What am I supposed to do with Unscientific America?

At the request of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, several of us were sent pre-publication copies of their new book, Unscientific America, a discussion of America’s scientific illiteracy and a prescription for fixing it.

One of the recipients was P. Z. Myers of Pharyngula fame, who is strongly criticized in the book for his atheism and the “crackergate” affair, which Mooney and Kirshenbaum consider inimical to public acceptance of science.   Mooney and Kirshenbaum posted a note on their website that they had sent P. Z. a copy of their book, asking him to refrain from reviewing it until he had read the whole thing.

We hope that like Dr. Coyne, you will suspend judgment until reading the book, at which point we’ll be interested to hear what you think.

After reading the whole thing, Myers  posted a strongly negative review of it on his website, concluding:

The bottom line is that Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s book recites the obvious at us, that there is a fundamental disconnect between science and the popular imagination in our country, but offers no new solutions, and in fact would like to narrow our options to a blithe and accommodating compromise of science with rampant ignorance. Their own bigotry blinds them to a range of approaches offered by the “New Atheists”…a group that is not so closed to the wide range of necessarily differing tactics that such a deep problem requires as Mooney and Kirshenbaum are. It’s not a badly written book, but it’s something worse: it’s utterly useless.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum, of course, don’t like this judgment, but dismiss it on the grounds of reviewer bias:

If you want a take that throughly trashes the book, well then this is it. But of course, that’s not surprising, given that the book not only criticizes Myers but, indeed, identifies him as part of the problem. . .

. . . Indeed, it appears that judging the book based on what New Atheists say about it, alone, could lead you to make pretty strong factual errors about its contents. Consider what happens in this blog comment thread to one Jim Lippard: see here, here, here, and finally here–where after making various false claims about our book’s contents, Lippard admits to not having read it.

Perhaps judging a book critical of the New Atheists based on what the New Atheists say about it on blogs it is hazardous to your understanding.

o.k.  So my question is this: what am I supposed to do? I’ve almost finished the book, and have neither made public statements about it nor published any pre-reviews.  I don’t have a crackergate in my background, either.  However, I suppose I could be considered a “new atheist,” though I don’t like the term and I’ve been an atheist since 1967.

Does this mean that Mooney and Kirshenbaum won’t consider my review as a serious intellectual appraisal? Or will they dismiss it only if it’s negative?  I really don’t want to waste time on this if the authors of the book are going to regard any effort as biased from the outset.  So, Mooney and Kirshenbaum, what say ye?  Do you want to hear a review or not? If not, why did you send us the book?

96 Comments

  1. newenglandbob
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Sign me up for a front row seat for the answer to this query.

  2. Wes
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that Chris Mooney has never taken criticism very well. I’m less sure about Sheril, though. She participated in the shameless promotion of Randy Olson’s bomb “Sizzle” (she wrote a vacuous puff piece for it called “Sizzle is Hot!” or something dumb like that), so I don’t know if she’s any better.

    Anyways, I liked Mooney’s first book, and I’ll be sure to give this one a fair chance. I’m sure it can’t be all bad.

    • Matti K
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      It seems sometimes that the editors of Intersection see themselves as some sort of missionaries for a completely new way of thinking.

      Maybe that’s they seem to take it almost personally when people refuse to “convert”.

      • Wes
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        I agree. Chris Mooney especially started acting that way after he teamed up with Matt Nisbet. They started hyping “framing” like it was the one and only salvation of science communication, and anyone who tried a different tactic was harming science.

  3. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how any sort of skirmish could possibly arise from you writing a book review…

  4. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    As a science teacher, I’d love to see a prescription for fixing the appalling scientific illiteracy in this country. If Mooney and Kirshenbaum have constructive ideas, let’s hear them.

    I think that a thorough understanding of science precludes any serious belief in the supernatural, except perhaps a non-involved Deist sort of “presence” or something. On the other hand, I doubt we can get anywhere if we insist on telling kids that what they learned in Sunday School and what their parents fervently believe is BS.

    How we deal with adults is another matter. When an adult says that evolution can’t be true because it conflicts with God’s word, laughter is the best response.

    If Mooney and Kirschenbaum can’t take criticism from people they ought to have known would disagree with them, they shouldn’t ask for it.

  5. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Yes why did they send us the book? Clearly they’ve sent it to several ‘New Atheists’ (I of course don’t like the term either), and I have been wondering why. Perhaps he thought the arguments in the book were so powerful that we would all be convinced? But that would be puzzling too…

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      How about if they insist on calling ‘us’ New Atheists, then maybe we should call them “Fake Atheists” or “Pretend Atheists” or Accommdotionist Atheists” or “Twisted Logic Atheists” or “Censoring Atheists or censored Atheists” or…

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Stale Atheists? Last Year’s Atheists? Catch Up Please Atheists? Clueless Unhip Atheists? Out of the Loop Atheists?

      • Abbie
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        I really like “Stale Atheists”.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        hehe.

        Ophelia, Abbie: I used “Stale Atheists” over in the swamp know as “The Intersection”.

      • articulett
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        I think they are referred to as: “I’m an atheist, but…”

        So I vote for “atheist butt” as the terminology describing the apologetic crowd.

        I loved PZ’s review… and I’m eager to hear what Jerry has to say. I won’t bother to read the book myself as I’ve learned whom I can trust for honest responses.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Well, they *could* accommodate Dawkins and call you “brights” and I’ll probably die of laughing.

  6. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Edit: Perhaps they thought the arguments in the book were so powerful

  7. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I’m confused. First, you’re not mentioned in the book, so the situation is very different. Of course we want to hear what you think. I’m betting your review will be balanced and fair.

    • Matti K
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Mr. Mooney, you have clearly indicated that beeing a “new atheist” limits one’s capacity to produce a fair review.

      Dr. Coyne’s question is valid.

      • Wes
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        I’m beginning to think that usage of the term “new atheist” limits one’s capacity to think clearly on science/religion issues. It’s reached the point where if I see someone call someone a “new atheist”, I can rest assured that what’s to follow will be a bunch of steaming bullshit.

      • rwaa
        Posted August 8, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

        “I’m confused.”

        Perhaps that’s what comes of being stupid and dishonest.

        “First, you’re not mentioned in the book, so the situation is very different.”

        So you could have canceled Dr. Coyne’s honesty and invalidated his review merely by mentioning him in your book?

        You really don’t grasp how grossly ad hominem your dismissal of Dr. Myers is, do you?

    • rwaa
      Posted August 8, 2009 at 12:08 am | Permalink

      Unlike the Fox News standard of “fair and balanced”, Dr. Coyne ripped you to shreds with intellectual honesty.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 8, 2009 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      rwaa, you are addressing Mooney’s comment of a month ago. Just letting you know.

  8. Cameron
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I for one would like to hear a review from you, regardless of the authors acceptance.

    • Sili
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      This is exactly what I wanted to say.

  9. Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I’m confused. So this was an overstatement then?

    “Indeed, it appears that judging the book based on what New Atheists say about it, alone, could lead you to make pretty strong factual errors about its contents.”

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t know; I have no intention of reading the book. I’d like to see the claim of “strong factual errors aout its contents” (as opposed to weak factual errors – whatever the hell they are) demonstrated.

  10. Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    For that matter, why did they send the book to PZ Myers for a review in the first place?

    They say:

    Perhaps judging a book critical of the New Atheists based on what the New Atheists say about it on blogs it is hazardous to your understanding.

    But this was already true before they sent him a book.

    If they were going to reject a negative review for being “biased,” that’s a determination they have to make at the outset, rather than waiting for his criticism and then rejecting it. Of course, if Myers praised the book, they would say “even P.Z. Myers….” and credit him for “overcoming his bias.”

    • Tulse
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      ‘Of course, if Myers praised the book, they would say “even P.Z. Myers….” and credit him for “overcoming his bias.”’

      That’s called “framing”…

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        It could just as easily be called disingenuous with no loss of meaning

  11. Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    whoops, used the wrong quote. Replace with this one:

    But of course, that’s not surprising, given that the book not only criticizes Myers but, indeed, identifies him as part of the problem

  12. Sven DiMilo
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    C. Mooney:

    I’m confused.

    yeah

  13. CW
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    CM:”Of course we want to hear what you think. I’m betting your review will be balanced and fair.”

    …and if it’s a negative review we’ll just discard it (and you) as biased and emotional and use it as an example of how the “new atheists” are nasty, cruel, offensive and should really just shut up and turn over all their speaking engagements and book contracts to me.

    • Badger3k
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Or pull offensive quotes of the site of the reviewer, made by commenters, and complain that they came from the reviewer, thereby dismissing them as angry cranks and unworthy of their attention?

  14. Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    And when we can’t think of anything else to do, we’ll do a post around a comment on your blog, absent-mindedly forgetting the hundreds of vituperative comments that clutter up our blog. Whee! This deep thinking stuff is fun.

  15. Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Seriously, I’m not sure just how to take PZ’s comments about the book myself. He seems to have a reasonable objection to what they said about Pluto (like scientific nomenclature should follow public opinion), but overall he’s bound to dislike a book that attacks him, isn’t he? He implies as much, in fact.

    Anyhow, reviews aren’t for the authors, they’re for us. I’d appreciate your review, if you choose to give it to us.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    • Sili
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      This is pretty much why I’d like to hear prof Coyne’s view.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know of a single science in which the nomenclature is determined by public opinion, so why should planetary physics or astronomy be the first?

      • Zarquon
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        “Bully for Brontosaurus”

  16. Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I’m an old atheist (but a ‘New Agnostic’).
    Perhaps I’m a little biased but I find it hard to take non-scientist Chris Mooney seriously when he talks about how scientists should behave. It’s a bit like listening to sex advice from the Pope – they’ve both never done it, they both have no intention of ever doing it in future, and given the opportunity they probably wouldn’t have a clue where to begin…..but they just can’t help themselves expertly lecturing the rest of us, at any given chance, exactly how we should or shouldn’t do it.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      The general comment about the popes is just plain wrong. Many popes had their harems, so even after becoming priests they enjoyed their pounds of flesh.

  17. GregV
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Agree with the others: it would be nice to have Dr. Coyne’s review just as another voice, without regard for how Mooney et. al. will take it.

  18. Sven DiMilo
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I find it hard to take non-scientist Chris Mooney seriously when he talks about how scientists should behave.

    Oh, but see, this is why Mr. Mooney has teamed up with “marine biologist” Sheril Kirshenbaum. *eyeroll*

    • Jennifer B. Phillips
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I’ll have to plead ignorance here–why isn’t she entitled to call herself a ‘marine biologist’?

  19. Josh
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    This is funny. People think writers send out books for review because they honestly care what the reviewer thinks of it? They sent it all of the “New Atheists” because they knew you’d kick up a shitstorm about it and drive traffic and interest in the book. They don’t care if you scream from the rooftops about how terrible it is as long as you’re screaming about THEIR BOOK. Simply stated, there is no bad press.

    • GregV
      Posted July 10, 2009 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      Not true. I have decided against buying this book because of PZ’s review. I will temper that decision with Coyne and a few more reviews, just to be sure – but I doubt I’ll change my mind.

  20. Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    “I’m confused. First, you’re not mentioned in the book, so the situation is very different. Of course we want to hear what you think. I’m betting your review will be balanced and fair.”

    Now I am confused. I am mentioned in the book — I seem to be hung from a hook and flogged therein, even — and you think the situation is different for someone featured in such a way. So why was I sent the book, then? You’re implying that your rationale would be different, after all.

  21. Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’d be glad to take a look at the book when it is in the library, but I still think from what I have read that the “Framing” is based on an invalid premise. I don’t think that the problem has anything to do with how science is communicated but how the communication is received.

    I think that the problem is that in our society we have an overload of distractions competing for our attention and science is only one of the societal structures competing for attention.

    99% of the people you ask in the street wouldn’t be able to identify PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne (sorry,) Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett; but they would be able to tell you who was the 12th person to get knocked out of the “American Idol competition 4 seasons ago.

    Where Sheril, Matt and Chris go wrong is assuming that people would be interested in science if it were communicated more better, like jazz.

    More likely people just flip through the channels and away from science discussions if there aren’t any explosions going on.

    • Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Are you calling the American people stupid?!

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        No, but I think it is wrong to assume that their priorities are what we want them to be.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Then I will do it for you, Mike. I do not distinguish between stupid and clueless and ignorant and uncaring, so yes, when more people vote in that fake talent contest called “American Idol” than vote in elections, I call the American people stupid.

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

        I was joking, by the way, Mike.

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        The thread doesn’t work right. I am replying to your admission that you were joking.

        Good. I was puzzled by your response, frankly. I have been humor impaired the last few days, apparently.

    • CW
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      “Stupid” is not really accurate. There is however a very strong and clear vein of anti-intellectualism running through American culture. This, when coupled with the ubiquitous deluge of instant-shallow-gratification provided in every possible arena from fast food to tabloid news to reality TV combines to create a museum-quality facsimile of stupidity.

  22. Siamang
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be skipping this book.

    Based on the author acting like a douche whenever valid criticism is leveled.

  23. simea mirans
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The book isn’t on the shelves here in Canada yet, so I have to ask: is PZ really “criticized in the book for his atheism”? Or for injecting atheism into the science debate? The latter seems far more likely, and to misstate that point is awfully careless. Likewise, they don’t seem to be dismissing PZ out of pique: they point out how his review misrepresents the book, with evidence of the misconceptions it’s propagating. I think Prof. Coyne’s response both here and in the “Did Mooney tell me to shut up?” posting verges on childishness. M&K disagree with you, but even if they’re wrong they’re arguing in good faith about important issues where everyone here has a lot in common. Stop the game-playing and respond to the issues!

    • Jennifer B. Phillips
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      This is excellent advice…for Chris and Sheryl to follow. Personal bias aside, PZ had some extremely valid criticisms of the book’s content. Instead of responding to these specific criticisms, CM has spent all of his available blogging time engaged in increasingly deceptive, dishonorable and desperate attempts to further criticize and discredit PZ. I’d encourage you to redirect your admonishment to ‘stop the game playing’ to The Intersection.

    • MadScientist
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      “they point out how his review misrepresents the book, with evidence of the misconceptions it’s propagating”

      NO, the authors do no such thing. The claim is made, but not supported.

  24. Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Exhibit A: Myers admitted that the personal attack in the book colored his review at the outset. This shows a decent standard of integrity.

    Exhibit B: Mooney dismisses substantive criticisms and miss-attributes others. At the very minimum, where’s the disclaimer that he’s reflexively biased? This shows a poor standard of integrity.

    As a fellow science writer, I’m a bit ashamed.

  25. Posted July 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ll join those who would like to read also your review of the book Jerry.
    Whatever the reaction of the authors will be it will add information to the subject.
    This is an old atheist’s request, expecting special attention to any accommodationist stances from the authors.

  26. Posted July 9, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Jerry,
    Of course we are interested to in your review of the book.

    And for the record, you were absolutely correct in your initial assessment here–te notion is absolutely unbelievable–because it’s not true:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/06/lessons-from-dawkins-vs-degrasse-tyson/#comment-23213

    Please do not take such accusations in comments at face value.

    Additionally Discover is working on our spam filter, but our blog is certainly not anti-woman. Rather it’s a subject I’m very passionate about:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/category/women-in-science/

    Thank you,
    Sheril

    • Posted July 9, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Sheril, your first link goes to Jerry’s own comment. I assume you were planning on linking to a comment that explains why it’s not true?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sheril,

      o.k., just to be clear then: John Kwok asserted in his post that YOU, Sheril, sent HIM a link to a site where Madeleine Bunting disparaged Ophelia Benson. Instead, you say that Kwok sent you a link, and that the “feeding” simply did not occur. The whole kerfuffle is based on the perception that you were feeding anti-Benson material to Kwok, using him as your “bad cop.” If you say that that is not true, and that you didn’t send him links, I’ll believe you. But I’d like to hear you say it.

      jac

      • Jennifer B. Phillips
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Some comments have been deleted from that thread, but plenty still remain with Kwok’s claims, here and here, in which he claims that Sheril responded to his query on Madeline Bunting’s article about Ophelia Benson with a link to an article *by* Ophelia Benson (one which, evidently, both Mr. Kwok and Ms. Kirschenbaum did not enjoy reading). In the follow-up, so far, Sheril seems to be trying to distance herself from the accusation of ‘feeding’ material to Kwok, but hasn’t denied that she sent him the link–has, in fact, confirmed that she personally responded to his message in some fashion.

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        “In the follow-up, so far, Sheril seems to be trying to distance herself from the accusation of ‘feeding’ material to Kwok, but hasn’t denied that she sent him the link–has, in fact, confirmed that she personally responded to his message in some fashion.”

        And she also seems to be trying to hint or imply that it’s my fault that…I don’t know what, that people think that Sheril fed Kwok material about me. But that’s Kwok’s doing, not my doing! It’s a bit much that they leave stacks of Kwokkian Benson-trashing in place and yet expect me to explain what Sheril really said or sent to Kwok, especially when I don’t even know what Sheril really said or sent to Kwok. She said she sent him a link on Facebook, I think – well that’s what he said.

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Everyone seems to know who this person is. I do not, other than that he comments on blogs and sent me a link on Facebook. As I explained, I respond to everyone who takes the time to write. I am also not familiar with Ophelia or her work.

        Since I’ve been scanning peoples brains at NYU all week, I did not see the comments that sparked all the hullabalooo until returning to Durham today, and am surprised that anyone would think I’d have some commenter speak for me. I stated my stance on the relationship between science and religion back in 2007 during my first week at The Intersection and although my writing style has changed a bit, I still hold the same sentiments:

        http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/05/the_f_word_1.php

        Note that PZ is also familiar with the name this dropping issue:

        http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/notescomment4.php?id=2837&numcomments=25

        That’s all I will say about it.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted July 9, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        Sheril,

        Well, ok, but I have just received an unsolicited email from Kwok saying otherwise (see below). I guess you guys need to sort out the truth between the two of you.

        jac

        Jerry –

        I just want to clarify this, and I want you to put this on your blog please.

        I alerted independently both Sheril and Chris to a harsh, but apparently, accurate assessment of Ophelia Benson that was written by Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting:

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/jun/16/religion-atheism-feminism-ophelia-benson

        Sheril’s response was to provide me with a link to a column Benson had written which – if I am reading it correctly – somehow blamed the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – for causing and reinforcing gender bias against women. While the result may be true, to say that one can blame each religion separately for this problem seems to be a substantial stretching of the truth. If nothing else – and I am speaking only for myself – this essay of Benson’s demonstrates not only her poor reasoning, but also her abysmal standards of historical and religious scholarship. Under no circumstances should anyone regard this as Sheril’s “feeding me” information about Benson’s own abysmal online behavior.

        (a lot of irrelevant chest-thumping snipped here by JAC)

        Respectfully yours,
        John Kwok

      • Posted July 9, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        Well, Sheril, it’s too bad that that’s all you’ll say about it, because it leaves out a couple of things. Kwok said you sent him the link to an article of mine (and implied that you shared his scorn for it, but only implied). Did he just make that up?

        All I know about him is what I learned from reading his (endless) comments on Chris’s recent posts, and a little I read about him at PZ’s in the past. The trouble is, since The Intersection is your blog and Kwok infests it, you should know that much about him. His comments are vicious and long and multiple – he’s the kind of person who wrecks a blog if left unchecked.

        At any rate – I think you should say whether or not you sent Kwok a link to an article about or by me, and if you did, what for.

        If you don’t know anything about him, maybe the reason isn’t obvious. It’s that he was industriously abusing me (verbally!) up one side and down the other in post after post, then he announced that you’d helped him. That looked malicious – but then Kwok exaggerates about his ‘friends’ – so he could have just made it up. If you didn’t send him anything, by all means say so! I’ll believe you.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted July 10, 2009 at 3:45 am | Permalink

        Shreil,

        Are you seriously telling us that you are not aware of Kwok’s, history around ScienceBlogs ?

        It is not that long ago you were part of SB. Maybe you need to talk to Chris, since Chris will not be able to claim he has no idea who Kwok is. If he has the time to trawl through all of the comments on PZ’s blog to find one that said “fuck” then he will have come across Kwok.

        Please stop being so silly about this.

      • Posted July 10, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink

        Did you guys know John Kwok has his own RationalWiki page?

        @Sheril: that might be a good place to start reading if you want to know more about Kwok.

      • SLC
        Posted July 10, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Re Sheril Kirshenbaum

        Just for the information of Ms. Kirshenbaum, she would be much better off not communicating with the Kwok, who is someone who does not have both oars in the water. Several months ago, the Kwok engaged in a cyberstalking attack on Abbie Smith over at the ERV blog and made an infernal nuisance of himself which forced her to ban him.

      • Wes
        Posted July 10, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        Sheril said,

        Everyone seems to know who this person is. I do not, other than that he comments on blogs and sent me a link on Facebook. As I explained, I respond to everyone who takes the time to write. I am also not familiar with Ophelia or her work.

        Then how would you be able to give Kwok a link to one of her articles?

  27. MadScientist
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s hilarious how the response to PZ’s big thumbs down was “Oh, but look at all these other rave reviews we’re getting!” Forget addressing any issues, just point to other reviews. In particular, Mooney is fixated on Michael Mann’s review on RealClimate. The review offers effusive platitudes but doesn’t offer anything of substance – “snake oil salesman” comes to mind. If I compare Mann’s review to PZ’s review I wonder “how can PZ have possibly have missed so much?”

    I never read the “reviews” on the dust cover of books; of course they’ll all be positive (and for the most part empty fluff). However, I expect reviews on the web to be substantial. Poor ratings from a number of people plus my own observations lead me to believe I shouldn’t buy the book.

    • Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s hilarious how the response to PZ’s big thumbs down was “Oh, but look at all these other rave reviews we’re getting!”

      I wish that’s all he did. Instead, he responded with “Look how bad PZ’s blog is, and look how great the blog is of this other dude who gave me a positive review”.

  28. Joshua Slocum
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Given John Kwok’s long record of obsessive -bordering on lunatic- behavior, I think the most parsimonious explanation is that he did what he always does: inflated his sense of self-importance by making it seem as if Sheril was engaged in some meaningful dialogue with him.

    I’ve got little time for the questionable tactics Mooney and Kirshenbaum have used on their blog, and I’m not shy about saying it. But I don’t believe a thing John Kwok says, and I doubt Sheril would have been actively “feeding” him anything, if she knew who he was, and what was going on. Just my speculation.

    • Jennifer B. Phillips
      Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Joshua, you’re probably right. However, the only person who can clarify this is Sheril, and she’s being inexplicably cagey about the whole affair. I find it really odd, and again, disappointing, that she hasn’t come out strongly in her own defense against Kwok’s insinuations, nor has she uttered a word of apology to Ophelia. I don’t have any reason to disbelieve her assertions that she wasn’t familiar with Kwok or with OB prior to this episode and I certainly don’t hold her responsible for Kwok’s behavior. That said, if I had, however inadvertently, given such a person additional grist for his crazy mill, I’d waste no time in apologizing to the target of his unpleasantness for my unwitting and unwilling assist.

  29. SplendidMonkey
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Can an argument that has devolved to the level of “Kwok said” get any more primitive?

  30. Posted July 10, 2009 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Coyne,

    Thought I’d add something that may be of interest. Certainly it is to me. Readers go from our blog to buy the book on Amazon sometimes, and I’m noticing–interestingly–that even as we continue to debate, people are apparently buying Unscientific America and Why Evolution is True together!

    • Matti K
      Posted July 10, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Mr. Mooney debating? Where?

    • Posted July 10, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      That’s cute, Chris – but how about adding your answers to the questions that Dr Coyne asked a few days ago? You said you were going to do that, remember?

    • rwaa
      Posted August 8, 2009 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      “I’m noticing–interestingly–that even as we continue to debate, people are apparently buying Unscientific America and Why Evolution is True together!”

      What a twit.

  31. Posted July 10, 2009 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    “people are apparently buying Unscientific America and Why Evolution is True together!”

    That would explain your book title.

  32. CW
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Shorter CM:”Hi Dr. Coyne,

    Thought I’d completely ignore all the commentary and questions and just gloat a bit about how the attention is boosting my book sales.”

  33. wice
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Mooney,

    When someone criticises your book, saying “it is useless, _because_ it doesn’t provide any solution to the problem”, the correct answer is not “he was criticised in the book, so he’s opinion doesn’t matter”, but “he is wrong, we provide a solution on page XXX, namely…”

    Now, _that_ is a good answer. Of course, if you actually didn’t provide any solution for the problem, it complicates things a bit.

    Thankfully, in this case, there is another good answer: “Yes, he is right, we have no idea, how to solve the problem.” You just need a little honesty, to be able to say it.

    But I guess my opinion doesn’t matter either, since I’m the kind of person you would call “New Atheist”.

    • Posted July 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, wice, I agree – I posted as much on the comments over at the Intersection. All character assassination aside, I felt PZ was extremely thorough in his review, highlighting the tactics and lack thereof that he felt limited the usefulness of this book. Particularly, their lack of acknowledgment of institutional factors like the crisis in science education that leaves citizens unprepared to deal with what scientists say. Rather than responding to substantive criticism, Mr. Mooney chose to dodge and insist the review didn’t count. No other review seems to contradict PZ’s take on it, so Coyne’s question is a fair one that I’m still hoping Mr. Mooney will answer – are negative or critical reviews to be received with the weight in which they are given?

  34. TheBlackCat
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I would also be very interested in seeing a review of the book. As others have said, I feel reviews are for readers, not for authors. I think you should be more concerned with whether you readers will value it, not whether the authors will pay any attention.

  35. QrazyQat
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    The post they had about PZ before they saw his review was classic “poisoning the well” (a classic logical fallacy). They made that statement as a setup for dismissing any criticism he’d make.

    (Maybe they should consider realigning their politics; I think they’d be happier in the GOP.)

  36. Wilson Fowlie
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Professor Coyne:

    Are you reviewing the book for the benefit of the authors? (You imply as much, perhaps unintentionally, in your final paragraph: “I really don’t want to waste time on this if the authors of the book are going to regard any effort as biased from the outset.”)

    If so, then I suspect that it would indeed be waste of time for you to post a review.

    However, if that implication (or at least my and others’ inference thereof) in correct, and you would review the book for the benefit of potential readers, then – as others have said – I believe it would not be a waste of time, and I hope you will do so.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 10, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Nope, I’m not reviewing the book for the benefit of the authors, but for the readers. I just wanted to make sure that Mooney and Kirshenbaum would take the review seriously, and not just dismiss it on the grounds that I’m a “new atheist.” I’ll certainly post one here, but I need some time–I can’t put the stuff out as fast as PZ!!!

  37. Ian
    Posted July 10, 2009 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Damn the torpids! Full speed ahead

    Darn it! Torpids would be a great name for the accomodationists, wouldn’t it?!

  38. Vance Lunn
    Posted July 11, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    If you do the book review, just give your honest opinion of the book. You’re a scientist, not a politician. Who cares what they think. They must respect you if they ask for the review.

    This term “new athiest” is new to me. I will have to study up on it.

    Present science as the study of the physical realm. Religion ponders the spiritual realm. If one chooses not to believe in the presence of a spiritual realm, then, as has been poointed out on this blog and comments before, it is not needed to pursue the study of the physical Universe and all in it. To me, leaving out the spiritual realm puts mankind in the uncomfortable position of being the highest, most advanced known being in the Universe, and given our vast imperfections, we’re in alot of trouble if this is indeed the case.

    You can’t prove that the spiritual realm does or does not exist. So it will turn off many to expose them to the above uncomfortable notion. I don’t think we need to. When discussing science, always understand that we are discussing the physical realm that is subject to set physical laws.

  39. Jason
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    If I had only known how entertaining the soap, “As the Atheist Blog Turns” would be I would have become an atheist so much sooner.

    Note: I stole the soap reference from the comments of one of these blogs, probably ERV.

  40. Gilles
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    No offense intended, but it’s clear from the comments above that atheists — “New” or “Old” — are now dividing themselves into sects.

    As for the American scientific illiteracy, it’s hard to take it seriously, since the United States has more Nobel Prize winners than all the other countries put together. And I don’t think scientific literacy is much higher in other countries; the difference may be that most other countries are not as religious as the U.S., though.

    • CW
      Posted August 12, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      “but it’s clear from the comments above that atheists — “New” or “Old” — are now dividing themselves into sects.”

      New here are you? Let me just disillusion you quickly (so you can page forward to posts made some time this month). Atheism is not an organization, a religion or even a belief. We (atheists) have never, ever, ever been a remotely coherent body in the first place making it impossible that we might somehow “divide” into “sects”.

      True, different people believe in different approaches to dealing with the problems of religion but framing that as “dividing into sects” is both ludicrous and rather clearly loaded. Trying to organize atheists has long been described as “herding cats” and that holds true for this as well as for anything else.

      As to Nobel (science) prizes, the suggestion that national religiosity leads to higher success rates in the prize is, to say the least, extremely thin. You don’t, for example, see a whole lot of the prizes going to Iran or Turkey or Guatemala. Perhaps national population might be worth considering here though. Just for example, Sweden (that hotbed of conservative religion) has more Nobel prize winners per capita than the US. Monetary matters like GDP and annual science spending almost certainly influence success and yet, to stick with the same example, Sweden has produced more Nobel winners per GDP dollar than America has, and by about a factor of ten.

      • Gilles
        Posted August 13, 2009 at 12:31 am | Permalink

        @ CW

        Right, it’s my first visit.

        I know of course that atheism can’t be a “belief”. The word “sect” was not appropriate, considering its religious connotation; maybe “faction” or “following” would be acceptable… What I see is that there are those like Pr Myers who won’t tolerate one second absurdity and hypocrisy and fights on every front, and those who don’t even bother anymore to discuss with creationists (I did for quite a long time when I was young), like myself; in my experience it’s a waste of time because faith is not rational in the first place.

        Also, I often see people (especially Americans but not exclusively) link faith with patriotism, and its somewhat dangerous to try and discuss with those.

        English is not my first language and I meant that the U.S. earned many Nobel prizes despite a large number of its citizen being religions, not because of that fact.

        Regards

      • articulett
        Posted August 13, 2009 at 12:45 am | Permalink

        Welcome Gilles…. I think you’ve missed the issue a bit.

        The issue is about whether science should “accommodate” religious faith or whether we can treat it the way an astrologist might treat astrology or any other pseudoscience. The “faitheists” want religions coddled… they want it treated differently than other supernatural beliefs– but honest scientists (the “new atheists” according to M&K) want the freedom to treat all fanciful claims equally– to ignore them, dismiss them, or to say that there is no scientific evidence in support of such beliefs. We don’t want to be part of enabling delusional thinking.

        However, there are strong political and financial incentives to enable some brands of religious thought–and a big smear campaign directed at everyone who doesn’t fall in line.

        Whenever scientists do the equivalent of pointing out that “the emperor is naked”, people accuse them of forcing “atheism” down peoples’ throats. We’re supposed to give fuzzy support to the idea that the emperor might, in fact, be wearing invisible undetectable robes that only special people can see.

        Anything that suggests there is no good reason to think that invisible undetectable things exist is “atheistic” according to some people. They seem to forget that “secular” means that no religion is favored over any other and the best way to do that is to keep religion out of politics and science. Some people want special favors granted to some brands of religion that they have no intention of offering less popular conflicting brands of religion (Scientology, for example.)

        You can get the latest on the issue here:

        http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/mooney-and-kirshenbaum-self-destruct-at-last/#comment-8691

  41. tumara baap
    Posted December 5, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    In case you guys haven’t already heard it, Ginger Campbell gives a ringing endorsement to attacks on the New Atheists in Unscientific America in episode 32 of her Books and Ideas podcast (transcript on her website). Her depiction of the New Atheists were facile and the criticisms the same easily assailable worn out lines (atheists are radical, they “equate” science with atheism, many of Mooney’s critics are not scientists, lack of God cannot be scientifically proven).


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