Many of you have probably been following the increasingly tense and raucous exchanges between PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum of The Intersection (like the Chimp Refuge formerly part of the ScienceBlogs.com network but now part of the Discovery group). To summarize, Chris and Sheril have just co-authored a book called Unscientific America that purports to examine, and offer solutions for lessening, the divide between the general U.S. public–not the most scientifically literate of societies–and those responsible for reaching out to that public.
Sheril was kind enough to send me a copy gratis, but I don’t have it yet, so I can’t comment on it. But I wanted to write a few of my thoughts down in advance so that the review itself can stand on its own and not be conjoined to the toxic elements I am introducing now.
At the heart of the aforementioned disagreement is PZ’s disagreement with Chris (also the author of The Republican War On Science and Storm World, both great reads) and Sheril about the best way to deal with religious interference with scientific education, and perhaps with scientific endeavors in general. PZ is of course a shameless aggressor when it comes to religion (as am I in my incomparably more anonymous ravings), while Chris, and apparently Sheril, are voices of moderation. PZ has much to say about the whole book in his review, but complicating the matter is that Unscientific America contains a substantial amount of criticism of PZ himself, in particular over “Crackergate.” Chris and Sheril’s responses to PZ’s review consumed three blog posts, and you can find these here (the link is to part three, the intro to which includes links to its precursors).
I don’t want to get into specifics about a book I have not read, but I do want to note some unnecessary moves that have discolored this already unseemly fracas. For one thing, a lot of commenters at The Intersection who are, in the main, part of PZ’s regular readership and commenting crew have jumped all over Chris and Sheril for not responding directly, sufficiently, or in a timely manner to PZ’s criticisms. (Various other “Sciblings” and other science-oriented bloggers have reviewed and in many cases criticized the book, and the Intersectites have linked to these, but naturally none of PZ’s loyal readers seem to care.) While it didn’t help Chris and Sheril’s stock in the eyes of most commenters to put up “placeholder”-type posts assuring readers that they would get around to responding to PZ in detail eventually, they followed through. And although PZ is largely correct in stating that Chris and Sheril don’t include a lot of back-up in their tripartite rebuttal to him, they do tell readers where this can be found–in the book itself. As someone with one book in print and on the cusp of signing a contract for a second one, I can hardly fault Chris and Sheril for refusing to quote vast sections of a newly published book just to slake the thirst of an army of mostly obnoxious commenters.
But PZ, I believe, has no personal animosity toward the Intersectites; he merely believes they are dead wrong, and his criticism, however on the mark it may or may not be, is focused and sincere. PZ simply hates what he sees as bad ideas, and I’m with him all the way there. So I was a little surprised on Tuesday when he took a step I found unnecessary–creating a thread specifically inviting people to unload on Chris and Sheril because he lacked the time at that point to respond to their third rebuttal installment. This is the last thing anyone needed; people were already ripping into Chris and Sheril in at least three or four active threads on The Intersection and a handful more on Pharyngula. And I didn’t see anyone laying into PZ for his “not now” declaration even though the Intersectites were hounded mercilessly for doing exactly the same thing.
Regardless, I can see the three of them sitting down one day over beers and laughing a little about the entire affair. I’ve met all three of the combatants mentioned here and found all of them to be pleasant and interesting people, which makes all of this a little more disconcerting than it would be otherwise. But the whole thing wouldn’t stink so much were it not for the tirelessly shrill efforts of Abbie Smith, the proprietor (does that word apply to bloggers? I like it!) of ERV, another “Scibling” blog.
Abbie is a master of manufactured rage. Granted, she’s quite capable of legitimately losing it and concomitantly experiencing a rapid and severe decline in her cognitive faculties, as occurred here, months before she moved into the scienceblogs.com network. A fair reading of this post and the one on the Refuge that inspired it should suggest that Abbie quite unfairly demonized my co-blogger Jim and was fantastically immune to what either of us was trying to convey to her.
Abbie and I come down on the same side on a great many issues, although I have never been much of a reader because of her deliberately agrammatical and grating style. And I won’t deny that I’m at least as profane as she is, and just as nasty when it comes to creationists and other arrant fools. But because Abbie would rather be noticed and perhaps reviled by a few than largely anonymous but more widely respected, she has chosen to insinuate herself in the Unscientific America melee in a most explosively repugnant way. Beneath a post she titles “Congrats on the transformation, Sheril and Chris,” she comments:
Ive been criticizing Mooneys ‘arguments’ since 2006. Though he read those posts at old ERV (and commented), he has yet to address my problems with his message.
Three fucking years Ive been ‘addressing Mooneys arguments’, with no reciprocation.
Now he is personally attacking someone in a print book, who previously provided him support, encouragement, positive PR…
I will not be addressing Mooneys ‘arguments’ any more, at any point, in the future. Assuming Mooney and I were best buddies, I wouldnt be addressing his arguments, at any point, in the future. Why would you help someone who bites the hand that feeds?
Chris Mooney is an ungrateful, back-stabbing bitch, and he can go fuck himself.
Note to Chris: You can take this comment as a post ‘representative’ of ERV. I encourage you to post this comment as a blog entry on Intersection.
That last bit hearkens to an unabashed craving for attention. In a later post, she refers to Chris and Sheril as “Mooneytits” and “Cockenbaum” respectively, and to the two of them as “Tittycocks.” That’s more moronic than it is offensive, but in any case is hardly justified on the basis of a simple difference of opinion.
On Chris’s and Sheril’s blog, she writes:
You are a disgusting, despicable creature, Chris Mooney.
Enjoy the warmth from the bridges youre burning now No one will build them with you again.
This, because Chris wrote a book critical of someone Abbie worships. The nerve!
Her own commenters are no better, having been selected over time to be routinely exposed to such hollow, overstated salvos. Only a couple of people spoke out against her unfounded bellicosity. Her reaction (she never ignores her critics and never credits them with possibly being accurate) is to offer virtual shrugs and bland dismissals. As in the pit-bull mess, she creates her own reality in which other people are either misinformed or evil.
That she thinks that Chris Mooney owes PZ something is a joke (PZ would laugh at this too, I’m certain), but Abbie’s comments about burning bridges and biting feeding hands seem to suggest that Chris owes her something, too. She says she’s been mixing it up with Chris for three years. You know what? Big friggin’ deal. Everyone’s been fighting with everyone else on the Web since its inception. People disagree. Does Chris merit this kind of treatment, even if his ideas could be categorically shown to be dead wrong? No, he doesn’t. As a prolific journalist–especially for a 31-year-old–he has plenty of experience dealing with such static, but Sheril does not, and I admit I find myself troubled to see her in the crosshairs so much lately (but be assured she can handle it just fine as well).
It doesn’t help her standing in this that someone who is raucously opposed to the input of ignorant people–as Abbie is and should be–has apparently not read the book that has seen her baseline scatologia rise to remarkable levels. To me, that’s just the perfect hypocritical touch to close out a silly and pointless one-blogger pogrom. It’s fitting that one of her areas of focus as HIV, because she has presented herself as he consummate opportunistic infection in this kerfluffle.
I suppose I could be branded a hypocrite myself for using the Unscientific America skirmish as an excuse to take shots at someone for using the Unscientific America skirmish as an excuse to take shots at someone. There’s a difference, though. Even if you think Chris (an atheist) and Sheril (an agnostic) are badly misguided in both their book and their general stance about how to bring science to the masses, and believe that they have failed to adequately respond to criticism of their book on their blog, they have not been firebombing the blogs of their interlocutors and telling them to go fuck themselves or labeling them with insipid pejoratives (and for that matter have not rigged posts so as to expressly invite the excoriation of specific individuals). I can only conclude that anyone who doesn’t see Abbie as having gone so far over the top as to position herself as a parody, not a paragon, of meaningful criticism is not reading with both eyes open. And I’m not the only Scibling or former Scibling to make a note of this; Isis the Scientist and Zuska have both opined on Abbie’s antics, with their focus being on Abbie’s mocking of a situation in which Sheril was evidently treated as a sexual object in an institutional setting and the thoroughgoing inanity of Abbie’s complaining about Chris and Sheril criticizing PZ in print format, where he cannot directly respond.
That’s all. The next time I mention this it will be to (horrors!) describe my impressions of the book itself.