Guilt by disassociation

Shorter David Klinghoffer: Strange Bedfellows at the National Center for Science Education:

Has NCSE stopped beating its wife?

He's writing in reply to my post a couple days ago. I had criticized him for comparing 9/11 "truthers" to scientists who advocate for evolution, when it's easier to find a prominent anti-evolutionist who thinks 9/11 was an inside job.

Anyway, Klinghoffer spent his 9/11 decennial writing about how it's totally the other way because he found this one guy who totally proves his point. James Fetzer, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, is a philosopher who has written extensively on artificial intelligence and philosophy of science, and in his free time is also a prominent truther, a JFK conspiracy theorist, etc. He also wrote a book critiquing creationism, and with NCSE's Glenn Branch, recently co-edited an issue in a philosophy journal which examined "evolution and its rivals."

From this thin reed, Klinghoffer seeks to weave a mighty rope with which to bind a tight connection between NCSE and Fetzer. But he fails to show any connection other than that co-edited journal issue, and doesn't even try to show that Fetzer's conspiracist sideline had any influence on it, let alone that Branch or anyone at NCSE was aware of that sideline. So basically, I pointed out that a prominent figure at one of the major pro-ID blogs is a truther, and he responds by pointing out that some guy I'd hardly heard of before is a truther, too.

Despite that underwhelming reply, he winds up with this rousing challenge:

When William Buckley founded National Review he made a famous and wise ruling that no writer could appear in the pages of NR if that same writer also appeared in the pages of another, then-existing conservative magazine, The American Mercury. Why? Because the other journal promoted vile anti-Semitic nonsense. Buckley judged that if his magazine wanted to have any credibility, he'd have to draw a bright line separating anyone associated with him from anyone associated with the fever swamp.

I'd like to ask Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, and his colleagues Eugenie Scott, Executive Director, and Josh Rosenau, why they do not feel inclined to adopt a similar policy?

I can state confidently that NCSE does not need such a policy, since The American Mercury went out of print in 1981. But perhaps I'm taking his crummy writing at face value, and that isn't the policy he means.
There are any number of problems here, but the greatest is the "have you stopped beating your wife?" quality of the challenge, the implicit assumption that there's some extant nexus of NCSE with the sort of "pathologically irresponsible editorial material" which Buckley decried in the American Mercury.

If he means to suggest that NCSE publishes truther material or antisemitic content, that's readily falsified. Granting arguendo all of Klinghoffer's charges against Fetzer (which I haven't independently verified, and since Klinghoffer's not the most reliable source, I can't endorse the charges), the narrowest possible construal of Klinghoffer's paragraph doesn't work, since Fetzer himself has not published in NCSE publications.

On this blog, I don't speak in my capacity as an NCSE employee, and in any event, I don't edit NCSE's house journal, so I couldn't comment more generally on what sort of screening NCSE applies to authors who submit. I imagine that if NCSE refused to print some authors because of those authors' unsavory associations, the Disco. 'tute would do the electric slide over to complaints about censorship and guilt by association, but who knows, or cares.

Naturally, Klinghoffer's piece doesn't just slander me, NCSE, and two of my co-workers, it also gets basic facts wrong. For instance, that the issue with the American Mercury began when the formerly liberal magazine (which launched it's own TV franchise: "American Mercury Presents 'Meet the Press'"; you may have heard of it) was purchased by a fanatical Bircher (N.B.: Birchers are what the Tea Party used to be called). The new owner installed as editor the future head of the American Nazi Party. Buckley quit his job there, and in April, 1959, citing the "pathologically irresponsible editorial material" at his former employer, decreed that no one appearing on the National Review masthead could also appear on the American Mercury masthead. Contra Klinghoffer's claim, this would not block anyone who ever wrote for the Mercury from ever writing for Buckley - the masthead typically only covers editors, staff writers, columnists, etc., not freelance writers.

This is relevant for two reasons. First, the masthead for NCSE's journal is rather easier to audit than the much wider community of people who contribute essays and research reports. Second, Klinghoffer shares posting privileges at Evolution News & Views with Martin Cothran, who has defended Pat Buchanan's Holocaust denial and antisemitism, and Klinghoffer himself has joined in the DI's regular association with antisemite Don Wildmon, his hate group the American Family Association. Cothran's defense of Buchanan against charges of Holocaust denial and antisemitism (charges which, you'll recall, were put forward by William Buckley, among many others) is old hat here, but let's talk more about the AFA. I'll note that Cothran's group came out against teaching Kentucky schoolkids about the Holocaust and move on.

AFA is part of a consortium of radical religious conservative groups that advocates a system of legalized discrimination based on sexuality, not to mention advocates for religious discrimination of various sorts. When the California Science Center canceled an AFA-sponsored film screening (citing a press release by the DI as cause for the cancellation), DI joined AFA in suing the Center, and the blog where Klinghoffer posts regularly praises the AFA in this and other contexts. [OOPS! There are two different AFAs, and the one which sued the California Science Center is the American Freedom Alliance. Too many wingnutty groups use the same acronym.]

A few years back, the Anti-Defamation League criticized the AFA and other radical religious conservative groups, decrying their effort to "implement their Christian worldview, to Christianize America." The ADL had previously called out antisemitic language from Wildmon and other AFA staff. Wildmon responded by dismissing claims of antisemitism ("not that many people pay attention to 'em"), and warned Jewish groups to stop criticizing right-wing religious radicals:

[T]he more he [ADL president Abe Foxman] says that 'you people are destroying this country,' you know, some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, 'Well, all right then. If that's the way you feel, then we just won't support Israel anymore.'

David Klinghoffer, now an advocate of distancing oneself from antisemitism, took a different approach back then. Rather than practicing Buckley's advice and separating himself from Wildmon, Klinghoffer defended the antisemite and echoed his threat against Israel and American Jews:

Let every Christian gently ask a Jewish friend for a moment of his time. ...In a spirit of affection and respect, ask your friend if he would be willing to answer six simple but puzzling questions.


⢠If conservative Christians were less politically powerful, would this help or hurt the security of the state of Israel?

...In shaping American policy, domestic Christian pro-Israel sentiment has been at least as influential as Jewish support. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that some of them really are looking forward to Armageddon, in the manner of the Left Behind books, with a global war centered upon Israel playing a key role in the unfolding of events at the End of Days. However distasteful you might find that view, please consider: If these same Israel-loving conservative American Christians all retired from political activism now, would Israel be better off or worse? Safer from attack or less so? Would America be a more faithful defender of the Jewish state or a less faithful one?

One prominent religious conservative, Donald E. Wildmon, chairman of the American Family Association, has said forthrightly that attacks on conservative Christians endanger Israel's safety.

In other words: "Nice Jewish homeland ya got there. Be a shame if something ... happened to it. Now shaddup while we institute Christian prayer in schools and other settings, tack up Christian (not Jewish) versions of the Ten Commandments in every public building, promote bellicose Israeli policy to the detriment of Israel, and force Christian theology into your kids' science classes."

That's the argument Klinghoffer - an Orthodox Jew - is making. And he has the gall to play guilt-by-association?

(Never mind that Klinghoffer's Disco. 'tute colleagues Phillip Johnson and Jonathan Wells both deny that HIV causes AIDS, preferring to believe absurd conspiracy theories rather than medical science, conspiracy theories that seek to demonize homosexuality and which have had devastating and deadly consequences in the developing world. I dislike 9/11 truthers as much as the next guy, but unlike the HIV/AIDS deniers, at least truthers haven't killed people. You don't see Klinghoffer worrying about Johnson and Wells's prominent placements on the DI masthead, do you?)


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The Greg Laden site on the string of related American sites called "Scienceblogs" is arguably the most prominent.

Greg is a catastrophic warming supporter, which is his right. He censors opposing views or even questions put courteously which is his right because, as he explains its his site, though incompatible with any claim to "science".

He has claimed to be opposed to censorship. saying "Censorship is the second to last refuge of tyrants, the last is violence" (#23) a refreshingly liberal (in the true meaning of the term) viewpoint on "scienceblogs" where 9 sites, at last count, promote censorship. Rather than answer the 7 questions any climate alarmist should be able to easily answer if it is true, he simply censored them.

Note that he does not delete ad homs or indeed obscenity, which are clearly, after all, the stock in trade of climate alarmist "scientists", particularly those "peer reviewed and published in the finest journals" (#5) (although he did censor some criticisms made in return, neither ad hom nor remotely obscene since I don't find that persuasive). Indeed, while censoring me, he recently passed a comment that I should be glad Greg hasn't come round to my house and cut off my head which is the last argument he allegedly disapproves of.

It is his choice to run his site that way. However he does worse than that.
Greg has also claimed to be the sole scientist anywhere in the world who supports warming catastrophism and is not paid by the state. Not one single cent.

He has also claimed to be a "climate scientist".

Indeed he has been given numerous opportunities to say the "misspoke" (a la Clinton), panicked or that the claim needs "clarifying" (a term often used by British politicians caught lying). He has, repeatedly, stood by his claim.


Greg Laden is a Biological Anthropologist, studying human evolution, with degrees from Harvard University. He has taught at several universities, including Harvard and is currently a part time Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota. He is an independent scholar who blogs at…

Not a wise move when elsewhere claiming to be a climate scientist receiving not one cent from government. Though his "scienceblogs" bio is replete with "did I mention Harvard"'s it is astonishingly less forthcoming about his present role as a part time assistant teacher at Minnesota U.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (U of M) is a public research university and A public university is one that is predominantly funded by public means

So the alleged only scientist anywhere in the world who supports warming catastrophism while receiving not a cent from the government is actually an assistant teacher of anthropology, largely or entirely paid by said government (at what I understand Americans call a "cow college" rather than Harvard).

Laden has clearly, deliberately and continuously lied and if the entire "scienceblogs" site and anybody connected is not to it is not to be wholly discredited as not being in any way connected to scientific principles it is impossible he could remain on it.

Knowing a little about anthropology in academe in Britain I can say that it is largely a matter of keeping ones tongue between the cheeks of those above you on the ladder while refusing to notice any scientific evidence which does not suit the politically correct paradigm (admittedly difficult to do otherwise in such a position). Rather than being a real science it is very much the sort of "science" Richard Feynman described in his "Cargo Cult Science" lecture.

Perhaps American anthropology is totally different and a real science.

Perhaps his interest in (and possible limited understanding of CAGW) is inspired by coworkers, friends and neighbours. I haven't visited Minnesota and it may be a warm place with a large coastal area which would explain the local's interest in the possible bad effects of warming. Indeed it must be so because pathetic as it is to lie on the subject it would be unbelievably pathetic to lie in a way that will not impress coworkers and neighbours.

By Neil craig (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

Very good post. It's been a while since I've put on the hazmat suit and mucked around in the sewer that is the organized right, lots of associations I hadn't known about. It's dirty work but it has to get done. And what is revealed is a real life Contagion that is destroying the basis of democracy and the basis of life on this planet.

Dang Josh! There's nothing but smithereens left!

Rule #1: Josh's memory is longer than yours.

Rule #2: If you wish to cast aspersions on Josh or NCSE based on some vaguely-reasoned, arbitrarily and self-inconsistently applied bit of implication, remember Rule #1.

By Nick Matzke (not verified) on 12 Sep 2011 #permalink

It is a cheap and not entirely honest argument. Why should there be a particular similarity between a particular side in 2 unrelated arguments.

Should we say that relativity is wrong because relativity truthers must be like Hindus? Or that Keynsian believers are like did Roosevelt know the Pearl harbour attack was coming believers. Or that Stinulus supporters must be right/worong because Oswald was/was not alone responsible for killing Kennedy? How about the catastrophic warming scare must be wrong because the new ice age scare was - at least there is a significant membership overlap?

I foresee answers to this demonstrating the intellectual content common on "scienceblogs".

File this under another lesson Klinghoffer failed in kindergarten: "When you point a finger at someone, remember there are three more pointing right back at you."

By Cheryl Shepher… (not verified) on 12 Sep 2011 #permalink

@Neil Craig

"Should we say that relativity is wrong because relativity truthers must be like Hindus? Or that Keynsian believers are like did Roosevelt know the Pearl harbour attack was coming believers. Or that Stinulus supporters must be right/worong because Oswald was/was not alone responsible for killing Kennedy? How about the catastrophic warming scare must be wrong because the new ice age scare was - at least there is a significant membership overlap?"

No - which is the point josh is making.

It is Klinghoffer who thinks he somehow has caught out the NCSE because a truther once coedited on an issue not related to reality denial with someone who is associated with the NCSE.

One might also question Mr. Klinghoffer's association with the Dishonesty Institute's executive director, John West, who, at least at one time, was a Holocaust revisionist.

In the 1980s I did some research on Holocaust revisionists/deniers, even attending some of their restricted-access conferences. I was interested in the partial overlap between those believers and creationists. At one "revisionist" conference I attended, several of the key speakers were fundamentalist Christians who argued that Holocaust "lies" should be opposed for the same (biblical) reasons that evolution lies should be. Now, this is not a majority of creationists, nor are most "revisionists" fundamentalists (or even religious), but there is a significant overlap.

By Tom McIver (not verified) on 13 Sep 2011 #permalink

In the 1980s I did some research on Holocaust revisionists/deniers, even attending some of their restricted-access conferences. I was interested in the partial overlap between those believers and creationists. At one "revisionist" conference I attended, several of the key speakers were fundamentalist Christians who argued that Holocaust "lies" should be opposed for the same (biblical) reasons that evolution lies should be. Now, this is not a majority of creationists, nor are most "revisionists" fundamentalists (or even religious), but there is a significant overlap.

By Tom McIver (not verified) on 13 Sep 2011 #permalink

SLC (whoever you are): I have never been a Holocaust revisionist. I now see that you have made this bogus claim about me before on this blog with no evidence. Please stop making false claims about me.

By John West (not verified) on 13 Sep 2011 #permalink

I have no reason to believe that John West is a Holocaust denier. But he is someone just as bad as those he complains of ... someone who indiscriminately accuses others of second-hand complicity with the Holocaust, as in this from West:

[There is a] clear historical connection between Darwinism and the development of Nazi ideology itself. Given the role played by Darwinism in the ideology of the Holocaust, one would think that modern Darwinists would be a little squeamish in equating their critics to Holocaust deniers.

There is, of course, a lot of facts that make the claim that "Darwinism" led to the Holocaust, to be charitable, less than credible. Nor is the comparison of creationism and ID to Holocaust denial meant to attribute any responsibility for the Holocaust to IDers (unlike West's formulation) ... just that ID is the same sort of denial of facts and expert consensus that Holocaust deniers are reduced to.

Evolutionary scientists have nothing to be "squeamish" about their science vis-a-vis the Holocaust, despite the worst efforts of the Discoveryless Institute to defame them.

Just as it is possible to criticize Israel without being an anti-Semite, Wildmon and his ilk prove that it is possible to support Israel while being an anti-Semite.

And I invite them to withdraw their support. Israel is a modern industrialized nuclear-armed state with one of the most formidable military / intelligence platforms in the world. They should be able to maintain themselves without the "hillbilly good-vibes" factor.

Most of the 9/11 truth movement is not in and of itself anti-science, anyway.

Conversely, Ian Plimer was very critical of creationism (to say the least), but wrote a climate science denialism book that's about as bad as any creation science book.

Penn Jillette excoriates creationists and is a thoroughgoing (and brain-dead) denier in any area of science that touches on his Ayn Rand religion.

The attempts to link Darwin and the holocaust are rather bizarre, but it's important to realize it's an ongoing thing. For instance, someone thoroughly in the Lew Rockwell world said I was advocating genocide and supporting China's (no-longer-existing-for-like-decades) one-child policy, and FOR EUGENICS mind you, because I said there was scientific evidence that the Earth is already overpopulated and getting worse.

The most obviously humorous part of that is the idea that China's one-child policy was good eugenics :) I think anyone still serious about eugenics would not agree their results were even tangentially eugenic. Quite the opposite. They were free to have mostly boys, so they did.

There is a serious way "eugenics" gets into it, and Paul and Anne Ehrlich dealt with that: everyone wants the other groups to have fewer children. Tribalism often gets confounded with "eugenics" from a particular point of view.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 14 Sep 2011 #permalink