Bloggingheads’ business plan: Borrow credibility and then blow it.

| 216 Comments

Most have by now heard about the kerfuffle over Bloggingheads.tv hosting creationists. As a consequence, four of the most prominent science bloggers, physicist Sean Carroll, science writer Carl Zimmer, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, and Pharyngula’s PZ Myers, have elected to not participate further on Bloggingheads. There are comment threads attached to each of the posts linked, with some split in the comments concerning whether the decisions to withdraw are well advised. I myself think they are well advised to withdraw, and I describe why I think that below the fold.

In addition, the Disco ‘Tute’s Bruce Chapman has weighed in, his post invoking the metaphor of the guillotine to describe Blogginghead’s fate.

Bloggingheads.tv was founded by Robert Wright, author most recently of The Evolution of God. It features pairs of people conversing via internet video links, having conversations about various topics. (The conversations are called “diavlogs,” surely the ugliest neologism of the InterTubes age.)

The kerfuffle

Recently, Bloggingheads hosted two conversations featuring creationists. The first had Ronald Numbers, a historian of creationism, and Paul Nelson of ontogenetic depth fame, a young earth creationist, philosopher, and fellow of the Disco ‘Tute. It was called Science Saturday: Inside the Mind of a Creationist. While it was cordial in tone – Numbers and Nelson have apparently been personally acquainted for decades – Numbers did a pretty fair job of defending science and particularly methodological naturalism against Nelson’s claims. Numbers missed some opportunities, of course – in a live conversation it’s impossible to pick up on everything. In particular, Numbers gave a very bad answer to Nelson’s claim that evolutionary theory is saturated with theology, citing as evidence the responses of various recent books defending evolution, like Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. Numbers’ response was to the effect that one can’t take the statements of a few evolutionary biologists as defining the field as a whole. The appropriate response would have been, “Evolutionary biology as such is indifferent to theological issues. However, Coyne’s book is a defense of evolutionary biology against a bunch of specious arguments by theists and so is bound to have some reference to their claims.”

The only real reservation I have about the Numbers/Nelson conversation is its placement in Science Saturday. It was partly about the nature of science but there was precious little actual science in it.

The other offending Bloggingheads conversation was between John McWhorter, a linguist, and Michael Behe, a Senior Fellow of the Disco ‘Tute. In a totally clumsy series of events, that conversation was up on the site for a few days and then was removed, apparently at McWhorter’s request, and then was restored by Wright. I will say little about it except to note that McWhorter displayed a discouraging ignorance of evolutionary biology coupled with nauseating flattery of Behe. It was crap on the part of both participants.

So why quit Bloggingheads?

A variety of arguments were given by Carroll, Zimmer, Plait, and Myers, but they seemed to boil down to their not wanting to be associated with a medium/site that gave more or less uncritical exposure to proponents of a view of evolution (and science as a whole) that has been thoroughly and emphatically discredited. However, I think there’s a deeper reason for the four (and any other scientists) to disassociate themselves from such a site.

A venue like Bloggingheads has no intrinsic credibility. It must earn its credibility, borrowing from the credibility of its participants. When people like Carroll, Zimmer, Plait, and Myers participate in Bloggingheads conversations, they are loaning the site some of their own credibility built over years of professional work. The site takes on their luster and acquires an audience attracted by their participation. What those people have to decide is whether they want to continue to lend their professional credibility to a site whose editorial policy is so confused that it cannot distinguish crap from science. They have understandably concluded that they don’t wish to do so, and I applaud them for it.

This is similar to the question of whether to debate creationists: should ‘real’ scientists debate creationists in public venues? In general it’s taken to be a bad idea because merely the fact of including them on the same stage lends them credibility they have not themselves earned. I think the case is the same here. Bloggingheads borrowed the credibility of genuine scientists and spooned it over a couple of creationists who have not themselves earned it. Bloggingheads borrowed it and then wasted it.

216 Comments

I agree completely with the decision of any reputable scientist to not lend his or her reputation and credibility to pseudo-scientists, especially to the ID/creationists.

Of all the pseudo-science that cultivates and exploits ignorance, the ID/creationists have been by far the worst and most vicious. They have been at it for at least forty years; pouring millions of dollars into their shtick and attempting to steal unearned credibility at every opportunity.

Not even the perpetual motion hacks or those woo-woo pseudo quantum religion shticks have been as bad. At least these don’t prey on school districts by robbing them of millions of dollars in endless haggles over who gets access to other people’s children in order to miss educate them about science and proselytize them.

It would be better if not one single scientist is ever again seen on the same forum with any of these ID/creationist ignoramuses. It would be far more fruitful and less time-consuming to just relentlessly expose these ID jerks at every opportunity, and never give them a chance to respond.

The train wreck of ID/creationism has painted itself into a corner. They have produced mountains of junk science that can be pinned directly to its leaders by name, and they can no longer distance themselves from it. Rub their noses in it until it hurts them as much as they have damaged science education. They deserve nothing but contempt.

And any news medium should also be held to account if it can’t distinguish between objective reality and bullshit. News editors and reporters, in fact all journalists, need to learn that there are things that are objectively right and other things that are objectively wrong. If they can’t learn how to tell the difference, they don’t deserve to be called news media. Gossip media would be more fitting.

Okay. After listening to the McWhorter/Behe interview and reading various comments about the situation, I have to sincerely disagree with Richard Hoppe’s essay.

I honestly believe that certain evolutionists (specifically Carroll, Zimmer, Plait, and Myers) have, as a result of their actions, genuinely succeeded in creating a public impression that evolutionists are UNABLE to handle the scientific and scholarly challenges posed by Dr. Michael Behe and other critics of evolution.

That impression will not go away anytime soon; the damage is done. Please give it some thought. Is this really the way you guys and gals wanted this situation to go down?

Yes, there’s Richard Hoppe’s POV which he has explained here. Okay. But you have to know that this incident and its aftermath will NOT be viewed by all intellectuals in the way Hoppe prefers to view it. As Robert Wright of Bloggingheads wrote,

“But on reflection I’ve decided that removing this particular dialog from the site (the McWhorter/Behe interview) is hard to justify by any general principle that should govern our future conduct. In other words, it’s not a precedent I’d want to live with.”

I think Wright won’t be the only observer to feel that way.

Frankly, Messrs Carroll, Zimmer, et al. should have been willing to stay in the game and work with Bloggerheads on this one, instead of taking a hardline elitist evolutionist approach.

After all, if what Behe has written in Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution has been “thoroughly and emphatically discredited” as Hoppe so easily asserts, why didn’t Carroll, Zimmer, Plait, or Myers simply crank up their OWN response(s) or interview(s) in which they slam-dunk and totally-debunk what Behe said?

Great opportunity for those big-name evolutionists to knock Behe outta the ring in front of a quality intellectual audience. Great opportunity for those big-name evolutionists to show everybody how to “distinguish crap from science”, as Hoppe puts it.

Should have been easy as pie, a wide open chip shot, a clear and clean media victory for those particular Darwinists, right? Right?

However, as it stands now, the situation honestly looks like attempted de facto censorship followed by an act of sheer cowardice on the part of the evolutionists.

No disrespect, folks, but no joke either. Their failure, will now be interpreted as YOUR failure.

Which means you evolutionists will have only succeeded in INCREASING the level of public doubts concerning evolution, increasing the level of public interest in “Teaching The Controvery”, and increasing public interest in adopting an open-minded attitude towards the Intelligent Design hypothesis.

Is THAT what you wanted to see happen? Just think it over. This is my honest and sincere assessment of the situation.

FL wants the debates to continue? That’s enough to make up my mind.

FL Said,

This is my honest and sincere assessment of the situation.

Numerous posters have documented your lies in the past. Do you apologize for those lies? Can you give us any assurance that you are being honest now? The public interest that you claim to have a pulse on is secondary to the concern that debating with liars is futile.

It was a nice idea, but there’s no point in “playing nice” with these people - as that tiresome shit FL reminds everyone here regularly. Challenge the scientists on their science, and the creationists, antivaxers, etc. on their ignorance of science and everything else (their utter dishonesty could be soft-pedaled w/o harm, I suppose, if only out of excessive politeness).

The truth isn’t usually in the middle, save by chance.

Like the rest of the ID/creationist community, FL is and always has been a vicious liar. It’s what they all are. And every time their challenges to debate are rejected, they always use the same spiel; call the scientist a coward who is unable to cope with the ID/creationist’s arguments. That has been going on for at least forty years.

I have been watching the ID/creationist shtick since the 1970s. In all that time, there has NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, been an honest debate on their part.

The ONLY purpose of public debate for the ID/creationist is to leverage “respectability” from the scientist and to pad their credentials, PERIOD.

Bruce Chapman’s persecution complex shtick is just another classic pseudo-science tactic. It is one of the many tactics that identifies him and his cohorts as pseudo-scientists.

If they ever had any science to contribute in those years since they went with the propaganda approach back in the 1970s, it would have produce some kind of fruit by now; there would have been some research programs building on their work, and reputable scientists would have been able to verify at least some of it. However, what has been produced has been only a mountain of deliberate deceptions and distortions; put out with a vengeance by the likes of the “Discovery” Institute.

Can you give us any assurance that you are being honest now?

Actually, it doesn’t matter much to me. After all, as a longtime critic of evolution and evolutionists in this PT forum, I’m NOT doing myself any favors by trying to alert you to the huge media mistake your boys have recently made.

My honest preference was to say nothing at all and simply let you evolutionists keep on shooting yourselves in the patootie, in front of everybody.

THAT, is what I honestly like to see. Makes me laugh.

But unfortunately, I’m addicted to rationality, and so if I see irrational stuff going down, I tend to wind up saying “Hey that’s irrational, please check it baby” , even when I would prefer to simply stay quiet.

So that’s why I said what I said, Frank. You must judge the honestty factor for yourself. Btw, do you agree that those four evolutionists made a big mistake there?

FL said:

Actually, it doesn’t matter much to me. After all, as a longtime critic of evolution and evolutionists in this PT forum, I’m NOT doing myself any favors by trying to alert you to the huge media mistake your boys have recently made.

This is also a complete lie. It certainly DOES “matter” to you. You want desperately to be right, but you are always wrong.

And to puff yourself up as a “critic of evolution and evolutionists” is total self-delusion.

All you have ever posted here is complete bullshit that you quote-mined with no comprehension whatsoever.

Wake up and get a life.

Mike Elzinga said:

FL said:

Actually, it doesn’t matter much to me. After all, as a longtime critic of evolution and evolutionists in this PT forum, I’m NOT doing myself any favors by trying to alert you to the huge media mistake your boys have recently made.

This is also a complete lie. It certainly DOES “matter” to you. You want desperately to be right, but you are always wrong.

And to puff yourself up as a “critic of evolution and evolutionists” is total self-delusion.

All you have ever posted here is complete bullshit that you quote-mined with no comprehension whatsoever.

Wake up and get a life.

Wake up and get a life? That’s like asking a vulture to stop eating rotting meat.

FL is addicted to “rationality”? Gosh, it’s hard to keep up with the street names of illegal drugs any more.

hoary puccoon said:

FL is addicted to “rationality”? Gosh, it’s hard to keep up with the street names of illegal drugs any more.

The craziest people are the ones who never question if they are insane even when others realize they are.

Tupelo; FL is not a, ‘tiresome shit’, and Mike; he does not spout ‘bullshit’. Both of these organic bye-products are irreducibly useful. His use is, and that of his Intellijunt Dezine rancorous quaffered old sow buddies, are yet to be determined? discovered? or, maybe, put in a small corner of the internet where they can gather in a circle and roger each other’s genious?

a longtime critic of evolution

FL’s as much a “critic of evolution” as my 4 year-old son is a critic of broccoli. He hates it, he wishes it wasn’t there, and he’s willing to do just about anything–including saying things that are totally irrational–to avoid dealing with it. Nothing either of them has said so far has changed the facts one iota.

I assume that neither Neil Armstrong nor any astronaut would debate with moon-landing deniers, and they wouldn’t knowingly appear in a venue known for supporting kook theories. It should be the same with debates and appearances that legitimize creationists, astrologers, faith healers, etc.

They need us, but we don’t need them. All kooks should be shunned. When they respond with predictable lines like: “What are you afraid of?” the answer is: “It’s not fear, it’s revulsion.”

Neil Armstrong doesn’t debate moon-landing fruit loops, but Buzz Aldrin was once known to take a swing at it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOo6aHSY8hU

FL, over a year ago you offered to give us the Biblical perspective on biology, but when I expressed interest, you skipped out. If your honest feeling is to leave evolutionists alone, why do you keep coming back?

I am still waiting for your Biblical perspective. What is the Biblical perspective on the question of whether cattle and birds were created before or after Adam? What is that perspective on the light from distant galaxies being put in place at the time of Creation? Will you give honest answers or dance around again?

FL, Liar For Jesus™ said:

This is my honest and sincere assessment of the situation.

Don’t make us laugh. You’ve never spoken an honest word in your entire fucking life. You’re just a lying sack of shit. All creationists are. You have to be. Your bullshit dogma can’t survive any exposure to the facts, so you have to lie through your teeth every chance you get. Just admit that your cult demands you deny reality and you might have a chance of learing how to tell the truth someday.

The only way to get a creationist to debate honestly is to strap them into an electric chair hooked to a lie detector. No creationist would ever tell the truth unless his life depended on it. Maybe not even then. Bearing false witness isn’t a sin to these fuckwits. It’s a sacrament.

FL,

There has been a vigorous debate about evolution going on in the scientific literature for the last 150 years. The creationists are the ones who have decided not to participate. You should try to urge them to publish in the scientific literature if they want to join the debate. Until then, no respectable scientist can be blamed for not taking them seriously.

Oh, and by the way, claiming that a paper contains evidence for ID when it is not even mentioned does not count.

FL said:

I honestly believe that certain evolutionists [have]… succeeded in creating a public impression that evolutionists are UNABLE to handle the scientific and scholarly challenges posed by Dr. Michael Behe and other critics of evolution.

.…

Their failure, will now be interpreted as YOUR failure.

Note typical errors:

(1) Behe is called a “critic of evolution” whereas in fact Behe has stated repeatedly that he supports common descent, that the Earth is billions of years old, etc. Behe has some strange (and unsupported) ideas about the mechanism of evolution, but Behe is not a “critic of evolution”.

(2) FL says that s/he honestly believes that scientists have created a certain public opinion. S/he interprets this as “failure”. It isn’t. Look, science is about nature. It is not about belief. It is not about public opinion. It is not about interpretation. And it’s certainly not about interpreting FL’s beliefs about public opinion.

My evaluation of this issue is a little different I guess. I’m just curious, but having never heard of Bloggingheads before, how big a readership do they have and is there any real reason for real scientists and real science investigators to care about the site? Given a quick read of the site, I don’t find their subject matter all that interesting.

Lawyer and Intelligent-Design dilettante Phillip Johnson has this to say regarding debates:

“It isn’t worth my while to debate every ambitious Darwinist who wants to try his hand at ridiculing the opposition…”

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1[…]hard-Dawkins

So, FL, I take it you’ve advised Phillip Johnson that he is creating a public relations failure for the Intelligent Design movement.

Robin said:

Given a quick read of the site, I don’t find their subject matter all that interesting.

I think you can infer from the comments of Carroll, Zimmer, Plait and Myers that there is an instinctive suspicion - probably derived from lots of observation and experience - that something is amiss at that site.

Many scientists, me included, have been approached by various media at times. Sometimes we get approached by acolytes of pseudo-scientists.

The initial approach is often quite innocent in appearance; and the pitch is to get scientists on board who will lend credibility to whatever the proposed enterprise is, and to demonstrate to the public that the enterprise is really on the up-and-up.

However, further probing unveils the hidden agenda; either pseudo-science is seeking an endorsement, or a rag journal is attempting to appear legitimate.

Scientists engaged in research and public education cannot afford to be associated with any of this kind of activity. If they have any response at all, they should debunk it from a distance while holding their noses.

Dan said:

Lawyer and Intelligent-Design dilettante Phillip Johnson has this to say regarding debates:

“It isn’t worth my while to debate every ambitious Darwinist who wants to try his hand at ridiculing the opposition…”

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1[…]hard-Dawkins

So, FL, I take it you’ve advised Phillip Johnson that he is creating a public relations failure for the Intelligent Design movement.

That’s a great link. Every scientist who has not had experiences with pseudo-scientists of any sort should read it.

Dan Wrote:

(1) Behe is called a “critic of evolution” whereas in fact Behe has stated repeatedly that he supports common descent, that the Earth is billions of years old, etc. Behe has some strange (and unsupported) ideas about the mechanism of evolution, but Behe is not a “critic of evolution”.

But he is still a “critic” in the sense that he misrepresents evolution as thoroughly as any YEC does. In fact I would say that he’s more effective at misrepresenting evolution than YECs, because he’s careful not to make many of his own easily falsifiable claims (e.g. alternate age of life/earth, independent origin of “kinds”).

It’s rather pathetic when a YEC like FL has to defend anyone who will feed him any “kind” of feel-good sound bites against evolution. Even if that person makes it clear that he considers FL’s “theory” even more thoroughly falsified than he considers evolution.

I’m not at all sure that I agree with the decision made here.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

I’m generally in favor of constantly confronting pseudoscience.

The public is predisposed to fall in love with manipulative liars who claim to oppose “mainstream science” or the “AMA”. That’s just a given.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that when you really press the “ID” types for their own ideas, and let the public see what they’re saying, rather than letting them set up and bash straw man versions of “evolution”, their support can disappear. I used to meet a fair number of people who had been misled that there was something to “ID”, mainly because they thought it was synonymous with theistic evolution. An actual fair explanation of the claims of ID cured them pretty quickly.

Ignorance, foolish arrogance, and unenlightened selfishness are endemic in the US today. Science has to be supported by public policy or it will cease to exist at any serious scale. Someone has to argue with these clowns or they dominate the public discourse. We’ve just had eight years of an administration that took their advice on science. I’m sure we can agree that it could happen again.

Of course, it depends on whether you think that withdrawing from the forum in protest is a better rebuttal than staying and arguing back.

THE most pressing reason to be concerned about the scientific creationism movement (if, that is, you don’t believe that science education is leading us to an atheistic new enlightenment) is the irreversible damage it does to the average citizen’s understanding of what science is. This has major consequences for our society. Here we have highlighted one of the major points of confusion in the evolution education controversy: the nature of authority in the scientific community. Propaganda of the scientific creationism movement makes use of the American distrust of elitism, as well as their distrust of science academics. This is a point that I think is often missed by pro-science advocates. Frankly, they have us there. Yes, science is run by a bunch of elitists. The average citizen does not get a vote on it. They don’t get to decide what will be considered settled science. Its not fair. The appeal of scientific creationism isn’t its reasoning. Its not the conclusions of its research, mostly because there isn’t any. The appeal, for more than one sector of the population, is that it sticks it to the man. Its an heroic crusade against the Ivory Tower of evil.

Therefore, debates where you have to react to the wingnut aren’t likely to help much. A one on one discussion misrepresents the authority of someone presenting the consensus opinion of the scientific community. And yet, the misinformation has to be countered somehow. The most useful and successful debates I’ve seen, both on stage and in any kind of print media, is where the pro-science advocate basically ignores the wingnut and teaches about science and its relationship with society. If we’re just reacting to the wingnuts we’re just adding to the confusion. But countering the propaganda, even by commenting on PT, is contributing to the debate.

Yes, debates are useful, but a distinction has to be made about the venue. It doesn’t sound as though Bloggingheads was the correct venue.

Sorry, this is rambling isn’t it? I just feel that there has to be a better of teaching about the importance of the authority of the scientific community to the process of science. Its getting lost in a desire to have all things be democratic.

But he is still a “critic” in the sense that he misrepresents evolution as thoroughly as any YEC does.

I don’t think Behe or anyone else should be dignified as a “critic” of evolution.

The term “critic” implies that the opinion in question may have some sort of worth.

He’s a denier of the theory of evolution.

There are no “critics” of germ theory, the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, the heliocentric solar system, the billions-of-years age of the earth, etc.

There are crackpot denialists. They aren’t “critics”.

There are plenty of critics of working hypotheses that are currently in favor in various fields of science, and some of those critics will be proven right.

But dissembling denialists of major, well-founded theories are not “critics”.

harold Wrote:

I’m generally in favor of constantly confronting pseudoscience.

The public is predisposed to fall in love with manipulative liars who claim to oppose “mainstream science” or the “AMA”. That’s just a given.

I had written on another board that I would not have boycotted BH because that gave DI spin artists just what they want. But RBH’s comments give me some second thoughts. It’s the same Catch-22 that any science-pseudoscience debate faces with a public that is “predisposed” as you say. There’s no easy answer.

As you say, any debate should get them to say as much as possible about their “theory,” and I would add specifically the “what happened when” (young or old life, common descent of not). That’s where old they (IDers especially) are desperate to change the subject. They wouldn’t have to if they sincerely believed that the evidence confirmed an alternate origins account.

harold Wrote:

He’s a denier of the theory of evolution.

“Denier” is more accurate than “critic,” but there too, most people think that a “denier” of evolution denies not only the theory of evolution, but common descent too, and often also the antiquity of life. Behe denies only the theory. Or he pertends to in order to save the “masses”.

FL, over a year ago you offered to give us the Biblical perspective on biology, but when I expressed interest, you skipped out.

My apologies on that, Frank B. However, if your interest is sincere, there’s no better resource on the table right now (for explaining “the Biblical perspective on biology”, a pretty broad subject by itself) than Prof. Douglas Kelly’s new book Creation and Change.

It’s relatively short but it’s so well organized and well-written that it’s in a class of its own. They say the theologian RC Sproul converted back to YEC after reading this one.….and that would be no small conversion.

Anyway, check it out at the library or bookstore. I’m reading thru my own copy. Excellent book.

I’d recommend Google Books for free reading of Kelly’s book but apparently it’s too new and they don’t have it online yet.

Of course, even if milk is completely incompatible with evolution, that’s only whole milk. There’s still 2%, 1%, skim, half and half, chocolate, 2% chocolate, etc. Now FL may claim that these aren’t really milk, but who cares? If I want to enjoy my 2% chocolate milk and still believe in evolution because of the evidence, then I’m going to do just that. And if I choose not to drink any milk, that’s my choice as well, even if it has nothing to do with evolution. FL can drink whatever milk he wants, why should anyone care? He hasn’t given any reason to reject evolution and no reason to prefer his type of milk.

DS said:

Of course, even if milk is completely incompatible with evolution, that’s only whole milk …

Milking it for all it’s worth, I see.

wile wrote:

“Milking it for all it’s worth, I see.”

It falls under the heading of tit for tat I guess. :-)

DS said:

It falls under the heading of tit for tat I guess. :-)

No worries. I’m not having a cow over it.

wile wrote:

“No worries. I’m not having a cow over it.”

In a moment of weakness I was tempted to respond that that was udderly ridiculous, but then I thought better of it.

In a moment of weakness I was tempted to respond that that was udderly ridiculous, but then I thought better of it.

Gouda for you - you’re butter off resisting that sort of temptation.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on September 7, 2009 7:51 PM.

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