X
    September 23, 2008

    Yeah, let’s try that again. One of the funniest singles of 2007. In 1997 she was probably recording Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and getting naked on a subway train with Stephane Sednaoui.

  23. #23 Rey Fox
    September 23, 2008

    There was a piece I read on MSNBC, I think, about how Sarah Palin might be better qualified for the Supreme Court than the executive branch of the government. There were a couple things that could have served as flags that the article was satire, but it was hard to tell. I was wishing like hell that it was satire, but even if it was, I knew that most of the people who read it would not pick up on the satire and would wither think the author had lost his/her mind, or else would actually agree with the author (which would be too scary to contemplate).

    There very much IS such a thing as being too subtle. A large part of it is knowing your audience, and the trouble with the internet is that anyone could be your audience with very little effort.

    And of course, as is one of my big pet peeves, the “it was a joke” defense is NOT bulletproof.

  24. #24 zaardvark
    September 23, 2008

    :|

    :O

    :D!

  25. #25 Benjamin Geiger
    September 23, 2008

    PZ’s been tweeting up a storm. For instance:

    @Ihnatko No, there’s a good reason creationists did not succumb <http://tinyurl.com/4zcpfv&gt; Ebert overstated his talent for satire.

    I responded:

    @pzmyers To be fair, Ebert would have to out-crazy Gene Ray to successfully satirize. It can’t be done. Hence Poe’s Law.

    and PZ replied:

    @benjamingeiger Exactly. And Ebert was unaware of Poe’s law, which says that he was unaware that we routinely deal with the issue.

    I would continue on Twitter, but my response won’t fit into 140 characters.

    My interpretation is along the lines of other posters here: apparently, Ebert thought the creationist bit was self-satirizing. (It really should be.) Creationists don’t make their points as obvious to the general public as they do here. Sorta like Republicans: they don’t come out and say what they’re about, because they know they’d sound like a bunch of morons. Ebert just said it explicitly and got the “what the crap are you on?” response the creationists should be getting.

    P.S. In my Toastmasters meeting tonight, there was a speech titled “Yes, There Is a God”. Among other fallacies, it included Hoyle’s 747 and Pascal’s Wager, along with the old “some would dismiss it as coincidence, but” bit. It took every ounce of my self-restraint to deliver the speech I had planned instead of an impromptu rebuttal; the speech was a rebuttal of sorts to my last two speeches.

    P.P.S. PZ acknowledged me personally! By name! *squee*

    P.P.P.S. Could someone convince Sb to change their comment code to not change entities into their respective characters on preview? < becomes <, and a preview-then-post posts something different than previewed.

  26. #26 Benjamin Geiger
    September 23, 2008

    Continued after the blogging software ate my previous:

    … &lt; becomes <, and preview-then-post posts something different than previewed. It’s annoying.

  27. #27 CalGeorge
    September 23, 2008

    Ebert on The Passion of the Christ:

    “Gibson has communicated his idea with a singleminded urgency. Many will disagree. Some will agree, but be horrified by the graphic treatment. I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be, but I can respond to the power of belief whether I agree or not, and when I find it in a film, I must respect it.”

    http://www.adherents.com/people/pe/Roger_Ebert.html

    Many movie reviews are an insult to the intelligence. I expected better from a movie reviewer like Ebert.

  28. #28 llewelly
    September 23, 2008

    If it weren’t for the preponderance people who seriously believe in the coconut-eating T-Rex, PYGMIES+DWARVES, a 6000-yr-old earth, and so forth, I think most of us would have found Ebert’s satire to be quite funny. It failed only because reality is even crazier.

  29. #29 Benjamin Geiger
    September 23, 2008

    CalGeorge: I disagree. Ebert is making a reasonable point there. Just because it’s unadorned bullshit doesn’t mean it’s not powerful unadorned bullshit. Even though the movie is almost entirely false, if you believe the falsehood, it’s incredibly powerful.

    Ebert knew his audience for that review. He knew that holy rollers would see it and not care what anyone said, and that antitheists would avoid it like an ebola-ridden warthog. The majority of the remainder are “Sunday morning Christians”. He had to put himself in those shoes, and he did so fairly well.

  30. #30 robotaholic
    September 23, 2008

    Is Sarah Palin pulling the entire nation’s leg when she attends her speaking-in-tongues, young-earth-creationist, End-Times-worshipping church? I wish.

    she can go to any church she wants to-or not go to…what’s your problem?

  31. #31 Benjamin Geiger
    September 23, 2008

    llewelly: That’s basically my point. Most people don’t interact with the six-thousand-year-old-earth crowd as often as we do here. Few would realize how common they are. Unless you’re dressed differently or speak a different language, people tend to assume you’re a “Sunday morning Christian”.

  32. #32 john
    September 23, 2008

    Ebert wan’t as clear in his satire as Swift was. It brings to mind a quote from Red Dwarf…”almost Swiftian in its rapier like sutelty.”

  33. #33 I am so wise
    September 24, 2008

    “In a time of shortened attention spans and instant gratification, trained by web surfing and movies with an average shot length of seconds, we absorb rather than contemplate. We want to gobble all the food on the plate, instead of considering each bite. We accept rather than select.”

    Is there any evidence of this? This sounds like BS nostalgia, like Ebert is pining for a time that exist only in the heads of him and his fellow Republicans.

  34. #34 Max
    September 24, 2008

    I’m sorry PZ, but you’re way off on this. For those who read carefully it was clearly satire (there were dead give-aways in the text). This reminds me of the Dawkins rap situation where a disturbingly large number of people could not see which side was being mocked, Poe’s law notwithstanding. Just because you didn’t get it doesn’t mean it was a bad joke.

  35. #35 daveb
    September 24, 2008

    While the debate rages over whether Ebert’s moose question was discernably tongue-in-cheek (it was), did anyone notice the very first line of his Q&A?

    “Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:”

    That’s sarcasm. It’s really, really obvious sarcasm. I don’t think anyone should feel badly if they missed it, but it’s interesting that so many people did. Ebert may have a point about missing the invisible quotation marks.

  36. #36 Patricia
    September 24, 2008

    Aw, come on PZ! Don’t be such a grumpy lovable fuzzball. Emoticons are fun. So are *rolls eyes*, *jazz hands*, *SMOOCH*, etc. not everyone is a Balzac or Cervantes. And what about wOO+? A day without boobies would be a poor day indeed.

  37. #37 Geral
    September 24, 2008

    I agree with PZ on this one. In an ideal world or maybe even in a university setting, all of us would instantly recognize the satire. This, however, is the internet and not an ideal world.

    We’ve all heard outrageous claims in person and on the internet, and so nothing surprises me any more.

    Ebert came off old fashioned on this one. I don’t think he gets it.

  38. #38 Norman Doering
    September 24, 2008

    PZ said:

    He presented a plain statement of creationist beliefs with satirical intent, but that intent cannot possibly be scene in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity. Does Ken Ham have invisible quotation marks around the AiG Statement of Faith? No. Was the Wedge Document an amusing practical joke by the Discovery Institute? No. Is Sarah Palin pulling the entire nation’s leg when she attends her speaking-in-tongues, young-earth-creationist, End-Times-worshipping church? I wish.

    And that’s what killed satire. If we didn’t know those things were real we’d find them amusingly crazy.

    I ran into the same problem when I thought Tristan J. Shuddery was for real:

    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/07/blogospheres-most-pathetic-excuse-for.html

  39. #39 AlanWCan
    September 24, 2008

    Posted by: Kome | September 23, 2008 10:27 PM
    Meh. This doesn’t strike me as anything more than a type of Sokal Affair that happened to show that we’re as capable of being just as human, which in part means being flawed and sometimes taking things a little too seriously, as anyone/everyone else.

    Funny you should mention that; I though the same thing but the other way around. it needs to be posted on some creationist sites, maybe put forward in some meetings or whatever the hell they have and see if they accept it. My guess is that it wouldn’t raise a blip on AiG or uncommon stupidity.

  40. #40 HP
    September 24, 2008

    I place Roger Ebert in the same category as Christopher Hitchens — an absolutely brilliant writer, seemingly on the side of reason, who is none the less a thoroughly crappy thinker.

    Have you ever read Ebert’s “classic” review of I Spit on Your Grave? Have you ever seen the film? Not only doesn’t he “get” creationism, he doesn’t get cinema.

  41. #41 Dahan
    September 24, 2008

    One of the things I believe as an educator is that when there is a problem with communication, the blame almost always rests with the person who is the communicator. If you are trying to impart wisdom, or knowledge, or trying to make a point, you are responsible for making sure that your audience gets what you’re saying.
    I’m, reminded of Julia Sweeney’s comment on Christ “Stop preaching in parables. Even your staff doesn’t get them.”
    Seems like Roger failed and is trying to ignore this fact.

  42. #42 Dave M
    September 24, 2008

    Sorry PZ and anyone else who didn’t catch it right away, but the fault DOES lie with you. GOOD satire like “A Modest Proposal” is delivered 100% dead pan and in a manner that is almost believable.

    You fell for it because you didn’t pay attention, you didn’t realize that Ebert had JUST ripped Palin apart recently in an editorial. You didn’t realize that Ebert has been noted in the past as an atheist.

    Sorry PZ, in this case, you are wrong.

  43. #43 Feynmaniac
    September 24, 2008

    Really? No one who criticized Ebert’s satire and has made use of ‘thumbs down’ yet?

  44. #44 Dave M
    September 24, 2008

    Oh and if you want to quibble over the quality of the satire, no obviously it’s not as good as Swift.

    But for it to be more tongue in cheek and less deadpan would have meant it would become parody and not satire. You have to consider the source.

  45. #45 danny salamander
    September 24, 2008

    yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.

  46. #46 windy
    September 24, 2008

    Or, perhaps Ebert is just not steeped in the creationist battles and literature enough to know that (unlike most of the regular readers here) what he wrote was so close to what the creationist really believe. It’s a core concern for many here, but I doubt it is for him.

    And it is even less likely that the average American is aware of the specific claims of the hard YEC “background”. So while it may not have worked for you, it’s very likely that it did for a majority of his readers.

    I agree with you. It’s a bit like a Randy Olson movie ;) <- self-conscious meta-smiley

    I think much of this discussion on bad/good satire is missing the point a bit – if a mainstream figure like Ebert tries his hand at mocking creationism, I think we semi-pros should try to offer more constructive criticism than “boo, your satire was bad”. Keep at it, Roger!

  47. #47 BMcP
    September 24, 2008

    It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required.

    I feel the same way with people writing posts peppered with four letter words (Crude words though instead of crude labels). I see such language as the writer’s inability to get their point across without having to fall back upon crude slang to express themselves.

  48. #48 Jams
    September 24, 2008

    Nothing exceeds the raw power of satire to flop.

  49. #49 Dahan
    September 24, 2008

    Dave M,
    Sorry, gotta disagree. Please see post 41. I’m an artist/designer. I know a bit about communicating you ideas to others. I read and hear a lot of bullshit from bad artists, designers, and writers who say things like “Oh, they just don’t get it because they aren’t educated enough in this.”
    Well, yeah. That’s true, but it doesn’t take away from a very basic fact. You didn’t take your audience into consideration and now there’s confusion and uncertainty. Who’s fault is that? Yep, it’s at your feet.
    In this case, Ebert blew it. That’s fine, we all do. Not even the great PZ does a good job of communicating to us his intentions and beliefs sometimes. Ebert needs to have the balls to go ahead and say “Yeah, I didn’t pull that off very well.” That’s what the best do. That’s when you know your admiration is probably justified. Anything else smacks of an ego that needs to get slapped back in place.

  50. #50 RamblinDude
    September 24, 2008

    After reading Ebert’s explanation, I, too, feel annoyed. Sorry Roger, but in the context of the times the “satire”… heh… wasn’t very effective.

    He’s right, of course, that the problem is “growing credulity.” Yes, that is exactly the problem, but he’s targeting the wrong people with the failing, which is exactly why he doesn’t understand why his attempt was lame. (And I see he admits he didn’t know of Poe’s Law…which is ironic.)

    However, did he serve a useful purpose in writing it? I don’t know. He’s famous enough that the intertubes are buzzing with it, and he has admitted he’s on the side of science.
    Perhaps, at least, he will gain a better understanding of the problem and do a better job next time.

  51. #51 Alan
    September 24, 2008

    Gotta agree with PZ here — in order to function as satire, a work must take an idea and carry it to extremes in order to mock the proponents of the original idea. The idea contained in Ebert’s satire, on the other hand, barely scratched the surface of what creationists and other fundies believe.

    I’m reminded of the recent controversial New Yorker cover which depicted Barack Obama as a muslim radical and Michele Obama as a gun-toting Black Panther. The satire defense failed there too because understanding that the piece was meant satirically required the reader to make assumptions about the New Yorker’s politics. No one would have batted an eye had that cartoon been circulated among conservative websites or even been a cover for the National Review or appeared in the Washington Times, because those sources were already saying much worse things about the Obamas.

  52. #52 Sigmund
    September 24, 2008

    Compared to real creationist thinking – involving a coconut eating vegetarian Tyrannosaurus who played with Adam and Eves children a few thousand years ago – Eberts effort looked practically reasonable. While I enjoy shades of subtlety in writing satirizing creationists directly is one of those tasks requiring a more sledgehammer approach.
    I forgave him all, however, when I read his moving words on ‘La Dolce Vita’ in the previous essay.

  53. #53 Numad
    September 24, 2008

    Pulling out Swift when defending the satirical intent of a piece (when the intent isn’t apparent, no matter if it was actually there or not) seems to be very common.

  54. #54 bill the big rockin drummer
    September 24, 2008

    I didn’t catch the satire for the same reason as PZ but i feel that this is a good thing. He probably lured in a bunch of ass hat creationists, got them goin’ thinking he was a fellow whack nut, and then sucker punched them with the joke. while it may have been bad satire for the reason PZ mentioned(To close to the real nutters) I think its a great practical joke. He has been around for a while and is basically making a living dispensing opinion and for him to say he is a believer in this fallacy, and then pull back and say just joking i’m not an idiot is great. I Laughed good and hard imagining the reaction of YEC, how many post’s do you think were made pointing to this. they were probably sittinng around all happy about their new champion and now they are probably demanding his head i a sack( no thats not right they probably would be asking for a punishment found in the bible, and i don’t remember any heads in a sack in the bible)

  55. #55 Mr Doubt(hell)fire
    September 24, 2008

    I think the best self-parody ever is Phil Phillips and his ‘Turmoil in the Toybox’. When you can see him talking with Gary Greenwald about how Scooby Doo and Voltron have occultic influences with a deadly serious face, without a single smile, you really, really have to work at getting more insane than them.

    My favorite non-profit satire is Blogs 4 Brownback. I still want to find out who was behind that, even though it started to become crude once Brownback dropped out. The concept alone is absolutely brilliant. (Calvinists 4 Conservatism, the continuation, has its good moments and its bad.)

    For a terrible satire, I suggest that you go to liberalsmustdie.com. The person just generally acts like a complete redneck, and the website doesn’t really seem to point out any absurdities in anyone.

  56. #56 Tony Sidaway
    September 24, 2008

    Sorry PZ, I think that’s bollocks. Ebert’s piece was perfectly obvious satire. Take this:” At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.”

    And if that doesn’t work for you, this: “Since living species were obviously not created through an evolutionary process, every surviving land-based mammal species (about 5,400) had both ancestors on the Arc.”

    I think it’s a bad idea to hang around arguing with creationists for many reasons: they don’t know the meaning of words like “evidence”, “theory”, and “scientific”, they will try to convert you to their weird cults, and so on.

    But there’s a much more important reason than that: they’re terribly dull company and if you hang around with them long you will lose your sense of humor.

  57. #57 Gregory Kusnick
    September 24, 2008

    #34:

    Just because you didn’t get it doesn’t mean it was a bad joke.

    Just because you did get it doesn’t mean it was a good one.

    My reaction was: probably satire, but so what? What point is he trying to make that couldn’t be made much better by pointing to actual, sincerely meant creationist inanity? Why bother to satirize when the real thing is so mind-bogglingly absurd?

  58. #58 s.k.graham
    September 24, 2008

    I’m a rare (maybe one-time before) commentor… but PZ, this just struck me with the SIWOTI bug or should that be PZIWOTI:

    “one of the things I really deplore about internet communications, for instance, is the use of those ghastly little smilies. It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.”

    Precisely the problem is that words, quite often, are not sufficient, and for many obvious reasons, not the least of which is that every nuclear family, practically every individual, constitutes a micro-culture with it’s own idioms and nuances of meaning that will not be understood by others. A tremendous amount of meaning is conveyed through normal speech non-verbally, and while very skillfully crafted prose may manage to convey much of that nonverbal tone, ordinary internet communications are not a medium for skillfully crafted prose. We should not confuse emails, text chat, or blogs with the books, periodicals or personal handwritten letters of decades past. Internet communication is much closer to actual speech both in its sense of immediacy and casual nature, but it obviously lacks the non-verbals of tone, facial expression and so forth which conventionally accompany face-to-face dialog. Hence we inventive humans have begun crafting new languages which are derived from, but are already far from identical to, written languages past — languages which have their own new rules and symbols which convey both verbal and non-verbal meaning.

    What you call a “crude label” is, in fact, a highly compact, efficient form of symbolic communication.

    Can you discern whether or I am smiling as I type this sentence?

    Precisely. Just how seriously do I take myself at this moment? How seriously do I expect to be taken?

    Have at ye, sir, and take that! And that! And that.

    And now, having driven home my point, may I leave you with this absolutely requisite yet spitefully redundant ;-)

  59. #59 Rey Fox
    September 24, 2008

    “Take this:” At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.”

    And if that doesn’t work for you, this: “Since living species were obviously not created through an evolutionary process, every surviving land-based mammal species (about 5,400) had both ancestors on the Arc.”

    Both of those are WELL within the range of insanity proposed by creationists of all stripes.

  60. #60 Azkyroth
    September 24, 2008

    There is a little truth to that — one of the things I really deplore about internet communications, for instance, is the use of those ghastly little smilies. It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.

    Just for the sake of argument, is it possible that some people might genuinely have difficulty interpreting the emotional state behind written or even spoken statements through no fault of their own?

  61. #61 bastion
    September 24, 2008

    At #42 Dave M. wrote:
    Sorry PZ and anyone else who didn’t catch it right away, but the fault DOES lie with you. GOOD satire like “A Modest Proposal” is delivered 100% dead pan and in a manner that is almost believable.

    You fell for it because you didn’t pay attention, you didn’t realize that Ebert had JUST ripped Palin apart recently in an editorial. You didn’t realize that Ebert has been noted in the past as an atheist.

    So, we’re supposed to research a writer’s past articles and his religious beliefs in order to figure out whether something he’s written is supposed to be funny or not?

    Wouldn’t it be better for both the reader and the writer–to avoid possible misunderstandings–if the writer simply made his intentions clearer?

  62. #62 negentropyeater
    September 24, 2008

    These film critics are really incredible ! They think so highly of themselves, their judgement is unfailible.

    But does Mr Ebert even realise that compared to Jonathan Swift, he is nothing else, than an intellectual dwarf ?

  63. #63 woodstein312
    September 24, 2008

    Okay, it was a bad — really bad — joke.

    And PZ, while I can agree it was a poorly executed joke, my question for you is this:

    Well, don’t you think you might have been a little hard on Ebert?

    Okay, fine, like I said, bad joke, poor attempt at satire, whatever you want to call it. But are we really going to chastise everyone, real creationists aside, for poor humour? (And by the way, I am very happy this turned out to be a bad gag.)

    I mean, look, I’ve told a few bad jokes in my life too. And, sure, that opens me up to being ridiculed but.. wow, you really took Ebert to task here. I just wonder if you took it further than it needed to go.

  64. #64 Lago
    September 24, 2008

    I am going to paraphrase everything PZ wrote above. Here:

    If you are in a nuthouse, you shouldn’t always suspect the guy claiming he is “Napoleon,” is joking,

    because, more often that not…

  65. #65 Azkyroth
    September 24, 2008

    I feel the same way with people writing posts peppered with four letter words (Crude words though instead of crude labels). I see such language as the writer’s inability to get their point across without having to fall back upon crude slang to express themselves.

    Whereas I see such concerns as evidence of nothing better to worry about and/or pig-ignorance of history.

    Or of the keen realization that the use of “fucking” is a constant reminder of what their tight-wound didactic prudery prevents them from ever attaining.

  66. #66 negentropyeater
    September 24, 2008

    woodstein312,

    Okay, fine, like I said, bad joke, poor attempt at satire, whatever you want to call it. But are we really going to chastise everyone, real creationists aside, for poor humour?

    Did you actually READ Ebert’s essay ?

    If it only had been poor humour, fine, but he writes :

    It is to discuss the gradual decay of our sense of irony and instinct for satire, and our growing credulity.

    Which means that instead of recognizing that he had written a very poor satire, he accuses an entire web community of credulity and lack of sense of irony, which I think is a bit over the top ! Plus, as PZ noted, he’s pulling a strawman when most people on this site didn’t fall for it.

    So he deserves to be criticized, not for his bad satire, but for his response.

  67. #67 BobC
    September 24, 2008

    Ebert’s satire may have been or may not have been poorly done. Who cares? I thank Ebert for being on the side of science.

    This is a bit off-topic but it’s about creationists. I’m quite sick of the breathtaking stupidity of creationists and their never ending attempts to destroy science education. I am suggesting that creationists who try to dumb down science education with their ignorance and their sky fairy magic be told they are traitors. They should be told they are no better than the 9/11 Muslim terrorists, and they should be told they belong in prison for treason. Of course they won’t be put in prison, but they need to be told that’s where they belong if they keep attacking America’s education. If enough people keep reminding creationists they are traitors, just maybe they will learn to keep their stupidity out of public school science classrooms.

  68. #68 woodstein312
    September 24, 2008

    Yes, I did actually READ — and let me tell you, I love it when folks use caps to stress something. It just makes me have that much more respect for them — the essay. Have you considered the idea that maybe he has a point, albeit a poorly expressed and poorly executed one?
    Take a breath, step back and think about it for a second.

  69. #69 negentropyeater
    September 24, 2008

    woodstein312,

    but your comment didn’t defend the idea that he “had a point”. You were just asking why chastise Ebert for a bad joke. So, which point then ?

  70. #70 negentropyeater
    September 24, 2008

    And BTW, no, I don’t think he has a point, his creationist piece could have been interpreted as (and has been interpreted as) :
    . a bad joke
    . poor satire
    . a hack
    . an unlikely conversion

    So what ?

  71. #71 Muffin
    September 24, 2008

    “It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.”

    No, it’s not that. Rather, it’s an admission – no, an acknowledgement – that there is more to communication than just words. When I talk to someone face to face, there is a lot more to that communication than what we’re saying; there’s body language, facial expressions and all that. In a text-only medium, all that doesn’t exist, and smileys (or whatever you want to call them) are basically just a way to remedy that; a crude one, admittedly, but the best and most practical way anyone’s come up with so far.

    They can be overused, of course, but in casual, informal conversations, especially ones where you do not have a lot of time to refine your writing, they’re extremely useful.

  72. #72 Cujo359
    September 24, 2008

    Short version of this article: There’s no difference between Ebert’s article and what the real religious fanatics write all the time. That is certainly true.

    For instance, I’m sure that at least a dozen people have written what I just did, but I’m not satirizing them – I’m agreeing with them.

    In Ebert’s defense, it’s pretty tough to satirize something as daft as Creationism.

  73. #73 SEF
    September 24, 2008

    He tries to credit creationists with being more canny than evolutionists, when they simply could not see anything exceptional about Ebert’s statements at all.

    Has that assertion been tested on actual creationists? Were any creationists (ideally a large sample of them) exposed to the test material and did they respond with anything substantially different from enthusiastic nodding, emphatic “amen”s or shouted “hallelujah, you tell ‘em brother”s?

    Meanwhile, as has already been mentioned several times, the people here (ie science-based, reality-based people with some experience of what’s actually out there) mostly did recognise the satire but thought it was poorly executed or in poor taste. Ebert would have had to ramp it up much more right at the very end in order to come anywhere near exceeding (in a satirical way) the level of stupidity which is absolutely normal for real creationists in the real world. He didn’t significantly touch on their dishonesty component.

  74. #74 raven
    September 24, 2008

    Slightly OT but relevant:

    50% – More Conservatives Now Say Churches Should Stay Out of Politics
    Wed Sep 24, 12:00 AM ET

    Half of self-described conservatives now express the view that churches and other houses of worship should stay out of politics; four years ago, only 30% of conservatives expressed this view. Overall, a new national survey by the Pew Research Center finds a narrow majority of the public (52%) now says that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters. For a decade, majorities of Americans had voiced support for religious institutions speaking out on such issues. The survey also finds that most of the reconsideration of the desirability of religious involvement in politics has occurred among conservatives. As a result, conservatives’ views on this issue are much more in line with the views of moderates and liberals than was previously the case. Similarly, the sharp divisions between Republicans and Democrats that previously existed on this issue have disappeared. There are other signs in the new poll about a potential change in the climate of opinion about mixing religion and politics. First, the survey finds a small but significant increase since 2004 in the percentage of respondents saying that they are uncomfortable when they hear politicians talk about how religious they are — from 40% to 46%. Again, the increase in negative sentiment about religion and politics is much more apparent among Republicans than among Democrats.

    I’ve been saying for a while that there is a backlash against the Death Cults. These are nihilists who can only bring death and destruction, forces of darkness, chaos, and entropy.

    Their latest victim is the US economy which is imploding. As it turns out, most Americans don’t want to end up sitting on a rubble heap, gutting a rat for dinner, while chanting Jesus loves us. While some pea brained psycho fundie xian points a rifle at their head and tells them to smile.

    So far, see how it goes. That fact that McCain and his Death Cult wacko VP are polling over 20% indicates that something is drastically wrong with the USA. Hard to say if we will step back from the edge of the Abyss or just jump in. Chanting Jesus loves us, of course.

  75. #75 Sigmund
    September 24, 2008

    To most of the public proper teaching of biology is like proper choice of vice president – not particularly important.
    In other words while in the main they agree you should do it properly, its not in any way a priority.
    To most people biology is much more comparable to art class, a pleasant ‘easy’ side subject thats completely unrelated to ‘real’ subjects that pupils actually need to get a job and career.
    View almost any science blog and you get the impression that there is a huge outrage in general against creationists attempts to subjert science teaching. View non science blogs, on the other hand, and you’ll be told (if it even appears on the radar) that the attack on science is much more minor and even if it succeeded it wouldn’t particularly matter (a situation more akin to art history classes changing the emphasis from renaissance period to impressionism).
    I’m not sure how important Ebert views biology teaching (considering his medical situation one would hope he views it as pretty important indeed) but his non biologist readers could easily assume he was serious (the 25% of the US population that believe exactly what he wrote certainly wouldnt read it as ironic or a satire).
    Its still sledgehammers all the way for me on this one, subtlety doesn’t work on these nuts.

  76. #76 Pikemann Urge
    September 24, 2008

    “Perceptivity”? You mean “perception”. Right?

  77. #77 negentropyeater
    September 24, 2008

    In Ebert’s defense, it’s pretty tough to satirize something as daft as Creationism.

    Come on, that’s not that difficult, for instance, when he writes :

    Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:

    He could have written instead :

    Questions and answers on Creatonism, which demonstrate its superiority over evolutionary theory and explain that real scientific evidence point to the bible being the only trustworthy source of information;

  78. #78 Fernando Magyar
    September 24, 2008

    That’s Ebert’s mistake. He presented a plain statement of creationist beliefs with satirical intent, but that intent cannot possibly be scene in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity

    As a visual thinker myself, I have to assume that if a picture is worth a thousand words a whole scene that is seen by an audience has to be worth quite a bit more… no smilie intended ;-)

  79. #79 Jason Dick
    September 24, 2008

    I don’t know if this has already been mentioned, but if he had really followed the mold of good satire, he would have been “proposing” legislation that did something we all find horrific that is a very good analogy to the teaching of creationism in schools. The low hanging fruit would be to talk as if the teaching of alchemy in chemistry were a good thing, but that’s already been done to death. More interesting would be, say, proposing that all of our children undergo radical brain surgery before entering science class.

  80. #80 Donovan
    September 24, 2008

    I’ve been thinking the same thing. In the days of “lol”, we no longer write in such a way as to convey humor, irony, or satire. If Jonathan Swift had written his Modest Proposal today, I fear we would have hanged him without insertions of “(lol), (tff), (jk) or =), =P, ;)” pointing to his intent. As it is, during my undergraduate Lit studies, many of my class mates thought Swift was a monster for even suggesting such, and of course, the point is he WASN’T suggesting eating babies. We ended up filling two classes (a massive portion of a college course) explaining satire.

  81. #81 Fernando Magyar
    September 24, 2008

    Roast suckling infant in a nice mango chutney glaze, washed down with a good bottle of Chianti. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t it supposed to be standard atheist fare?

  82. #82 Feynmaniac
    September 24, 2008

    Here is a comparison of Ebert’s spoof and Answers in Genesis’(AiG) actual ‘answers’:

    Ebert
    “Archbishop James Usher, working out a chronology from the Bible, calculated in 1654 that the earth was created on the night of October 23, 4004 B.C.”

    AiG

    “The age of the earth can be estimated by taking the first 5 days of creation (from earth’s creation to Adam), then following the genealogies from Adam to Abraham in Genesis 5 and 11, then adding in the time from Abraham to today.”

    Ebert
    “[Oil and coal] are evidence of a Great Flood about 4,400 years ago, which laid down all the layers of sediment at once. They are nowhere near as old as evolutionists and archeologists say.”

    AiG

    “All the available evidence points to a recent catastrophic origin for the world’s vast oil deposits, from plant and other organic debris, consistent with the biblical account of earth history.”

    Ebert
    ” Q: What about dinosaurs?

    A. They walked the earth at the same time as man, but were wiped out by the Flood, whose turbulence buried their bones in non-sequential sediments.”

    AiG

    “Were Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark?

    The history of God’s creation (told in Genesis 1 and 2) tells us that all the land-dwelling creatures were made on Day 6 of Creation Week–the same day God made Adam and Eve….
    We also find many dinosaurs that were trapped and fossilized in Flood sediment.”

    Ebert
    ” Q. What about such cosmic phenomena as the rings of Saturn?

    A. Evidence of a catastrophic collision between Saturn and another object within the same 10,000-year span.”

    AiG
    “It should be noted that if Saturn has had rings since the solar system was formed, this undermines belief in the long ages proposed by evolutionists.[Bold mine]

    The evidence is consistent with the creationist belief that Saturn and its rings were created recently. ”

    Ebert
    ” Q. Why would God create such an absurd creature as a moose?

    A. In charity, we must observe that the moose probably does not seem absurd to itself. ”

    AiG

    Moose
    Created on Day 6

    Design
    God designed the moose with powerful front and hind feet to protect it from predators. An unwary predator can be killed by these powerful defenses. These defenses were not necessary until after the Fall, since animals did not eat other animals before then.”

    Note: I did not make that last one up.

    For most of these the real thing is much funnier than the spoof.

  83. #83 SEF
    September 24, 2008

    Satire is mostly dead as a valid means of communication because people who really are that stupid, ignorant, dishonest and insane are allowed to voice/type an opinion these days. In the past: many would have known their own place (ie been aware that they were ignorant), few of them would have been able to write at all and fewer would have had any forum in which to speak etc without everyone around already knowing they were the village idiot.

    That’s why the real clues to Ebert’s satire was that his scholarship was too good for the typical creationist and not that any of the ideas presented in it were too wacky. Previously, in Swift’s time, anyone in a position to be writing at all would have been expected to have fairly decent skills and it was the extraordinary outrageousness of the idea which was the clue instead.

  84. #84 Carlie
    September 24, 2008

    You fell for it because you didn’t pay attention, you didn’t realize that Ebert had JUST ripped Palin apart recently in an editorial. You didn’t realize that Ebert has been noted in the past as an atheist.

    No. If it’s good satire done properly, it will stand by itself. You shouldn’t have to know the entire background of personality and beliefs of the person writing the piece to “get” it. The key to satire that lets you in on the joke is supposed to be that it goes too far beyond the object of the satire, not who the author is.

  85. #85 gyokusai
    September 24, 2008

    Excellent analysis! To completely disregard the context of a given piece of text while discussing its possible meanings and impacts is so massively old school that most of us won’t remember–or weren’t even born when that kind of reading/interpreting was teh rage.

    The “reconstructed” context one would need in order to put Ebert’s piece on the same footing with Swift’s is spot-on.

    PZ, you’re the man.

    ^_^J.

  86. #86 PZ Myers
    September 24, 2008

    If you’re arguing that I’m just grumbling about sour grapes because Ebert ‘got’ me with his satire, go back and read: he didn’t. I could tell it was either satire or hacking (or both). What put me off is that, as I said, it is poor satire.

    Look, this is satire that out-crazies the creationists. Ebert’s satire was well-written, but it wasn’t at all different from creationism — it didn’t make you sit up and question the absurdity, any more than a pedestrian piece from Ken Ham would.

  87. #87 bsk
    September 24, 2008

    I have to throw my weight behind those arguing for the usefulness of smileys. From a linguistic point of view they function very much like changes in vocal intonation – something that’s lacking from pre-internet written communication (causing many misunderstandings). Anything that improves the clarity of a writer’s intention is a good thing.

    On the Ebert affair: his ignorance of Poe’s law puts everything in perspective. For someone unaccustomed to the actual level of creationist inanity, I’m sure his article would’ve come off as clear satire.

  88. #88 andyo
    September 24, 2008

    Yep, sadly when I came to this country (which I love still, at least California – I know not much else), and I read stuff like that, and that millions of people believed it, I had a huge “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING” moment there.

    Then I read an article about an angry man and saw his angry mug in an angry picture with an angry nickname “Darwin’s pitbull”, named Dawkins or some such. Read a book called The End of Faith and realized hey, that sounds like me!

    And the rest is history.

  89. #89 andyo
    September 24, 2008

    And by the way, the angry man seemed like a very nice guy when I actually read his book(s) and saw him speak. Don’t know what the deal was with that article and picture.

  90. #90 Strakh
    September 24, 2008

    Ha!
    It was hilarious!
    If you honestly, truly, couldn’t see through that, then y’all need to get a better paying job, run downtown, and buy a freakin’ sense of humor…
    Or does it just make you feel good to snark someone else who got in a better story?
    And he is absolutely correct: the modern reader is so pathetically inept he simply cannot tell the difference between truth and satire. Why the hell do you think over 75% of Americans believe in angels? Because they’re fucking stupid!
    This internecine fighting is just getting ridiculous!
    Let me spell it out, boys and girls:
    Creationists are the enemy, not each other on this site, not other people who are tired of the creationist shit, and not people who don’t quite say it just the way you, in your limited little view, think it should be said.
    There had damn well better be room for differences in this group as we fight the good fight against the slime of religion, or we are simply as guilty of dogmatism as those whose influence we wish to destroy.
    Now, go ahead and rip me up for not saying this just the way you all think I should say it, or because I said it at all, or some other stupid shit. In the meantime, energy you all waste on ripping on each other, Roger Ebert, or me is energy you’ve could have spent being a bit more creative in the good fight against the filth of religion.
    In that manner, religion wins, and mankind loses. Point your oh-so-fabulous rapier wits at the enemy, boys and girls, and not at each other….

  91. #91 GDwarf
    September 24, 2008

    Just one quibble: emoticons are very useful for communicating on the internet, mostly because they’re the only way to show tone of voice, especially given that word usage is so different the world over.

    It’s easy enough to say “If you have to use them then you suck at writing”, but it’s not necessarily true, why should you create massive paragraphs clarifying your statements, carefully selecting obscure words out of a thesaurus in order to remove any ambiguity from what you write and then post that, still risking being completely misunderstood when you can just put a little smile face and boom, your intent becomes perfectly clear.

    They’re far more efficient and significantly less ambiguous than any other way of expressing emotion through text which, to me, makes them a far better form of communicating.

  92. #92 TomDunlap
    September 24, 2008

    I read some where, that is impossible to make a religious statement so ridiculous, that someone somewhere won’t accept as truth.

  93. #93 literarydeadkittens
    September 24, 2008

    I’d like to make a comment purely on the side of satire and communication over the internet. You’re right, I don’t think people have lost the ability to detect irony, but there are two more things to consider beyond a lack of knowledge of the creationist mind:

    (1) You might deplore them, but smilies fill a gap left by body language, in the absence of other signals we rely completely on the wording in front of us. Misplaced grammar, or a lack of other indicator may lead readers in the wrong direction from the author’s original intent. Hence, despite disliking the prospect, I scan my blogs after writing them to make a couple of obvious touches.

    (I’d prefer to rant, at length, and have everyone understand and agree with me. Naturally.)

    (2) In the homogenous society of the internet, what may be satirical back home isn’t necessarily such on the internet, and even ‘stating the obvious’ isn’t enough since some people refuse to acknowledge or don’t have the background for, your particular brand of irony, or the topic you’re covering.

    In other news, that was kind of long and prissy.

  94. #94 Markus
    September 24, 2008

    Ebert should have waited until April 1st.

  95. #95 John Phillips, FCD
    September 24, 2008

    The problem is that Ebert obviously isn’t aware of how ridiculous many of the creationist arguments are and how weak his was by comparison to the real thing. If he was, then perhaps he would now see why his so called satire was so poor.

    His response is equally weak as it appears to be to blame the reader when it is his responsibility as the communicator to do so effectively. I wonder if he has been taking lesson in how not to communicate from that other great framer communicator :)

  96. #96 Martin Brazeau
    September 24, 2008

    I thought the satire was patent in a few of the answers he listed (particularly when he noted how many mammals alone had to be on a single friggin’ boat!). He was subtle, but I’m not sure that means it was poor.

  97. #97 Sigmund
    September 24, 2008

    The whole situation reminds me of Alanis Morrissette’s “Isn’t it ironic” song (where none of the examples in the lyrics actually involved irony – it should have been called ‘Isn’t it annoying’).
    Eberts piece is not an example of well done satire.
    It’s an example of badly done sarcasm.

  98. #98 Epinephrine
    September 24, 2008

    …one of the things I really deplore about internet communications, for instance, is the use of those ghastly little smilies. It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.

    I’m going to side with a few others and say that your dislike of emoticons seems a little silly.

    Overuse of emoticons can be annoying, much like someone who finshies every sentence with an upward inflection. The fact is that people use non-verbal cues when communicating, constantly. Deciphering text, presented without such cues, can be difficult for many. Of course one can simply type more, make one’s point in a more verbose manner to remove ambiguities – but even articulate writers sometimes need to provide cues for their readers, especially if they wish dialogue to seem somewhat realistic. Imagine reading a book without any of the words that we use as cues for dialogue: said, yelled, whispered, laughed, sobbed, whimpered, screeched, scolded, extolled… Even with these words, authors still describe those speaking – it’s not uncommon to point out that the speaker was grinning, scowling or what have you.

    Use of emoticons seem somewhat lazy, but it mimcs actual verbal communication, in which much of the meaning can be supplied by tone, emphasis, body language, facial expression, etc.. Blogging, online fora, and to a lesser extent, email, are informal ways of communicating, and often follow a style resembling speech.

    I’ll allow that blogging doesn’t need to mimic speech, but most people are more comfortable with speech than writing (doubtless in part because of habit), and emoticons fill the role of paraliguistic cue for speech-patterned text-based communication.

  99. #99 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    “Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:”

    That’s sarcasm. It’s really, really obvious sarcasm.

    How so? There are a lot of people who seriously put forward this very idea every day. As someone with only passing knowledge of who Roger Ebert is, how am I supposed to know it’s sarcasm?

  100. #100 Epinephrine
    September 24, 2008

    In other news, that was kind of long and prissy.

    Hmm. I think I managed to be longer and prissier…

  101. #101 Janine ID AKA The Lone Drinker
    September 24, 2008

    This parody doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This parody isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This parody isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This parody doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.

  102. #102 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    Well, don’t you think you might have been a little hard on Ebert?

    Okay, fine, like I said, bad joke, poor attempt at satire, whatever you want to call it. But are we really going to chastise everyone, real creationists aside, for poor humour? (And by the way, I am very happy this turned out to be a bad gag.)

    I mean, look, I’ve told a few bad jokes in my life too. And, sure, that opens me up to being ridiculed but.. wow, you really took Ebert to task here. I just wonder if you took it further than it needed to go.

    It’s not that it was bad satire. It’s that it was bad satire that Ebert then blamed everyone else and society at large for not getting.

    Really, the whole explanation reads like a “what’s wrong with kids today” speech defending his inability to tell a joke.

  103. #103 Reginald Selkirk
    September 24, 2008

    To sense the irony, you have to sense the invisible quotation marks. I suspect quotation marks may be growing imperceptible to us.

    He may be on to something. I must admit, invisible things are frequently imperceptible to me.

  104. #104 Epinephrine
    September 24, 2008

    Strakh | September 24, 2008 7:51 AM
    Ha!
    It was hilarious!
    If you honestly, truly, couldn’t see through that, then y’all need to get a better paying job, run downtown, and buy a freakin’ sense of humor…

    And he is absolutely correct: the modern reader is so pathetically inept he simply cannot tell the difference between truth and satire.

    Ever hear of Poe’s law?

    Here’s a test, proposed by those at rationalwiki. Three of the following 8 sites are satires, the others are real. Can you tell which is which, by visiting them?

    http://www.godhatesfags.com/
    http://www.landoverbaptist.com/
    http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/perfectproof.htm
    http://objectiveministries.org/
    http://www.raptureready.com/
    http://www.timecube.com/
    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0094/0094_01.asp
    http://www.truechristian.com/

  105. #105 lylebot
    September 24, 2008

    one of the things I really deplore about internet communications, for instance, is the use of those ghastly little smilies. It’s an admission of an inability to communicate — the words are insufficient, so crude labels are required. It’s a symptom of a lack of trust in the readers perceptivity.

    No, that’s not it. It’s that blog posts and emails and instant messages aren’t literature, and nobody should be expected to read them as if they are (some blog posts rise to that level; the vast majority do not). They’re a concession to the fact that most people are going to skim these things, and that they’re right to do so. And that we’re going to be skimming their missives as well.

    He presented a plain statement of creationist beliefs with satirical intent, but that intent cannot possibly be scene in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity.

    But some of us did see it.

  106. #106 Carlie
    September 24, 2008

    This comment on Ebert’s article sums it up nicely, I think:

    By Art on September 24, 2008 7:05 AM

    I think Ben Stein erased the quotation marks.

  107. #107 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    The whole situation reminds me of Alanis Morrissette’s “Isn’t it ironic” song (where none of the examples in the lyrics actually involved irony – it should have been called ‘Isn’t it annoying’).

    Rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic unless you’re marrying a weatherman.

    An online acquaintance once tried to coin the term “alanic” to describe that which is meant in irony, but isn’t actually ironic. Perhaps we need a term to describe something intended as satire that doesn’t quite make it. I’m thinking “ebertire”.

  108. #108 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    September 24, 2008

    In the days of “lol”, we no longer write in such a way as to convey humor, irony, or satire.

    Not at all. I rarely see emoticons used in essays or on sites geared toward satire. They’re limited primarily to quick, interactive communication, just like facial expressions and vocal intonations are in speech. The main difference now is that vastly more people are writing anything at all, and most of us aren’t very well-trained in how to do so.

    “LOL”, by the way, is a response to humor, an indication that a reader recognized it and appreciated it. I suspect that “the days of ‘lol’” have existed for hundreds or even thousands of years.

  109. #109 Ryan F
    September 24, 2008

    What’s with the hate of smilies, P.Z.? A majority of communication is non-verbal, so when having an electronic conversation, a majority of information is lost. Rather than make up for it with verbosity, symbols allow us to quickly convey emotion. If we were speaking in person, I would not tell you that I’m happy or pleased, instead I would smile or give a similar cue. When communicating online, symbols are short cuts to these cues. Sure, they’re awfully cheesy, but they’re more so effective than anything else.

  110. #110 Lamy
    September 24, 2008

    C’mon, the answer about Genesis specifying that the flood lasted 40, 150, 253, 314, or 370 days based on Noah being 600+ years old was rich, and Swiftian. It’s a stick in the eye of anyone who says they can believe everything that’s written in the old book, and if you read the answer out loud you can’t help but hear the dripping satire. And you miss a big chunk of context if you don’t look at the site with the ‘footprint’, so the post at Pharyngula did Ebert some injustice.

    In fair disclosure I’m a huge fan of irony, so I may be biased–I always assume things are ironic until proven otherwise.

    I say bravo, and lighten up.

  111. #111 hedberg
    September 24, 2008

    “Here’s a test, proposed by those at rationalwiki. Three of the following 8 sites are satires, the others are real. Can you tell which is which, by visiting them?”

    I think so.
    I’m familiar with a couple of the real ones so they can be eliminated from the possible fakes.

    Of the others:

    Landover is famous as an obvious satire that many failed to detect. So, that one’s easy.

    objectiveministries looks to me to be an obvious satire and so does truechristian. I may have stumbled on truechristian before so I can’t say for sure that I didn’t already know that it’s satire.

    The only one that appears tough is chick.com. If it weren’t famously real, I’d say it was satire.

  112. #112 Nick Gotts
    September 24, 2008

    Ha! In future we can point any godbots who accuse Pharyngulites of simply echoing PZ to this thread – on the crucial issue of internet smilies, a clear majority of those commenting on it roundly rejected his dictum!

    Oh, and by the way, I agree with that majority: ;-) :-o :=/ :[

    On Ebert: who he?

  113. #113 Cheezits
    September 24, 2008

    Perhaps we need a term to describe something intended as satire that doesn’t quite make it.

    We need a term for those people who keep saying “No pun intended” where no pun was detected. *smirk*

    You would think Ebert would know that mere imitation is neither irony nor satire.

  114. #114 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    C’mon, the answer about Genesis specifying that the flood lasted 40, 150, 253, 314, or 370 days based on Noah being 600+ years old was rich, and Swiftian.

    It really puts the ‘b’ in “subtle”.

  115. #115 Foggg
    September 24, 2008

    There is one bit of Ebert that a YEC Biblical inerrantist would never have written in this way, with no elaboration:

    We know that Noah was 600 years, two months and 17 days old when he sailed.
    Using that as a starting point and counting forward, Genesis tells us it [the Flood] lasted for 40, 150, 253, 314 or 370 days.

    I challenge anyone to find an equivalent example of “The Bible tells us v or w or x or y or z, period” in any YEC writing, no matter how wacky.

  116. #116 Zetetic
    September 24, 2008

    I had been thinking of posting something like this argument on Ebert’s site, but you have done a much better job of it, PZ. (Not surprisingly.)

    I’d just like to add that in order for satire to read, it has to push something to the limit, create a caricature, make the absurd even more absurd. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to make creationism and fundamentalist religion any more absurd than it already is. It seems that no matter how far you push creationism toward the ridiculous extreme you will find that someone else has already beat you to it in sincere belief!

    We are indeed drowning in a sea of sincere “modest proposals”. We have also seen formerly brilliant people increasingly spout nonsense as they age. We have also seen sites hacked before. Therefore, calling “satire” was not the obvious conclusion Ebert thinks it should have been.

    Actually, the fact that Ebert did not get any response from creationists shows how ineffective his satire was. Had he succeeded, people would have protested that they don’t really believe such nonsense and he had taken things too far. That no one accused him of taking things too far is more frightening, than anything.

  117. #117 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    We need a term for those people who keep saying “No pun intended” where no pun was detected. *smirk*

    “Please excuse the pun.”

    “Did you make one?”

  118. #118 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    September 24, 2008

    one can simply type more, make one’s point in a more verbose manner to remove ambiguities

    Which, at an extreme, becomes “legalese”. Perhaps lawyers should use more smilies in their contracts? ^^

  119. #119 eric
    September 24, 2008

    Ebert is demonstrably wrong to think web readers can’t understand satire. There’s at least one recent case where thousands (millions?) of web readers understood creationist satire; Bobby Henderson’s FSM.

    Roger, you’re no Bobby Henderson.

  120. #120 Rob
    September 24, 2008

    Which, at an extreme, becomes “legalese”. Perhaps lawyers should use more smilies in their contracts? ^^

    I think you’re on to something!

    Perhaps >O< would be an appropriate emoticon in most contracts.

  121. #121 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    Which, at an extreme, becomes “legalese”. Perhaps lawyers should use more smilies in their contracts? ^^

    Lawyers don’t smile.

  122. #122 Rob
    September 24, 2008

    Ack, HTML ate my emoticon in #120

    It was supposed to be:

    >O<

  123. #123 RamblinDude
    September 24, 2008

    Eberts piece is not an example of well done satire.
    It’s an example of badly done sarcasm.

    Exactly.

    For those of us acquainted with actual creationist claims, it wasn’t really satire; it was a listing

    A reiteration

    A mere copying and pasting of some creationist’s interview.

    It was a puzzling non sequitur

    Repeating what someone says is a kid’s game, but it’s not really satire.

    Satire of creationism takes some creativity.

    Hey, Roger, I’m glad to know, however, that you’re still in possession of your faculties. ; )

    LOL!

  124. #124 Carlie
    September 24, 2008

    Perhaps lawyers should use more smilies in their contracts? ^^

    Lawyers would use frownies. :(
    Or maybe careful neutralities: :|

  125. #125 Cliff Hendroval
    September 24, 2008

    As satire, I think Ebert’s piece may have flown a little better with an audience of normal people as opposed to those who are familiar with the YEC world. Most people don’t have any idea exactly how bizarre their claims are.

    On the subject of emoticons, I’ve been online since around 1993 (yeah, I know, I’m a latecomer) and I can’t think of anything that I’ve read that has benefited from the addition of a smiley or a j/k. Even worse, the number of these useless space-fillers has expanded, so I’m supposed to go out and figure out what something like O.o is supposed to represent.

  126. #126 MarkM
    September 24, 2008

    “But the purpose of this blog entry is not to discuss … Creationism versus the theory of evolution (that way lurks an endless loop).”

    This is when I knew his commentary was taking a turn for the worst. Endless loop ahead: better steer towards a more “even-handed” approach of Teaching the Controversy? In fact, any time reason makes contact with a belief system, let’s just throw our hands up, provided the practitioners of said belief system are sufficiently passionate about remaining ignorant.

  127. #127 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    Even worse, the number of these useless space-fillers has expanded, so I’m supposed to go out and figure out what something like O.o is supposed to represent.

    Google is your friend.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070105093508AAlMyIP

    Really, what do you do when you come across a word you don’t know? Look it up.

  128. #128 Bee
    September 24, 2008

    I agree that careful reading and knowing the context (Ebert is not a creationist) made it possible for me to think it was satire – but it was not good satire, and indicated Ebert is clearly unaware of the extent and insanity of the creationist crowd.

    On smilies: I hate the damn things, but sometimes they do seem necessary, especially in large forums where you are essentially having a conversation, and yes, body language is missing.

    Unfortunately, there is a huge demographic who doesn’t understand the use of emoticons, and having access to those ugly little, often animated graphic inserts that come in hundreds of colourful ‘cute’ styles, they just toss them into their posts by the dozen, often making no sense at all.

    OTOH, some forum users of multiple smilies manage to make a mini-culture out of them. I’m pretty sure you could remove all the verbal content from many posts at Rapture Ready and the source would be immediately identifiable by the dozen or so praying, vomiting, head shaking, hugging, and flying up the page smilies left behind (ha!).

  129. #129 B.P. Odom
    September 24, 2008

    Myers writes that Ebert’s satirical “intent cannot possibly be scene [sic] in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity.” But many, many people did in fact get the satirical intent, so obviously it is possible for it to be discerned. Your claim is as broad and inaccurate as those made by the creationists you deplore. Try “is unlikely to be seen.”

  130. #130 RamblinDude
    September 24, 2008

    It depends on who’s wielding the smilies.

    In the hands of Ksenyia, for instance, (where is she btw?) they’re delightful. But when they’re tossed around like little blow kisses at a shiny happy people party, they’re like little grenades of inanity.

  131. #131 Richard
    September 24, 2008

    Maybe already posted, but worth another bump if so. One can never have too much xkcd! http://xkcd.com/169/

  132. #132 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    Myers writes that Ebert’s satirical “intent cannot possibly be scene [sic] in a world where millions say exactly the same things with sincerity.” But many, many people did in fact get the satirical intent, so obviously it is possible for it to be discerned. Your claim is as broad and inaccurate as those made by the creationists you deplore. Try “is unlikely to be seen.”

    Are you familiar with the concept of exaggeration?

  133. #133 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    What annoys me most about this whole thing is that some creationist, somewhere, will point out Ebert’s original article as evidence of “smart people who support creationism”.

  134. #134 PZ Myers
    September 24, 2008

    I should qualify that. It can’t be seen in a world where millions say exactly the same thing, unless one is familiar with the personal predispositions of the author. Many of us knew it was extremely unlikely to be a serious essay by Ebert, because he’s a fairly famous guy with a known position on the issue. Absent that, it would have been hard to detect.

  135. #135 Epinephrine
    September 24, 2008

    What annoys me most about this whole thing is that some creationist, somewhere, will point out Ebert’s original article as evidence of “smart people who support creationism”.

    I’m (figuratively) shocked that it isn’t already on conservapaedia…

  136. #136 ice9
    September 24, 2008

    You guys are way off on Swift. It’s not even close to 100% deadpan. I’d give PZ credit for the analysis of why satirizing creationism is difficult–typically good satire comes out of the blue, and if somebody isn’t confused or pissed it’s not really effective writing or plotting.

    But “A Modest Proposal” was plainly satirical to the readers of the time.

    Swift sends numerous signals that his piece isn’t straight; they’re just not easily accessible to college- or high-school-aged readers, even good ones. He attributes the opinion of the quality of the meat of babies to “an American” of his acquaintance. The other sources of the writer’s opinion about eating children are far outside of any normal citation for writing like this. The ironic reference to children too young to learn to steal effectively is also visibly ironic. Later he steps from behind the curtain with the bit about the landlords having already consumed the parents (figurative) so they might as well consume the children (literal.) And the final solemn declaration about his wife being past childbearing age, of course.
    Further, Swift was an Irishman, but well known in literary circles as a dignified gadfly for the treatment of the Irish; he wrote lots of bits like this and his style, even anonymously, was distinctive; such an opinion on the Irish Question would have raised the suspicion that Swift or one of the other Irish Protestant or liberal members of the London political establshment was pulling the chain. The English weren’t stupid; satire was the mainline humor of the intellectual elite; biting sarcasm and serious fighting words were common. This was the era of Defoe and the pamphleteers–nothing was published or read without the equivalent of Poe’s Law at the tip of the mind’s tongue.

    The use of AMP to compare to modern satire is common…and usually inept, since times have changed. I agree with Ebert that we don’t read for it and don’t detect it well. It’s also common, and more and more common, to get in trouble for causing offense and running afoul of speech codes or hypersensitive people or others who use false naivete–the opposite of satire, I suppose–to take offense for political purposes.

    ice

  137. #137 E.V.
    September 24, 2008

    Epinephine’s list at #104 should have a permanant place on every Skeptics website. A compendium of useful terms such as Poe’s Law, The Courtier’s Reply, Paschal’s Wager would be nice too.

  138. #138 Greg Peterson
    September 24, 2008

    On re-reading the Ebert piece, I was embarrassed that I entertained for a second that it was not satire. It does require a moment’s reflection, but no more. I think it was a masterly job, and had it been in less subtle and more absurd, it would have been lampoon, not satire. I think he did an excellent job, and the fact that he stirred up this sort of discussion is evidence of that.

  139. #139 bipolar2
    September 24, 2008

    . . . don’t worry PZ and Co., Ms. Palin will solve your problem demarcating Dichtung from Wahrheit.

    ** Junk-food faith for a fat-head nation **

    ? Palin”s political ideology is theology

    Welcome to “Gilead.” Once part of America, it is a nation controlled by fundamentalists and their transnational corporate overlords. (Search: dominionism)

    In The Handmaid”s Tale, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood evokes a dystopia where women have been stripped of all rights. Gilead is Ameristan, christian Taliban included. (DVD: IMDb.com/title/tt0099731)

    ? Ameristan – growing an ignorance base

    The US is an aberration among developed nations in its affinity for xian enthusiasms and in its failure to accept basic truths like evolution. A plurality of Americans think that evolution does not take place. (http://pewforum.org/surveys/origins/)

    A nation overwhelmingly god-fearing also overwhelmingly rejects science. Millions lack a critical intelligence to evaluate the garbage they stuff into their brains.

    Palin belongs to them. Her disinformed science — dinosaurs and humans walked together — and bloated ego reinforce each other. She is a throwback to the mental and moral world before Darwin, a characteristic of fundies.

    ? Poisoning society in end-of-days madness

    Palin’s sexual ideology is pro-mass-death: creating disease, poverty, and ignorance by fostering overpopulation, damning safe non-reproductive sex, and blocking responsible medical research.

    She espouses ideological madness. Dominionism is a toxic ersatz for public policy, domestic and foreign. Palin proudly displays that inverted elitism common among consumers of junk-food faith. (See 1Corinthians1:18-28 esp. 27-28)

  140. #140 tsg
    September 24, 2008

    I think he did an excellent job, and the fact that he stirred up this sort of discussion is evidence of that.

    A discussion about whether or not it was good satire is evidence that it was good satire?

  141. #141 SteveM
    September 24, 2008

    I’ll allow that blogging doesn’t need to mimic speech, but most people are more comfortable with speech than writing (doubtless in part because of habit), and emoticons fill the role of paraliguistic cue for speech-patterned text-based communication.

    Exactly. The point is that while communication on the internet is text, most of it is not “writing”, as in what professional writers do. Mostly it is people transcribing what they would say verbally, which generally is not good writing. And so to convey “tone of voice”, we have “emoticons”. Yes,they are an admission of less than skillfull writing ability, but that is the vast majority of people. Being able too write well is a rare talent and/or a difficult skill to acquire, but most people are able to communicate pretty effectively verbally which does not come across as well well transcribed without non-verbal or tonal cues.

  142. #142 dtlocke
    September 24, 2008

    “Ebert’s Fallacy”

    Here here!

  143. #143 Dave
    September 24, 2008

    Was satire really the intent? I thought the purpose was to show the incredulity of believing that Roger Ebert of all people would become a creationist overnight. At that he was quite successful. Whether or not the article itself was satirical is beside the point – it didn’t need to be. The satire comes from the context, not the content.

  144. #144 dtlocke
    September 24, 2008

    tsg at 140:

    Excellent response! BTW, haven’t we seen that line of reasoning someplace else? “A discussion of whether there is a controversy is evidence that there is a controversy!”

  145. #145 bunnycatch3r
    September 24, 2008

    Ebert intentionally did not write the piece in his own voice. Instead, it was written in the mechanical “style” of a crass literalist. I, therefore, thought his site was hacked. I definitely didn’t see it as satire.

  146. #146 Epinephrine
    September 24, 2008

    Mostly it is people transcribing what they would say verbally, which generally is not good writing.

    Well, it’s certainly not a Haiku or an essay, but I don’t think that one should judge “writing” as being poor due to a stylistic choice.

    Choosing to emulate a spoken style doesn’t make one a bad writer, nor does it make the writing bad – it’s simply a different style.

    I do agree that people are lazy and revert to speech (as it is easier for many), but I’m not convinced that these people would necessarily be unable to express themselves in a different written style if they chose to do so. Speech (or speech-patterned text) simply seems less formal, and we live in pretty informal times.

  147. #147 Sven DiMIlo
    September 24, 2008

    Here here!

    Where?
    Where??

  148. #148 Blake Stacey
    September 24, 2008

    The problem is that Ebert’s “satire” was less ridiculous than creationist material we find on a daily basis. The only point where Ebert wrote something a real-for-life creationist might not be likely to say was the following:

    We know that Noah was 600 years, two months and 17 days old when he sailed. Using that as a starting point and counting forward, Genesis tells us it lasted for 40, 150, 253, 314 or 370 days.

    And, frankly, you’d have to be more familiar with the Bible than most Americans are to get the joke, which hinges on contradictions in the Genesis text (probably due to the text we have being a composite of earlier sources). Genesis 7:17 says, “And the flood was forty days upon the earth.” Meanwhile, verse 7:24 tells us, “And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days”, a figure also given in verse 8:3. But chapter 8 of Genesis is just weird:

    8:4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

    8:5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month: in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

    I guess you don’t have to see a mountain to rest on top of it. A few verses later, we get to this:

    8:13 And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry.

    8:14 And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dried.

    Which is probably where Ebert’s bigger numbers come from (give or take a little thanks to the vagaries in deciding how long a “month” should be).

  149. #149 CJO
    September 24, 2008

    Strakh @90
    Let me spell it out, boys and girls:

    Was that supposed to be a satire of concern trolling, or was it the real thing? It’s so hard to tell these days.

  150. #150 windy
    September 24, 2008

    Exactly. The point is that while communication on the internet is text, most of it is not “writing”, as in what professional writers do. Mostly it is people transcribing what they would say verbally, which generally is not good writing.

    Like using a different typeface for something that you would verbally emphasize?

  151. #151 DCN
    September 24, 2008

    robotaholic @ 30

    Your post is “satire,” right?

  152. #152 MikeM
    September 24, 2008

    I can understand how people got caught in the snare, though.

    I was convinced that the Ray Comfort Food Blog was satire, and it turns out I was wrong. Which I still find startling.

    “You mean… He’s serious??”

    I’m not sure there’s such a thing as bad satire, unless the end result just isn’t funny.

    There’s a big rant on cnn today about how a minister is shocked that a god-bothering chain of stores had to remove a magazine from its shelves because it contains an article about female ministers. My thinking: Too bad. No one’s life was endangered by this, and you know the parent organization is sexist as Heaven. Ya lie down with dogs, yer gonna get fleas.

    I personally think it’s excellent that Ebert fooled so many people. Disagreein’ with ya here, PZ. I mean, the next day, they get to read an article from their new Creationist hero that reads, roughly, “Psyche!”. That had to be a letdown.

    Good.

  153. #153 PZ Myers
    September 24, 2008

    I thought the purpose was to show the incredulity of believing that Roger Ebert of all people would become a creationist overnight. At that he was quite successful.

    Except that I haven’t seen anyone who argued that he had become a creationist overnight. If that was actually his intent, then he failed.

  154. #154 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 24, 2008

    To me, it was obvious satire, even though I had never encountered the name “Roger Ebert”, but only because of three things.

    First and foremost, see comment 115: no cretinist would present such a contradiction (and very few, at most, would be aware of it).

    However, that any of these durations is said to be based (in part?) on Noah’s age had to be expected. That’s not particularly remarkable.

    Then, the moose argument: the reply looks like utterly normal apologetics, but the question itself is strange — it makes the argument “moose are so absurd no creator in his right mind would create them, so they must have evolved”, which I’ve never seen. So it looks planted.

    In this context, the reply “At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.” clearly fits the interpretation of satire. It’s really way out there, and I’ve never encountered it before — but still I’m not sure it’s really too crazy for every single cretinist. Fairly comparable ideas have after all been floated. It’s borderline.

    All the rest, however, is utterly unremarkable. Sure, statements like the one about how the turbulence deposited the fossils in sequential layers are self-contradictory, but that is STILL utterly unremarkable!!!

    “Questions and answers on Creationism, which should be discussed in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution:”

    That’s sarcasm. It’s really, really obvious sarcasm. I don’t think anyone should feel badly if they missed it, but it’s interesting that so many people did. Ebert may have a point about missing the invisible quotation marks.

    Now that you mention it, I notice that “discussed as an alternative” is ambiguous, and that a real cretinist would probably have used “taught” instead of “discussed”, but that really doesn’t make it obvious sarcasm. And, yes, I’m proud to have immediately noticed that the Dawk rap made fun of Expelled. I spent several threads whining about how so many people didn’t get that.

    I agree with PZ on this one. In an ideal world or maybe even in a university setting, all of us would instantly recognize the satire. This, however, is the internet and not an ideal world.

    And that’s why we need smilies! In meatspace, we use mimics and all manner of distortions of our voice to convey information that can only clumsily, if at all, be put into words.

    And if that doesn’t work for you, this: “Since living species were obviously not created through an evolutionary process, every surviving land-based mammal species (about 5,400) had both ancestors on the Arc.”

    They really believe that!!!

    This is not satire, this is a mere repetition!

    Have you never read about how the dinosaurs on the Ark were all babies in order to save space? And how about a miracle that made the Ark bigger inside than outside? You think that’s too ridiculous for a cretinist? It’s all out there.

    Or of the keen realization that the use of “fucking” is a constant reminder of what their tight-wound didactic prudery prevents them from ever attaining.

    You are talking about the emphatic fucking particle of the English fucking language — always inserted in front of the fucking syllable that is fucking stressed in the sentence in question, not necessarily even the word which is actually fucking emphasized. Several other languages have such a thing, too; for example Russian and Yiddish have one without fucking any conno-fucking-tations, sexual or otherwise.

    On the Ebert affair: his ignorance of Poe’s law puts everything in perspective. For someone unaccustomed to the actual level of creationist inanity, I’m sure his article would’ve come off as clear satire.

    Oh, certainly.

    In that manner, religion wins, and mankind loses. Point your oh-so-fabulous rapier wits at the enemy, boys and girls, and not at each other….

    We’re scientists, you ignorant slut! Whenever there are n opinions, at least n – 1 of them are wrong, and we’re programmed to keep discussing till we’ve found out which ones are wrong. We aren’t Republicans.

  155. #155 David Marjanovi?, OM
    September 24, 2008

    Was that supposed to be a satire of concern trolling, or was it the real thing?

    Good question.

  156. #156 Tom L
    September 24, 2008

    Personally, I found the moose comment a dead giveaway –particularly in terms of its position in the list.

    As to emoticons, however: Yes, text -is- an insufficient medium. I’m honestly surprised that you think otherwise.

    Do you speak at all times in a careful monotone, with a strictly neutral posture and facial expression? (If you do, most people would find you rather alarming to interact with. Psychologists refer to that as a “flat affect” and consider it abnormal.) Volumes of contextual information are communicated by tone, volume, cadence, emphasis, body posture, and yes, facial expression. Text is a poor analog of speech indeed.

    Look at the terminology, even: “text” vs “context.” Text conveys information at face value. Context is critical for determining whether someone is being facetious, sarcastic, or dead serious. You want to determine context solely from the text, which is an uphill battle.

    We attempt to put some of the sonic information back into text through punctuation, typographic effects, et cetera, but much is still lost.

    So, OF COURSE text is an insufficient medium — to the same extent that a Hallmark card is a poor substitute for a passionate kiss.

    p.s.: F u wnt 2 Dplor sumn txtual, a gd strt wd B txtspk. :)

  157. #157 Dustin
    September 24, 2008

    What do you mean when you say that this can’t be compared to Swift’s proposal? There were absolutely people proposing cannibalism. Or perhaps proposing is the wrong word, as there were many entire societies in the Pacific Ocean alone which were entirely cannibalistic. So stating that Swift’s work was different because ” because no one anywhere else was seriously proposing cannibalism,” is horribly stated. Often quoted is that, “there is nothing new under the sun.” While not entirely true (see advances in quantum mechanics occurring daily), there is a certain truth to the idea that no matter what the idea, someone has probably attempted to propose something along those lines.

    Ebert’s satire was, in my opinion, well composed, and well executed. I see little reason for complaint, and as a writing sample, it was far superior to most of the other trash produced on the web every minute.

  158. #158 cicely
    September 24, 2008

    Another argument in favor of (strategic use of) smilies….as the WWW insinuates its tentacles more thoroughly and deeply into everyday life and communication, you can’t afford to assume that your readers are native English, Spanish, or whatever, speakers. I’ve run into this several times; someone painstakingly translating their way through a post already has to deal with phrases that don’t mean what the words literally mean, as well as the lack of body language and intonation. Some sort of concise flag can be helpful.

  159. #159 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    September 24, 2008

    Do you speak at all times in a careful monotone, with a strictly neutral posture and facial expression?

    Somebody get Ben Stein more emoticons, stat!

  160. #160 RamblinDude
    September 24, 2008

    First and foremost, see comment 115: no cretinist would present such a contradiction (and very few, at most, would be aware of it).

    Yes, this was a give away, but I have encountered such an argument. An acknowledgment that the defender of the bible was still trying to decipher the thing, but that it would ultimately be deciphered, and that it is God’s will that we apply ourselves to such an endeavor. (So there aren’t really inconsistencies in the bible, just our inability to interpret it correctly because our brains are so puny. Praise Jesus!)

    I’ve also encountered the argument that defended something along the lines of this ridiculousness:

    In fact, all surviving species and many others were created fully formed at the same time. At that moment they were of various ages and in varying degrees of health. Some individuals died an instant later, others within seconds, minutes or hours.

    Most believe that the first man was Adam…period. But when pressed they often back into a corner and assert that “God can do anything, so he could have done that if he wanted to.”

    It wasn’t very good satire, but he’s right; it should have been funny. It should be hilarious.

  161. #161 Roger Ebert
    September 24, 2008

    Dear BZ:

    I love Pharyngula. I would be the first to agree I am no Jonathan Swift. Let me suggest that while satire was certainly my purpose, creationists were not my intended audience. By stating their beliefs accurately, my hope was that on a site such as mine they would reach a wider readership that might have heard about creationism but didn’t realize what it actually believes. Only 4 percent of Americans are creationists. Do you have any idea how many Americans don’t know what it teaches? I don’t. I know the original article was linked far and wide, which is encouraging.

    Best,
    Roger Ebert

    (To verify this is “indeed me,” you will find similar sentiments expressed by me in bold face footnotes to current comments in my blog)

  162. #162 FastLane
    September 24, 2008

    Has anyone ventured into some of the online cretinist zones to see if they picked up on this?

    I was hoping that it would last a little longer before Ebert admitted it was satire, and see how long it went around places like UD and the ID blogs.

    Cheers.

  163. #163 Britomart
    September 24, 2008

    Dunno where else to put this, but bad satire might work.
    Feel free to repost.

    Have you seen the Palin Sandwich?

    Grilled pork tenderloin on it, with caramelized apples, red onions, melted cheddar cheese, and crisp bacon.

    http://www.ktuu.com/Global/story.asp?S=9043827

    Comes with fries and a side of lipstick too!

    Not only that, here is another poll.

    http://messageboards.ivillage.com/n/mb/message.asp?webtag=iv-fdfrugal&msg=5529.1

    Is the Palin Pork Sandwich?

    –> Creative idea (ends there!)
    –> distasteful, disrespectful
    –> well deserved
    –> I don’t care

    Personally I think its cute, but I am not sure about the lipstick that comes with it.

    Enjoy !

  164. #164 Danio
    September 24, 2008

    Most believe that the first man was Adam…period. But when pressed they often back into a corner and assert that “God can do anything, so he could have done that if he wanted to.”

    Indeed, AIG (the Ken Ham loonybin, not to be confused with the floundering financial co.) explains it thusly:

    Laws against incest exist today. However, incest is a modern word
    describing a variety of actions, some of which have always been
    sinful. The Biblical laws against brother-sister marriage were first
    instituted for the Israelites around 2000 years after Adam–during
    the time of Moses (Leviticus 18).
    Serious genetic defects can occur in offspring of close relatives
    today. However, in the beginning, because Adam and Eve were
    created perfectly, the genetic mutations were non-existent, and
    only began accumulating after his disobedience.

    (this is from the Answers with Ken Ham Study Guide, #6–Google it if you must, I can’t bear to link to it.)

    It wasn’t very good satire, but he’s right; it should have been funny. It should be hilarious.

    I agree, and I agree with PZ that Ebert’s response to the mixed reaction of his readers is way off the mark. Instead of chastising us for our lack of appreciation for his subtlety, I wish he’d take a moment and try to understand why so many of us didn’t ‘get it’, in the way that he apparently intended ‘it’ to be ‘gotten’. The fact that there are legions of fervent, sincere believers who actually do believe this nonsense is undeniably horrifying, and their numbers and influence need to be appreciated by more people–not just those of us in the trenches of this insane and frustrating culture war–before we have any hope of overcoming the insidious incursions of the death cultists into every aspect of our lives.

  165. #165 RamblinDude
    September 24, 2008

    Hi Roger, glad you stopped in.

    Too many of us have had our irony meters go up in smoke (over more than just the subject of creationism) to be very charitable these days, but it’s good to see that you’re trying to fight the good fight for rationality.

    But only 4% ? I’m skeptical. From Wikipedia:

    In 2000, a poll by People For the American Way[71] estimated that:

    13% of Americans believe that Creationism and evolution should be taught as ‘scientific theories’ in science class;
    16% of Americans believe that only Creationism should be taught;

  166. #166 ice9
    September 24, 2008

    We already have smileys; they’re called punctuation marks. If you write right, and you read right, you don’t need help. The satire is in the fooling, the confusion, the uncertainty. That’s why satire in face-to-face conversation is called ‘sarcasm’ or ‘irony;’ it isn’t possible to create the ambiguity and uncertainty necessary to get that panicky flicker, that ‘is he freakin’ serious?’ vibe. Best satire is not two-way; the reader has to sit still for it.
    Truth is, carefully composed writing is more expressive than face-to-face communication, because it’s accurate and precise. (sloppy, hasty internet jabber, of course, not so precise). Face-to-face communication is a minefield of missed hints, misinterpreted tics, cultural cues, and biases of every flavor, form, and species. Plus you are always feedbacking with the other, asking and answering–”Are you serious?”
    “naw, just funnin’ wich you.” (because not answering the “are you serious” interruption, of course, answers the question too.
    When we start in reading a well-written bit of satire (or not-satire), we’re forced to form theories with no way to test them aside from putting more weight on the text–(‘I think he’s drunk! No, that’s not it…he must be crazy!…no, doesn’t seem crazy…he must have gone all creationist overnight! Wait! Maybe he’s kidding!’) It’s those little reactions, bubbling within the reader, without any recourse, outlet, or evidence but the text (or play, or music, or film) that makes the experience of satire delicious and entertaining (even when you know it’s satire.) And also: ‘I wonder who bought it! I wonder when they got it! I’m superior because I got it sooner!) etc.

    ice

  167. #167 Paul G. Brown
    September 24, 2008

    A mild dissenting voice here.

    PZ argues that Swift’s _Modest_Proposal_ was recognized as satire at the time, and can be distinguished from Ebert’s piece, because in 1729 no one was seriously proposing infanticide and cannibalism, while today the Creationism v. Evolution argument rends the body politic.

    This isn’t quite correct. _Modest_Proposal_ wasn’t written in a vacuum. Irish poverty, and the morally outrageous English policies in Ireland that caused it, WERE a topic of serious debate. It was precisely this context that made what Swift wrote _satire_ as opposed to mere blather. No one was proposing eating them; locking them up, enslaving them and selling shares on their labor, or simply working them to death were, however, entirely respectable opinions.

    Where Ebert falls down imo, and where folk like Jesus General take off, is that he ‘plays it [too] straight’. Jesus General is obviously satire because it takes the Christianist moral and metaphysical framework to it’s logical, awful conclusion.

    Swift did this too. Ebert didn’t.

  168. #168 Feynmaniac
    September 24, 2008

    Ebert #161,

    “Only 4 percent of Americans are creationists. Do you have any idea how many Americans don’t know what it teaches? I don’t.”

    Hey Ebert! Long time fan. Hope you are doing well. I heard someone hit you a little while ago.

    Anyway, I would like to know where the 4% figure you mentioned comes from? According to Gallup , 39 % of Americans thought the statement “Creationism, that is, the idea that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years” was ‘definitely true’. 27% thought it was ‘probably true’.

    P.S. It’s PZ, not BZ

  169. #169 Tony Sidaway
    September 24, 2008

    Rey Fox | September 24, 2008 2:55 AM #59

    Both of those are WELL within the range of insanity proposed by creationists of all stripes.

    Yes, of course, which is why Poe’s Law exists. That it is difficult to hold up creationism to ridicule and scorn is a poor argument against doing so. I cannot think of a more economical and effective way of ridiculing creationism than this. It requires a bare minimum of effort.

  170. #170 Tom L
    September 24, 2008

    We already have smileys; they’re called punctuation marks.

    True, punctuation does the job, as do italics, all caps, et cetera — but not all of it. It is also worth noting that these textual marks generally serve as textual analogs for vocal delivery, whether they imply rhythmic elements, changes in LOUDNESS, emphasis on a word or phrase, et cetera. Facial expression is also part of communication. It is arbitrary to say that the text system shall include analogs for the sonic components of verbal communication, but analogs for the visual components are strictly verboten.

    If you write right, and you read right, you don’t need help.

    This is simply not true. There is no one form of writing that is so pure and unambiguous that noone will ever misinterpret it. We all bring our personal filters to the experience of communicating both when writing and when reading. Words do not necessarily carry the same connotations — sometimes, not even the same definitions — to those on both ends of a communication. Then there is the fact that a lot of written communication is as ad-hoc as much of what occurs face to face. It is not reasonable to demand that everything be written to thesis-level editorial standards. If there is a place for casual conversation, there is a place for casual writing. Smilies provide shorthand for some of the entirely normal and appropriate visual, non-verbal communication that happens face-to-face.

    Note I am not advocating for the inclusion of smilies in all forms of written communication. Sometimes including emotional content is unnecessary (say, a math textbook), and sometimes counterproductive (I’m imagining a cease-and-desist letter peppered with frownies). And of course some emotional content can indeed be delivered purely by choice of word. I’m merely saying that they aren’t as odious*, nor as strictly unnecessary, as some would have us believe.

    (* Okay, so the little animated gifs are odious. Aside from being generally ugly, they are an entirely separate system grafted onto the text. The text-based ones, on the other hand, are a clever use and a natural extension of the existing system of characters.)

  171. #171 Chris Swanson
    September 24, 2008

    Whee! I posted a link to this article on Ebert’s blog, and he came here to comment as a result! EGO BOOST ^10! :D *falls over himself giggling like a maniac and then goes to watch Inerhit the Wind*

  172. #172 Owlmirror
    September 24, 2008

    Only 4 percent of Americans are creationists.

    I’m sorry, is this satire again?

    No country in the world has that low a percentage of creationists.

    This 2006 study has the numbers; the lowest numbers appears to be around 10%. In Iceland. And Japan.

    http://richarddawkins.net/article,706,Public-Acceptance-of-Evolution,Science-Magazine-Jon-D-Miller-Eugenie-C-Scott-Shinji-Okamoto

  173. #173 Kel
    September 24, 2008

    Only 4 percent of Americans are creationists.

    I thought the figure was closer to 48%. If only it were 4% well anywhere, here in Australia we aren’t even anywhere close to it and creationism is a non-issue.

  174. #174 Nick Gotts
    September 24, 2008

    Not satire I think, Owlmirror, just ignorance. Maybe Mr. Ebert should consider educating himself a little before he next tries his hand at anything outside the film criticism which is (I’m told) his field of expertise.

  175. #175 Chris Swanson
    September 25, 2008

    Now, now, folks, do remember that Mr Ebert is on our side. He might’ve made satire that was a little dry for some to pick up on, but he still meant well.

  176. #176 dave s
    September 25, 2008

    Mr Ebert is to be congratulated on his satirical wit, but I’m puzzled by his explanation. He says of Swift’s modest proposal, “Yet not a single person in the class concluded that Swift was seriously proposing that the starving Irish eat their babies. We all got it.” Where did they get it? Swift proposed that the poor would sell their children as food for the rich gentlemen and ladies of Dublin, and not eat such a valuable commodity themselves. Has Mr Ebert no idea of economics?

    In passing, Swift’s proposal may be obvious satire, but an Irishman of my acquaintance was completely outraged at the mere use of the same title when discussing the horrendous way in which many people mistakenly assume that the Irish are British, a grevious insult to be sure. So, it may be satire to you, but to some of the Irish it’s deadly serious.

  177. #177 Jeff
    September 25, 2008

    Now, now, folks, do remember that Mr Ebert is on our side. He might’ve made satire that was a little dry for some to pick up on, but he still meant well.

    No offense, Chris, but 175 comments into this thread, could we please dispense with the notion that the satire “was a little dry for some to pick up on”? Seriously, over and over the point has been made: nobody was “fooled” by the satire. That’s not PZ’s (nor my, nor many others’) beef with it. We called it before Ebert’s clever “reveal.”

    The beef is not that anyone was “tricked,” but that it simply didn’t out-outlandish the real thing enough to qualify as effective satire. I’m getting kind of frustrated with the repeatedly debunked assertion of “sour grapes” in this thread, when the facts in evidence demonstrate that nobody was fooled by the grapes in the first place.

    It’s lovely that Ebert is “on our side,” but so, in some ways, are folks like Francois Tremblay, and I’d rather not claim them as “my team.” The man who claims to “love Pharyngula” couldn’t even get PZ’s name correct (and, unless he’s got an awfully non-standard keyboard, I have a tough time believing that would be a typo). What does this suggest about his ability to analyze the facts and/or present them in an accurate and honest manner? He’s got some talent with prose, yes, but I’m not going to tap him to lead the charge against the creationists, any more than I want Bill Maher debating Ray Comfort (I’d prefer someone whose grasp of reality is more prominent than his wit).

    Long story short: can we stop with the pretension that Ebert “fooled” PZ (and those of us of a similar mindset), and understand that the gripe is with how poorly done (and poorly explained) Ebert’s piece was? Thanks.

  178. #178 gyokusai
    September 25, 2008

    Cool! PZ’s “reconstructed context” I was so enthusiastic about in #85 has made it to John Gruber’s Daring Fireball.

    ^_^J.

  179. #179 bullfighter
    September 25, 2008

    Maybe Ebert is moving to The New Yorker.

  180. #180 Mark Hudson
    September 25, 2008

    Maybe his article was just too subtle for some people. It was clear, surely, that it was satire from the things such as “they lived for this long, or this long, or some this long” and especially the mixed incredibly accurate with incredibly vague figures in my favourite bit: “We know that Noah was 600 years, two months and 17 days old when he sailed. Using that as a starting point and counting forward, Genesis tells us it lasted for 40, 150, 253, 314 or 370 days.”

  181. #181 Chris Swanson
    September 25, 2008

    The man who claims to “love Pharyngula” couldn’t even get PZ’s name correct (and, unless he’s got an awfully non-standard keyboard, I have a tough time believing that would be a typo). What does this suggest about his ability to analyze the facts and/or present them in an accurate and honest manner?

    Not to keep dragging this out, but apparently I’m going to… :) Anyhow, he did type it as PZ on his own blog, so, eh, he made a mistake. The man does have a Pulitzer and has been writing professionally longer than I’ve been alive, so I’ll forgive him a typo.

    And a simple mistake like that says nothing about his ability to analyze facts, etc. It just says that he made a mistake.

  182. #182 Chris Swanson
    September 25, 2008

    Oh, and for those, like me, wondering where he got the baffling 4% figure, here’s a reply from his blog:

    “Only 4 percent of Americans are creationists.”

    Source?

    According to an ABC News poll, 60 percent of Americans believe God created the world in six days.
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3211737&page=1\\

    Ebert: Saw it on the web. Shouldn’t have believes it. Now here’s a 1991 (!) Gallup survey cited by religious tolerance.com that says 47% of all Americans and 14% of science teachers believe the earth was created pretty much in its present form within the past 10,000 years. Hasn’t the website been able to find a poll not older than the Web? I’m finished Googling for polls. (Same poll says however that of all scientists professing expertise in the area, only 0.14 percent subscribe to creationism.) How could that many people “believe” in creationism? Do they? It is not a matter for faith, it is a matter for rational thinking. Believing doesn’t make it true. I have a friend who converted to a religion teaching creationism. She told her pastor it was the one area of dogma she had trouble accepting. “I doubt it, too” he told her. “But we have to believe in it. That’s the meaning of faith.”

    And that’s the last time I’m commenting on this! :)

  183. #183 Danio
    September 25, 2008

    I saw that too, Chris (#182), and it kind of irked me. Most of what Ebert has written about ‘the reveal’ has been annoyingly incredulous, and I can only conclude that he really does not believe that people really believe this in any significant number. Other comments on his site suggest that others believe–or don’t believe–similarly. Ebert’s initial response seemed to trivialize the influence of creationism on the current state of education, politics, health care, etc. His follow up comment (reproduced above) conveys the same sense of dismissal, even as he acknowledges that his 4% figure was an entire order of magnitude too low.

  184. #184 eric13
    September 25, 2008

    I have to at least somewhat agree with Ebert on this one. I do think that we’re losing our ability to detect irony. As others have already commented, though, for those who read this blog (and others like it), we’ve seen even more outlandish serious arguments from creationists. If Roger was guilty of anything, it was in not being as over-the-top crazy as a true creationist would be. I believe he’s being sincere when he says that his intended audience was not those of us who are more familiar with the breathtaking inanity of creationist thinking, but those who aren’t as likely to have heard these arguments before. Did it actually work on any of his target audience? As much as I hope it did, I suspect that’s where the true lack of detection of irony may be, and those are the people who most need to be exposed to the depths of absurdity of creationism. On balance I think this satire was a case of “missed it by THAT much.” It wasn’t bad, but it could have been so much better.

  185. #185 Jeff
    September 25, 2008

    Anyhow, he did type it as PZ on his own blog, so, eh, he made a mistake. The man does have a Pulitzer and has been writing professionally longer than I’ve been alive, so I’ll forgive him a typo.

    And a simple mistake like that says nothing about his ability to analyze facts, etc. It just says that he made a mistake.

    Point taken, Chris, and my exaggerated exasperation is due to the fact that I think it’s pretty rude (not to mention surprisingly sloppy for a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist) to incorrectly address the host of a blog where you’re commenting. I also find that the only people who’ve done it over at our place are the very obtuse ones who have little clue as to what they’re saying.

    I’ll also admit that “Pulitzer Prize winning” isn’t the kind of phrase that convinces me of Ebert’s expertise on creationist rhetoric, and though it should ideally be relevant to his expertise on satire and the public perception of irony, his actual attempt at satire diminishes my opinion of his skills there.

    And then, of course, there’s my actual point, completely disregarding who Ebert might be, who PZ Myers might be, who you or I might be: the “mystery” involved here was that the majority of Ebert’s critics here (including PZ) already figured in the first place that the piece was either poor satire by Ebert or a hacking job on his site. Repeatedly pointing out the “obvious” clues to satire is getting a bit silly (and sounds more like bragging rights than evidence — “I caught this one!”), and repeatedly saying “Guess it was too subtle for you” is even sillier, all the more so for being wholly inaccurate. For one thing, we weren’t particularly “fooled” (especially not into thinking Ebert was sincere about it), which seems to be the crux of Ebert’s grand, ego-stroking second act reveal. For another, as Feynmaniac demonstrated, it’s not like Ebert’s “obvious” clues were so far off from actual creationist claims.

    It’s just unfortunate that, in this context, the only straightforward, unfettered response to “See, fooled you!” is a dead-pan “No, you didn’t.” Which, I’ll admit, doesn’t sound terribly convincing, even if it’s true. (Personally, I rather doubted the “hacking” hypothesis, since I didn’t see the point — why target Ebert, specifically, with this? So that would mean that I did, in fact, realize it was Ebert’s attempt at satire…and I still didn’t find it to be successful. But, man, since nobody can go back in time and read my mind…it’s not a very convincing anecdote, and just sounds like my own “bragging rights.”)

    As far as those saying things along the lines of “It’s successful satire because it has us discussing its success as satire!” — that’s preposterous. It’s like the people who insist that “memorable” advertising is therefore successful advertising. I, for one, will never purchase Geico’s insurance services ever, partly because I can’t stand their commercials (which are certainly memorable) — that really doesn’t make it successful advertising. Successful advertising gets you to comply or consume, not merely remember; successful satire successfully satirizes, it doesn’t merely get you discussing the qualities of satire itself. In the opinion of many here, Ebert’s satire was pretty piss-poor as satire; the fact that we’re discussing it doesn’t suddenly elevate your opinion of its success as satire, unless, of course, you already think it was successful. I don’t — so the existence of the discussion itself won’t change my opinion, though if someone can bring up a good argument for it in the discussion, that might do it. Haven’t seen a convincing one yet. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but nothing’s really convinced me (and many others) so far.

  186. #186 pseudonymous in nc
    September 26, 2008

    PZ, I’ll give you props on biology, but don’t make declarations about Jonathan Swift. Other comments have talked about the context of that piece. The more disturbing element is that Swift doesn’t give the Catholic Irish a free pass.

    Not that others can generally ‘do’ Swift. But PZ can’t ‘do’ lit-crit either. Po-facedness is absolutely not a bad thing in the hard sciences, but it wears badly across disciplines.

  187. #187 melior
    September 26, 2008

    I think the idea that satire (done well) is no longer recognized or understood in modern times is naive. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert wield it often to good effect, and many of the best pieces in The Onion are nothing but pure satire.

    A commonly observed reaction is laughter. Poorly executed satire can be easily distinguished by the resulting vacant expressions on the faces of a substantial number of its viewers.

  188. #188 Dawn
    September 26, 2008

    Melior – Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and The Onion use satire like a wrecking ball uses surgical precision (not that I don’t love them). That they are being cited as examples of American satire only supports Ebert’s argument. Part of the problem seems to be that people expected, as you noted, a laugh. They wanted a punchline or payoff and when Ebert didn’t make it obvious enough they got sulky about it.

    It hurts to learn you’re not as clever as you thought.

    And no, I didn’t get it either. It went right over my head until I read comments here, Ebert’s response and thought a little further on it. In other words, after I put some work into what Ebert offered. Hopefully next time I’ll get it.

  189. #189 rubin10101
    December 27, 2009

    It became less funny when he felt the need to explain it. That he would have to in this day & age..

    He should’ve just said he was goofin’ on the subject. It was kind of funny, and I really don’t think that we were his ideal target audience.

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