Today’s Question


When do we get to stop defining smart, passionate women by the most powerful men in their circle?

My head is spinning 4 bazillion different kinds of purple because I have no idea what any of this means. I’ll grant ERV that she never said the word “atheist” in her post criticizing the book she didn’t read. That said, to deny that the current disagreement has anything to do with religion when she links specifically to PZ is disingenuous at best.

Or maybe a better question is, “Is it really that difficult to tell atheists apart?” or, “Why is the only thing of interest about an atheist their opinion on religion?”

Okay, enough with implying that Isis is displaying sexism or anti-atheist bigotry. It’s a cheap trick and just not that hard to do, as we’ve seen over and over. Today’s real question is, “Why not ask Abbie? She was right there!” Same question goes when you don’t understand the relevance of a comment. What does it hurt to ask?

Haven’t we seen enough strawmen burned in effigy in other discussions? Haven’t we seen how easy it is to fan the flames of righteous anger and how hard it is to put them out with the wind that is our only real tool here on the internet? Why wouldn’t we want to settle the question of what’s actually going on before we pour so much energy into tearing the situation apart? Aren’t we supposed to be the empiricists, the evidence-based crowd? Why would we neglect a primary source of information?

Now, I’ll freely admit I didn’t know what Abbie was talking about when she said her history with Chris Mooney on this topic went back to 2006. I’ve only been reading widely in the science blogosphere for about a year and a half. Abbie didn’t link to it, and the search function on the old ERV blog wasn’t working. So there I was, stuck in ignorance despite my curiosity.

Well, no.

Yesterday morning, I sent Abbie an email asking for more information. I had to look up her email address. The most we’ve ever exchanged is a comment or two and blog links. I got a reply in about half an hour, giving me the basic background that this dates back to Discovery Institute and other creationist attacks on The Republican War on Science.

I didn’t ask for permission to quote, so I’ll paraphrase somewhat less colorfully (I trust Abbie will correct me where I get it wrong): Creationists personalized their attacks on RWS, misrepresenting Mooney and the book in order to do so. PZ, Abbie and others who fight the good fight on keeping religious objections to evolution from screwing up science education stood up for Mooney. They took apart the bad arguments and exposed the misinformation.

Now she feels Mooney has done the same thing to PZ that was done to him, that he has attacked him based on irrelevancies and distortions. As for the comment that Isis didn’t understand, if Mooney had done the same thing to Isis, saying her open letters suggested that disagreeing with her on anything was incompatible with science and this was hurting the cause of science literacy, Abbie would call bullshit on that too. Ditto for others who in any way upset people while being scientists instead of having personalities as pale as their labcoats. After what he’s been through, Mooney doesn’t have the option to credibly claim he’s ignorant of what he’s doing.

Shortly after the first email from Abbie, she followed up with another that gave me the links to follow along in her discussions on framing and science outreach. It starts, in fact, with her post chronicling Casey Luskin’s objections to RWS.

This is what you come up against being a science advocate in the real world. These people have absolutely no interest in ‘teaching both sides.’ They want to teach their side, their creation myth, nothing else. They blockade themselves in their churches and their religious schools and religious camps and nobody gets through with an outside opinion. Filtering questions?? Common!! I would ask Chris, why hasnt he promoted his book on ‘The 700 Club’? He says we need to plead with the Religious Right to come back to reality, so why doesnt he go on ‘The 700 Club’ and do just that? Well, the same reason why I cant leave my ‘ivory tower’ to speak at local anti-evolution churches. I might want to go, but theyarent letting me in.

The answer is not to further condemn frustrated science activists, but to properly condemn the evil individuals that would rather keep their flocks ignorant than lose their tithes. Evil little twits like Casey who continue the religious mental abuse of teenagers and young adults with their IDEA clubs. Dont bitch to me about staying in my ‘ivory tower’ when youve never been in the dark trenches of the Bible Belt.

I have to say I’m impressed with how precisely accurate she was in saying she’s been having the same discussion with Mooney for almost three years. Just like she’s right that she’s been asking for practical help.

Id like to think that when I do have the opportunity to address the public on some form of science, I do a decent enough job, but how about some real advice, journalist friends? How about some advice as to how to get invited to speak about science? Hell, Im at a major research institution, and the only after work presentation weve had is some jerk-off talking about ‘God and Science.’ I mean Jesus, Im a young, relatively attractive, cutesy female, and I cant get a science speaking gig around here. You think burly old professors get invited inside church walls to speak about evolution?
How about getting your journalist friends to talk to scientists when speaking about science, and not getting a fully loaded panel of idiotic Creationists/Deniers/Skeptics/Anti-Vaxers/etc with one actual scientist (who gets talked over the entire ‘conversation’)? Scientists arent in Ivory Towers, the people who need to hear what we have to say are behind Iron Curtains. You two cant be naive enough not to know this.

She’s also been critiquing the idea that all we need are more scientist-communicators for over two years.

And in my current environment, I feel completely ignored. What is making 200 more of me supposed to do? 200 more people to be ignored. Super. I mean are we to believe that I am the only scientist on the planet that already has these super special qualifications? Im the only person being ignored? Thats idiotic! This cadre of Super Communicator Scientists already exists, especially within my internet-video game-Red Bull generation! But we’re being ignored, and we have very few outlets by which we can cut our communication teeth, so to speak. Our talents arent being utilized to their full potential. This blog has been a much needed stress-release valve for me.

Suggestions like Science Cafes and speaking at local schools are helpful. I didnt find the N/M article helpful. I kinda took it personally, though Im sure N/M only wanted to help. And Id love to have a post-presentation critique from Chris Mooney!
I know I still have a lot to learn about public presentations!
But until I, or others, can slide past the Iron Curtain of ignorance that some desperately want (need) to maintain, I maintain my stance that if N/M really, really believe that our scientific illiteracy problem is a result of few ‘good’ science communicators, they are incredibly naive, and enabling the perpetrators of the real barriers to productive communication.

And her response (in early 2007) to the critique (from Nisbet) that overt atheists are hurting science outreach.


Here is a real problem, that you and Chris are either unable or unwilling to address. Brace yourself here: I am not Richard Dawkins.

I am a 5’8″ chick with blue eyes, long brown hair, and (Ive been told) a *cute* voice, that wears polo shirts from Old Navy. Im not how most Christians/Muslims/etc would picture an ‘atheist’, so I can slide in cognito through even the most fundamentalist theistic environments.

And I have difficulty getting past the Iron Curtain gate keepers.

Stop enabling their behaviors by ‘blaming’ atheism. Oh, or even better idea, why dont you all focus your energies on solving the Iron Curtain problem, rather than pointing out the sky is blue.

She documented this problem of outlets for science outreach a couple days later with an email exchange between someone who was trying to represent science and event organizers. Then she dropped the subject for a while, coming back with a post that suggests she reads Mooney very closely indeed.

Should we confront anti-scientists at all?
Chris Mooney, 2006–

And just as science-abusing corporations must be fought in the courts, science-abusing religious conservatives– who would misinform our children about the origin of the human species and about virtually every thing having to do with sex– must be fought in schools, the educational system, and the public arena more generally.

Chris Mooney, 2008–

First of all, what is the point of fighting and debating climate skeptics any more?

… if you actually bother to rebut the Heartlands and Discoverys of the world, you instantly enter into a discourse on their own terms. The strategic framing these groups employ to attack mainstream science heavily features the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty—and so if you try to answer their arguments, you’re inevitably committed to conveying more abstruse technical information and, thus, more uncertainty as soon as they wail back at you (which they thoroughly enjoy doing).

And, still more than a year ago, she asked who the religious moderates were who were going to be so offended by an atheist’s views on religion as to turn away from science.

Oh certainly my friends and I could get into a big fight over religion (especially me and Ian– he does that ‘I used to be an atheist’ thing that drives me up the wall LOL!). And of course I think my friends are being silly and childish– they know that. And of course I know they think Im going to heaven and Im going to LUV IT, whether I like it or not (???).

But we arent going to fight about science.

Okay, having read all that, I understand a whole lot better why she doesn’t think there’s much point in her trying to engage Mooney on an intellectual basis. I get why she’s annoyed and angry, and I understand the critiques that there is nothing new in the book much better as well. When one has been asking for more information for years, it’s definitely going to be frustrating to be handed what you already know and have responded to.

I know I prefer it when I get my questions answered. I’ll have to try more.

Maybe for tomorrow: Chris and Sheril, if you think Crackergate hurts science among theists, why include it in a book meant for a broader audience with a higher proportion of theists in it? Or maybe: Do we want to put all our eggs in one basket? Or even: Why would an author ever think it’s a good idea to argue with a review, much less a solicited review?

Do you think they’ll answer?

Comments

  1. says

    I was actually kind of wondering about the whole "arguing with a reviewer" thing. I kind of just figured it was some neuvo method for dealing with things in the age-o-blogosphere. Because I seem to recall having read something a really long time ago, about arguing with a reviewer…Written by a reviewer…Who had been argued with by a reviewed author…I think it was something along the lines of – "It could have been a hell of a lot worse." And then it got a hell of a lot worse.And it seems to me, that this is exactly what has happened here. They got bit in the butt, because in responding to criticism, a whole lot more criticism came out. It started a much larger and much angrier conversation that is suspiciously like the sort of conversation that K&M claim to believe is bad for science.

  2. says

    I liked Sizzle. I also thought Randy should not have put out that memo. I also agreed with the memo. I also think that most of the scienceblog.com (and other blogger) reviews were blog posts, and not reviews. Most of those bloggers are not reviewers and really have no clue how to do it or what to do. That is not to say that they did not write great blog posts about the movie (and I very much liked many of the very negative ones as blog posts, even though I liked the movie). Anyway, the "don't argue with a reviewer" response is a bit post hoc when the "reviewers" are bloggers. But getting back to the subject, nice post, totally true, heads and shoulders above almost anything written by anybody in this particular fracas.

  3. says

    When do we get to stop defining smart, passionate women by the most powerful men in their circle?Easy. About ten minutes after we stop referring to black people as well-spoken.

  4. says

    I almost left out the post about Sizzle, but the fact that these are solicited reviews is all too relevant. Greg, I don't disagree with you that the situation with bloggers is different, but it's mostly different in the same way that Amazon tripped up Anne Rice. Blogging is (generally) two-way communication. That just makes responding to a bad review easier to do, a natural impulse. It's still a really bad idea. There's nothing to be gained by responding immediately and an awful lot to be lost in terms of audience respect. If you have to respond to an idea in a blog-post review, sit on it for a bit until it isn't about the book or the review but about the idea. Publishing cycles aren't short. If it could wait until the book came out, it can wait until the release hoopla dies down.

  5. says

    Everything makes much more sense now.Parsing through the insaneo history I knew must have been there but didn't have time to read?THANK YOU.Stephanie- you, maddam, are to be commended for your service to the public good.

  6. says

    Hear! Hear!(I'm pretty sure that ERV is lying about her height, though. There's photographic evidence of her being 7 foot tall.)

  7. says

    Part of the problem with the Colgate Twins is that I think they have not decided to what extent UA should stand on its own as opposed to be part of a large discussion, much of which will take place online.

  8. says

    Anne Rice decided that since she could respond on Amazon, she needed to. Writers now whisper her name around bonfires.Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon's willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you've said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people's books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak.Warning: light text on dark background warning.

  9. says

    I have been a fan of ERV for several years, but missed a large portion of this history. Having read through the comments at Isis' blog, I have seen the rush to judgment closeup. I had forgotten some of the details of this history, too, so thanks for putting it all together, Stephanie.

  10. says

    Why the fuck are you even involving yourself in this? None of it has anything whatsoever to do with you. What I find much more distasteful than any of the actions of the disputants themselves, is the gross traffic mongering, concern trolling, and officious intermeddling by third parties.

  11. says

    Same question goes when you don't understand the relevance of a comment. What does it hurt to ask?Ms. Zvan, I am in serious admiration (if perhaps not downright worship, but it's been a shitty day) of your shock-and-awe use of rhetorical questions.However [1] you're apparently missing the point that the participants in this drama are either men or have picked up bad habits from men. And then you ask what harm it would do to ask directions.Ya missed on that one, Lady.[1] Yup, of course there's a however.

  12. says

    Is that what you tell your neighbors when youre beating your wife, CP?"Why the fuck are you even involving yourself in this? None of it has anything whatsoever to do with you."LOL! WTF?Are you, of all people, trying to tell someone else how/what they should blog?

  13. says

    CPP, I can't speak to why Zuska and Isis got involved. I got involved because communication is actually my field, as is miscommunication. It's the same reason I went to SO'09 and commented on Randy's response to the reviews of Sizzle, in case you need some kind of documentation of my prior interest.

  14. says

    Duwayne, I can hardly fault them for responding to the criticisms at Pharyngula. Some of it degenerated quickly to nastiness. I fault them for doing it badly.They should have been better prepared for the reaction. It seems to have caught them entirely at surprise and they lashed out.

  15. says

    What I find much more distasteful than any of the actions of the disputants themselves, is the gross traffic mongering, concern trolling, and officious intermeddling by third parties.CPP – Fuckin' pot, Fuckin' kettle, motherfuckin' same goddamn color.Peas out, LOL, not playin' by your r00lz.

  16. says

    Why we need the unapologetic atheist scientists.I am why we need people like PZ and Professor Dawkins. I grew up completely immersed in the evangelical world. I was a true believer. Just simply being taught the theory of evolution and given evidence isn't going to help turn many young theists away from their pseudo-scientific views. For me, and many others I know, it took people like PZ and Dawkins to show us how ridiculous religion was and to see the light of reason. Should we continue to fight tooth and nail to keep religious fundamentalist views out of our schools and out of our government? Hell yes we should. We owe it to the next generation to ensure that they receive the best possible education. And if Paul Mooney wants to bitch and moan about how "angry" we are, well let him. There are plenty of vocal people to offer good criticism of his arguments to render them pointless. So Mr. Mooney, quit being little bitch until you can come up with a decent response to the criticism.

  17. Peter Beattie says

    Why would an author ever think it's a good idea to argue with a review, much less a solicited review?Because they sure loves them some publicity. Why would they publicly piss on PZ's pants but praise other reviewers for their "thoughtful" pieces that make essentially the same points? It gives them a lot of extra exposure.Oh, and one other thing. They didn't argue. They whined, they grandstanded, and they evaded. Argument, it appears, is not exactly their strong suit.

  18. says

    Holy Shit CPP!111!!! (or just particularly hardcore shit?)Why the fuck not respond and get involved? It isn't a traffic thing, it's a wanting to make a clear, reasoned response to it all. And of all the motherfucking responses to this whole motherfucking kerfuffle, this is, thus far, the most reasoned response I've seen.And I hate to fucking break it to you, but this bullshit does concern more than those who are directly involved. It is about things that many of us feel very strongly about – ideas that we feel strongly about and even, for some – people who are felt strongly about. What the motherfucking, blistering hells is the fucking problem exactly?!?!?! If you don't like something that was said, then motherfucking respond to it. I like you quite a lot, but fuckall man, this is just silly fucking, concern troll bullshit.

  19. says

    Why the fuck are you even involving yourself in this? None of it has anything whatsoever to do with you. What I find much more distasteful than any of the actions of the disputants themselves, is the gross traffic mongering, concern trolling, and officious intermeddling by third parties.Seriously? OMG!!!! Holy shit!!!! How dare you come over here and tell this woman to shut up! Who the fuck do you think you are!?!?!? It is certainly not necessary for me to stand up for Stephanie. She'll effortlessly take your sorry ass out with the trash any time she wants. But since I'm here… The absurdity of you coming out of nowhere to scold a blogger for making the first seriously thoughtful comment in this pile of shit some people call a discussion and telling HER to stay out of it is mind numbing? In what way are you a judge of what people can and should write? In what way are you a judge of what the edges of a conversation are supposed to be, and of what boundaries are supposed to be crossed? In what way are you, who have not been involved in this broader conversation to any significant degree (not that anything you every do is ever significant) anything other than a third party yourself? Indeed, you are a fourth party! No, you are barely a fifth or sixth party!!!!Stephanie Zvan is owed a sincere apology by you, Physiprof. But you can't do that, because you are intellectually, emotionally, and in every other way incapable of that act. But you have to do it.

  20. says

    Who dumped a truckload of Acme Rhetorical Question Lubricant into the Twin Cities water supply?Maybe I should tempt Nancy over here — she always totally pwn3d me at rhetorical question cascades.

  21. Brian says

    Hahahaha!!! Mr. Here's-a-List-of-What-to-Do-On-Other-People's-Blogs has just violated Rule #15. Not entertaining or funny (that I've ever seen) – so shut the fuck up, CPP.

  22. says

    Thank you for this post.:-)I have been avoiding all of these articles because I had no idea what was going on.

  23. says

    D. C., sorry it hasn't been a better day. However (hah!), I'm not sure they are all rhetorical questions, and I'm not sure it's not part of the problem that we haven't been asking them.Greg, CPP doesn't "owe" me an apology. Like anybody else, he's welcome to spout any dumb-ass nonsense he wants to around here. However, once it's here, it's not going away, and he's going to have to deal with having his own words quoted back at him whenever he gets obnoxious about someone else's behavior. As many people as are reading this, and as many people as he abrades, it's inevitable.Peter, I can't say I haven't considered that, but I think Matthew and Mike might be closer to the truth. At least I haven't seen anything that would make me comfortable assuming something worse than that they thought they were prepared for the response to their book but weren't. It would be damned hard, as an author, for me to handle this kind of critical explosion around something I wrote.

  24. Aaron says

    "And if Paul Mooney wants to bitch and moan about how "angry" we are, well let him."You did mean "Chris Mooney" right? Or did that nice fellow from "ask a black man" jump into the fray.I'd actually be interested in hearing his opinions, honestly — he'd straighten it all out.

  25. says

    OK, OK, CPP, you don't have to apologize. Like the lady says. You just need to live in shame for AS LONG AS THE INTERNET EXISTS!!!(Which, likely, you were already doing anyway)

  26. says

    I find it slightly ironic that it took ScienceBlogs (and a few others, like this one) for me to develop a liking for gossip and this type of drama. So, thank you for opening up my cultural horizons, oh bloggers of science.Great posts by you and Janet, Stephanie, probably the ones that bring the most clarity to the 'debate'.

  27. says

    Hang on a minute. Someone bothered to write a post, write an email, and think about the origins of someone's position or opinion in a blog debate? I don't think I can cope with a world where that actually happens! Fantastic post!

  28. says

    If only Stephanie were the internet's arbiter. Seriously. Even debates you're not in, you win. And I'm not just being sycophantic (though there is maybe a bit of that — I want to learn from the master!).

  29. says

    Something which is worth noting as well is that ERV's first comment about having tried to engage with Mooney for years, and being done with that (which Isis picked up on), was addressed to me in her comments section.ERV know I've been following her blog from the start, so why the hell would she feel that it was necessary to tell me where to find all the stuff which I've already read? Comments are not private conversations, but they are conversations nonetheless, and if people feel they lack information to participate in that conversation, they can ask for it (as you did).I really need to get around to updating my blogroll, so I can add Almost Diamonds. It's rapidly becoming a must-read

  30. says

    Jason, I respectfully decline the position (which I think looks much more dignified than running and hiding in a closet at the thought).Wise woman. Look what owning Usenet did to Fluffy.

  31. says

    Love the post, Stephanie. The history behind all of this is fascinating.Can't stand the ComradePhysioProf:Why the fuck are you even involving yourself in this? None of it has anything whatsoever to do with you.None of it has anything to do with me, or Stephanie, or Greg, or DuWayne, or Jason, or D.C., or Mike, or Sili, or Matthew, or José, or TheDailyJokelahoman, or Peter, or Becca, or Abbie, etc.? It has something to do with all of us. Why? Because Chris seems to have taken it upon himself to speak for a group of people who wish to tell another group of people to sit down and shut up because he thinks our language, tactics, anger, etc. are hurting his "cause". He doesn't know this, but he thinks this. I, for one, heartily resent being told to shut up, and I'm certainly not going to take it from the likes of Chris and company.

  32. Juniper Shoemaker says

    Greg, CPP doesn't "owe" me an apology. Like anybody else, he's welcome to spout any dumb-ass nonsense he wants to around here. However, once it's here, it's not going away, and he's going to have to deal with having his own words quoted back at him whenever he gets obnoxious about someone else's behavior. As many people as are reading this, and as many people as he abrades, it's inevitable.Peter, I can't say I haven't considered that, but I think Matthew and Mike might be closer to the truth. At least I haven't seen anything that would make me comfortable assuming something worse than that they thought they were prepared for the response to their book but weren't. It would be damned hard, as an author, for me to handle this kind of critical explosion around something I wrote.Thank you for this classy response. It and this post are tremendously admirable.

  33. says

    Gah, Mooney, Kirshenbaum, Nisbet, Isis, Zuska, Luskin, O'Leary…They're all in the same category to me: dullwitted, uninteresting, lifeless hacks taking up interweb real estate.Every time I get suckered into reading something from any of them I swear I'll never do it again, but there always seems to be a 'next time' when I get duped because I need background on some otherwise interesting discussion somewhere.Never again (and this time I MEAN IT).(again)

  34. says

    Oh, add Physioprof to that list, with the caveat that I rarely get duped into going there, given that his crap is usually so profoundly ignored for its irrelevancy.

  35. says

    What the balls is wrong with CPP?This adds a huge amount of context to the on-going shenanigans. It was certainly useful to me, having not been And "What does it hurt to ask" is stuck in one of my sulci, and is currently being chewed on. Thank you Stephanie.

  36. says

    I had to post just to say I agree with LouFCD. I have sometimes been directed to those people me mentions and never have been able to find any substance.

  37. says

    I've been trying to explain this entire situation to a friend of my who only started reading scienceblogs in the last few months and this post has been really helpful jogging my memory beyond general impressions and a few vaguely remembered incidents. Thanks, Stephanie.CPP,Dude, I like you, but you're being a bit ridiculous and hypocritical. When have you kept yourself out of arguments that don't really involve you?Why is this shit making so many of the people I genuinely like act like asses to each other? I like internet drama, but this is making *sadface* all over the place.

  38. says

    LostMarbles– Nothing puts internet drama into perspective like trying to explain it to an 'out group' person.Actually, internet anything. Try explaining 'Suddenly, bananas' to someone.