Suddenly tone matters

Jerry Coyne has a concern. Weighing in on the elevatorgate saga (cf.):

Over the past few days I’ve become increasingly distressed at the inability of our community to discuss an issue rationally and without rancor or name-calling. This “campaign”, which I agree with Miranda is vile and disgusting, seems more like a popularity contest: who has the greatest influence on the internet? It is about trying to bully people into agreement through name calling (“gender traitors”) and humiliation. It is not about rational discourse but about self promotion (“SCORE”) and censorship of ideas that some people don’t like.

The atheist community used to pride itself in holding no cows sacred: all topics were free and open for discussion, and that discussion was supposed to be civil, reasoned, and driven by evidence, not just anecdotes. Arguments were not decided by who could shout the loudest, recruit the most powerful blogger to their side, or humiliate the most famous person.

I would like to think that this community could survive this period unscathed, but I’m not optimistic. This “campaign” represents, to me, the antithesis of how we are supposed to behave.

Spit take

Now, some of us out here have been saying that exact same first sentence for years. Literal years. The third and fourth sentences, too, not to mention the second and third paragraphs in their entirety.

And for our trouble, Coyne and others in his community have attacked us, even bullying us through our employers. He’s tried to win arguments by trumping empirical research with anecdotes. He’s coyned brand new pejoratives, and applied old ones. He’s made the discourse a shouting match, and used name-calling and bullying to get his way. He’s treated the whole thing as a popularity contest.

And again, for years, people have been calling him on this. He and his pals have dismissed those complaints, often by the simple expedient of saying some version of “Ethically challenged person X made the same charge, so you’re wrong.”

I was tempted to make this whole post a parody of that style, but life’s too short to parody the already absurd. I’m glad Coyne is able to recognize how bad this sort of behavior is sometimes. I’m not surprised it’s easier for him to see the problem when the name-calling and rancor is not directed at the Other, but at people he regards as being on his same side. That doesn’t excuse his blindness in other contexts, and I hope there’s some sort of more general lesson buried in all this.

Meanwhile, though, you get James van der Meme (above) and LoLcats:



  1. #1 Jeremy Stangroom
    July 9, 2011

    “That doesn’t excuse his blindness in other contexts, and I hope there’s some sort of more general lesson buried in all this.”

    You’re being too kind, Josh. The fact that Coyne is selectively blind is at least arguably a greater moral failing than just being blind. (It’s discriminatory.)

    None of this is going to make any difference. Nothing will change, because he can’t help himself. (Is my view, but I guess we’ll see.)

  2. #2 Nick (Matzke)
    July 9, 2011

    Coyne actually has shown some interest, recently, in improving the decor on his blog and in the skeptical community. This is a good thing. But it is indeed ironic, given much of his previous invective. He’s a passionate guy, and he has a laudable instinct to go after bunkum wherever he perceives it. This works really well when he’s right (e.g. ev. psych, creationists, vestiges of Biblical literalism amongst the evangelical evolutionists, etc.), but it works really poorly when he’s wrong or at least getting carried away (e.g. peppered moths, getting into a fight with H. Allen Orr over Orr’s negative review of the God Delusion, his targeting of Collins, Miller, Josh, me, Ruse, Templeton, etc.). I’m prepared to take the bad as being the price of getting the really good stuff, but I’ll be damned if I’ll shut up about it when I think he’s wrong.

    Re: gnu invective in general — To be fair, we have to remember that a huge amount of pointless insulting on blogs is just because of the nature of the internet, the nature of plain text vs. face-to-face speech, etc. Back when Panda’s Thumb was really in the news, there was a lot of invective and insulting there against any creationist who dared to show up. This was with little-to-no encouragement from the lead posters, who are all polite types (and including PZ, who has never gone overboard on PT IIRC). I occasionally tried to do something about it, on the theory that (a) it was the kind of site we wanted teachers and students to read, and (b) we should act better than our opponents. So I would occasionally ban people/delete comments etc. But doing this in any kind of serious way was a ridiculous amount of work and I couldn’t keep it up.

    All that said, though, I think there has been a lot of extra gas thrown onto the fire of invective in the Gnu movement by the leadership, especially by PZ and Dawkins. Dawkins kicked it off in The God Delusion with the “Chamberlain” language, analogizing pretty standard religious upbringing to child abuse, and later carelessly dropping Nazi & Quisling references where they were wildly inappropriate. We all knew PZ for years on and the like and he was a perfectly reasonable fellow, but somewhere around 2006 he got a lot harsher also. It’s sort of like the Gnus discovered the appeal of the Shock Jock culture or something.

    To has been added this the pretty deliberate overall strategy of attempting to tar moderate religious folk with the same brush that fundamentalists get, and attempting to brow-beat more moderate nonreligious folk — people who should be treated as friends and allies — into adopting the same harsh line. Concerns about civility and collegiality and scholarship have been brushed off with dismissive, soon-to-be-kneejerk-defenses-of-being-beastly like “tone troll” and “courtier’s reply” and “framing is lying”. After all this, congrats, you’ve engineered a movement with a huge amount of negativity and self-righteousness and not a lot of constructive ability. So why should anyone be surprised when the movement tears itself to pieces over the most minor incidents? Compromise, listening, moderation, and having a sense of proportion about things — especially about who deserves insults and invective — have not been cultivated.

    The lack of a sense of proportion is pretty much my biggest beef with the Gnus on everything, not just their invective. Stoning women to death for adultery? Yes, blast those people with everything you’ve got. Someone mildly suggests that maybe calling everyone from Francis Collins to Kenneth Miller to Chris Mooney bleepity-bleeping-idiotic-bleepwads isn’t a great idea for the purpose of science promotion nor in the general service of rationality, given these guys’ substantial achievements in science and science education — or someone suggests that maybe the science/religion question is at least a little bit more complicated than “all religion everywhere is wrong and evil and needs to be eradicated” — these sorts of people deserve respectful disagreement, not the same response as the people who commit stonings.

  3. #3 jln.francisco
    July 9, 2011

    “This “campaign”, which I agree with Miranda is vile and disgusting, seems more like a popularity contest: who has the greatest influence on the internet?”

    Believe it or not Mr. Rosenau, I had the same reaction you did.

  4. #4 TB
    July 9, 2011

    The adult in me admires and agrees with Josh and Nick’s intelligent dissections of the issue.
    The immature child in me can’t stop channeling the Simpson’s Nelson Muntz.

  5. The atheist community used to pride itself in holding no cows sacred: all topics were free and open for discussion

    Oh, brother. What a bunch of nonsense. My first experience of Coyne was asking why someone would take Plato’s pronouncements on the origin of morality seriously, considering his being, essentially, an aristocratic fascist who admired the Spartan system. Coyne certainly didn’t want that discussed, openly or freely. And he didn’t welcome much more that followed either before he sent me an e-mail calling me a “sourpuss” and telling me not to comment at his blog, which was, by the way, his right. But he doesn’t have a right to pretend that he welcomes open inquiry.

    I think there has been a lot of extra gas thrown onto the fire of invective in the Gnu movement by the leadership, especially by PZ and Dawkins.

    Oh, it goes back farther than that. “Gnus” are always trying to pretend that it doesn’t carry the baggage of recent atheist history, especially that contained in the “skeptical” movement. When anyone who looks could hardly fail to notice the connections. Madeline Murray O’Hair, James Randi, the general tone coming out of Skeptical Inquirer and the other Paul Kurtz publications. Even before that, the sainted Martin Gardner explicitly advocated the use of ridicule as being gratifyingly effective in “skeptical” propaganda, supposedly as just an adjunct of evidence.

    Though as time went on, especially with the founding of CSICOP, with the ousting of Marcello Truzzi and, especially, in relation to the infamous sTARBABY incident, he didn’t much mind as that was used even against people inside of the “skeptical” movement in the suppression of evidence.

    So much for dispassionate reason and evidence. To a student of the history of organized atheism, the new atheism is just an intensification of what’s been there all along. It is obvious that the internet has helped drive down the tone even farther, or at least faster, but it was on a downward trajectory from the start.

  6. #6 Nick Matzke
    July 10, 2011

    Agreed that Madeline Murray O’Hair was bad news, but what’s your beef with James Randi and Martin Gardner? I didn’t/don’t follow them closely but they seem like Nice Guys with a gentle sense of humor, not dung-throwing monkeys. Paul Kurtz sometimes had a hard edge, I’ll grant you, but still he was a lot more dignified and constructive, and willing to have a big tent, than the current Big Personalities.

  7. Nick Matzke, I’m surprised anyone would seriously ask about James Randi in this context. The guy is a pretty nasty little character assassin who has a history of lying and bending the truth like a magician’s spoon. That he also goes after real frauds and cheats, as well as the innocuous and some genuine research scientists doesn’t change that is part of his record. His lying about having replicated Rupert Sheldrake’s dog research and having reviewed tapes of that research, when he’d done neither, and his stonewalling when Sheldrake called him on it, is hardly an isolated incident.

    Gardner’s methods were less flamboyant and he was smarter about when he smeared people, if credibility instead of getting rich was the goal, at least, but, as that link I gave shows, he was an early instigator of the mockery and a consistent practitioner of it. What he said about J.B. Rhine both before and after Rhine’s death was pretty disgusting, as was his role in Hansel’s phony charges concerning Pratt’s research. He was a huckster of a brand of debunkery that posed as skepticism and it still does. Hardly any of the people involved in that movement are skeptical, they know exactly what other people should be allowed to think. Oddly, it’s exactly what they think, themselves. Which isn’t all that much different from how religious fundamentalists operate.

  8. #8 Bruce Gorton
    July 11, 2011


    Sheldrake, as in parapsychology Sheldrake? As in Morphic resonance that got spanked by Steven Rose Sheldrake?

  9. #9 Bruce Gorton
    July 11, 2011

    Now, some of us out here have been saying that exact same first sentence for years. Literal years.

    No, some of you have been stating that pointing out the epistomological conflict between faith and science Is Not Helping, and using fake evidence upon which to smear your opponents (EG: The whole sock-puppet affair.)

  10. #11 Ender
    July 11, 2011

    Some of who Bruce? Do you have any evidence that Josh or anyone here is YNH or are you throwing around baseless smears of the kind you decry?

    I don’t believe that anyone here believes that pointing out episomological conflict is a problem. What is a problem is pretending that believers can’t be good scientists, or other such claims that are contradicted by the evidence. If you don’t do that then there isn’t a problem.
    Other people do not believe there is a conflict in all cases and think that rational debate is the way to ascertain the truth.

  11. #12 Ender
    July 11, 2011

    Or if I read that incorrectly, do you have any evidence that anyone here was involved in the sockpuppet affair or has used fake evidence to smear anyone? If not you’re being as bad as the Strawman you’re attacking. You’re smearing people without any evidence.

  12. #13 Major Moe Ron
    July 11, 2011

    I don’t think the active blogosphere atheist population — the people who bother to exchange comments — amounts to much more than several hundred (a thousand at most) people (many of whom, I suspect, spend way too much time online).

    On the other hand there are many thousands who get a kick out of reading the latest creationism kookiness at PZ’s blog or who giggle at Coyne’s well-done criticism of Biologos. For the most part they don’t care or have time to comment, and they certainly don’t care about the drama du jour.

    Just sayin’ that this stuff may be much less significant than one may imagine.

  13. Bruce Gorton, that would be the research scientist, Rupert Sheldrake, who published research that got lied about by professional slight of hand artist and oft-sued defamer, James Randi. That’s “James Randi” as in the amazingly able to deflect revelations about his sleazy behavior through trolling and Wiki alteration by his pseudo-skeptical fan boys James Randi. I keep meaning to read that Tim Cridland article from last year but just can’t get around to looking for it.

    As for Rose, I only read through the material once a few years back. I recalled reading this in a response by Sheldrake:

    On the basis of confused reasoning, erroneous data and selective use of evidence, Rose announces that the hypothesis of formative causation is “disconfirmed”. This categorical statement is a good example of his polemical style, familiar to me from our debate over the nature of memory in The Guardian, in the course of which he seriously misrepresented the experimental evidence. Rose has had many years of experience in the realm of political controversy. His technique is to try and endow his own belief with a tone of objective authority. At the same time he tries to discredit opposing opinions by playing on prejudices. In the present case, he gratuitously attempts to associate the hypothesis of formative causation with creationism, pseudoscience, parapsychology, crop circles, deep ecology, homeopathy, anti-rationalism and whatever else seems likely to arouse negative responses in readers who share his general beliefs. I imagine Rose would disapprove of such tactics on moral grounds if they were used by his political opponents. The results of this experiment do not disconfirm the hypothesis of formative causation, as Rose claims. They are consistent with it.

    I’m not in any position to have an adequately informed opinion about formative causation, though Sheldrake has put forth some interesting ideas. I am, though, a student of pseud-skepticism and what Rose did here is certainly in resonance with the morphology of pseudo-skepticism.

    All I talked about here was James Randi lying about having replicated an experiment and having seen the video tape, further lying when challenged and finally coming up with an excuse you’d expect from a third grader, which is indisputably the case in this incident. NOT that the “skeptics” are all that bothered by serial lying by one of their heroes.

  14. Bruce Gorton, you might want to read this paper, especially the Discussions and Conclusion section of it.

    Or, if you’re like most of the “skeptics” I’ve read and encountered, you probably wouldn’t.

  15. Forgot, you might be aware, though, that despite what it says about him, Marcello Truzzi was forced out of CSICOP very soon after it was founded because he was too skeptical for the “skeptics”, who were, actually, not skeptical but dogmatic polemicists. They still are. You might want to look up what he published around the fall out from sTARBABY in his irregularly published magazine.

  16. #17 Rog
    July 11, 2011

    Anthony, what’s an example of a phenomenon that the scientific community refuses to accept? What is the evidence supporting the phenomenon, and why do you believe scientists have not accepted it?

  17. Rog, the only thing I was talking about was James Randi lying. Unlike the “skeptics” I don’t think there are people who it’s acceptable to lie about. Sheldrake produces research and it gets published, he subjects it to the normal procedures of science. While I’d doubt the usefulness of him collaborating on research with professional and semi-professional “skeptics” that’s his business. That they come up with variant analyses of the results is turning out to be less of a surprise, though Sheldrake has been very good at defending his interpretation.

    I haven’t defended Sheldrake except against James Randi lying about him. I presented part of what he said about Steven Rose which is quite in line with just about every part of the “skeptics” MO as I’ve observed.

    As I said, I only became interested in this to compare research methodologies between controlled PSI research and that used in psychology and evo-psy. In just about every way the methods and practices of PSI are obviously superior to much of accepted psychology and just about all of evo-psy. Considering how many of the “skeptics” are either psychologists or allied fields, you’d think they could spare a bit of their skepticism for the abominable standards frequently allowed in their own field. I have looked for that and other than a bit by the late Barry Beyerstine, I’ve found next to nothing. If you know of any, I’d like citations.

    Richard Feynman, of all people, said that PSI had adequate internal critics and didn’t seem to require outside ones. I don’t know if he ever remarked on the internal criticism of psychology and evo-psy but the comparison is interesting.

    Gee, no one wants to defend Gardner? He was the more easily defended of the two, though, as he actually dealt with things more complex than ridicule and flim flam he’s the harder one to read.

  18. #19 Vroom
    July 11, 2011

    McCarthy — instead of carpeting the world, try wearing shoes.

  19. #20 Nick Matzke
    July 11, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy — from my perspective this stuff you saying is coming out of nowhere. I am only generally familiar with Randi and Gardner. From the various things I have read and seen, perhaps amounting to a few dozen publications total over the years, they seem like enlightened skeptics of pretty good humor, who get their science right, which is important to me because I do know a lot about science.

    So when you come in an start blasting Randi about Sheldrake, my warning bells go off, because my (limited but not nonexistent) experience with Randi is that he gets mainstream science and is also a reasonably nice guy, and my (limited but not nonexistent) experience with Sheldrake is that he’s a loon who thinks pets are psychic. Yes, I’m biased. Another word for that is called “being somewhat informed.”

    Pet psi abilities have a very low prior probability for me, for various reasons: (a) they seem to violate the laws of physics, (b) a great many psychic claims over the years have been shown to be due to wishful thinking, classic well-known logical errors in thinking about statistical significance and probability (e.g. reporting the significant results and ignoring the insignificant ones), lack of well-controlled experiments, lack of replication, and/or outright fraud. Am I going to say that I know, for sure, that pet psi is impossible? No. By all means, present the best evidence that you or Sheldrake has got. But because of the laws of physics and the past history, you’re going to need something pretty good to get me or other scientists to spend their attention and time taking you seriously. Running 20 tests and reporting the one that is significant at p<0.05 won't do it. And neither does leading off with claims that all the anti-Sheldrake sentiment is just due to dogma and bias, when there is evidence that Sheldrake has actually gotten a fair amount of attention, including people attempting to replicate his work, and yet hasn't managed to convince many people.

    So I would suggest you start from zero and explain why someone like me should take pet psi abilities seriously.

  20. Nick Matzke, you should look at Rupert Sheldrake’s CV if that’s what you think of him. It’s pretty amazing how many people think James Randi has had anything to do with science when he has had nothing to do with science, whereas Rupert Sheldrake has had a long career in real science, holding real positions at major universities, producing real research. His controversial book laying out his hypothesis of morphic resonance is certainly not conventional but it makes a scientific case for his idea without resorting to Randian tactics of abuse of people and the truth.

    I haven’t read what he wrote about his animal experiments but I doubt he didn’t follow a level of rigor in line with standard research. If there’s one thing that clear it’s that Sheldrake knows how to conduct research. However, even if he didn’t, that doesn’t change that James Randi lied in a magazine interview that he had replicated one of his experiments and refuted Sheldrake’s conclusions and that he had looked at video from the experiment and that Sheldrake had misrepresented what that video showed. And that when Sheldrake challenged him to produce his research and account for how he saw the video, he first lied about those and finally gave a lame excuse on the level that the dog ate his homework.

    I wonder, since you don’t seem to have looked at Sheldrake’s credentials or what he’s written, how you can dismiss what he says. Only, that kind of summary dismissal seems to be typical of self-appointed skeptics. Which is exactly the kind of thing that Gardner depended on in his distortion of J.G. Pratt’s research, for example. It is the kind of thing which he and Randi and CSICOP depend on in their followers, that they will depend on the invented authority of the “skeptics” instead of looking at what researchers performing highly controlled experiments with some of the most rigorous controls against fraud and mistakes in any behavioral sciences, have done and the results they have had. Which is how science is not supposed to be done. Since, among other things, James Randi has advocated that “skeptics” turn themselves into experts merely by declaring themselves to be “experts” for the press, it’s safe to conclude that he’d figure they can forgo all that fussy science stuff by virtue of their superior sciencyness.

    You might want to look at the sTARBABY incident, this is the best account of it I’ve read.

    Though Dennis Rawling’s original account contains some important background on the credibility of a number of famous “skeptics”, including Gardner and Randi. You can find it online, Rawling is a bit of a pill as well as an extreme skeptic and atheist but his account has checked out as accurate, as the link I provide shows.

    The ties between organized “skepticism” and the new atheism are rather obvious as is the style they share.

  21. #22 Ender
    July 11, 2011

    Hey. Anthony, I’m a skeptic too, and nothing you’ve said describes me. Generalising like that can only serve to alienate people from your point.

  22. #23 Ender
    July 11, 2011

    That’s mainly in reference to “Or, if you’re like most of the “skeptics” I’ve read and encountered, you probably wouldn’t.” and ”
    Only, that kind of summary dismissal seems to be typical of self-appointed skeptics.” and other similar kinds of things. I realise you’re not saying that about all of us, but you appear to be characterising us from the basis of a few high profile skeptics and those you’ve disagreed with on the net or elsewhere. No large group is so homogeneous in behaviour that you can generalise so wildly without alienating those you have not described. Still on phone, so more apologies for lack of nuance.

  23. #24 Spader
    July 11, 2011

    Be careful, everyone. McCarthy may become angry and morphic resonate us into smithereens.

  24. Ender, I would hope that by now you would realize that I value skepticism as a necessary part of testing ideas, which is quite a bit different from using the word to describe the automatic rejection of ideas, research (scientific, historical, etc.), peoples’ reports of their personal experience and the kind of stuff which has been the basis of my criticism of the new atheism and organized “skepticism”. I think people should be reluctant to adopt ideas that aren’t tested by some skeptical investigation but they should be even more reluctant to reject ideas without testing the rejection of their rejection to skeptical analysis. In the case of sTARBABY it can be seen that that kind of “skeptical” rejection can lead “skeptics” into numerous and serious errors that any fair and honest appraisal would lead people to have skepticism about the “skepticism” of those “skeptics”. The kind of “skepticism” I’m critical of actually shuts off skeptical processes on the basis of personal preference. It’s rigid insistence that it’s position is correct prevents free inquiry, I suspect it’s historical legacy will have been to prevent scientific research.

    I’d ask anyone to look at this from Richard Kamman’s piece linked to above, talking about Paul Klass who was tasked to write a hit piece on Dennis Rawlins.

    He eventually fell back on the traditional Council (CSICOP’s Council) stance — he didn’t understand statistics.

    It’s remarkable 1. how a number of the biggest names in CSICOP were entirely ignorant of statistics, which means they couldn’t even begin to understand the controlled research into PSI which they were supposedly debunking, 2. how some of those with some statistical knowledge – who those in 1. depended on to handle those little statistical details – made some glaring and gross errors and persisted in those over years against competent warnings, 3. how those problems didn’t bother other members of the Council and many of the Fellows in that “skeptical” fraternity (and they were all men at the time) all that much. They didn’t seem see these as fatal to any scientific evaluation of controlled research and a symptom that something was seriously wrong with their “skepticism”.

    I certainly don’t believe in neo-astrology, nor any other kind of biological determinism but incompetence, lying and cover up aren’t any way to disprove it. Derision isn’t a refutation in science or any other honest endeavor, though it works in crude and dirty politics. It’s striking how many of those who hang a shingle announcing their superior rationality depend on derision and the worst kind of pack bonding to sway people who are ignorant into becoming self-appointed champions of reason and science. See Spader @ 24.

    My problem with “skepticism” is that it isn’t skeptical, it’s the promotion and imposition of a conventional point of view through mockery, rudeness, insults and occasionally outright lying in order to convert a lot of ignorant sci-fans on that basis. If that list of objections sounds familiar, it’s because it’s part of my objections to the new atheism. If you add the historical and moral fallacies of indiscriminate and vicarious blame of blameless religious believers for the crimes of others, you’ve got pretty much the same phenomenon with many of the same cast members common to both.

  25. #26 Brian K
    July 12, 2011

    McCarthy, you were politely asked to provide evidence for whatever phenomenon you believe that scientists should recognize. This request “bounced off” you, and you continued your verbose ranting about other stuff. That kind of behavior exactly fits the pattern of Internet kooks, and you should not be surprised to have landed into that category. You can get out of it by providing evidence for whatever PSI thing you want recognized.

    According to this well-trodden kook pattern, you will also ignore this request for evidence.

    And by the way, appropriating the comment section of a blog post for unrelated ranting also fits the pattern.

  26. Brian K, I haven’t proposed that “scientists should recognize” any phenomena, I’ve proposed that they practice the normal methods and procedures of science. Which the “skeptics” certainly don’t.

    It seems to be too complex for the self-announced rationalists that all I said was that James Randi lied about having conducted an experiment and having viewed a video and that he further lied about Rupert Sheldrake misrepresenting what the video he didn’t see showed. It’s hardly the only instance in which their sciency hero has twisted the truth like Uri Geller twists spoons. What is obvious is that they don’t care if he lies or not.

    Read former CSICOP Fellow Richard Kammann’s piece I link to at comment 21 for more on the honesty and observance of science and rationalism among some of the biggest names in skepticism and the new atheism. Or you can read the more entertaining version that Dennis Rawlins, an extreme skeptic and even more extreme hater of religion as well as a founder of CSICOP before he was kicked out, wrote about the scandal.

    You will find a lot of interesting information about James Randi and the way he operates. Not that anything could cause the “skeptical” champions of “reason” and “science” to cast their “skeptical” eyes on him.

    I hope the brief mention of St. Martin Gardner who suspended his typical derisive habits to merely laugh away a rather huge scandal and cover up in his own club. You might want to contrast that to his exchange with J. G. Pratt in the New York Times when Pratt and others pointed out misstatments he made in relation to C.E.M. Hansel’s seriously flawed debunking of Pratt’s and Rhine’s work. Clearly he was highly selective in when he practiced his best scrivening.

    By the way, if you use WOT to avoid linking to dangerous sites. If you follow links to the quite superior skeptic, Jim Lippard’s, site where a lot of the more reliable material on sTARBABY is found, you will find that someone has given his site a dangerous enough WOT rating that you’ll get a warning. The same is true of Rupert Sheldrake’s site and others who are critical of pseudo-skepticism. I doubt that’s a coincidence, though that’s just a suspicion. That kind of “WOT bombing” would seem to be in line with the known tactics of “skepticism”.

  27. #28 marion delgado
    July 12, 2011

    I would say the tenets of market fundamentalism were sacred cows, so Coyne’s wrong about that.

    The backstory to this is that women have avoided atheist groups and events, so anything that might make women avoid them is taken especially seriously.

  28. #29 marion delgado
    July 12, 2011

    I noticed what Nick said about PT. That’s how I followed PZ’s posts, not usually via Pharyngula, and I think one difference is the commenters. For one thing, the volume means you draw all kinds, and the ones that are most persistent and stand out the most aren’t necessarily the best – and the ones who storm from there over to The Instersection, e.g., aren’t good representatives of anything much.

    PT made a lot of changes as looking at the history of the Bathroom Wall and After The Bar Closes can show you.

  29. #30 Ender
    July 13, 2011

    Yes, from what I have seen that is true, Anthony. I only mentioned it as a semantic point – your comment put me on guard, and skeptic is only one small part of my conformation of beliefs, so imagine it sounded even more like a generalised attack/criticism to others.
    Though I don’t agree with you about everything, I think a lot of what you say has merit, and I think that avoiding generalities that people can take the wrong way is alway a good choice.

    If there is a systematic problem in one or more of these skeptic organisations or groups I think it’s better to name them each time rather than use a word that people could interpret as referring to themselves when they themselves have not been involved in any of the shenanigans or failures you describe. (Full disclosure I’m on holiday and have not followed any of your links)

  30. #31 Ender
    July 13, 2011

    “So *I* imagine” damnit

  31. #32 NIck Matzke
    July 13, 2011

    My sentence that ended in “p” was supposed to say “p less that 0.05”, the less-than symbol zapped the line though.

    Re: Randi and Gardner and whatever. I clicked on one of the links and couldn’t even figure out what the heck the dispute was about, except that it happened way back in 1976, was something about astrology and CSICOP and something (the article doesn’t say what it is!!) called “sTARBABY”, and Rawlins is still ranting about it 30 years later. In the search for more info, I clicked on the link to this page:

    …which is I guess by Rawlins, and it looks like a standard crazy-person webpage — different fonts, illucid, the whole bit.

    Look, I’m just a guy with limited time, this thread isn’t about Randi & Gardner, and you are dropping all sorts of things with classic crank warning signs on me. Is it fair for me to reach a judgment this way? Well not completely, but life is short and often we all make snap judgments so that we can spend time on the stuff we are interested in. But this stuff you are presenting is a long way from anything I am interested in anyway, so your job is to educate people like me, who start out knowing and caring very little about your issues. Communication 101. If you can’t do that, you’re just another weird person on the internet.

  32. Ender, it would be a good thing, if skeptics were going to organize, for them to read what Marcello Truzzi said about pseudo-skepticism. Though his form of skepticism is harder work than what would get the kind of following that James Randi has.

    I’m just a guy with limited time, this thread isn’t about Randi & Gardner

    It’s about the nasty tone of the new atheism in regard to an incident that happened to someone who styles themselves as a “skeptic” among other “skeptics”, the new atheism and organized skepticism are pretty much one, nearly seamless, piece of whole cloth. I mentioned the documented history of nastiness among “skeptics”, as well as the largely male population of that movement which is one of the reasons that it has been a frat house. Something that even “skeptics” have written about.

    I mentioned Randi and Gardner as well as some other “skeptics” in regard to the history of nastiness in organized “skepticism” and its relationship with the new atheists. James Randi is certainly a figure of both as is Paul Kurtz and their disciples. I was asked what I meant and I gave a few of many examples I could have as to why I named them as important figures in the tone of the new atheism and “skepticism”. Do you want me to apologize for being able to back up what I said?

    As you could see from Richard Kammann’s piece I linked to, Rawlins’ account in sTARBABY was factually accurate, he wasn’t the only prominent figure in CSICOP who publicly said that. He was far from the only member of organized skepticism who did. I said that Rawlins was a bit of a pill and an extreme “skeptic” and atheist because he’s fully as willing to use the same kinds of tactics as Randi and Gardner against his ideological opponents, Gardner with more cover in the way of decorum. Rawlins did, however, prove he values scientific accuracy and mathematical coherence more than his fellow “skeptics”.

    As to the tone of Rawlins’ net writing, is it all that much more extreme than what you’ll find on the comment threads at PZ’s or Randi’s places? Give PZ a few years of being egged on by his fan boys and see what he’s like in his old age.

    “classic crank signs,” that would be as opposed to Randi’s boys? It’s not my fault that the real history of organized “skepticism” has some pretty big skeletons in its closet. I could have mentioned some even more extreme ones in Randi’s known history, at least one of them included in court records, his involvement in sTARBABY is the tip of that heap. It’s one of the funnier aspects of the Amazing Randi phenomenon that he has developed a personality cult among a bunch of sci-rangers who can’t stand it when someone makes a factual criticism of their hero, even as they are supposed to be champions of truth and fact. Which isn’t an aberration in organized “skepticism” anymore than it is in most organizations. Just as much of organized religion can be faulted for violating their stated principles, organized skepticism and atheism can. All of them would be a lot better off it they admitted to their lapses and learned from them.

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