Flattery just awakens me to the greater potential for failure

I get so much hate mail that I’ve become numb to it — I check it out in case there are grounds for amusement in it, and then automatically hit delete. Delete, delete, delete, delete…and sometimes I get lazy and just “select all” and then delete once. And then every once in a great while, I get a nice email, which mainly stirs up feelings of puzzlement. I have to stare at it and try to decipher the words, and all the while I’m wondering whether I’m being trolled or set up, or whether I’m being blasted with sarcasm. I can take the hate in stride nowadays, but pleasant email gives me a sensation akin to a stifled hiccup or sneeze, and it’s a little distressing.

I think there’s probably something wrong with my head after too many years of this. I should probably get therapy, but if I started caring what the assholes said about me it might be fatal.

Anyway, just because it’s unusual, I include the content of the message below.

This email is just to say thanks. Thanks for being one of the good atheists. This may sound strange, but maybe I can elaborate. What got me started on atheism, or at least the catalyst, was watching Richard Dawkins. Then I watched more of him and then any atheist he spoke with. This led to Harris and Hitchens and then on to youtube to Thunderfoot. These were some of the foundational elements of my awakening to atheism and being more scientific about viewing things. Then, some years ago this started to change. Dawkins, Harris, and thunderfoot (among the many other skeptics and atheists who have come to disappoint me) said many stupid things. (While I disagree with Hitchens on some things, I find his wit and the way he speaks to enticing to throw him away, what can I say he was one of my heroes) There is no need to go into detail on specifics, but their words and actions disappointed and disgusted me. Now, to back track a bit, during those exciting early days, you were there, as well. But, you were always second fiddle to those other players. Just this kooky older guy who had good things to say, I guess…

But you, you have never disappointed me or said things that I am embarrassed about. You are on the right side of things. I am sorry I did not give you enough credit way back when.

So, thanks for being awesome. For being a good person. All those others were so much dross that a light wind swept away. And underneath was this glorious, many tentacled, feminist, open minded awesomeness named PZ Myers.

Anyway, this is something I realized recently and there has been an itch to let you know this. Seriously, thank you for all that you do and for the causes you support. Please keep up the good work.

Thank you, I’ll try.

Of course, now I’m just thinking about all the ways I can fuck up. I’m thinking of all the ways I have fucked up.

I don’t need therapy, I need a pill that gives one Dunning-Krueger.


  1. davidrutten says

    […] I need a pill that gives one Dunning-Krueger.

    I think it’s called The Red Pill™

  2. NYC atheist says

    Mostly a lurker here, but I have to say I’m in the same boat as this letter writer. Like almost to a t. Up there with you, for me, are Mano Singham, Ed Brayton, and all the folks at TAE.

  3. says

    I agree with the letter writer, too, even though I wasn’t much of a follower of the same people. PZ, you made the difference between me remaining a very quiet atheist here in god’s country, or being a very outspoken one. Thank you.

  4. redwood says

    If that letter has a “rabid fan” score of 100, I’ll give you a 90, PZ. I also think you’re on the reasonable side of things almost all of the time, but every once in a while, well, you know, fuckup city. After all, you’re only cephalopod.

  5. sonodeist says

    I’ve wanted to write you a similar email for some time now! Keep up the good work, PZ.

  6. naturalcynic says

    Me too, from back in the days of talk.origins. The only major quibble I have is that you seem to expect too much perfection from some of the other atheist “big shots”. For instance, Dawkins still averages out to a B with his feminist views holding him down and Maher still makes more astute comments than really dumb ones. And I have some nostalgia for the snark of the old thunderf00t. Why did these guys get off track recently? Oh, well [sigh]

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Thanks too for showing the way with Atheism ♥︎. The other leaders showed they didn’t consider all of humanity their equals, which diminishes their own humanity and empathy.

  8. amitxjoshi says

    PZ, one of the few insights I’ve had in my long life is that, Dunning-Kruger is a useful tag, but the condition affects EVERYBODY. Recognizing it in others is easy enough if you’re somewhat aware. Took me a LONG time to realize that I have it, too–it’s just that if I only speak in fields where I know stuff, it’s less likely to show up: either I do know more than the next person, or I know the limits of my knowledge better!

  9. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    Ditto. I’ve been aware of you since the scienceblogs days (I think I commented on there… maybe three times? I was a little intimidated by all the smart people when I was just a [high school equivalent*] dropout who hadn’t been to university yet, so I mostly just lurked.) and I can’t honestly say I’ve ever found a cause for serious complaint. Not even when I was following up on claims that you in particular or FTB in general were/was eeeeevil. I’ve disagreed with you on occasion, but that’s just a thing that happens when humans human around other humans.

    Of course, now I’m just thinking about all the ways I can fuck up. I’m thinking of all the ways I have fucked up.

    I think this is actually why people like and respect you•. I really don’t believe that people like thunderf00t or Harris, and a depressingly large number of people who hold “Skeptic” as a primary identifier, actually think much about whether or not they’re wrong about something or if they fuck anything up, or, if they do, manage to wave it away without proper consideration because “I’m a skeptic,” and criticism seems to bump into something in their brains, turn into a weird bizarro-world version of itself, and then gets rejected based on the weird new version that exists almost exclusively in their own minds. You screw up as much as anyone,˚ because you’re a human and humans’re gonna human, but you’re aware of that, and while, obviously, you can’t catch every fuck up before it leaves your brain, you’re receptive to criticism – you use skepticism more to become right than you do to show that you are right. At least, this is the way it appears.

    * I’m assuming high school in the US is equivalent to college/sixth form in the UK? I would’ve just said college dropout, but I doesn’t college mean university in the US? I want to know what the things you call universities are, and why we don’t have an equivalent over here! I’m going to invent one. Omniducorium! Shut up, that is too a good name. “I’m off to study Bee Philosophy at the omniducorium, see you next century!” (The courses last 95 years, because they’re super in-depth, but this is ok because you spend all your off-time in barometric chambers which keep you young somehow, meaning that you only age about 6 days in that time.)

    • Among other reasons, obviously – I mostly approve because of beard affinity.

    ˚ Assuming no dedication to a stance that requires repeated and constant rational screw ups, such as creationism, homeopathy, alchemy, flat-earthery, moon landing denialism, climate change “skepticism,” or anti-feminism.

    /super-brief comment

  10. Ray, rude-ass yankee, Bugblatting Flibbertigibbet says

    PZ, I’ve been following the various incarnations of your blog for over 10 years. I haven’t always agreed with all your writings, but overall they correlate with and/or have influenced my attitudes and beliefs to a great degree. Thank you for doing what you do, and helping me to learn and become better person as a result.
    I pretty much always feel this way, but your post of this email has given me a great excuse to add my $.02 as a fan.

  11. Saad says

    Thanks from me to, PZ.

    In addition to what you say, I also enjoy your writing style.

  12. Ray, rude-ass yankee, Bugblatting Flibbertigibbet says

    At least I hope I’m a better person. It’s an ongoing process.

  13. bojac6 says

    I ended up here thanks to a slightly winding road that started at the publicity around Boobquake*. I have to say that while I occasionally find the comments section a bit extreme or harsh, I find your posts to always be well reasoned and fair, even the ones I don’t entirely agree with. So thanks for that. And to echo previous comments, it’s not that you don’t fuck up, it’s that you handle your fuck ups well.

    *It seems like Jen McCreight pretty much not blogging anymore. While I understand she had a rough few years and certainly understand why she’d give it up, if anybody knows differently, I’d love to hear about it, I did always enjoy her stuff.

  14. Big Boppa says

    Jumping on the band wagon.

    I ended up here (actually it was Science Blogs then) because one of your posts was linked on the morning blog roundup at Crooks & Liars. I have no memory of the content of that particular post, just that you were saying things that I had been thinking for a long time but didn’t yet have the courage to express out loud to family and friends.
    I’ve been coming back nearly every day since.

    After a few months of reading Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s blog, ‘Dispatches from the Culture Wars’, I “came out” and told my wife that I’m an atheist. She didn’t take it well at first but we’re 4 or 5 years into it now and we’re fine.

  15. alexanderjohannesen says

    I used to read them all. Now I only read this one. For obvious reasons.

    However, as someone else have pointed out, the comment section here has always been a mostly miss for me, too much rudeness, too much stomping before looking. I know you want that to change now (hopefully for the right reasons … :) ), so maybe I’ll come lurking back. But a lot of us are simply afraid of having an opinion out loud in fear of being torn a new one over what most probably is a misunderstanding.

    I’m glad you’re still around, kicking and screaming. And the OP sentiment is mine exactly; thank you for being a consistently good and wonderfully brave voice amongst a lot of voices who turned out to be anything but. I stay clear of all organised atheism / secularism because people who claim to be smarter have acted worse, said stupid things in haste without admitting said stupidity, and so on.

    Thank you. Ha det bra! Og lev vel!

  16. kovacen says

    Long time lurker here (of about a decade) from Budapest, Hungary. My moral development is as much indebted to you as to the likes of Stephen Fry, Richard Feynman and David Attenborough. You are up there with them as major influences in moulding my character over the years.

    Your writings are the only ones I invariably read regardless of the subject matter. Besides your ever-so-entertaining posts on creationists and select inanities, you are the one who opened up my eyes to humanism, feminism and social equality, helping me to become the grown-up person that I am today. I now view the world in an entirely different light than I used to when I started reading you ten years ago.

    For the last couple of years I followed only two blogs, yours and that of Jerry Coyne. I have recently ditched Coyne and now you’re the only one left. The main difference between the two of you is that you are a genuinely good person and he’s not. Also, you’re a much better writer; his style is gratuitously diffuse and often contrived, yours is always clear-cut and effortless. On the odd occasion when you both commented on the same subject, I used to find delight in acknowledging how much more insightful your piece was in about half as many words. I do hope when you decide to retire from teaching you will find the time to regale us with your beautiful, incisive prose in the form of a couple of books. I don’t care if it’s on feminism, science fiction or tentacled mollusks, just write them please! Thank you for existing.

  17. Larry Clapp says

    I’ll add to the love, or at least the like. Thanks for writing so much and so well and so entertainingly. You, John Scalzi, Greta Christina, JT Eberhard, and Libby Anne are my favorite bloggers. (JT’s dad is pretty awesome on Facebook, too.) I like to think you’re in pretty august company. :)

  18. laurencocilova says

    Absolutely. I don’t generally comment (and never read the comments! never read the comments!), but I know I’m always safe here, and always in for heartfelt compassion and honest science. Thank you, absolutely

  19. says

    Though I have found you on some issues to be irritatingly wrong-headed, I’ve never doubted your basic decency. I most appreciate, I think, your advocacy for Greg Koger.

    It must have been back in ’03 or ’04 when I first starting reading your blog and I was still politically conservative. I am a conservative no longer, and though the change had more to do with 8 years of that grinning Texas troll than anything else, I think your site contributed as well.

  20. hotspurphd says

    I’m also a big fan. Been reading for 6-7 years,almost daily, and agree with almost everything. It’s very nice to be able to articulate my lack of religious belief so much better. Harris, Hitchens,Dawkins , and Dennett helped there a lot also. I also appreciate greatly the continuing coverage of various scientific works. I’m amazed at your productivity. This blog would seem to be a full time job.
    While I’m in agreement with much of what is said about religion here, I don’t agree that it “poisons everything”. Religion seems to me to be very helpful to some people. Also there are many religious people who are not fundamentalists and not conservative but it seems they are portrayed often in the most extreme way. Most Democrats are religious are they not. I have a good friend who returned to the Catholic Church in his forties (to my dismay), and he is quite liberal,not a fundamentalist, extremely intelligent , and thinks quite well, except when he talks about his religion. I’d love to see some discussion of this point here- I.e., is religion helpful for some people, for many. Isn’t it a force for good often? I can’t recall anyone ever saying that on this blog.
    I have a major concern about the abuse meted out to some people in the comments. It is excessive and often unwarranted. I have seen people called a death cultist Xian for simply asking a question(the person attacked was in fact an atheist).
    I would really like to see a whole lot less of that . Some regulars see trolls where there are none. And some are rather sadistic.
    There seems to be less of that lately. Or is it my imagination?
    So- mostly a great site. Often makes my day.
    I’m guessing you expected all this praise and that it feels great. Probably a good idea to do it from time to time, when you need it.

  21. Lady Mondegreen says

    Still a fan, and, I hope, in a small way, a friend.

    Have mostly given up on the comment section, which is too bad–it used to be brilliant, challenging, and funny (no thanks to me, but I enjoyed reading every word.)

  22. newfie says

    Well earned kudos, PZ. Good on ya, b’y.
    To show my appreciation, here’s an Irishman singing a traditional Newfoundland song for you. Cheers. :)

  23. opposablethumbs says

    Like the letter-writer, I encountered Dawkins first – and as far as I’m concerned, I have one thing to thank him for (back before he revealed those feet of clay a mile high, to massacre a metaphor): somewhere in God Delusion, I think it is, he mentions the Pharyngula site. That was how I first heard of it, lo these howevermany years ago; and though I’m almost entirely lurking these days I’ve never stopped reading you from that day to this.

  24. F.O. says

    Yeah, PZ, you are good.
    Not perfect, I’m happy to see that we disagree on a few things, but you have a lot of integrity and I respect that.

  25. garysturgess says

    I can’t say I agree with your take on superhero movies. :) But other than that, yeah, you’re one of the good guys.

  26. magistramarla says

    Yes, I agree with what many have said here.
    I found Pharyngula first, and then showed it to my husband, who holds several science degrees.
    We’ve both been regular readers for several years now. Like many others, I mostly agree with what PZ says and I’ve learned a lot over the years.
    Thanks for all the food for thought, PZ!

  27. birgerjohansson says


    “Just this kooky older guy ”
    Which is another reason to like you. Too few old geezers like myself

  28. w00dview says

    First started reading you back in 2007 after being exposed to the God Delusion and have not looked back. The atheist/skeptic movement could do with a lot more introspection and it is great that you will be the one to always hold their feet to the fire*. You played a very large part in regards to losing my religion but even more importantly you have consistently pointed out that not believing in gods is not enough, far from it. In fact, your writings on feminism and social justice in general have been by far the biggest influence on my worldview. Even when I was religious I always thought creationism was a pile of bollocks so although such articles were entertaining, I already agreed with you on that part before even visiting the blog. But I used to have stupid wrongheaded ideas about feminism and what it entails, thinking they were nothing but man hating extremists. And it was your writing in defense of the crap Rebeca Watson had to endure and your mockery of the kooky/terrifying MRA movement that really made me reconsider how ignorant I was on all these issues. So thanks for everything and keep on fighting the good fight.

    * And admit when you mess up as well of course!

  29. jester700 says

    I think this is common, since we learn of and are drawn to people based on a single issue, and then learn about other issues about which we disagree. Dawkins and Maher are still great speakers on atheism, but not so much on other stuff. So we gravitate toward others who align more closely with us on more issues.

    I’m still “with” PZ, Singham, Novella, Dillahunty, and Dennett. No obvious stupidity yet from those… ;-)

  30. archangelospumoni says

    I also wrote a thank-you email and even offered to contribute.

    Archangelo Sumoni

    Born in 1605, flourished about 1700. Was married twice–both times to women named “Vera.” Making it clear, of course, that any reference to “La Primavera” was, in fact, a reference to my 1st wife.

  31. frog says

    First: agreed with everyone else. It has been excellent to have an example of an atheist who works consciously at not being an asshole, even if he falls victim to blind spots once in a great while.



    “High school” in the US is generally folks aged 14-18. Schooling in most parts of the US is mandatory through age 16.

    College/University are largely used as interchangeable terms, to specify formal education after one graduates from high school (or takes a high school equivalency exam). These are geared toward “academic” style education. There are also trade schools one can attend after high school (or after age 16, depending) to learn practical skills (auto repair, plumbing, HVAC systems, that sort of thing).

    In general (and all the caveats that implies) colleges are smaller, or have specific academic foci. Universities are generally larger institutions with have sub-schools (often called colleges) with academic specialties: engineering, business, graduate* schools such as law school or medical school, et al.

    I’m reasonably certain that a University is by definition a school with multiple sub-schools and graduate schools, but here in the US, people will try to elevate their bullshit for-profit schools by calling them universities. Language becomes meaningless. :-/

    Universities also often have multiple campuses. Most of these are state universities (California and New York have enormous state university systems), though some private universities maintain more than one campus as well (usually a “satellite” campus with a specialty school. For example, a city-based university might also have a college of veterinary science at a campus out in the countryside where they can attend to large farm animals). And at least one large city university (CUNY, or City University of New York) has a great many individual colleges (some quite large, with sub-schools!) scattered all around the city.

    Clear as mud. The main thing to know is that high school is mandatory for everyone, but college/university is optional (though practically necessary to even get your resume looked at for any desk job).

    *graduate school is school you go to after you have an undergraduate college/university degree. College/university undergrad study is traditionally 4 years long, but often runs 5 these days. I took 8 years about it, with a 3-year gap in the middle.

  32. Storms says

    As a cis-white-het 55 year old male who came out of the ‘merican Republican rape-culture saturated evangelical hell, I can barely describe how grateful I am to have your voice and that of your tribe in my life. Yes, we all get it wrong sometimes and no, I don’t always agree with you, but there are all those other voices here that keep it real.

    I likewise started with Hitchen, Harris and Dawkins, but consistently your positions proved both compassionate and true and theirs less so. Mostly what you’ve provided is perspective, often jarring and painful, but that’s the way it is when callus comes off. I’m a different person than I was when I started here, better I think, at least I try to be.

    Your efforts are greatly appreciated. Thank you! Please keep it up.

  33. pericles says

    Hey, so this is the guy who wrote the letter in question. Let me first say, that upon finding this post my initial reaction was “Squueeeeeeee!”

    Now, I agree with some who say Myers is good at recognizing he done fucked up and that his fuck ups are not as severe as the douchebagery of some of those other atheists. And, PZ, don’t forget that you are worried about screwing up makes you miles ahead of those others. It is a point in your favor that you recognized you could screw up.

    Most importantly, I am VERY disappointed in Myers when it comes to super hero movies. Can we start some advocacy group to help inspire change in PZ? super hero Movie Rights Activists SHMRA?


  34. Rick Pikul says

    Of course, now I’m just thinking about all the ways I can fuck up. I’m thinking of all the ways I have fucked up.

    And this right here is why you are one of the better ones: Everyone fucks up, what matters is how one reacts to having fucked up.

    You generally react by going: “Oops, right, I really fucked up there didn’t I? How am I going to make amends for it and avoid fucking up like that in the future?”

  35. garysturgess says

    pericles@38: Sign me up, but I wouldn’t necessarily have high expectations there. Most of the criticisms our most esteemed squidiness has about these movies I actually agree with, but I end up enjoying them anyway.