Phil Plait no longer a Blogginghead

First Sean Carroll went, and then Carl Zimmer. Neither wanted to be part of an organization that gave credibility to creationists like Michael Behe and Paul Nelson.

Now Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy fame) has announced that he too will no longer appear on bloggingheads.tv:

But I’ll be more succinct. Bloggingheads had full-blown creationists being interviewed, making all the same long-debunked claims while the other person talking basically supported them. And BloggingHeads called that science.

So Bzzzzzzzt! I’m done with them. I was on BloggingHeads (with Carl) a few months ago, and I won’t ever do it again either. If they want to cast creationism as science, they might as well say Holocaust denial is real history, 9/11 truthers are engineers, and Birthers are patriots. They can do that, but it’s a crock.

Greg Fish agrees.  Greg Laden is ambivalent.

So much for the virtues of accommodationism. If you pretend that religion has something to say about science, or if you present these two magisteria as coequals, those who have genuine respect for science — and integrity — are going to flee faster than rats on a sinking ship.

__________

Update:  There are actually four defectors: P. Z. Myers has also withdrawn.

23 Comments

  1. tom
    Posted September 6, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I am disappointed to see this issue misrepresented here, repeatedly.

    Wright has already stated that he did not approve the dialogues in question – he was out of town and not dealing with BhTV business when the Behe dialogue was approved and posted – and that the policy of BhTV would prohibit such dialogues from taking place in the future.

    He has apologized for his contribution to the recent events, namely a lack of clear, stated policy on this issue and a lack of proper delegation of authority for that policy’s implementation.
    It’s his organization, so it’s his fault, and he’s said as much. How Coyne sees this as “pretend(ing) that religion has something to say about science”, or “present(ing) these two magisteria as coequals” is beyond me.

    Wright has explicitly and repeatedly attacked creationism and ID as pseudoscience. His current point of disagreement with Zimmer is regarding whether a creationist like Behe could be featured on the show for a debate with someone qualified (unlike McWhorter) to rake Behe over the coals. He mentions Dawkins as a possibility.
    I understand that this is a controversial point amongst scientists, and that many of them legitimately feel that debating creationists achieves nothing while giving them undue appearance of credibility. But if Phil Plait sees this as “want(ing) to cast creationism as science”, then he’s simply wrong, and Coyne could do better than simply re-posting Plait’s misguided quote. Indeed, it is evident from the rest of Plait’s remarks that he is simply ignorant of the relevant details, viz. Wright’s public comments (on BhTV and on several websites) stating that the McWhorter dialogue is against policy, should never have occurred, and nothing like it will be allowed to happen again.

    To put it simply: if I knew nothing else about this whole incident besides what I read on Coyne’s blog, I would think that BhTV has become an outlet that promotes creationism and encourages dialogues that give creationists a chance to speak publicly without real scientific criticism. I would think that Wright’s view, and the policy of BhTV, opposes metaphysical naturalism and the scientific method while embracing the notion that religion “has something to say about science”. Those beliefs are false, and represent the exact opposite of reality.

    Would Coyne have a problem with that? I sure hope so.

    • Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      Damn the lack of a time traveling “anticipate reply” feature on this blog!
      “So: you’re taking issue only with the idea that having IDers and real scientists debate could be constructive and worthwhile?”
      That’s not my position.
      I can see it being constructive but NOT on the terms of creationists.
      Creationist audiences simply do not have the education in biology to understand basic evolutionary biology. I have debated creationists occasionally on a one to one basis and found that it is pointless bringing up subjects like DNA sequence similarities between related species or fossil evidence. This information, something an undergraduate would be expected to be familiar with before they enter University is way beyond the knowledge of the average anti-evolutionist. I usually cringe when I hear PZ Myers using this sort of approach on occasion when he is interviewed by Christian radio stations.
      My own approach is to use the opportunity to discuss critical thinking and the value of the scientific method to determine if an idea is wrong. I sincerely doubt any creationist is going to say “wait a second, I never considered Basilosaurus! Evolution is true after all!”, but we may sow the seed of understanding why the scientific method is so useful that will allow them to come to that conclusion at some stage in the future.
      As for the point at hand, I pointed out that Behe already has the opportunity to debate pro-evolution scientists (like Abbie Smith) on bloggingheads, but refuses to face them. I have no problem with a debate between Abbie and Behe. Unfortunately Behe doesn’t agree with me. And more seriously Wright goes along with Behe’s stance by proposing a Dawkins debate as an alternative (although I wonder how serious this proposal was since it is well known that Dawkins refuses to debate creationists on a point of principle).

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:57 am | Permalink

        “As for the point at hand, I pointed out that Behe already has the opportunity to debate pro-evolution scientists (like Abbie Smith) on bloggingheads, but refuses to face them. I have no problem with a debate between Abbie and Behe. Unfortunately Behe doesn’t agree with me. And more seriously Wright goes along with Behe’s stance by proposing a Dawkins debate as an alternative”

        This remark in particular strengthens the position to which I was already sympathetic. Well said.

        We could go back and forth on the merits of Wright’s position, but I’ve said all along that I would likely not come down on his side of it anyway.

        What I would like to point out once more is the following:
        Your criticisms of Wright regard his stance on a PR issue. I’m not trivializing the issue; PR is important.

        The criticisms I made of Coyne concern his characterization of Wright on issues that are not restricted to PR. They concern Wright’s position on science, the scientific method, religion, metaphysics, etc. And they are false, at best.

      • SLC
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Prof. Behe has refused to debate Abbie Smith on bloggingheads because he refuses to debate anyone who is knowledgeable on the subject of evolution biology. He made the mistake of debating Ken Miller several years ago and got his head handed to him.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 7, 2009 at 4:54 am | Permalink

      Wright has explicitly and repeatedly attacked creationism and ID as pseudoscience. His current point of disagreement with Zimmer is regarding whether a creationist like Behe could be featured on the show for a debate with someone qualified (unlike McWhorter) to rake Behe over the coals. He mentions Dawkins as a possibility.
      I understand that this is a controversial point amongst scientists, and that many of them legitimately feel that debating creationists achieves nothing while giving them undue appearance of credibility. But if Phil Plait sees this as “want(ing) to cast creationism as science”, then he’s simply wrong, and Coyne could do better than simply re-posting Plait’s misguided quote. Indeed, it is evident from the rest of Plait’s remarks that he is simply ignorant of the relevant details, viz. Wright’s public comments (on BhTV and on several websites) stating that the McWhorter dialogue is against policy, should never have occurred, and nothing like it will be allowed to happen again.

      How ironic to cherry-pick while accusing others of cherry-picking.

      Both Carroll and Zimmer makes the casting of creationism as science, and the failure of Wright to satisfy them on guaranteing that it will happen again as central:

      “But if you present a discussion about the scientific merits of ID, with someone who actually believes that such merits exist — then you are wasting my time and giving up on the goal of having a worthwhile intellectual discussion. [...]

      Bob is unhappy that I left out some of the points he made in our conversation, which is somewhat reflective of the fact that we were talking past each other. I was not looking for a “pledge” of anything at all. Rather, I was hoping — and completely expecting — to hear a statement somewhat along these lines: “Of course we all agree that when someone listens to a dialogue on BH.tv, they have a reasonable expectation that both speakers are non-crackpots.” But I don’t think we do agree on that. [Carroll]

      “In my job as a science writer, I try my best to convey an accurate picture of where science is at the moment. That means I do not write about just anything. I write about research and ideas that have held up under scrutiny. Sometimes that means writing about an important new development in a line of research that has emerged from peer review. Sometimes that means writing about a fierce debate between scientists who all have made a lot of important discoveries on the topic. It doesn’t mean writing about creationism–or medical quackery, or any other non-science–in a way that implies it really has scientific merit. I have sometimes blogged about creationists, but chiefly to explain why scientists do not take them seriously. [...]

      Sean and I both asked if Robert also thought astrologers or anti-vaxxers might come on too. We didn’t get a clear response. Given the fact that two creationists had been on Bloggingheads in the past month–apparently despite guidelines laid down a year ago–this was a disappointment to me.” [Zimmer]

      Clearly Wright is a faitheist, victim of muddled beliefs. Equally clearly his editorial policies are as muddled.

      Is correlation causation here? Yes, since theology is the varied parameter which is successfully tested for – after all, Wright has successful web presence, so his thinking works fine otherwise. :-)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 4:58 am | Permalink

        D’oh! “guaranteing that it will happen again” – guaranteeing that it will _not_ happen again.

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 5:33 am | Permalink

        1. I didn’t accuse anyone of cherry-picking, I accused several people of misrepresentation.

        2. Your post is muddled. What are you trying to draw my attention to? I don’t see how your quotes from Zimmer and Carroll contradict my characterization of Wright’s disagreement with them. He’s willing to have creationists and other crackpots on the show under certain circumstances; they’re not okay with that. I said that, and your quotes confirm that.

        3. Even if I did happen to get something wrong about Carroll and Zimmer – which I did not – I never criticized them or their decision, so I’m not sure why you are being so defensive about them. I made a passing remark about Wright’s disagreement with them in order to characterize Wright’s position, and I’m pretty sure you’ve misunderstood. I’m not sure though, since I can’t really make heads or tails of your reply.

  2. Posted September 6, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    “He mentions Dawkins as a possibility.”
    And that is exactly why credible scientists are getting annoyed with Wright. The only people who consider Behe to be on a similar level to Dawkins are creationists. It’s not even as if scientists want to silence Behe or avoid his points – its just that they are at such an idiotic level that its enormously counterproductive to have a senior scientist address them. Behe’s arguments are frequently destroyed by even the most junior scientist yet he cowardly refuses to face individual scientists like Abbie Smith of ERV who has challenged him on these questions. If Wright cannot see the problem and the fact that both his previous inaction and his newly proposed solution are merely compounding the issue then is any wonder that serious scientists are leaving bloggingheads..

    • tom
      Posted September 7, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      “The only people who consider Behe to be on a similar level to Dawkins are creationists.”

      I have never seen Wright claim this. Have you? You might just mean that putting them side by side in a debate implies that they’re on the “same level”, but Wright could simply respond that it is Behe’s prominence (amongst the public, not scientists) and notoriety that makes it worth pairing him with someone who could roast him in a way that would be constructive for the audience. You can disagree (I might be on your side, too), but that wouldn’t make Wright’s position tantamount to “casting creationism as science”. That’s my point.

      “It’s not even as if scientists want to silence Behe or avoid his points – its just that they are at such an idiotic level that its enormously counterproductive to have a senior scientist address them.”

      I acknowledged this in my post, and even described this as a legitimate position. We’re on the same page here, or close to it. It’s just that that doesn’t amount to “casting creationism as science”.

      “If Wright cannot see the problem and the fact that both his previous inaction and his newly proposed solution…”

      He HAS been critical of his own “previous inaction”. I wonder if you’re even paying enough attention to the discussion to really follow it. And sure, maybe his “proposed solution” is a bad one. Which point of mine does that disprove? Either I’m missing something or you’re not bothering to read very carefully.

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        Addendum:
        My own reply was a bit hasty; on a second read it became evident to me that you were not attributing the position that Dawkins and Behe are on a “similar level” to Wright. Apologies.

        So: you’re taking issue only with the idea that having IDers and real scientists debate could be constructive and worthwhile?
        Fair enough, but that’s an issue that’s been beaten to death, and it’s not especially relevant to my initial remarks, to which you were replying.

        And you’re concluding that, since Wright lands on the (let’s grant for the sake of discussion) wrong side of this argument, it’s no wonder that some scientists want to disassociate themselves from BhTV?
        I think that’s a fair characterization, but I don’t see how you’re disagreeing with me.
        I would only push back a bit: before making a pariah of Wright over what is ultimately a PR issue, note that many of the most prominent scientists have found themselves on both sides of this issue at one time or another. Certainly nothing about Dawkins’ worldview before he came to the decision to never debate creationists would make it true that he “cast creationism as science” or thought “religion has something to say about science” or that they are “coequals”.

        So if that’s your complaint about Wright, I would simply ask you to join me in criticizing the use of those mischaracterizations on this blog.

  3. Posted September 7, 2009 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you should do some more reading yourself Tom, before opening your mouth and jumping in feet first. I never wrote that Wright claims Behe is on the same level as Dawkins. The point is whether it is wise to provide an opportunity for opposition to creationist views in which Behe is opposed by a senior scientist like Dawkins when there are plenty of other possible opponents that are quite adequate to debate the science – but aren’t so useful personally to Behe as propoganda tools.
    The fact that Wright fails to see this problem or is unconcerned about it is a problem in itself.
    Wright clearly has the business of bloggingheads in mind, but that is not something that is or should be paramount to scientific contributors.
    As an analogy perhaps a debate between Kent Hovind and Stephen Hawking over the Big Bang theory would be great for business but that too would be simply pushing bloggingheads into ratings grabbing territory and away from being a credible place to discuss science.

    • tom
      Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      Well, I was going to explain that the irony is at your expense, replying with a correction I had already made 35 min earlier, but I see you’ve acknowledged that.

      I’ll address your other remarks above, to try to keep things organized. :)

  4. tom
    Posted September 7, 2009 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    A final remark:
    For anyone bothering to wade through the back and forth I had with Sigmund, you’ll notice things are jumbled.

    He replied to my first post, but in a new comment (comment#2) rather than a “reply” . I posted a “reply” there, and a follow-up correction. He responded in still another new post(comment#3). I put a “reply” there. He responded with a “reply”, but to my original post(comment#1).

    Needless to say, it ended up in an odd order. Sorry for the confusion.

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted September 7, 2009 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    I applaud Plait, Zimmer and Carroll for their reasoned decisions.

    I have said elsewhere that Wright has lost much credibility due to many of the actions he has taken lately.

    I cringed when I watched some of the discussion he had on blogginheads with George Johnson. He sounded more like a new age proponent (his meditating state) when he wasn’t bringing up every excuse under the sun (I didn’t know).

    Combine that with his writings of late and I can not take him seriously.

    • tom
      Posted September 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      “He sounded more like a new age proponent (his meditating state)”

      You know, eventually it begins to seem like a witch hunt around here. Everything that can be remotely associated with something other than the most austere worldview is taken to be “faithy”.

      I watched that same segment. Wright buys none of the metaphysical hogwash that may or may not be involved in a particular meditative practice. He described an alteration in the perspective he has on some ordinary things, an alteration which consisted entirely in the concepts he uses for classifying everyday objects. There’s nothing metaphysically troublesome about that.

      “when he wasn’t bringing up every excuse under the sun (I didn’t know)”

      A single sensible point of Wright’s – which you fail to even criticize – is equal to “everything under the sun”?

      Yes, he was away and not in touch with the people posting at BhTV when this happened. He came back and blamed himself for a lack of clear policy that would have prevented the dialogue in question from occuring.

      Generally, comments sections on blogs tend to attract intellectually lazy sycophants in search of an echo chamber to call home. I suppose I expected Coyne’s blog to be different.

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        “Generally, comments sections on blogs tend to attract intellectually lazy sycophants in search of an echo chamber to call home. I suppose I expected Coyne’s blog to be different.”

        Comments sections also tend to attract tedious preening bores who insult anyone who disagrees with them using labels like “intellectually lazy sycophant,” and then sigh dejected and wonder where, oh where, will they find a blog that measures up to their high standards.

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        “tedious preening bores”
        Fair enough.

        “who insult anyone who disagrees”
        Nonsense.

        “then sigh dejected and wonder where, oh where, will they find a blog that measures up to their high standards.”
        Didn’t do that. I was just surprised by the lack of fair minded discussion.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        “when he wasn’t bringing up every excuse under the sun (I didn’t know)”

        A single sensible point of Wright’s – which you fail to even criticize – is equal to “everything under the sun”?

        That was ONE of his excuses. He had at least FOUR by his own admission. Apparently you were not paying attention.

        I guess cognitively impaired people visit here and spew their nonsense – how does that feel to you?

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        “That was ONE of his excuses. He had at least FOUR by his own admission.”

        You chose a totally reasonable, sensible point, failed to criticize it, and used it as evidence that Wright should not be “taken seriously”. Perhaps there’s something suspicious about the other three parts of his explanation. Care to give me some idea of what that might be?

        “I guess cognitively impaired people visit here and spew their nonsense – how does that feel to you?”

        Feels pretty damn true, at the moment.

        Let me note, again, that the initial post we’re all commenting on consists in repeating blatant misrepresentations of Wright’s position. Coyne accused Wright of “pretend(ing) that religion has something to say about science”, and “presenting these two magisteria as coequals”. He also quotes, approvingly, someone who accuses Wright of “want(ing) to cast creationism as science.”

        All of these charges are utterly false, as I pointed out. No one has challenged my claim, and yet no one besides me has expressed the view that lying repeatedly about Wright’s positions is a bad thing.
        You don’t see a problem with that?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Tom, you are the one misrepresenting things. I will not waste my time on you. I will just assume every comment you post is your cognitive impairment just like all your others to date.

      • tom
        Posted September 7, 2009 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        “Tom, you are the one misrepresenting things. ”

        Perhaps. I’m trying to argue in good faith, but maybe I’m completely wrong and confused. It’s happened before.

        Do you challenge my assertion that Coyne misrepresents Wright, or just my reply to your own remarks about Wright?

        The latter, I can accept. Admittedly, I spoiled any chance to reach common ground with the closing of my first reply to you. Sorry for that.

  6. ennui
    Posted September 8, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, over at LessWrong blag, Yudkowski decides not to quit the diavlogs…

  7. tom
    Posted September 9, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link. These quotes are both worth a read:

    “Robert Wright publicly said that this was foolish, apologized for the poor editorial oversight that led to it, and says they’re going to try never to do this again. This looks sincere to me, and given that it’s sincere, people really ought to be allowed more chance than this to recover from their mistakes.”

    “If BHTV is willing to let me come on and (politely) kick hell out of atheists who aren’t atheistic enough to suit me, then I don’t believe that their unfortunate failure to have Behe interviewed by someone who could call his BS, represents any deep hidden agenda in favor of religion and against science.”


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] Coyne on the controversy, here and here. He links to Phil Plait at Discovery: Bloggingheads had full-blown creationists being interviewed, [...]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,791 other followers

%d bloggers like this: