Henry Gee replies

If I criticize someone’s ideas on this site, and they want to reply here, I usually give them space above the fold.  And that’s what I’ll do for Henry Gee, senior biology editor for the magazine Nature. Gee, using the pseudonym “cromercrox,” has made two comments below my critique of his Guardian piece on the faults of scientists. I’ll put those comments here:

Given that his responses are nearly identical to what he emitted on Twitter (see below), I”m certain that these responses (in my comments) are from Gee himself. In fact, reader Veronica Abbass (in a comment on my earlier post) has verified this, as “Cromercrox” is the name Gee gives himself on his website, The End of the Pier Show.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Besides making no effort to conceal his identity, I’m also sure this is Gee because these comments are nearly identical what he’s been emitting on his Twitter feed, where in the last 20 hours or so he’s posted elebenty gazillion rants and “defenses” of his remarks. To wit:


Picture 1[Grok? Didn’t that go out in the sixties?]

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

My response to his comments?  I don’t believe for a minute that Gee was being ironic or humorous. This is simply a post facto attempt to cover up his ham-handedness. There was no irony or humor evident in his piece, or else they were SO subtle that they were lost on not only my readers, but those of the Guardian as well, where Gee’s been taking a severe drubbing for two days. The old defense “I was just being ironic” is often used when someone is caught flat-footed purveying nonsense.

As for my “longer rant” which supposedly proves Gee’s point—that scientists are intolerant of criticism—he’s completely off the mark. What we’re intolerant of, Dr. Gee, is not valid scientific criticism, which is the meat of our field, but stupid arguments that compare science to a religion, blame science for creationism and other forms of pseudoscience. or argue that science itself is responsible for excesses of technology often motivated by mendacity, capitalism, or greed.

Gee is being a real crybaby here, and doesn’t seem to understand the difference between valid criticism of his views and a Muslim “fatwa”.  Who among us has offered a price on  our opponents’ heads? And are we supposed to refrain from responding to your views, Dr. Gee?

Finally, as for Gee’s religiosity, I went by only the only thing I could find on the internet about his beliefs: his 2006 Nature piece in which he said the following:

I am one of those people for whom Dawkins would no doubt reserve his most trenchant criticism. Dawkins thinks that science itself provides sufficient awe and wonder to replace an instinct for the supernatural. I don’t. Religion, for all its ills and inequities, is one of the few things that makes us human: I am with the scientists of an earlier age, who found that their motivation in advancing the cause of knowledge was to magnify the name of the Creator.

Gee, in other words, saw himself as a latter-day William Paley.

And I did check out that piece (the link is above!). If Gee has abandoned his faith since 2006, I didn’t find that when I Googled “Henry Gee atheist.” So if I missed something, I apologize. But if I didn’t miss anything, I’m excused, for I don’t—thank God!—have a direct pipeline to Dr. Gee’s mind.  Still, his accommodationism, extreme even for an atheist, helps me understand why Nature has spent so much space lately osculating the rump of religion.

Note, too, that Gee has not responded to Pinker’s criticism that he misrepresented the use of statistics in testing scientific hypotheses.

Finally, a word of advice to Gee: it’s not always wise to respond to internet criticism. More often than not, by so doing you’ll wind up looking worse than ever, just as you’ve done here. And don’t pretend that you’re being humorous and ironic when you’re not.  Was Gee “humorous and ironic” when he wrote this intemperate comment on Nature network forums four years ago?:

Gee

The subtle irony—it burns! And what is that about “acne-ridden little numpties” with “no girlfriend, no penis, and no life”? That is SO funny that I spit out my coffee.

But what distresses me in Gee’s comment above is the equation of Dawkins’s followers with the Hitler Youth; Gee apparently lacks the notion that comparisons can ever be over the top. And having just been to Auschwitz, an experience that will change you forever if you’re a sentient human, I am even more upset that Gee (who is apparently of Jewish descent) has played the Nazi card before, as here on Pharyngula:

I am not asking to be liked, I am not asking that people join in … I am asking to be accorded the choice that is the privilege of all civilized societies to be allowed to practice their beliefs without molestation or being vilified for what they do, irrespective of how rational they think it.

But of course, some of you probably think I am an untermensch, as did the people who killed my grandparents and my two aunts — one a toddler, I have recently discovered, the other a babe in arms, and then recycled them as soap and lampshades, and presumably deserving of no better fate.

To equate criticism of Henry Gee with the extermination of his relatives by the Nazis is an invidious and self-pitying ploy. If this were not a civilized website, I would tell Dr. Gee where to get off, and in no uncertain terms.

161 Comments

  1. Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    How is a self-proclaimed irony-Meister not interested in the difference between offering up an argument and claiming to speak on god’s behalf?

  2. Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I thought the critiques was one of the best you have ever written, but you’ve outdone yourself here.

    • Alexandra M
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Agree!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      I liked it too! I sorta lived vicariously through it because it was so honest and well done!

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Henry Gee appears to be ignoring the human traits of critical thinking, common sense and thoughtful compassion. Is he trying to be non-human?

  4. Matt G
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Wow, he must have the FOX “News” playbook for self defense when you are shown to be full of sh*t. I’m just joking, why are you people so serious, I’m a martyr at the hands of the scientific priesthood and their dogma, blah, blah, blah. Editor at Nature? Overemployed!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I think I used that one when I was 6.

    • craigp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      It reminds me of one of Stan’s lines on American Dad: “I can tell by your reaction that I was only joking.”

      • pacopicopiedra
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        That’s good.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        +1

    • Keith
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Overemployed–that definitely sums it up. I’m baffled how someone who has such a long history of poor judgment and unprofessional behavior could keep his editorial position at Nature. Now I guess we need to add marginal scientific credentials to the mix, since he doesn’t understand what should have been learned in a first year statistics class.

    • David Edwards
      Posted October 25, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Isn’t the “I was only joking”” defence the one used by Ray Comfort when taken to task over his stupid comments about bananas?

  5. Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I’ll just note that I have no acne, nor am I little. A numpty? Well, sometimes.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Oh good grief! Claiming irony! There were a few spots where I thought a benefit of the doubt was in order and perhaps Gee was just the victim of poor editing but there is no way the entire piece is ironic because as evidenced in these other pieces (and his vocation), Gee is certainly a good writer. A good writer would know how to use irony for wit without mistakenly causing the reader to take his sentences as sincere.

    Further, stand up for what you wrote! Be proud and defend yourself! Backing out by blaming the reader for not “groking” it is just lazy.

  7. Jeremy Nel
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Wow. That comment he left on Pharyngula is an *astonishing* piece of self-victimization and illogic.

    And his latest screeds are hardly edifying either…

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Sorry, the FULL comment – click to see the rest!

  8. Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    What is this appalling salvo of hipster artillery signify? What is the ironic editor trying to say?

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      *does*. I was only being ironic, but some editors don’t grok this.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Oh and I should add, I really would like to see an explanation of the P value stuff that Steven Pinker pointed out.

    This, BTW further impressed me at Pinker’s statistical prowess – oh dear, am I making Pinker a god? He does have that perfect coiffure and….nah, give me a break I don’t believe in gods! 😀

    • TJR
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Assume that your null hypothesis is true. This is usually “no change”, “no difference” or “not guilty”.

      Calculate the probability of observing exactly what you did, or something even less compatible with the null hypotheses, when the null hypothesis is true.

      This probability is the p value.

      If it is “small” then either
      a) you got a really unusual sample
      b) the null hypothesis is not in fact true

      p < 0.05 is conventionally used in many areas as the definition of "small" but this is just historical accident.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        LOL even I know how the the P value is derived, it’s that Pinker caught Gee out on misrepresenting what P really means, as Jerry summarizes, “The “probability” is not, as Gee implies, the probability that you’re right, but the probability that you look right even when you’re not”

        • TJR
          Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          Exactly the point I’m making. The explanation of how it is derived *is* the explanation of what it means.

        • Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          The point is that usually you don’t know the relative probabilities of the null hypothesis being true versus your hypothesis being true.

          Therefore “the prob of getting this result *if* the null is true” is not the same as “the probability that my hypothesis is wrong, that the null is true, and that this result is a fluke”.

          For example were the null (a priori) vastly more probable than your hypothesis, then “null plus fluke” is a more likely explanation of your result than “my hypothesis”.

          See http://xkcd.com/1132/ for a cartoon making the point.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

            Yes! That’s it.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            Or reversely, if alternatives are excluded as unlikely, the probability _is_ that you are right. It’s like adaptationism, pattern matching, et cetera: just don’t assume it eagerly.

            The cartoon is, IMO, saying more on humor (and Gee) since both statistics are strawmanned. But it helps as it points out absurd interpretations. [xqcd has a high likelihood of helping.]

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted September 21, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

            Do you suppose that, in some future millenium, the techgurus will be handing down tattered copies of XKCD printouts and sects will be doing battle over their interpretation of the Word of Randall? 😉

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted September 21, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

              It would make for a cool novel or better still, graphic novel! 🙂

              • Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

                Or, even better still more, an animated GIF:

                http://xkcd.com/1190/

                Cheers,

                b&

                P.S. Be sure to click through…. b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

                That was cool. The night scene with the Milky Way was the best part!

              • Posted September 22, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                Now, a bit of background…the original updated at a rate of a single frame an hour, and that scene with the Milky Way was how somebody was able to figure out the time the story was set….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                Awesome.

  10. FloM
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Hang on, so Gee claims to have been ironic yet he says your ‘rant’ proves his point. If he was indeed being ironic, shouldn’t his actual point be the opposite of what he asserts is being proven?
    And how does his self-proclaimed humour (alarm bells go up here, people who tell you they are funny rarely are) square with his wielding the Nazi club?
    It all makes little sense, except that some is crying for attention.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Maybe his claim now that Jerry’s rant proves his point is super-ironic. We all apparently have dangerously underdeveloped senses of humor, since none of us seems to be getting the joke.

  11. TJR
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    The “how our faith was betrayed” para is clearly intended to be read as ironic hyperbole, but the next few paras then show that he sort of means it as well. Or something.

    Maybe Jerry took one or two bits more literally than they were intended, but the whole piece was so cack-handed that its hardly a surprise.

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I sort of got the sense when I read his piece that he was trying to make a reasonable point about how science is treated in the media and public perception, like revelations handed down by gods, and how treating science like received wisdom from the gods sets everyone up for disillusionment. It’s reasonable, moreover, to say that scientists should resist the temptation to adopt this role. But, on the whole, it was just so very unclear that you had to consider the alternate possibility that he really was advocating a kind of wooly headed relativism, that science is just another religion with no better information to offer you about the world than your local priest. Given the books he’s written, I sort of thought it would turn out to be the former, but reading the piece itself I was left with a strong feeling that the point was the latter.

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    It’s a bit contradictory to claim irony and at the same time say that you prove his point.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      G > 0.05

      G = Gee

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Or, in this case, ironic.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        I meant “and, in” and so forth.

        I agree with your assessment of course!

  13. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    When Henry Gee says he is an atheist how do we know he is not being ironic?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      When Henry Gee says he is an atheist how do we know he is not being ironic?

      Errrr, he had his hand on the Bible at the time?
      Damn – I just disabused myself of a popular misconception of the meaning of “testimony” and “testify”. Pity ; that could have been amusing.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        You mean, to “testify” you need to have your hand on his testes (or “under his thigh”)?

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          Is that why he is so adamant on Dawkins’s readers having “no penis”, when the likelihood is that half of them haven’t?

          Gee comes off as a recurring misogynist, doesn’t he.

          • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

            Misogynist? Absolutely not. That word should be reserved for those who criticize charges of misogyny leveled by privileged white women attending pre-paid conferences in 5-star hotels — by contrasting it with widespread misogyny inherent in Islam. There’s a big difference.

            • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

              whoops… forgot the close tag. /irony

            • Marta
              Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              For the love of god, if we could not have this thread derail, it would be ever so wonderful.

        • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Isn’t that the erroneous popular etymology?

          Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words has this:

          The Latin word for a witness was testis, which derives from an Indo-European word for the number three. That was because the Romans regarded a witness as what we would call a trusted third party, one who stands aside from the dispute and can tell it how it really was. The Romans did also use the word testis in a figurative way to mean testicle. The idea seems to have been that a testicle was a witness to a man’s virility. And that’s the whole story of the connection.

          One reason for the confusion may be that swearing on the testicles is recorded in the Bible. The practice is mentioned in the Old Testament, though the King James’ version bowdlerised the reference in Genesis to “grasping the thigh”. But there seems to be no evidence that the Romans — a long way away and in another era — used a similar method. In any case, the Biblical reference implies that the person is swearing on the testicles of the king, not on their own..

          /@

          • Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

            I had read somewhere that the Romans would hold their testes when they were swearing to (‘testifying’) what they believed to be true. I just looked into that in the wonderful internet, and am finding indications that they did not do that particular gesture. But the etymological origin linking ‘testes’ with ‘testify’ seems to be sound.

            • Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, because testify (testificari) is what a witness (testis) did.

              /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                ….ponders how to use this surreptitiously.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

          Well, that was the derivation that I’d heard, but investigating it puts the root as testis, meaning “bear witness.” Which itself may be derived from testes “bearing witness” to the bearer’s fertility.
          But that a messier story than the superficially attractive story of a Roman testifying while holding his testes. What a pity that it doesn’t seem to be true.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted September 27, 2013 at 4:52 am | Permalink

            …. As Ant says above.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      The switch to atheism, if real, must be pretty recent. Back in 2009 Henry Gee still thought atheism was untenable scientifically (emphasis original). That was a LONG time after the publication of John D. Barrow’s Impossibility.

      http://network.nature.com/groups/skepticism/forum/topics/4007?page=1#reply-10965

      But again, perhaps there’s something wrong with my grokking skills, and HG was being subtly ironic and had his tongue in his cheek when replying to Angela.

      • Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        In March 2009, apparently:

        Why I Am Now An Atheist
        Posted on 28 March 2009 by cromercrox

        My faith has never been particularly strong, and in recent years has been set rather in opposition to what I saw (and still see) as the unedifying spectacle of Dawkins-style fundamentalist militancy and its failure to understand the nature of faith and, more seriously, science.

        In the past few days and weeks, however, I have been thinking along rather different lines: not about the existence of God as such, but of the nature of God in terms of the properties that worshippers appear to believe He must have to qualify as a deity, rather than just a bloke who is just bigger or cleverer than anyone else. In other words, there must be clear qualitative differences between Man and God and, as far as I can see, they boil down to two things – immortality and omniscience.

        Note long after the comment you linked to.

        But his argument is, I think, that while atheism is untenable scientifically, it can be justified philosophically.

        /@

        • Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

          Silly Gee. Epicurus gave us slam-dunk evidential proof of no gods centuries before the invention of Christianity. His experiment demonstrating the lack of gods is far more overwhelming than any other nonexistence demonstration in all of science, leaving even such famous examples as Michelson-Morley in the dust.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted September 22, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

          @Ant. Not[e] long after the comment you linked to.

          So either his worldview changed radically during that month or he was a theist scientifically but an atheist philosophically (a rare chameleon species!). Oh, wait, there is a further possibility: one of the posts, or both, were written with humorous/ironic intent and shopuld not be taken at face value.

          • Posted September 22, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

            At this point, Gee has set himself up in such a way that nobody’s going to be taking anything he writes very seriously.

            b&

  14. Ian Liberman
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    As a Facebook friend of Henry Gee , a man who I have respected as an author and a scientist I can attest to the fact that he is indeed an atheist but not a fan of Dawkins. He is a strong supporter of Israel and has strong Jewish identity which may lead to the reason behind some of his remarks. I found the article to be confusing and fragmented. I did not find it comprehensible enough to say it was a direct attack on science because of it`s lack of coherence. So when Henry stated it was irony and humor, I will take him at his word. These are two characteristics that are embodied in the eye of the beholder and obviously, they did not come off that well but for me it explains some of my difficulty in understanding the article and not everyone missed his point; I read some responses from atheist scientists who seemed to comprehend his perspective. I just know that over the last year and half, I have read articulate, interesting and prolific writing from him. Jerry , I am a big fan of your posts and your contributions to science and atheism but your attack ,in my opinion, was overkill after his explanation. I stand by Henry Gee`s clarifications in regards to his state of perception while writing this.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t have engaged in what you call “overkill” if Gee had explained exactly WHAT was ironic about it! Also, as at least one commenter has noted, he can’t claim irony at the same time that he claims that my behavior exactly proves the (non-ironic) point he was making. I’m not going to accept Gee’s explanation unless he lays out exactly what was the humor and irony that supposedly infused the article.

      And if you want to defend Gee’s view that his persecution is analogous to those Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, go ahead. Personally, I find the analogy sickening.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      It seems to me that he wasn’t being “ironic”, he was using hyperbole (and yes, a degree of hyperbole can be whimsical and humorous).

      But hyperbole is very different from irony, in that when being hyperbolic you do actually mean your argument (you are just exaggerating for effect).

      It thus seems to me that Gee did actually mean to attack science in the way that many of us have interpreted it, and thus that Jerry’s responses are fair.

      • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Well, that’s ironic! (Or is it? I’m so confused now… )

        /@

        • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          I’m sure you’re being ironic in your protestation of confusion…but, for those who actually are confused, the easy way to remember what irony actually is is to think of the Mob hit man who goes by the name, “Cuddles.”

          Cheers,

          b&

          • gillt
            Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

            Unless “Cuddles” was his birth name it would be merely coincidental. What’s ironic and what’s coincidental are also often confused. The quotes imply it was an appellation, however.

            • Posted September 22, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

              “Cuddles” is a practically nonexistent birth name.

              Other examples would include the nightclub bouncer known as “Tiny,” or the 400-pound linebacker known as “Slim.”

              Cheers,

              b&

    • hank_says
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      If a vast majority of people misunderstand somebody in more or less the same way, is it their fault?

      Henry Gee’s clarifications (cunningly disguised as insults of others’ intelligence and perceptoion) don’t seem to clarify very much except for his personal offence at being criticised. And I must say that if any friend of mine compared himself to a Shoa victim in response to copping some criticism, I doubt very much that I’d be over here defending them.

  15. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Again, wow! Gee claims that his critics lack “subtlety”? He is about as subtle as a Mack truck.

    • Bob Murray
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Due to the whiff of it all. I prefer: as subtle as an Elephant farting into a biscuit tin!

  16. Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I’m not terribly impressed with Nature any more. Take this recent example:

    http://www.nature.com/news/did-a-hyper-black-hole-spawn-the-universe-1.13743

    It’s about the level of reporting I’d expect from Faux. There’s all the breathlessly bad descriptions of the Big Bang as an explosion, for starters…and then they hype the new idea as being poised to overturn the Big Bang Theory…and, ohbytheway, the new idea isn’t consistent with observations, whereas the Big Bang Theory is….

    I hate to write it, but Henry Gee’s skills at irony would seem to be a close match for his skills at scientific editing. That hyper black bang story should have been an RPE for both author and editor.

    Cheers,

    b&

  17. gbjames
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Sub

  18. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    No, grok can’t be outdated!

    [Well, it can and it is. But at least the term is alive. And it tickles your funny bone.]

    But – oh, Gee! Now I don’t know if I should promote my response from earlier. Maybe just the criticism ex the non-atheist Barrow:

    “When one is accused of making a strawman it isn’t a useful response to simply claim that critics are misguided in their criticism.

    And here specifically, what kind of strawman is it? Humor or critic [sic]?

    Moreover it isn’t useful to level yet another strawman. You call TGD “childish” which secular people mostly find it is not but going to the facts.

    This is a M.O. that you share with religious people, whether you are factually an atheist or not.”

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      I actually used “grok” in a professional communication the day before yesterday – precisely for its quaint effect. “Quaint”… yeah, that’s the ticket.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        =)

  19. Penny Gee
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Jerry, you have gone far enough in launching this tirade against Dr Gee. The internet brings the worst out in people and I ask you to stop hounding a good and decent man. You might not agree with everything Dr Gee says, that’s fine, but to keep this rant against him going I think is out of order. He is neither sexist or anti-science and it is of nobody’s business if Dr Gee is religious or not, or if he is Jewish or Christian, and I would like to politely ask that this personal attack stops now, thank you.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Speaking of the internet bringing out the worst in people:

      “There’s no monopoly on thuggish, boorish, unthinking, ill-reasoned stupidity, Angela. Scientists are as prone to it as anyone else. Some of these people are powerless, acne-ridden little numpties who follow Richard Dawkins because it makes them feel big and powerful. Rather as if they had joined the Hitler Youth. What they don’t understand is that they have misunderstood the very nature of science, but they’re too thick to realize that. Creationists deserve our pity – but the Dawkins Youth, who are equally stupid, can be treated more roughly. Just tell them to piss off and leave you alone, and it’s not your fault if they have no girlfriend, no penis and no life.”

      –Henry Gee

    • Marta
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Dr. Gee isn’t being personally attacked. He’s being rebutted.

      Dr. Gee’s history on the internet (at least the comments of his I’ve read at the links provided in Jerry’s original post) is one of apparent incivility and rudeness to those who disagree with him.

      Let him come here, himself, and engage with the argument.

      Finally, I find it deeply unpleasant that you are here asking for mercy for him, and this does not reflect well on Dr. Gee. I’m confident that he did not ask you to do this, and in this regard, you have done him no favor.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

        I suspect Penny as a sock puppet. If not, then maybe a sick puppet (as spell checker tried to post for me).

    • hank_says
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Henry Gee said some intemperate and careless things (some might say malicious). Those things have been disagreed with. That does not constitute a personal attack.

      If Dr Gee thinks he’s been misunderstood so badly, one would think the proper course of action would be to clarify his point and not engage in persecution fantasies and insult the intelligence of those who dared to disagree with him.

      I’m struggling to see anything ironic in the original piece and anything from subsequent comments that change my opinion of Dr Gee as someone very thin-skinned who nonetheless appears to enjoy insulting others.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      “it is of nobody’s business if Dr Gee is religious or not, or if he is Jewish or Christian, ”

      … except insofar as he claimed religious feelings which may have influenced his attack on science, and he played the ‘Jewish victim’ card at one point…

      if he hadn’t mentioned those things nobody else would have either.

  20. johnpieret
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    There was no irony or humor evident in his piece

    Are you deaf?

    … It’s always a “he”, by the way – received wisdom finds no place for female scientists, unless they also happen to be young, photogenic and, preferably, present television programmes.

    … As my learned colleague Dr Sylvia McLain, who is both a scientist and a person of the opposite sex …

    … The problem is that we (not the royal we, but the great unwashed lay public …

    … (This is the great unwashed “we” again.) …

    … And when we looked closely, “we” (oh, I give up) …

    And there is much more. Only a person who takes himself and his ideas way to seriously (for their worth) could fail to see the irony and humor (justified or not) in Gee’s piece.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Again, he wasn’t using irony (“The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning”), he was being whimsical and exaggerating for effect. Which means he did actually mean the argument he presented.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Okay, you’ve shown us the attempts at humor. Now please show us the irony.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Yes, I caught those few failed attempts at humor. But where is the irony? Are you suggesting that his whole piece was a joke, or did he mean what he said? Surely the latter is the case. And, by the way, if he was being “ironic,” how come he claims that my response just substantiates his claims. What WERE those claims–if he was being ironic.

      By the way, no personal dissing of the host is allowed here; those are the rules, you rude person.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      You appear to have lower standards of humour than most of us here… 

      /@

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      John Pieret, overall sophist (cf Sandwalk discussions for frequent use of sophistry and few attempts of facts – he’s a lawyer IIRC), overall accommodationist (ibid), overall rude person (cf here, his standard opening against non-accommodationists is personal attack) – so far no personal dissing – now believes himself grokking humor!?

      Oy.

      [That last was possibly personal. I’m provoked by the ironic contrast.]

  21. pacopicopiedra
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Many of Gee’s comments in that 2008 Pharyngula thread are enlightening. He doesn’t like Dawkins because he thinks he’s an anti-Semite. And also this, “GD says some very tired things about the cruelty of the ‘Jewish’ god ‘Yahweh’. Well, if Dawkins had done any research at all, he’d find that most Jews who’ve thought about the matter (and indeed, have done so back to the days of Maimonides) think about Yahweh in very much the same way that he does. But he didn’t, and so the picture he paints of Judaism is of a lot of unreconstructed bronze-age hicks, indulging in what someone here called a ‘wankfest’. And that’s the picture you buy into, thus justifying and inflating your prior prejudices.”
    It seems like Jewishness (as opposed to Judaism) is the driving force behind most of his positions.

    • Horriban
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      What a bizarre attack: “Even religious people know god’s an asshole, stop writing about it”

      • Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. It’s like responding to the boy who just said out loud that the Emperor is naked, “Hush! Of course he’s naked. We all know that. Now shut up with that nonsense and be sure to praise his cloak. Don’t you think it’s an especially fine one he’s picked out for himself today?

        Cheers,

        b&

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Of course the primary reason that Dawkins went after the “God of the Old Testament” in TGD is that very large numbers of American Christians regard that book and that god with reverence. I really don’t see Dawkins’s remarks as anti-Semitic.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      If relating facts about a religion is ‘tired’, it has likely more to do with that said religion hasn’t changed in 2000 years than it has with that the criticism is unchanged.

      Or is the ‘New’ Atheism same as the old?*

      *My take is that the society has changed, better communications so more overview, better societies so secularism has proved itself _and_ religiousness has gone down, and atheism is nowadays factually supported.

      So it is a blend of same, differences and new. The core is Old but the heart is New.

  22. Galactor
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Irony, sarcasm and jesting. It really isn’t what the editor of a serious journal should be purveying.

    Is it?

  23. Cliff Melick
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The editor of a scientific journal who doesn’t understand statistical probability IS ironic!

  24. Hempenstein
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Henry seems to be spinning around in circles. Like the tigers in Little Black Sambo. Perhaps that is from whence his surname derives?

    (I hope someone out there understands that reference.)

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Sssshhh!!

      For years, I thought that was how ghee was actually made, and was unsurprised to learn that tigers were a threatened species.

      Also, I always really wanted a pair of slippers with crimson soles and crimson linings, but decided not to study for the priesthood.

      • Lianne Byram
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        I just wanted the pancakes.

  25. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Gee wasn’t being ironic; he was merely being arch — way over-the-top arch, if you ask me. The ironic plays off of the literal. That hardly converts all writing lacking sincerity into irony.

  26. scurry1963
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    “I don’t believe for a minute that Gee was being ironic or humorous.”

    Hard to argue against that position, senses of humour being matters of personal taste, but to me (who also has the advantage of knowing Henry) it was obvious from the first paragraph that there was a light-hearted, humorous tone to the piece. Certainly it was provocative but I believe your reaction to it to be out of all proportion.

    I guess we could debate our different beliefs at length but then people might accuse us of having a religious rather than a scientific discussion. Strong feelings can enter into both domains…

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Re your claim that his tone was light-hearted, is this light-hearted, too?

      There’s no monopoly on thuggish, boorish, unthinking, ill-reasoned stupidity, Angela. Scientists are as prone to it as anyone else. Some of these people are powerless, acne-ridden little numpties who follow Richard Dawkins because it makes them feel big and powerful. Rather as if they had joined the Hitler Youth. What they don’t understand is that they have misunderstood the very nature of science, but they’re too thick to realize that. Creationists deserve our pity – but the Dawkins Youth, who are equally stupid, can be treated more roughly. Just tell them to piss off and leave you alone, and it’s not your fault if they have no girlfriend, no penis and no life.

      Gee made a strong statement about the flaws of scientists, and I had a strong response. I do not consider my reaction disproportionate, nor did I attack the man instead of his ideas (until, that is, he started analogizing himself with the victims of the Nazis). In fact, I asked readers to stop speculating about what mental disturbances could have produced this column. I’m sorry, but this is the internet, and if someone comes out with a strong attack on science–one that I see as injurious and misguided–I have every right to mount a strong response.

      And, by the way, look at the comments by Gee on Dawkins’s followers. Did you go after your friend for that kind of rabid and unwarranted attack? After all, I didn’t accuse Dr. Gee of having acne, being a numpty, or having a small penis!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        I guess I’m a Dawkins follower. Wish I could remember a time when I might have had acne. I’m sure I’ve been a numpty at times (had to Google that though). As for the other – umm that’s kinda personal, y’know? What I find way more offensive is the suggestion I (as a Dawkinsite) might be part of some mindless organised unthinkingly obedient group. I rarely obey anybody. If Mr Gee thinks there is such a group he should point it out. I think it’s a numpty sort of suggestion.

      • scurry1963
        Posted September 22, 2013 at 4:18 am | Permalink

        This is indeed the internet and I am all for free and robust debate but, as I’m sure you’re well aware, debate on the internet all too easily runs out of control — something that is less common than in normal conversation. You’re right that Gee has said some unpleasant things in the past — I don’t defend them and am not his minder. He gets on my wick too on occasion — we’ve often argued. But as you concede, you have now joined in with the name-calling and it serves no good. And I still think you have mis-read and mis-judged the piece. But of course it is your right to do so.

        • Posted September 22, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

          Excuse me, but where did I call Dr. Gee names,as opposed to criticizing his ideas? And really, have I misjudged the piece? How is that, exactly? Did he or did he not say that scientists see their discipline as a priesthood and don’t brook dissent. Or was that some kind of joke that I (and other readers) missed?

          Perhaps it is YOU who have misjudged the piece, and it is your right to do so. But I adamantly deny having made ad hominem arguments or called Gee any names. In fact, it is Gee himself who has engaged in ad hominems. Did I say he had acne, or a small penis? It’s really amusing that his relatives and friends come over here and tell me that I’m insulting him when I haven’t.

          Go criticize Dr. Gee on his site before you start kvetching about the generally civilized debate that goes on here. This discussion was not out of control and if you don’t like the tone here, I really urge you to go elsewhere.

    • hank_says
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Of course, if you know Gee, his “light-hearted humour” was obvious.

      But these things were written for a global audience. One of the keys to effective humour/irony/satire is to make it clear to more than just your friends what the joke is.

      If a prerequisite for getting a joke is being the comedian’s friend, then he’s not a very good comedian.

      If you write a joke and only 1% of people think it’s funny, do you blame the other 99% for not getting it or do you change how you write jokes?

      • scurry1963
        Posted September 22, 2013 at 4:20 am | Permalink

        Some subtlety was lost perhaps in my phrasing — all too easy in blog thread — but I didn’t mean to imply that you had to know Henry to get his sense of humour. I don’t think my advantage was make or break; and in any case his sense of fun is evident in much of his other blogging.

        • hank_says
          Posted September 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

          Before I read this I hadn’t read anything by Gee, so I had no prior lens through which to view it. It came off as unreasonably snarky and his defences (and prior commentary, as revealed at this site and elsewhere) didn’t do a single thing to change my mind. It’s not the first time Gee’s been “misunderstood” and lashed out at others for the heinous crime of “not getting him”.

          The point stands; if the only people who “get” you are people who already know what you’re like, you’re failing as a communicator, comedian, whatever it is you’re trying to be. Someone who writes for public consumption should take greater pains to actually be what he, especially after being criticised, purports to be.

  27. Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the fundamental irony here is that Gee needs a much better editor than himself for his own writing.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      I’ll bet you a cup of coffee or other suitable beverage that, at some point in the future, Gee’s tenure at Nature will either be seen as an embarrassment or the beginning of the end.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Not to dis Gee, but his picture on Wikipedia just makes me imagine him as Comic Book Guy (also a Tolkienist) with a Ph.D.: “Coyne’s was the worst critique ever!”

      /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        Funny how when you see someone it isn’t always what you expect. I imagined him more like the male equivalent of Cruella de Vil after his replies here. He actually looks like a friendly sort in this picture. I’m hoping that really he is and this was just a slip.

  28. Marta
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Interestingly, Gee gets a good hiding in the comments at his Guardian piece.

    I say interesting because he gets the same here at WEIT, to say nothing of the welts he got for the comments he wrote in 2008 at Pharyngula.

    Which has got me curios about whether Gee’s actually capable of writing opinions that don’t have his readers going after him with metaphorical pitchforks.

    Of course, it isn’t that Gee’s a fuckwit so much as it is that all those pitchfork wielders are apparently Nazis because if they weren’t they’d leave him alone to believe whatever cretinous thing he likes. Or something.

  29. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    One hallmark of right-wingers is an inability to understand the difference between “censor” and “censure”. In this it is Gee who resembles the creationists, not Jerry C.

  30. Shadow of a Doubt
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that Gee, bring a newbie or at least layman to most of the internet, is just calling “Poe! Poe! I’m a poe!” after shouting something controversial and finding that no one agrees with him. It’s sad to see someone on the staff of such a respected publication sink so low. Whether he likes Dawkins or not is no excuse for his ongoing unprofessional behavior.

  31. Penny Gee
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Marta, I was not asking for mercy, just that this frenzy would stop. You are all intelligent and educated people and this is no way to behave. There is criticism and then there is a personal vendetta, which this has turned out to be. When a decent man is mocked for his views, his writing, for his faith and for no apparent reason at times on here, I am appalled by what I am reading. Dr Gee did not ask me to defend him or to post any comments. NewEnglandBob I am neither a ‘sock or sick puppet’. By attacking me you are just showing yourselves up to be cowardly and vindictive like Jerry, who I have reported for his behaviour on this blog. Imagine if this was your father or your brother or your son, how could you talk to anyone like this?

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Here comes the ‘tone’ complaint. It happens when one has no valid argument at all. Go ahead, Penny and ignore all the nastiness and bullshit from Gee and say how mean we are. I laugh out loud at you.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Did you report your husband to the Internet Police when he said people who read Dawkins’ books were acne-ridden and penis-less and a little bit like the Hitler Youth and should be treated “roughly”?

      Or is it hilarious when he makes ad hominem remarks, because of Reasons?

      Sorry, but this seems to be incredibly thin-skinned defense of a man who is happy to dish it, but can’t take it at all when his opinions get criticized. Nowhere on this website did either the author or any of the commenters get near to the levels of hyperbole and polemic that your husband seems quite comfortable to use when it suits him.

    • Marta
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Alrighty, then. Let no one say later that I at least did not paint a big red “x” on this mountain into which you are determined to fly.

      Who are you?

      Dr. Gee is, indeed, being criticized for his views, his writing, his faith. He is being criticized because he took a very large stick (his opinion piece at the Guardian, solicited from him because of his position as editor of Nature) and whacked a hornet’s nest with it: a vocal community of scientists, atheists and who knows who else, who weren’t in the mood to put up with the whacking. Now that he has been stung, and stung good, he–and now, you–are complaining that the internet is being mean to him. This will not do.

      It is utterly preposterous for you to claim that Dr. Gee is being “mocked for no apparent reason”, when it is perfectly obvious that he is being mocked for the dullness and malice of his writing.

      • Scott_In_OH
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        +1, especially for the last paragraph.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      “Reported”?

      Are both Gee and Penny Gee determined to dig deeper holes?

      Meanwhile, out in the fresh air, it seems to me Jerry’s and Pinker’s criticism goes unanswered.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, reported to whom? You may want to look into how Jerry doesn’t allow people to misbehave on his site and how he asked people to refrain from invective about him on the original post.

        I really don’t understand the personal attack line of defence you are pursuing here especially considering the level of invective Gee spews in his response.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I’d happily provide either of my adult children with as robust criticism if they wrote flapdoodle like Gee’s.

      /@

      • Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, even if Jerry wrote such flapdoodle, I’m sure many here wouldn’t refrain from such robust criticism. I know I wouldn’t.

        Then again, we’d all be flabbergasted were Jerry to fart such flapdoodle as Gee has.

        Cheers,

        b&

    • hank_says
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      There is a significant difference between a harsh critique of somebody’s words or behaviour and a personal attack.

      Neither Dr Gee nor yourself are being personally attacked; you are both being criticised for things you have said and attitudes you have displayed.

      If my father or brother (or son, should my daughter even have a brother) were to say such thoughtless things and behave in a similarly problematic manner, I would have no hesitation in letting them know how I felt – indeed, my own father would do the very same if I was the one making thoughtless and poorly-expressed public statements or comparing myself to a victim of Nazi genocide.

      I advise you to tilt at other windmills.

  32. ConradZaar
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Gee’s appeal to humour and irony is foolish. Although there is certainly a humorous tone to parts of his article, this fact is irrelevant. Either Gee means what he says in his article or he doesn’t; either he really thinks that scientists have set themselves up as a modern priesthood that does not understand the necessary doubt that undergirds their own procedures, or else he does not really think that. But with his feeble appeals to “irony” he tries to have it both ways. His responses might be paraphrased: “I didn’t really mean it AND your reaction proves that I was right”. Or else (and here I think I may be closer to the mark) he might be paraphrased: “I was being just sincere enough to make a substantive point, and just ironic enough that no one is allowed to criticize me”.

    Analogizing his opponents’ criticisms to “fatwas” is a disgusting thing to say. I remember fans of Alain de Botton throwing that word around in the same way when Botton’s book “Religion for Atheists” was panned by Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and others. Saying that a religious death sentence is no different from a strongly-worded critique seems to me a sign of either deep stupidity or malicious dishonesty.

    Or maybe it’s that “humour and irony” again.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      Fatwa does not mean death sentence. It’s just a ruling on a point of Islamic law.

  33. Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Gee has dug his hole so deep that he will never be able to climb out. How sad!

  34. John Taylor
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    My brother sent me this:

    http://isisthescientist.com/2010/01/21/the_panel_on_civility_and_comp/#comments

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      “While I did not witness it personally, I am told that the berating, spittle, raised voice, and multiple f-bombs continued after the session ended.”

      Gee demonstrating “civility” in accordance with Wilkin’s policy of broad tolerance!?

      Well, I never!

      I’m sure it explains something. I’m not just sure what.

  35. Thaddeus Aid
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it Gee, oh the high one of Nature, that is taking offence to criticism?

  36. Kiwi Dave
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    After re-reading Gee’s article, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt; he really was going after science reporting rather than science, and trying to be humorous and ironic by way of hyperbole. The key phrase is in paragraph seven – “None of this (ie, scientists’ doubts and qualifications) gets through to the news report”, if I’ve remembered the sentence correctly.

    Unfortunately, Gee’s intention is seriously undermined by the misleading headline and following sentence, both almost certainly written by an editor rather than Gee, some questionable facts, and the rather ponderous attempts at humour. He would have been clearer and much shorter if he had eschewed humour, hyperbole and irony.

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      I could see that point trying to break through on the first reading. It really was a toss up to me whether he was saying that science (cumulatively) has no more to tell us about the nature of the world than the local priest, a completely absurd point, or whether he was saying that the public, and media, have set scientists up like priests delivering infallible messages from god and this causes all manner of disillusionment and confusion (especially when applied to the atomic unit of science, a single paper, which is a very fallible unit). The latter is a valid point, and it’s even a valid point that some scientists, being human and all, can get sucked into this same sense of self-agrandizement. But the wording of the piece so closely matched the kind of wording we are all used to from religious apologists, the “science is just another religion” trope of those who, having nothing positive to support their view try to at least bring the opposition down to their sorry level, that it is hard to imagine anyone being surprised that it would be taken as just another example of the type. And if it were an example of the “science is just another religion” trope it’d be especially pernicious coming, as it does, from a Nature editor.

      Given his apparently fairly un-wooish science writing, though, I’d almost be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Among close friends I used to frequently use hyperbole and counterfactuals as a kind of wink-and-nod humor. I found it really amusing, but I learned through painful experience that random people I meet are not my close friends and can’t tell when I’m making a wild exaggeration or counterfactual statement for humorous effect and when I’m just saying something absurd or offensive (I really got the message when I got married). I find it alarming when someone misunderstands me in this way and have, over time, become much more sensitive to how attempted humor can be misperceived, and when it is I can’t rest until I am able to clarify my actual views. What makes me hesitant to think Gee had the reasonable point in mind instead of the science is no better than religion point is his apparent unwillingness to actually clarify what he actually meant. OK, you tried to be too cute and people took it wrong. It happens. No big deal. So what do you do? Do you get hostile at them for misunderstanding you or do you try to clarify? It shouldn’t be that hard for him to clarify what points he was trying to make. I’d think he could do it in tw**ts even if he wanted to keep it short. That he took time to respond to the criticism without clarify his actual views just makes me wonder what his game is.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted September 21, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

        Yes – he did himself no favours at all with his responses to the various criticisms.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      Creationism, climate change denialism, and quack medicine are all going strong, and are treated by journalists with all too much undue deference. And yet the biggest concern of the editor of Nature is too much respect for science?

  37. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    late sub.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 22, 2013 at 1:02 am | Permalink

      same here

  38. hank_says
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Henry Gee:

    I am not asking to be liked…

    Well, that explains why you appear to do your level best to be as unlikeable as possible.

    That wouldn’t really be too much of a problem, though, if your various whinings were reasonable. They’re not, so you just come off like … well, like an obnoxious whiner.

  39. kelskye
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    A scientist has issued a fatwa against Henry Gee? Does that mean he’s going to have to have armed guards 24/7 and go into hiding? Are we to fear for the premises and employees of Nature?

    • gluonspring
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Nah, when a scientist issues a fatwa against you it means we are going to be twice as punctilious as normal whenever you open your mouth. It’s brutal and inhumane and should be outlawed, but it is our way.

  40. Jeff Johnson
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    This whole incident brings to mind a much larger matter.

    The matter of how peer review works, and of the benefits to society if research were more openly available and not hidden behind the gates of commerce and profit.

    Talk about a priest of science! Who are more like priests in science than those with faulty grasps of science but who are nonetheless powerful gatekeepers profiting off the work of others, when that work should be free to all who are interested, curious, thoughtful, and willing to put the work in to read and understand. The priests of scientific publishing are rent seekers living parasitically off real scientists.

    • Posted September 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Methinks you just won an Internets or three.

      The time will come, and sooner rather than later, when the age of the science journal publishing house will be seen as a dark age when a very few gatekeepers profited disproportionately for a service best performed through other means. At best, they’ll be forgiven for using such quaint old tools.

      b&

      • Posted September 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        That time has probably already come in several disciplines. In theoretical physics, anything remotely interesting usually finds its way to the relevant arXiv before it is ever submitted to a traditional journal (to the extent that many journals are happy if the author just sends then the arXiv link to her paper). Most people in theoretical computer science put full versions of their papers online for free. The arXiv effect is also quite prominent in Mathematics, and, in any case, prestigious Mathematics journals like Annals cost a minute fraction of most other journals.

      • Kevin
        Posted September 23, 2013 at 4:16 am | Permalink

        I have seen plenty of scientists (mostly theorists) dissapointed with their ability to publish in high index journals, though they always manage to publish somewhere. Peer reviewed publishing is still better than the arXive. Put another way the arXive is a mirror for the publishing world so it only makes the peer reviewed process that much stronger.

        If ideas work, then people notice. Applied physics does not see disproportionate profitting of ideas, maybe other fields do. I know many of my theorist friends think the whole of the publishing community hates them.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted September 23, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

          Nobody wants to do away with peer review, but the current system for paying for it is not the only possible model, just as patent monopolies are not the only way to pay for drug research. These are system in which a small band of pirates exact tribute from the general public. They aren’t productive systems designed for maximal public benefit.

          Most research is already publicly funded. Universities pay for access to peer reviewed journals already. They could pay into a non-profit system with public subsidies (part of the cost of research grants) that adjudicates the peer review process and then makes the results freely avaialable to the public. The existing private system is parasitical based on restricting access to those who pay. This hinders progress. The money spent on journals is not stimulating research. It’s not providing scientists with incentives to do more or better work. It is a waste that benefits a very small number of people.

  41. First Approximation
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    If a large number of readers seem unable to get what the author is trying to say then perhaps the fault isn’t with the readers….

  42. jh
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I reread the Gee post. I find it incredibly sarcastic and condescending, and manifestly false in the claim that scientists/journalists in general speak about science as the gospel truth. I find examples of that few and far between. Is the criticism actually a veiled expression of jealously towards gnu atheism; since one cannot speak with that kind of clarity, denounce it as dogmatic arrogance – dare I say scientism.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 23, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      Maybe Gee is distraught that atheism is irreconcilably aligned to science. It is as if he is now battling the dawning compreshension that there is no choice in the matter: to be truly scientific one cannot wander in woo. Those days are over.

      Maybe Gee should pick up a guitar and compose a rock song, then maybe he can see that there are still ways to make difference in the world and not necessarily be scientific or atheistic. It is as though he has abandoned his own imagination for what the universe has to offer.

  43. jh
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I always find it interesting also that Gee like many scientists and non-scientists have an intense dislike of Richard Dawkins. I’ve read almost everything book he has written and have seen many of his presentations on youtube, etc. He’s often described as being pugnacious, dogmatic and angry, but to me he rarely comes across like that at all. Strident and sharp at times yes. For example, I’ve seen several examples of Dawkins interactions with religious fundamentalists, and without exception he comes across as a patient person who is willing to engage with the person as a human being, even if he has to listen to their frustrating ignorance. He certainly has a lot more patience than I would. I can think of a lot of atheists who are way more pugnacious, such as the late great Christopher Hitchens and I don’t have a problem with that. So I don’t get where this hatred or animus arises from. It doesn’t come about to reading or listening to him. I think he is pretty mild mannered almost all of the time. It can’t be just disagreements with his scientific or atheistic views, it seems to be personal with many for some irrational reason.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 22, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

      I suspect it’s because he’s effective. He puts his point of view clearly and cogently, and the opposition (rightly) see him as a dangerous opponent. If he was less good at what he does they wouldn’t dislike him so much 😉

      • pacopicopiedra
        Posted September 22, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        In Gee’s case it is because Dawkins once spoke out in support of the Palestinians and was critical of Israel. He pretty much admits this in the 2008 Pharyngula thread linked to above. I suspect in many other cases jealousy is a big part of it.

  44. Stephen Barnard
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Gee’s conception of irony is unintentionally ironic.

  45. Posted September 22, 2013 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    The evidence suggests that H Gee is taking tentative steps back to his maker. There is no way that it was ironic, or any kind of joke. It is the testimony of someone trying to find the doorway into the promised land. This much we know ; the flinty road back to the bosom of the baby jebus is a tough road to take. As that great philosopher, Glen Campbell once sang, in his seminal work, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’….
    “There’s gonna be a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizin”

    And that road involves public shame and humiliation as the pilgrim is obliged to turn the world upon its head and deny all kinds of things apparent to us all, such as ‘reality’. It means abandoning the ability to process experiential information, and it means to devalue the accumulated observations of life that this world is indifferent to the pilgrim’s journey. And that there is no destination. Just pie in the sky, and hopes for a resurrection promised in a rambling book stuffed with Bronze Age wisdom, in which none of those wise old prophets suspected that the earth went round the sun, or that sneezing puss was the result of the invasion of common bacteria and viruses. A simpler, kinder world in which baby girls were burnt alive and sacrificed into the post-holes of new buildings, and where old women with hairy chins, and cats, were burned alive for ruining the crops; and where children were to be seen as the sexual playthings of powerful purple-clad men of the gods.
    And so the pilgrim throws away his life for a place in an imaginary authority-structure, in hoping to find a place where billions spend eternity worshipping and praising a psychopathic god who orders capricious death for those not attending temple on a Sunday, or wearing the wrong hat, or mixing wool and cotton in his clothes, or eating oysters or bacon.
    My Human-Sub-Set Theory proposes an answer to all that madness; that around 30% of humankind come into adolescence with a collection of false assumptions concerning the nature of the world, that leads, by logic, to the belief in terrible gods.
    Of course, those who live with religious cults see it differently. They have no choice. Thy are convinced of the existence of the great demons of the sky. And they resent intrusion into their delusions, just as those trapped in OCD, or body dysmorphia syndrome, or paranoia, or scientology, Mormonism or evangelism, resent the intrusions of those who try to rescue them.

    • Posted September 23, 2013 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      … and the best part is the martyrdom (or, as we now call it, ‘victimisation’) To join the ranks of Jeanne D’Arc, or bishops Latimer, Cranmer and Ridley, whose fat- soaked bodies went to warm the walls of Balliol Coll. Oxon in 1555-6. And, of course, the box-cutter martyrs who flew planes of women and children into the Twin Towers. Ah, the sweet taste of martyrdom, when everybody is against you, and only you know the path to eternity, nobly deflecting the derision of former colleagues, betraying everything in which you once professed to believe, such as science, and common sense; insulting the world as you go, and sobbing that others should return those insults. But the promise of paradise at the end of the road is like buying Florida swampland unseen, and as the martyr draws his last breath, and pushes open the gates to eternity, he sees nothing but a sign sticking out of the water, that read, ‘Danger. Swamp Gas!’ That is the religion that H Gee supposes opposes science; Swamp-Gas.

  46. Posted September 22, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    My advisor is a strong supporter of open-access journals anyway, so I doubt I’ll be needing any Nature action in the near future.

  47. Posted September 22, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Gee should be censured for this abuse of history to try and make a (non-)point. My horror at the use of Gee’s equating scientists who appreciate / support / like another scientist’s work with them “joining the Hitler Youth” is troubling beyond the Holocaust. It also equates scientists with young people who either willingly or were forced to participate in the National Socialist regime and the Holocaust. Gee is not only suggesting that these scholars are ready to participate in genocide; he is stating that they are not even adults with critical thinking skills – and thus more easily manipulated into following a leader through conviction, blind obedience, and/or coercion to begin a program of genocide.

    One (IMO key) problem with the abuse of such analogies is that there is no place to go after the use of such inflammatory language. To use such extreme metaphors is to put a stop to any meaningful dialogue. It is not irony, or sarcasm, or even humorous. Just because it might be pop-culture chic for people to make comparisons with people whom they do not like with Nazis, fascists, or any of their affiliated organizations is extremely ignorant – and yet surely he has had an undergrad class at least on European history? or perhaps read a book on the topic? – and ethically wrong. I would not only flunk any of my students who made such statements in any written forum; I would send them on for ethics violations and/or a recommendation of counseling. If Gee managed to miss out on basic history, I would be happy to send him a reading list.
    -Benita Blessing, University of Vienna (Austria)

  48. Dominic
    Posted September 23, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Oh dear.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 23, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      I went to hear Richard Dawkins talk about his memoirs;
      I used to have acne;
      I do not have a girlfriend;
      ‘size is not important’!

      I am a fully paid-up member of the atheist mafia. I think religion is NOT a good thing, although there have been interesting cultural artifacts that have come from it – music, architecture, art. Those things might have happened anyway but we cannot re-run the clock so who knows? I think religion is over indulged by societies. I do not ‘worship’ science but I think it is a vast improvement on religion. People do cultivate ‘cults’ in whatever they do so I suppose the sciences (plural) are not immune, but we have to be aware of that in every aspect of life.

  49. harrync
    Posted September 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I thought Gee was trying to set himself up for a Templeton prize; guess not.


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  2. […] titled, “Nature editor Henry Gee goes all anti-science” and follow up to that, “Henry Gee replies.” Steven Pinker also took Gee to task on twitter.  In contrast, Peter Coles was rather […]

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