A little bit about the new guy

It’s an honor and a treat to have had PZ ask me to join him here at Pharyngula. Though there have been months lately where I haven’t been a particularly exuberant participant in the lively and collegial discussions here, my relationship with Pharyngula goes back a ways — back to ought-four, in fact, back when the blog was hosted on the Cray 2 in PZ’s undersea lair, and commenters underwent a series of strong electric shocks in an early form of CAPTCHA technology. It was just me and Hank Fox commenting back then, I think, and Old Man Buell the painter, and a giant ground sloth name of Shep. Good times.

Despite that long tenure, though, I haven’t been really active here all that much. I read regularly, but aside from that lurking, and the requisite supporting you all in email, I’m really kind of a newbie here. So a few things about me to get out of the way so you know who you’re talking to: [Read more...]

Pharyngula is about to add a co-blogger

Are you ready for this? Chris Clarke now has authorship privileges on Pharyngula.

Those of you who know his work will be awestruck. Chris is a phenomenal writer, a true progressive, and a committed environmentalist. I’d been thinking about bringing in an additional contributor, because let me tell you, this semester is going to kick my butt and I am already stressing out, and when I thought about who I would just dream of partnering with, Chris was right at the top of the list…so it was a tremendous honor when he accepted.

This is going to be awesome.

Phase II of the new Molly awards

Man, you’re a ferocious and mouthy bunch. You gave me links to a lot of excellent comments, and I pared them down to these eight (next time, I might cut them down more). The next step: vote by leaving a comment with the number of the nomination you like best. These are just short excerpts, you’ll have to click on them to read the whole thing.

  1. Anyway, respectful transgender people and transsexual people alike wanted to organize around the common ground that does exist (which is plenty). So they/we needed a word that we could agree *did* represent everyone.

  2. This is fucking serious: A man just made a joke about raping a woman who he’s never met, who never did him any harm, who he doesn’t know at all, and he did this without considering how the fuck it might impact her or people like her.

  3. I’ve done a bit more reading and thinking, and feel more than ever that the 2nd amendment was intended to facilitate well-trained militias, and had diddly to do with personal gun ownership.

  4. Why are you so damned insistent on finding that one special circumstance when it’s morally OK for you to do something horrific to me? Why is it so unacceptable to you that I have bodily autonomy in all circumstances?

  5. That hard truth being: torture is, as many, many competent professionals are telling you, close to useless for getting timely and precise intel. Rather: its only particularly reliable value as a tool of statecraft is as a method of terror and suppression.

  6. The demands religion makes on human sexuality are unreasonable. There has literally never been a human society on the face of the planet, no matter how thoroughly crushed under the thumb of theistic tyranny, where people actually consistently restricted themselves to monogamous marital sex.

  7. BTW, keep your Oogedy Boogedy death cult religion away from my kids and pets.

  8. Playing devil’s advocate does not require lying about your own position. Indeed, that term is generally used only if a person agrees with others in the discussion, but wishes to present the position of someone who disagrees.

The New Molly

You may recall that when I imposed the new rules on the site I also announced that there would also be changes to how the Molly awards were given: instead of giving them to commenters, we’d award them to specific comments. I suggested at that time that you might all start making note of exceptional comments — now it’s time to refer back to those notes.

Here’s the way it works: People should repost a link and quote from their favorite comments here; you can also just chime in and voice your approval for people’s choices. I’ll let you guys chime in here for a few days, and develop a preliminary list. I’ll then pick out the top three and post them in their entirety in a top-level post on Wednesday, and you’ll all vote (Yes! An online poll!) for the best.

So go to it. Think back over the last month or so and tell me what comment you found most enlightening, entertaining, provocative, or otherwise stimulating.

Oh, yeah, we got rules for FtB

In the wake of recent events, we realized that we’re big enough now that Freethoughtblogs needed some more formal rules, so we scribbled some up. I’ve put the tl;dr version below the fold, but here’s the shorter version.

  1. We’re an atheism+social justice+science network…we were Atheism+ before there was an Atheism+. Get used to it.

  2. Big picture management is by an executive committee. It’s not democratic, because its job is to just get stuff done.

  3. There is a confidential backchannel to discuss management issues. And gossip.

  4. No rules to regulate individual blogs.

  5. You want to join FtB? Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Membership is largely decided democratically, with some mandated vetting procedures and final approval in the hands of the executive committee.

  6. You want to get kicked off FtB? Act like a raging asshat and the executive committee will oblige you.

The current executive committee consists of Ed Brayton, me, Ophelia Benson, and Greta Christina. A fifth person is in the process of being elected. Don’t pester the executive committee about signing up your blog, because they’re just the janitors and they don’t get to bypass the rest of the network to let people in; the people you want to beg are those on the admissions committee, and we’re not telling you who they are.

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The next Pharyngula podcast will be on Sunday, 26 August

Just so you know, I’m planning another podcast for next Sunday. Time is a little bit in flux, but we’ll work it out in the next day or two.

The topic: “Is there value in the sceptical/skeptical movement?”. I think we’ll probably also talk about the direction the atheist movement must take in the future.

I’ve lined up a couple of people to lead the discussion: Brownian and Louis.

If you’ve been on my invite list for a podcast before, you’ll get an invite to this one, too. If you’ve never joined in before, email me you google+ name and I’ll put you on the list.

Thunderf00t/Phil Mason, treacherous hack

Fuck Thunderf00t/Phil Mason. The accounts that Zinnia and Natalie and Ashley have revealed are true: for the past month, Thunderf00t took advantage of a security exploit to hack into our private mail server; when the hole was closed, he tried multiple time to use the same exploit to get back in. He knowingly and willfully violated a confidential email list. And worse, what he has since been doing (and this is how we discovered the security flaw in the first place) is disseminating some of this email to third parties.

Yeah, this is the guy who expressed such outrage at people ‘dropping docs’ on him, but he has absolutely no qualms about breaking legally binding confidentiality of an LLC, and thinks it’s just fine to hold hostage personal information on pseudonymous posters who, under the promise of privacy, had discussed personal matters and job-related issues. He is a colossal hypocrite.

Just to make matters even worse, I woke up this morning to find some reassuring email from some friends of his, who had basically staged an intervention, trying to get him to back off from his unethical behavior. I was told that he had listened and agreed, and piously assured everyone that he thought the goals of the freethought movement were most important, and that we should all step away from the petty divisiveness and concentrate on education, science, secularism, and politics. His friends wrote to me and they sounded quite convinced that he was sincere and high minded.

And then he turned around, no doubt chortling to himself, and posted another slimy, sneering, lying article about freethoughtblogs. It’s appalling. Not only has he stabbed FtB in the back, but he has no qualms about lying to and betraying the people he still regards as friends.

Yes, we want to make Thunderf00t/Phil Mason a pariah in the atheist movement, and for good reason: he’s a dishonest scumbag. The nice thing for us is that he’s making it easy: Phil Mason is destroying his own reputation with his sleazy behavior. Who in their right mind would ever trust that guy with any confidence at all?

[Mollies] Restored and retired

The Mollies page is back, and I can now announce that the new winner for the month of June is…

Maureen Brian

And with that, I also announce that the Molly awards are now retired. There will be no new nominations accepted. Everyone who got them can now call themselves Original Mollies.

There will be something new coming up to reward commenters, though. At the end of this month, I’ll put up a post collecting nominations for excellent comments, but instead of a general award to cool people, I want to acknowledge the comments themselves. If you see some particularly perspicacious, funny, thrilling, intelligent comment, make a note of it somewhere. At the end of this month, I’ll ask you to link to, and quote some relevant fragment of, the best comments of the last month. The best comment (and an acknowledgment of the author!) will be enshrined on the Mollies page. I’ve got in mind a new title you’ll be able to wear, but you’re going to have to wait until September to learn more.

Also, note this: of course this award can go to previous Molly winners, and I’m also going to allow repeat winners — the award goes to the good comments, and maybe someone here will be making all the best comments from now on.

Whew. All the administrative stuff is now mostly done. I just got home — this was a grueling journey getting back, what with late night and delayed flights and an overnight stay in Minneapolis and having to take a commercial shuttle back home. Now I can settle back into a sensible routine again.

The New Rules

I’ve been getting a little exasperated lately — Pharyngula is a relatively lawless place, which is good for getting combative, aggressive discussions going, but not so good when discussions spin off into frustratingly ingrown fussing and howling and pointless boundary-pushing. This is my party, I’ll have you know, and there have been way too many times when I have not been enjoying it.

So I’m changing a few things. There will be new rules. There will be new means of enforcement. The Dungeon is back (bwahahahahaha!). There will be new policies for specific kinds of threads. There will be a few clarifying name changes.

I will be restarting TET and TZT under new names.

TET will become [Lounge]. It is still the same: an open thread, talk about what you want, but I’m going to be specific: it is a safe space. Discussion and polite disagreement are allowed, but you will respect all the commenters, damn you. No personal attacks allowed at all. If you’re feeling angry at someone in the thread, back off and leave: there is no shortage of rage threads on Pharyngula, but this one isn’t it. These threads will be heavily moderated…which means that if you break any of the rules, they will be promptly and strongly enforced.

TZT will become [Thunderdome]. Like it says: open brawling permitted and encouraged. Say what you want, be as vicious and personal as you want, make people bleed metaphorically. Vent here. This thread will be unmoderated; the only restraint will be the unmitigated attacks of other participants in the thread. That means I’ll look the other way at behavior that goes on here, but do be warned: I may eventually decide that you’re too nasty to be allowed to wander elsewhere on the site, and may be condemned to Thunderdome and only Thunderdome forever. And confinement to the Thunderdome is often a preliminary step before being tossed into the Dungeon.

Normal threads will be moderated by the rules listed below.

The Absolute Law

I AM THE BOSS, and don’t you forget it. I have sole and absolute power here; I can ban you, I can destroy your comments, I can shut down whole threads. I am a being of caprice; I don’t have to justify anything I do. So when I tell you to stop doing something, stop. Don’t argue with me. You don’t like that I banned your friend? Tough. Don’t complain to me. I will do as I will to make this place the kind of party I want to attend, and that’s all that matters.

This law supercedes all other rules.

The Rules of Restraint

Threats. Threats of any kind of physical violence are forbidden. Threats of harrassment are forbidden. Implicit threats made by revealing commenters identity, address, email address, or place of work are absolutely forbidden. Arguments are confined to words only, right here, and not in the physical world. Violations of this rule will get you placed in the Dungeon.

Identity. We all know that anonymity can be abused, and that some people will turn into total assholes when unconstrained by accountability. Total anonymity is forbidden. However, I encourage and will protect pseudonyms, as long as you maintain a constant identity. Your online persona is accountable for your actions; I expect you to cultivate that identity, and maintain a recognizable and consistent pseudonym. One pseudonym; sockpuppetry will get you sent to the Dungeon. Stealing someone else’s pseudonym will also get you endungeoned.

No splash damage. I have no problem with insults (except, not in the Lounge!), and encourage everyone to use vigorous and creative language. Except…I insist that you be precise and focused. Stilettos, not shotguns. There are classes of insults that rely on broad spectrum stereotypes to be insulting: racist, sexist, ableist, ageist slurs don’t just hit your target, they hit everyone in that group. So when you slam Joe Schmoe for being “old”, you’re also slamming me, and we old people get tetchy and cranky about that sort of thing.

No motormouths. Look at your own pattern of behavior. If you find yourself taking up 20% or more of a thread; if every other comment is from you; if you find yourself making 3, 4, 5 comments in a row…you’re a boring ass. Shut up for a while. Let other people speak. Stop babbling, step back, write a longer comment offline, and think about it before you post it. Motormouths are either dangerously obsessed or are practicing a form of online harassment, and I will shut them down.

Transparency. Avoid speaking in code, as some people have been doing. A little rot13 to hide movie spoilers is fine, but scribbling away cryptically in a way that forces me to go to a specific website to decode what you’re saying makes my job of moderating comments harder, and also, keep in mind that a hundred thousand people visit this site every day. Most of them already ignore the comments, and the majority of the few that do delve deeper are going to just give up at the sight of nonsense strings. You really aren’t helping to make the discussions accessible. \

The Rules of Charity

Everyone gets three chances. If a new person shows up, give them three comments to make a case before you unlimber the artillery. I don’t care how stupid their arguments are, try the gentle art of persuasion first before you switch to the flamethrower of rhetorical annihilation. This one is tough to enforce because once the rule is broken, the victim is a crumbling pile of ash and nothing can be undone, so please try to give the new chewtoys a little break on your own. Think of it as a strategy for luring them deeper into the lair, if nothing else.

Reset. One persistent problem here is that the regulars develop a history, and at times, it is utterly stultifying. You don’t let grudges go, you resurrect long-dead arguments, you start citing passages from year-old comment threads. Stop it. It inhibits people from changing, and it poisons every discussion with ancient irritations that most people don’t know anything about. Every time I start a new thread, pretend I asked you to look into a little red light, and poof, everything is reset. Treat each comment as an argument unto itself. Linking to old comments to demonstrate the perfidy of a commenter, rather than linking to evidence to refute the commenter’s claims, will be regarded as an abuse of the principle of charity. I am aware that this rule could be abused by repetitious jackholes who make the same claims in every thread and then run away from your answers, but let me do the enforcement.

Point of clarification: Of course you aren’t going to forget everything: a known creationist should be remembered as a known creationist on a new thread. But you can try to approach their arguments from a new angle, and let go of acrimony from any previous thread.


Here’s something new: I’m appointing certain people to be monitors. They don’t get any special powers or privileges, except that I’ve created a special email filter so that if they write to me with a message that contains the word “alert” in the subject line, I’ll be much, much more likely to notice their complaint and will check out the problem. If you’re not a monitor and you see someone running amok on the threads, just make a comment that asks a monitor to send up a signal flare — this will improve the chances that it will come to my attention. If a monitor sends me a message, they should also leave a comment that I will be on my way as soon as possible.

Sometimes a thread gets terribly derailed by one offending jerk, and then it turns into a tangle of recrimination and finger-pointing. If you see that the bat-signal has been lit, calm down, and wait for the banhammer to come crashing down. You don’t need to rage about it endlessly.


I’m implementing three levels of punishment.

Confinement to Thunderdome. Unruly and uncivilized individuals will be told they are only allowed to comment in the Thunderdome thread. Enforcement is voluntary; I don’t have a means in the software to restrict them. However, leaving the Thunderdome to taint other threads will result in instant Dungeon confinement. (Unfortunately, this usually means this punishment leads to endungeonment, because these individuals tend to have poor impulse control.)

Auto-moderation. These miscreants will have their names entered in the software graylist. What that means is that all of their comments will be automatically placed in the moderation queue, and won’t appear on the site until I’ve reviewed and approved them. That means it may be 24 hours or more before they get approved, because I am a lazy moderator. If I see that the comments improve and no longer demand my attention, I may remove the individual from auto-moderation.

Banning to the Dungeon. The Dungeon is my list of banned and blocked individuals. There is no reprieve. They simply don’t get to comment here, ever again.

In case you ever want to cite the laws at people, here are the handy-dandy formatted links to copy-paste as needed.

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#boss”>The Boss</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#threats”>Threats</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#identity”>Identity</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#splashdamage”>Splash Damage</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#motormouth”>Motormouth</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#transparency”>Transparency</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#three”>Three Chances</a>

<a href=”http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/06/the-new-rules/#reset”>Reset</a>

Hanging out Friday night (tonight!)

We’re doing another podcast tonight at 8pm Central, and you’re welcome to join. Send me your google+ ID if you want to get an invite (by the way, if you were on my podcast list before, you’re going to get an invitation anyway; ignore it if you want).

I usually do two topics, half an hour each, so there’s a little something for everyone. The first half will be about the intellectual bankruptcy of creationism, as represented by how the DI dealt with Carl Zimmer, and any other examples you want to bring up.

The second half? Let’s talk about what humanism means! Here’s an excellent video to get you started thinking:

I’ll try to follow along with comments on my youtube and Google+ accounts — you can ask questions and tell me I’m all wrong there, maybe I’ll invite you in, too.