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Dec 22 2012

And a complementary view from Ars Technica

When I agreed that many so-called ‘controversies’ don’t warrant a debate, I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t cover them…just that they should be addressed appropriately, as fringe issues. The last thing we would want is media silence on, for instance, creationism! Ars Technica has a good piece on why we mustn’t be quiet about weird political positions.

Through the years I have received countless e-mails and have read hundreds of article comments imploring Ars to keep "political" stuff off the site. Such entreaties most commonly occur in relation to our scientific coverage of climate change or evolution, but also when we cover biological and anthropological matters of gender and sex. (They also come to a lesser extent when we cover the inherently political world of intellectual property, where, coincidentally, there are far fewer facts—but that’s outside the scope of this editorial.)

What those petitioners do not realize is that in asking us to be silent, they require that we take a politicized stance. Intentional silence is support for the status quo, and as such, it’s inherently political. Note that I’m speaking of intentional silence or avoidance, purposely not covering a topic so as not to bring light to it. Inasmuch as our editorial mission is, in part, to cover the issues relating to science and technology that are most challenging to our culture, it is unthinkable for us not to cover these issues. To reiterate, not covering them would be just as "political" as covering them.

This is also why I ignore or mock people who complain that “The movement has been co-opted by people with an agenda”everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.

58 comments

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  1. 1
    georgewiman

    Nothing the status quo likes better than silence. Everything is fine.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    Tackling whatever ideas you feel appropriate is the antidote to “fair and balanced” media – it breaks down their ability to control the dialogue and break it into neatly manageable chunks. It’s the best way to fight society’s tendency to stovepipe itself into clades that only accept input that they’ve pre-selected. Jam that culture!

  3. 3
    Kevin

    Well, one does do triage.

    Once, I was asked to come down to the lobby by a security guard. A subscriber wanted to speak to a reporter — very important. The guard didn’t think it appropriate to let the guy up to the newsroom. Why? I dunno. But it was a health-related matter, and I was the health reporter. Down to the lobby I went.

    The very nice older gentleman I met there had an extremely important discovery he wanted me to cover. He was convinced that can openers caused cancer. Yep. He showed me a can that he had opened, and there were some fine shards of metal around the edge (dull can opener, I suspect). He was convinced this was the cause of cancer. Eating those shards of metal.

    I assured him I would look into the matter. And you know what? I did. I can state definitively there’s no association whatsoever has been found with eating food from cans and cancer. I didn’t write the story, of course. Because it was boring.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    Intentional silence is support for the status quo

    I can think of a worse time to be silent: in the face of lies. When no one confronts or dispels myths and fictions of propaganda, the ignorant will assume they lies are true because no one is refuting them.

    Unfortunately, that means time and effort is wasted on debunking garbage that anyone with a functioning brain can see through. But since so many out there refuse to think, and some people (e.g, politicians, school board members) have the power to make decisions based on ignorance, it has to be done.

  5. 5
    David Marjanović

    *like*

  6. 6
    Chuck

    I am flabbergasted that people think there is a problem with atheism being “co-opted” by an agenda of social justice or feminism. The problem is that these agendas weren’t there (or weren’t prominently there) all along.

  7. 7
    Crissa

    That’s interesting, I got a differently formatted version when I loaded the page earlier (mobile version?) and it didn’t include the author with the title of the article.

    It’s always important not to let incorrect voices stand, since uninformed people – and we can’t expect everyone to be an expert on everything – will take those voices at face value. So being silent on an issue or eliding around it is the same as not facing it.

    Of course, one might hope their articles be well-sourced, but that doesn’t always happen, either.

  8. 8
    Regular Joe

    Move along people, there’s nothing to see here. ~ Officer Barbrady

  9. 9
    Crissa

    On that point, I don’t want to read 400+ comments on why someone despises feminism. Will we get a dissection of the responses, with counts and numbers and picking out any unique or novel ideas? I’m willing to go to a different blog to read the summary…

    Not that I expect any novel ideas, but.

  10. 10
    sadunlap

    As a friend once said: whenever you have 2 or more people in a room you have politics.

  11. 11
    timanthony

    everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.”

    So far I am the only one who has noticed the absurdity of those two statements appearing so close together! Holy crap, PZ!

  12. 12
    sirbedevere

    @11 timanthony

    What is absurd about those two statements appearing so close together? PZ is pointing out that the people demanding silence are, by making such demands, “guilty” of the same thing they accuse others of. (I put “guilty” in quotes because, as PZ notes, there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about in having an agenda.)

    It’s been said that almost everyone has their own agenda because anyone who doesn’t is someone else’s puppet.

  13. 13
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    timanthony:
    I fail to see the absurdity.
    If one doesn’t like skeptics talking about feminism, they are saying “I wish you would stop discussing issues related to the pursuit of equality for women.”
    Now, continue that line of thinking: why would you not want skeptics talking about equality for women?
    Do you feel equality has been reached?
    Do you feel feminism has no place in skepticism?
    Do you dislike feminism?

    Whatever reason you have for demanding silence on feminism in the skeptic movement is due to a personal agenda.

  14. 14
    Inaji

    timanthony:

    So far I am the only one who has noticed the absurdity of those two statements appearing so close together! Holy crap, PZ!

    I’ve observed that people who make statements such as these ^ never manage to include any specifics at all, instead there’s an assumption that everyone will nod sagely in agreement.

    I didn’t find any absurdity in either of those statements nor in their proximity to one another. All people have an agenda. Those who insist on silence are displaying their own agenda [maintaining the status quo.] Where’s the absurdity?

  15. 15
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Uh oh, three comments in a row, all independently reaching the same conclusion.
    Is that an echo I hear?

  16. 16
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Nah. That would be absurd.

  17. 17
    Inaji

    Tony:

    Is that an echo I hear?

    I do believe that’s the sound of bewilderment. I’m tired of people who simply want to chastise PZ over whatever never managing to write a coherent post explaining their stance.

  18. 18
    Crissa

    An echo is where something is said the same way.

    This was three messages saying the same basic concept explained in different ways.

    Here’s a mathematical one: A set of null or zero, is still a set or number.

  19. 19
    vaiyt

    So far I am the only one who has noticed the absurdity of those two statements appearing so close together!

    Maybe it’s because there’s no absurdity and you haven’t “noticed” jack?

  20. 20
    Ichthyic

    Jam that culture!

    Culture Jam…

    wasn’t that the name of a pop band from the 80s?

  21. 21
    Ichthyic

    also a film…

    http://www.culturejamthefilm.com/

  22. 22
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Crissa:
    I was poking fun at the people who complain about Pharyngula being an echo chamber. You and I have not interacted enough for you to know I wasn’t serious. Others knew.

  23. 23
    timanthony

    “everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.”

    Seems I am still the only one who has noticed the absurdity of those two statements appearing together.

    And that’s nearly all I’m saying by way of explanation. If you don’t see it, you don’t see (that’s a tautological statement, unlike PZ’s).

    I was originally going to comment, “Hey PZ, demanding anything is a sign of having an agenda!”, but then I realized I only had to add the words PZ preceded that sentence with to make pretty much the same point.

    AND…
    I am not a troll, even if I have inadvertently annoyed somebody(s). I don’t just respect PZM, I admire him for maintaining this blog and constantly putting out his cogent, worldly, valuable viewpoints. And when he starts to go overboard, I’ll try to catch him and save him. That’s what friends/fans/supporters do sometimes (not always). Also, trolls do not use their real names; I do, and I can be counted on to stand behind what I write, if I think it worthwhile to do so.

    Why am I giving PZ a hard time? I’m not, I’m just criticizing something he wrote, and pretty lightly too. In the blog biz, personal credibility is your stock-in-trade as much as expertize is, and making ‘little’ mistakes can hack away at credibility, and as we all know, lead to occasional disaster out of all proportion to the cause, at the hands of a rabid media mob.

    The text at the head of this comment is, to me, a minor blooper, by the usual standards of PZ, whether you agree or not. And I think it is worth calling out.

    CFdM, this thread is the 2nd time you’ve gone a little weird on a sincere and relatively innocuous comment of mine that happens to criticize PZM (and this is only about the 2nd time I’ve commented here!); please address your future complaints about my comments on PZ Myers to PZ Myers, so that he can pay the proper amount of attention to them and decide what to do, if anything. But I’ve read all the policies regarding contributing viewpoints to this site, and I’m not violating any of them! Is that what’s really bothering you?

  24. 24
    Inaji

    timanthony:

    And that’s nearly all I’m saying by way of explanation.

    That’s not an explanation at all. You won’t find commenting here easy if you continue to fail at communication.

    Is that what’s really bothering you?

    No. Vapid, substance free comments are annoying, no matter who makes them.

  25. 25
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    timanthony:
    Caune is not the only one who noticed how riduiculous your comment was. I already explained why nothing in PZs post, and specifically the comment you take offense to, is absurd. Please think through the implications of the comment. You areonly thinking about it on a surface level. Think deeper.
    And your criticisms of Caine are laughable.

  26. 26
    John Morales

    timanthony:

    “everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.”
    Seems I am still the only one who has noticed the absurdity of those two statements appearing together.
    And that’s nearly all I’m saying by way of explanation. If you don’t see it, you don’t see (that’s a tautological statement, unlike PZ’s).

    What’s absurd about stating that given everyone has an agenda, it follows that those who claim something has been taken over by those with an agenda (as if that were to be condemned) not only themselves have an agenda (and so they’re being hypocritical), but are making a pointless complaint?

    I put it to you that’s all you’re saying because outside of your assertion, you have nothing.

    (Also, if repetitions are the feeblest form of tautologies, then repetitions are the feeblest form of tautologies)

    The text at the head of this comment is, to me, a minor blooper, by the usual standards of PZ, whether you agree or not. And I think it is worth calling out.

    Likely because in your obtuseness you failed to apprehend his meaning.

    (You can dispute his premise, but not its implication or relevance to the claim to which he has applied it)

  27. 27
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @timanthony:

    I’m totally baffled by your statement. How can what you said be a criticism if you’re not explaining what you mean? I can’t even tell if I agree with you or not.*

    @Crissa You’re not missing much. Just a lot of vague criticisms, mostly of straw feminism rather than actual feminism. And a few “feminism is about women instead of equality for men too, boo hoo”s. Oh, and chivalry was awesome for women so patriarchy’s not all bad.

    *PZ does get criticism from regular commenters regularly, believe it or not. This isn’t a hive mind or a posse of enthralled minions.

  28. 28
    Rich Woods

    @timathony:

    Here, borrow my shovel. I have a feeling that you’re going to want one.

  29. 29
    Crissa

    Sorry, Tony. x-x It’s so hard to see satire anymore…

  30. 30
    Crissa

    Thanks Ibis3, it just seems like an argument that’s been had before. I read people’s blogs so they’ll digest what the crazies are saying for me, ya know?

  31. 31
    DLC

    Of course it’s an echo chamber. it’s also a band room and a bloodsport arena. So ?

  32. 32
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Rich:

    Here, borrow my shovel. I have a feeling that you’re going to want one.

    timanthony shouldn’t need it if xe would realize what a dumb mistake xe is making. However, like Michael Shermer, xe is digging.
    Hmmm, is that a new meme?
    Timanthony do you Shermer?

  33. 33
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    tweak to my comment @25:

    Caune Caine is not the only one who noticed how riduiculous your comment was.

  34. 34
    Marcus Ranum

    In the blog biz, personal credibility is your stock-in-trade as much as expertize is, and making ‘little’ mistakes can hack away at credibility, and as we all know, lead to occasional disaster out of all proportion to the cause, at the hands of a rabid media mob.

    Oh, yes, it certainly is.

    You appear to have the agenda of chiding PZ for having an agenda, and are bravely willing to sacrifice your shreds of credibility in order to warn PZ that he may be damaging his – all in the service of Irony. You’d be my hero, except that you’re not.

  35. 35
    Inaji

    You’d be my hero, except that you’re not.

    Goodness, Marcus. You’re going to make timanthony change his whole Theory of Caine to Theory of Marcus. Perhaps we should give him a heads up – work on that Theory of Pharyngula Meanies™.

  36. 36
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Caine & Marcus:
    Shape up you two.
    Stop giving Pharyngula a bad name.
    We don’t want people thinking we’re mean here.

    Wait…

    Do we care if people think we’re mean?

  37. 37
    Inaji

    Tony:

    Do we care if people think we’re mean?

    If people have nothing better to do than long-windedly whinge, nope.

  38. 38
    John Morales

    [sillly]

    Tony, you mean we’re mean if we mean what we say, so we should revert to the mean so as not to be mean rather than say what we mean and so be mean?

  39. 39
    Marcus Ranum

    I was trying to be lavish, not mean. As Maxwell Smart would say, “Missed! … By that much!”

    Joking aside, I couldn’t let self-referential tone-trolling pass unremarked. It was bullshit, but it was mighty fine bullshit. Ooh, was I just self-referential, myself? I can’t stop saying ” it”!

  40. 40
    Inaji

    John:

    Tony, you mean we’re mean if we mean what we say, so we should revert to the mean so as not to be mean rather than say what we mean and so be mean?

    The Golden Mean of mean-ness.

  41. 41
    sirbedevere

    Caine,
    I don’t think I care for your mien…

  42. 42
    Akira MacKenzie

    I’m mean
    I’m mean
    I’m mean
    Ya know what I mean…

  43. 43
    DLC

    Root Mean Square.

  44. 44
    chigau (違う)

    Meanies

  45. 45
    Ichthyic

    Do we care if people think we’re mean?

    no, you’re thinking of Jerry Coyne’s BLOG.

  46. 46
    Nick Gotts

    Does anyone have any idea what timanthony’s point was? Timanthony, that “anyone” includes you.

  47. 47
    Gnumann+, out&proud cultural marxist (just don't ask me about Gramsci)

    Nick: I presume Timanthony sees some sort of inconsistency. How and why beats me though.

  48. 48
    redcrosse

    “everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.”
    I read Timanthony’s comment as pointing out that PZ is basically saying here that since everyone has an agenda, everyone will demand silence on topics they don’t like.

    Pretty straightforward reading.

  49. 49
    Inaji

    redcrosse:

    everyone will demand silence on topics they don’t like.

    Except everyone doesn’t demand silence on topics they don’t like. We deal with topics we don’t like every fucking day right here. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t demand that those who disagree be silent, either. We do ask they present valid arguments and evidence to back up those arguments. Some people consider that to be silencing. Tsk.

  50. 50
    redcrosse

    Agreed. That’s why PZ’s statement seems absurd.

    PZ: “everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.”

    If everyone has an agenda.
    Then a symptom of everyone’s agenda is to demand silence on topics you don’t like.

    Caine: “Except everyone doesn’t demand silence on topics they don’t like.”

  51. 51
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    A symptom is not the same as the only symptom.

    Or in logic terms:
    A implies B
    Does not lead to
    B implies A

    Everyone does have their own agenda, but they don’t all have the same symptoms or tells. PZ did not imply that they did. Thus his statement was not absurd.

  52. 52
    Inaji

    If everyone has an agenda.
    Then a symptom of everyone’s agenda is to demand silence on topics you don’t like.

    So…you think there’s only one possible symptom pointing to someone having an agenda. Thinking, you aren’t doing it right.

  53. 53
    John Morales

    Shorter everyone else: ‘a symptom’≠’the symptom’

  54. 54
    redcrosse

    redcrosse: …”seems”…

  55. 55
    carlie

    It’s easier if you use the whole sentence.

    This is also why I ignore or mock people who complain that “The movement has been co-opted by people with an agenda” — everyone has an agenda. Demanding silence on topics you don’t like is a symptom of having an agenda.

    Some people complain that people with agendas speak too much.
    However, everyone has an agenda.
    Therefore, the people who are complaining that people with agendas speak too much themselves are exhibiting that agenda in the same way they are complaining about others doing.

  56. 56
    carlie

    Analogy:
    People do things for money.
    Person A is selling things for money.
    Person B says “Don’t buy from her, she’s only in it for the money. Buy from me instead.”
    Person B’s statement is in itself something person B is doing for money.
    Therefore person B’s statement may be mocked as un-self aware, hypocritical, misleading, etc.

    Does that help, timanthony?

  57. 57
    John Morales

    redcrosse:

    redcrosse: …”seems”…

    Can you confirm whether by this you mean you concede it though you know isn’t, it seems so to you?

  58. 58
    SallyStrange

    I’m baffled that this is really that hard to understand. Really?

    Those who complain about others having an agenda are hypocritical because everyone has an agenda.

    Those with an agenda, who don’t complain about the simple fact of others having agendas, but rather stick to pointing out the problems with said agendas, are not being hypocritical.

    IOW, “You have an agenda” is a meaningless criticism. I place it in the same category as “You’re ideological.” Everyone has an ideology. Everyone has an agenda. It’s only those whose ideologies and agendas match up with the status quo who are granted the luxury of pretending they do not have agendas or ideologies. Defending the status quo is both an agenda and an ideology.

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