Myers and Dawkins and Ed, oh my!

Most readers of this blog have already pored over the controversy that began with Richard Dawkins signing his name to a petition without carefully considering what it said, Ed Brayton calling him out for endorsing what appeared to be a totalitarian piece of potential U.K. legislation (and moreover, averring that Dawkins’ signing affirmed what Ed believed about his views all along), Dawkins publicly withdrawing his endorsement (on Ed’s blog, no less), PZ Myers claiming that Ed’s characterization of Dawkins (i.e., that he in a nutshell supports state-sanctioned obliteration of religion) was unfounded, in need of amendment after Dawkins’ clarification, or both, Ed acknowledging Dawkins’ repudiation of the petition, and Ed posting the contents of a clarification he wrote to Dawkins.
(1/1/20067, 6:25 p.m. EST edit: I’ve amended the above paragraph in response to Ed Brayton’s comment below. Originally I meant to attribute to PZ Myers the idea that even previous to this whole mess, Ed essentially regarded Dawkins as a Rushdoony-caliber zealot who favors the use of coercion to stamp out religion.
I did not mean to state this as if it’s a widely held belief among those familiar with Ed, who has complained of Dawkins’ approach but not, to my knowledge, any of Dawkins’ aims; whose comments below demonstrate that he clearly did not assign such views to Dawkins; and whose ability to separate necessary criticism of ideas from mere piling on is, I think, one of his more admirable traits as a critic — he’s been called a fence-sitter by people fully on one side or the other of numerous issues, and the result has, IMO, always been fruitful discussion.
Regardless, it’s an important enough distincton so that I’ve employed the generally odious text-strikethrough tactic. Thanks, Ed.)
Got all that? If not, go ahead and read through the posts and 650-plus associated comments, or go straight to this post at the Panda’s Thumb where Dawkins writes a detailed clarification of the issue from his perspective. And do read the petition itself — if you’re American, you’re probably not in tune with what it implies in light of the state-run schools in the United Kingdom.
Another thing most of you have have probably seen is the cartoon presently on the front page, an artist’s rendering of what all fifty-plus Science Bloggers would look like if jammed into an auditorium about the size of a racquetball court. I like the way it turned out, although I have to say that based on the artist’s output, I’ll be disappointed if I am not immediately cast for the lead role in Fire Marshal Bill: The Movie, should such a high-spirited producton ever come to pass.

In case it’s not obvious, the person who created this life-affirming montage did not actually manage to gather all of us in one place. Instead, he asked for bloggers to send him pictures of themselves. I chose the one here.

How does the PZ-Ed war relate to my resemblance to Fire Marshal Bill? It doesn’t, but if you manage to negotiate the entire series of exchanges (I actually haven’t seen all of the comments yet), you’ll see not only PZ and Ed calling each other assholes and such, which they have every motivation to do given the nature and depth of their recurrent disagrements, but outside commenters imploring them to knock it off.
Although some readers don’t like to see weighty and venomous insults lobbed back and forth in any allegedly intellectual dispute, I have to suspect that a lot of the commenters are uncomfortable with the fighting simply because Ed and PZ are both SciBloggers. Were they still maintaining their old independent blogs, people wouldn’t be so quick to tell them to knock off what they perceive not merely as immature bickering, but infighting. I’ve never seen either PZ or Ed told to tone it down or grow up in any of their dozens if not jillions of set-tos with various flakes from around the Webs, but it appears that the rules of engagement are presumed to be different now.
That’s stupid, and if anyone disagrees with me I’ll say it to his face. That goes for those asshats Joan Bushwell and Jim Fiore, whoever they are.
As warm and fuzzy a notion as it may be to think of the large number of contributors here as colleagues, it has no basis in fact. We do have a very active internal forum (and wouldn’t y’all like to see it about now!), and I’ve certainly enjoyed being pointed at a number of other blogs I may never have noticed were it not for their winding up in the same drop-down menus as this one. I’d love to sit down and eat Ding-Dongs with any number of the contributors here, and one day may do just that and more. But for the record, I’ve personally met only one of my SciBlings, although I did watch the New York Marathon last month with a generally Seedy type named Sarah who not only contributes to the parent magazine but helps keep this place running; thanks to the setting, I probably left the impression of being much more informed than I really am, just as I can sometimes do here.
Anyway, if you haven’t waded into the Dawkins thing yet, plan on finishing up with it at around the same time your New Year’s Day hangover dissipates. In 2008.

14 thoughts on “Myers and Dawkins and Ed, oh my!”

  1. Although some readers don’t like to see weighty and venomous insults lobbed back and forth in any allegedly intellectual dispute, I have to suspect that a lot of the commenters are uncomfortable with the fighting simply because Ed and PZ are both SciBloggers. Were they still maintaining their old independent blogs, people wouldn’t be so quick to tell them to knock off what they perceive not merely as immature bickering, but infighting. I’ve never seen either PZ or Ed told to tone it down or grow up in any of their dozens if not jillions of set-tos with various flakes from around the Webs, but it appears that the rules of engagement are presumed to be different now.

    I’ve been one of those who told ’em to knock it off, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with their being Sciblings. It had to do with a couple of things — PZ modeling lousy behavior for his students at Morris, Ed jumping way ahead of the facts like a frog leaping from lily pad to lily pad, and some other stuff that has a history on a list I’m on with them. And while I haven’t read all the comments on the various entries, I’ve seen nothing that suggested it had anything to do with being Sciblings. Mostly it had to do with getting tired of two presumably mature men acting like adolescent boys in the locker room, snapping towels at each other’s balls.

  2. “I’ve been one of those who told ’em to knock it off, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with their being Sciblings.”
    Oh yeah? Well I know I speak for all of us SciBloggers when I say th…uh, never mind.
    I reckon there’s no way things would have soared straight to Flame Level 8 had those two not had what we in the chuckling sector call a significant history.
    I now must commission the aforementioned artist to draw a sketch of Ed and PZ snapping towels at each other’s junk. Thank you and Happy New Year.

  3. My take on it: okay, their dislike for each other is well-known, okay. But at least keep the public debates civilized and keep the flamewars behind closed doors where people who don’t want the details don’t have to be exposed to them. Frankly, Orac, Ed, and PZ are the three blogs I read the most of here, and right now I think Orac has the strongest card in this game just by virtue of saying that they’re both being idiots.

  4. And while I haven’t read all the comments on the various entries, I’ve seen nothing that suggested it had anything to do with being Sciblings. Mostly it had to do with getting tired of two presumably mature men acting like adolescent boys in the locker room, snapping towels at each other’s balls.

    I, too, was one of the people who posted a rather pointed request on both Ed’s and PZ’s blogs that they knock it the hell off and refrain from inflicting their animosity towards each other on their respective readerships. I told them in no uncertain terms they were being very childish and should be embarrassed by their behavior. My posts had absolutely nothing to do with their being fellow ScienceBloggers. (I had been regular readers of both blogs before they (or I) ever joined ScienceBlogs.) Rather, it had everything to do with my being sick and tired of two intelligent grown men acting like teenaged boys in essence challenging each other to lay it on the ruler to see who has the bigger package.
    I would have posted the same message to both of their blogs even if neither of them were ScienceBloggers and even if I weren’t a ScienceBlogger. No, the rules of engagement aren’t any different, at least not in my book. Childish arguing and throwing about of insults, particularly between two men who should know better, still pisses me off. Granted, I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t like and admire both of their blogs, but in actuality, if anything, the fact that all three of us are ScienceBloggers made me hesitant to be as–shall we say?–vociferous in my telling them to knock it off than I would have been if we weren’t all on the same team, so to speak.

  5. I didn’t post anything like that, but I thought about it. I’ve been reading and enjoying both of their blogs long before there was a scienceblogs.com; and frankly, it’s depressing to see two grown, extremely intelligent, thoughtful men bringing their level of discourse down to ‘junior high’. Really.

  6. I’ve also been a long time reader of both Ed and PZ’s blogs, since long before they joined sciblogs. Orac’s too. Still read these ones, and have been introduced to a few other excellent ones as well thanks to sciblogs. It’s kind of a shame to see the adolescent poo-flinging that goes on from time to time; but better to acknowledge it, shake your head, and wait for it to inevitably blow over than try to pretend bloggers aren’t ever to disagree because they happen to belong to the same blogmunity. I don’t like the petty childishness, but I’m not immune to it from time to time myself. Better to allow free dissent and incur the risk of a flamewar or two than to squelch it like some other weblogs I could name.. *cough*..Uncommon Descent *cough* *cough*.
    Happy 2007!

  7. Another thing I neglected to consider in my idle speculation is that the direct participation of Dawkins himself in these threads likely had people wishing even more ardently than usual for personal jabs — justifed or not — to be kept to a minimum. Naturally everyone would like to see him return, and the chances of this would seem to be better if he didn’t perceive that he would be marching into a verbal combat zone.

  8. I think Richard Dawkins is pretty well case-hardened to wicked verbal jabs, given his history. And he seemed to appreciate the heads up in that his participation in that petition, especially to North American eyes, would look very damning indeed. Now if sciblogs were to degenerate into little else other than personal e-battlefields, then probably he’d steer clear, as would I.

  9. I think Richard Dawkins is pretty well case-hardened to wicked verbal jabs, given his history.

    He admitted to being a little queasy about appearing on The Colbert Report, then again, who wouldn’t?

  10. Kevin-
    One important correction. You write that I wrote “averring that Dawkins’ signing affirmed what Ed believed about his views all along.” This is false. In fact, I only found out about the petition in the process of defending Dawkins against the accusation that he favors coercive laws to stamp out religion. MikeGene accused him of that, and I defended Dawkins against that charge, saying:

    I actually think it’s a reasonably accurate typology, though I think his choice of words in saying that the Richard Dawkins type of ID critic wants to “coerce people” into accepting their beliefs is both inaccurate and needlessly inflammatory. He may perceive Dawkins to be a bully, but there is no evidence that he advocates any type of coercion whatsoever. His methods of persuasion may be bothersome, both to MikeGene and to me, but that does not make them coercive.

    I had seen his repeated statements calling parental religious indoctrination “child abuse”, but since I had never seen him advocate government action against it I did not think he advocated repressive policies to do away with it; it was the petition, which Dawkins himself now agrees does advocate such policies, that convinced me otherwise.
    As far as PZ is concerned, at this point he’s told so many lies about me (like his ridiculous lie that I “loathe atheists and would like to see them silenced” – for crying out loud, can you think of a more absurd claim?) and attacked me without justification so many times that I simply can’t think of a more accurate word than “asshole” for him, so that’s the one I choose to use.

  11. Orac:

    Rather, it had everything to do with my being sick and tired of two intelligent grown men acting like teenaged boys in essence challenging each other to lay it on the ruler to see who has the bigger package.

    Oh, please. Is medicine so genteel that these sorts of dust-ups never occur? I have attended many “strategic meetings” and project reviews, particularly those of my last employer, in which rulers were routinely smacked down on the table for subsequent measurements. As the lone woman at these meetings, I felt that I was at a distinct disadvantage since, well, I got nothin’ to work with. Granted, no one at these meetings ever overtly uttered the word “asshole” but the subtext hung heavy in the room. I’ll say it again…science: it’s not a fucking tea party.
    So, with regard to the scat flinging fest which is the subject of young asshat Beck’s post, I’ll be uncharacteristically succinct: big deal.
    Oh, and readers…don’t think that the internal forum is aflame with this. It’s still the same dark wood paneled, brandy-infused, cigar-wafted clubhouse it has always been.

  12. These PZ-Brayton exchanges are hugely entertaining if only because the clash of egos is such that someone will inevitably immolate in the end, and the bigger the egos, the bigger the blaze.
    It just has to happen. With the blog requirement for a constant workproduct, soon enough the meta content becomes fodder argument. I loves it because despite the 24×7 posturing workload that people assume, it shows how full of it they can become (He’s lying about me = “Mom, Johnny’s calling me names that aren’t true!!!!”).
    Not that anyone is asking for my solution, but here it is anyway: On a personal level no one is right 100% of the time (and painfully, this applies to people that think very highly of themselves also), and one can either choose the reality of dealing and accepting the imperfect others or being unyieldingly confrontational with them because they’ve displayed assholeness in some previous interaction.
    This is compounded by people using their real names during the Johnson measuring sessions despite the fact that Johnsons are different sizes based on chemical whim. As if there was a BIPM Johnson Standard suitable for all situations. Har.

  13. If I ever do decide to try for under three hours, you’re the first person I’ll turn to.
    As long as you check the Dawkins soapbox at the blogosphere door.

  14. Oh, please. Is medicine so genteel that these sorts of dust-ups never occur? I have attended many “strategic meetings” and project reviews, particularly those of my last employer, in which rulers were routinely smacked down on the table for subsequent measurements.

    I never said it was.
    I also never said that I approved of such behavior in medicine, either. It annoys me in my own profession as much as it does when I see Ed and PZ doing it.

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