My job has always been toppling idols

A curious phenomenon: after my post yesterday about Krauss’s bad op-ed, I got complaints. I always do, but these had this odd tone: ‘I used to like you, but now you’re being critical of my heroes’. It confuses me. Why do you have heroes? Why do you think being critical of people is bad? Wait…why are you being critical of me? It all smacks of unthinking idolatry. We should be critical thinkers, and prominent people who aspire to be leaders and inspiring figures should be criticized most of all.

(Don’t look at me. My aspirations nowadays mainly involve spiders.)

I went easy on Krauss. That op-ed was dishonest right-wing trash that lied about the people who were “cancelled”, and could only have been published on the sleaziest of conservative publications, like the Wall Street Journal opinion pages. For a more thorough dissection, you might want to read John Jackson’s exposure of Krauss’s lies and misrepresentations.

  • Krauss claims one of Hsu’s “crimes included doing research on computational genomics to study how human genetics might be related to cognitive ability—something that to the protesters smacked of eugenics.” Well….yeah, manipulating the genetic material of humans for certain traits for the sake of future generations is kind of the definition of eugenics. Krauss doesn’t explain why it wouldn’t be nor why people should be unconcerned with such a plan. So, this doesn’t really advance any argument he thinks he’s making.
  • “He was also accused of supporting psychology research at MSU on the statistics of police shootings that didn’t clearly support claims of racial bias.” Well, as I explained before, that study was mentioned on Twitter, but nowhere else during the controversy. So, technically true, but largely irrelevant to the controversy.
  • “Within a week, the university president forced Mr. Hsu to resign.” Ten days, actually, Mr. Objective-Intellectual-Standards. And welcome to the land of post hoc ergo propter hoc. The two things Krauss listed preceded Hsu’s resignation in time therefore, Krauss concluded they caused Hsu’s resignation. Here’s few possible causes completely unmentioned by Krauss:

That’s just the stuff Krauss wrote about Stephen Hsu! His whole op-ed is that repulsively dishonest about everything, as one might expect of a disgraced academic who is lashing out at those who uncovered his bad behavior.

The author of this fallaciously argued piece is Lawrence Krauss, a man who was found guilty of sexual misconduct by his own university and has been banned from the campuses of three others. Hsu, who hosted a Holocaust denier on his podcast has now defended himself with a neo-Confederate and a serial sexual harasser. These are people who obviously have problems with presenting the truth. Credibility counts and Hsu’s defenders have none.

If these people are your heroes, and if you’re more annoyed at those who point out their feet of clay than at their bad behavior, you’ve got a problem.


  1. Matt G says

    Speaking of bad science, while looking for other friends of Jeffrey Epstein I came across his former “best friend” Stuart Pivar, crackpot “biologist.”

  2. stroppy says

    It’s normal to look for role models when you’re young and becoming socialized. The problem is when that process creates infantilized and lazy people. Just another indication of an unhealthy society.

  3. says

    “Why do you think being critical of people is bad?”

    Whoa, man! Your Blue Meanie negative vibes are crumbling my psychic defenses, man! Everyone’s a special starchild at one with the Universe, man! You can’t, like, judge people, man. People should just, like, be, and stuff.

  4. R. L. Foster says

    PZ, don’t you know you are our idol? The only thing that could topple you is the giant spider at the end of IT. That would be a titanic battle worthy of a Marvel film — The Web at The End of The World, PZ vs. Pennywise.

  5. mathman85 says

    PZ, don’t you know you are our idol?

    With all due respect to our host, FUCK NO!

    Indeed. No gods, no masters, no heroes.

  6. says

    ‘I used to like you, but now you’re being critical of my heroes’

    Hard to believe they could have liked you all that much if they were unaware that you were critical of their heroes.

  7. Owlmirror says

    Speaking of bad science, while looking for other friends of Jeffrey Epstein I came across his former “best friend” Stuart Pivar, crackpot “biologist.”

    PZ linked to the Mother Jones interview with Pivar about Epstein last year.

    As pointed out in 2007 by Peter Irons, Pivar’s lawsuit against PZ may well have been driven by animus against Epstein (since Seed Media Group got startup money from Epstein, and Ghislane Maxwell was on the board of Seed Media Group (and Pivar falsely wrote that Epstein was on the board as well, possibly just a sloppy mistake))

  8. llyris says

    Pfft! I don’t have heroes.
    As long as PZ doesn’t say anything bad about David Attenborough.
    Or Terry Pratchett.
    Ok, but they’re better heroes than Krauss.

  9. says

    Reminds me of a thing that happened yonks ago.

    The only time I ever went to a skeptics’ convention was in 2005, an ‘Amaz!ng Meeting’. #3, I think? Actually wound up sitting next to Dawkins at one point, but that’s incidental.

    There was a big panel Q&A at one point, with Penn & Teller, James Randi, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and some other high-profile folks who escape my memory right now. They’d said something about how atheism is superior to any religion because we have no priests or church or saints.

    That rankled slightly, so I put my hand up to ask a question. The question was: “If we don’t have any priests, who are you?”

    They didn’t answer. There was an instant of silence, then Penn cracked a joke about making Randi pope, then Hitchens started filibustering about the Iraq War, a thing which I presume he continued to do until about a week after his death.

    That’s always stuck with me, since long before I realized movement atheism/skepticism as a concept was in large part morally bankrupt, from long before the Deep Rifts. When push came to shove, this is EXACTLY how the people on the other side of the Rifts behave: they have priests, they have popes (that’s exactly what the ‘Four Horsemen’ were for a time), they have heroes, and they have saints… they just don’t have the self-awareness to realize it without the official titles.

  10. llyris says

    @15 Owlmirror.
    I’m utterly shocked and offended! How dare he! My infallible hero!
    We are watching the original ‘Life on earth’ with our kids, and sometimes Attenborough says things that are wrong. Hard to believe, I know.

  11. logicalcat says

    Jey I got heroes. PZ is legit someone Inlook up too. A biologist who studies spiders (i know its a recent thing, but I also like spiders).

    The thing is you gotta be ready to abandon your heroes at any time. As I did for Dawkins, Hitchens (still have an affinity I admit but boy was he a problem), and Thunderf00t. Dont judge me to harshly om that last one, i was young and smitten by youtube skepticism.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    My job has always been toppling idols

    Uh, do y’all have any openings? I can bring a truck and a long tow chain.

  13. mailliw says

    As we have seen, it does seem to be remarkably easy to distract fake apologists for science like Krauss from their current activities.

    All you need to do is say “Look, there’s a squirrel with a copy of Derrida’s Grammatologie under its arm. A mob of fake science apologists promptly gathers with pitchforks and start shouting “burn the squirrel, burn the squirrel”.

    The squirrel cornered, proffers the book to the fake apologists “perhaps you might care to give me a detailed point by point analysis covering the logical errors in Derrida’s reasoning? There is no hurry, I live in that tree just over there, drop by anytime.”

    The fake apologists pause for a moment and then their leader says “nah, far too reasonable, burn the squirrel, burn the squirrel”.

    I feel quite sorry for Alan Sokal, he is very unfortunate in those who are believe they are his allies. Here he is talking very reasonably about the whole matter:

    I too am concerned on the political front about the number of new agers that are in the Green movement. If I vote Green I want to hear about climate change, climate change and climate change in roughly that order, by having those in their ranks who dismiss the science they give denialists the opportunity to discredit the whole movement.

  14. mailliw says

    prominent people who aspire to be leaders

    Apparently it is very difficult to identify people with leadership potential in advance.

    This is unfortunate as if we could identify them, they could be given the psychiatric treatment they urgently need to curb these tendencies before they can do any lasting harm to society.

    The essential quality of leadership is the ability to persuade large numbers of people to go a long way, in entirely the wrong direction, in a very short space of time. That and the ability to claim credit when everything is going well and to blame “circumstances beyond their control” when things are going badly.

  15. witm says

    I don’t think it is a problem to have heroes and role models, those are to some extent inevitable and necessary. At least I have found that to be the case personally. The problem is when you can’t dethrone them, walk away, ignore, or drop them like a three day old dead fish when they are shown to be problematic in some way.
    Heroes and role models are guests in my head, and they can outlive their welcome. It helps to have some self-reflection to set up heuristics to easily kick out those that are no longer welcome, but I understand that this is not easy for many as they like making their heroes integral parts of their identity.