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Three New Hosts for Point of Inquiry
Posted: 02 February 2010 10:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Wow, I have to say I’m really surprised by the degree of negativity regarding Mooney. I would have thought this community more than most would be tolerant of diverse points of view, yet the issue of how aggressively to challenge religion seems to turn us into a snarling pack of partisans. Granted he’s been critical of Dawkin’s and the more publically assertive atheist figures, and his dustup with PZ Myers wasn’t pretty, but he’s a prominent and cogent public voice on the issue of anti-science and anti-intellectuals in America, and IMHO those issues are at least as important to CFI’s mission as the issue of secularism. Besidesd, he hasn’t done a single show yet, so perhaps a bit of open-mindedness might be in order here?

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Posted: 02 February 2010 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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It may be difficult, Brennen, to enjoy listening to Mooney just because the issues he discusses are important to CFI’s mission. It is probably not a good sign when it needs to be explained why we should like something or somebody. Eat your broccoli, son, it is good for you.  wink

[ Edited: 02 February 2010 05:10 PM by George ]
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Posted: 02 February 2010 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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It isn’t a case of being intolerant of diverse viewpoints, it is a case of Mooney cowriting a book that completely missed the heart of the issue he meant to address. Mooney blames scientists for not kissing up to religious leaders when the problem with science education is at least partially due to religious leaders demonizing science. Since publishing Unscientific America Mooney has engaged in disingenuous tactics to defend his misguided conclusions. As Russell Blackford stated (thanks for the link WCG, and welcome) how can an interviewee trust Mooney given his actions in the past year?

As I said, I’ll keep my subscription to PoI, but I’ll not cut Mooney any slack if he keeps promoting his ill-conceived agenda. I hope he proves us doubters wrong. Mooney did some excellent work before Unscientific America, so there is that chance.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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mckenzievmd - 02 February 2010 10:08 AM

Besidesd, he hasn’t done a single show yet, so perhaps a bit of open-mindedness might be in order here?

Can we at least voice our internal struggle to that end without being cast as failures?

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Posted: 02 February 2010 11:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Granted he’s been critical of Dawkin’s and the more publically assertive atheist figures, and his dustup with PZ Myers wasn’t pretty, but…

There’s much more to it than that. He has systematically ignored objections and questions for month after month after month, all the while simply repeating the original scapegoating claims in national media outlets, complete with naming names. He talks about something called “the New Atheist Noise Machine.” He makes wild claims about causation (new atheism will cause people to hate science) without ever answering questions about how he knows what he claims to know, what his evidence is, what the causal mechanism might be, etc etc etc. He’s not someone with an honest open disagreement, he’s someone with an agenda, which he simply defends like a bull.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Well, I have to withold judgement on Unscientific America since it’s on my list but I haven’t read it yet. I also have seen only bits and pieces of the subsequent debate, so I’ll accept the characterization of it that y’all are giving provisionally.

Of course, I suspect attitudes towards Mooney as host of POI are probably highly correlated with one’s opinion’s on the underlying question of when, how, and how much to court or attack religious believers. I read the opinion WCG linked to above, and what it came down to was that Mooney was accused of telling someone not to say something (when what he actually said was that saying it was strategically misguided, which is very different), and then he was blasted for citing some reasons to mute criticism of mainstream religions which Blackford thought were stupid. Blackford then went on to argue that POI should be a safe place for people to express his point of view.

Obviously, as someone less interested in battling with religion and more interested in promoting science and skepticism generally, I’m more sympathetic to Mooney’s argument, so I don’t see it as automatically inappropriate to have someone as host of POI who happens to feel global and aggressive criticism of religion might be a mistake, strategically if not on stronger grounds. And I think it is an excellent idea for CFI to focus as much on the promotion of science, skepticism, and critical thinking in general as it does on challenging religious belief, so perhaps Mooney represents that portion of the agenda, with te other hosts there to address the other areas. Would this necessarily be a bad thing? I personally find the focus on religion excessive at times, but I try to accept the argument that secularism has room for a variety of viewpoints, so I stay out of thread arguing with believers and focus on the issues I’m interested in. Mooney in the past has represented the case for those issues strongly and eloquently, so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Of course, if there are particular examples of his behavior those of you opposed to him feel are representative of why he shouldn;t be a host, I’ll certainly consider them.

And I will concede that if he truly has been as hostile and uncivil in his criticism as he has been caracterized as being, that might make him a poor choice. I haven’t perceived his remarks in that light myself, though as I said I’ve only seen a limited selection of them. I have, however, seen relatively civil and benign criticisms charaterized as hostile (such as the implication of censorship in Blackkford’s essay), so I have a few reservations about the fairness of some reports.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Sure - but there are reasonable ways of making that case and then there are the other kind. Mooney’s way has not been reasonable.

For example: he kicked off this stage of the disagreement with a post in which he said Jerry Coyne had made some kind of strategic mistake by writing what he did in a long review in The New Republic of books by Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson. The review was a serious, careful, detailed, well-argued piece - it was not a bit of political sloganeering. I asked Mooney what he would have had Coyne do differently - and he never replied. I asked him again, and then again - always thinking that surely he would answer, surely he wasn’t so unreasonable as just to stonewall. But this was 8 months ago, and he has never answered. Other people have asked too, and he has never answered - yet he goes right on blackguarding Jerry Coyne in public.

Sorry, but I don’t think that’s remotely reasonable, and I think it’s shocking in someone invited to host Point of Inquiry.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Note - this is a re-post of a comment at Russell Blackford’s blog, addressed to CFI’s Ron Lindsay. It seems pertinent here.

Mr. Lindsay -

I appreciate that you’re taking the time to read these blog posts and comments. Russell Blackford and Ophelia Benson are among the most prominent critics of some of Chris Mooney’s work - and they’ve done a great job articulating why his appointment to POI is troubling - but make no mistake, they are not a few lone voices.

This has nothing to do with dogma, and I’m disappointed you used that rhetorical device. The negative reaction to Chris Mooney is based on months of evidence . I won’t rehash what Russell and Ophelia have already laid out, but you only have to read the paper/pixel trail to see that their (and our) complaints are justified. Chris Mooney has been misleading, unjustifiably provocative, inaccurate, and, in my opinion, downright dishonest in his characterization of those he considers “strident new atheists.” He is very much a “Company Man,” if you will: intellectual rigor takes a backseat if it interferes with his agenda or brand image.

You ask,

“Did D.J. Grothe have an established record as a fair, objective host and skilled interviewer prior to the launch of POI?”

That’s not apposite. What DJ Grothe did not have is a long, public record of accusing prominent scientists, critics, and writers of being “strident,” or part of “The New Atheist Noise Machine.” Grothe did not have a record of ignoring - repeatedly, for months on end - quite reasonable, specific, non-tendentious questions. Grothe did not have a record of banning said questioners from his blog, no justification offered. In short, Grothe had none of the baggage Mooney does.

Mr. Linday, you eloquently defended CFI’s decision to engage in Blasphemy Day, even against Paul Kurtz, who was less than pleasant about it, especially to you. You argued correctly that blasphemy, and organized instances of it, are an essential part of the societal critique of religion and part of public discourse. I believe that you believe that, but I ask you to consider whether Chris Mooney really does. Yes, that’s quite relevant when you’re talking about the host of a show devoted to free inquiry .

Again, you need only read the links provided to see that none of us are jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

As President of CFI, I know your job is not to second-guess staff decisions publicly, and it is your job to defend your organization’s decisions. While few would expect you to publicly denounce Mooney’s appointment - whatever your personal feelings may be - please consider this issue again before you decide to unqalifiedly defend it. Even if you only mull it privately without saying anything.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Here’s one (slightly tweaked) that I just posted at Metamagician, because it provides some of the background.

Here, at any rate, is the post in which Chris kicked off the…discussion.

‘Civility and the new atheists’

[Barbara Forrest in a conference talk] challenged the latest secularist to start a ruckus–Jerry Coyne, who I’ve criticized before. In a recent New Republic book review, Coyne took on Kenneth Miller and Karl Giberson, two scientists who reconcile science and religion in their own lives. Basically, Forrest’s point was that while Coyne may be right that there’s no good reason to believe in the supernatural, he’s very misguided about strategy. Especially when we have the religious right to worry about, why is he criticizing people like Miller and Giberson for their attempts to reconcile modern science and religion?

The short answer is that Coyne was doing that because The New Republic commissioned him to write a review of books by Miller and Giberson, and he wrote it. He didn’t “take on” Miller and Giberson, as Chris so tendentiously put it; he wrote a review of books that they wrote. He’s allowed to do that - yet Chris writes about it as if it were wholly illegitimate. I pointed that out at the time, and a good many times later, and never got an answer. I think I had a perfectly reasonable point, and I think Chris should have answered - not least because his claim as it stands is simply bizarre. Tactics are not usually uppermost in the mind of people writing book reviews for magazines like TNR - or at least they shouldn’t be. It’s not taken for granted by everyone that tactics are the whole point. If it were, who would bother to read such reviews?

Forrest then gave three reasons that secularists should not alienate religious moderates:
1. Etiquette. Or as Forrest put it, “be nice.” Religion is a very private matter, and given that liberal religionists support church-state separation, we really have no business questioning their personal way of making meaning of the world. After all, they are not trying to force it on anybody else.”

But that is inane - because what Jerry Coyne was reviewing was a pair of books about religion - so it wasn’t a very private matter! It wasn’t a private matter at all; it was entirely and deliberately public. I said that at the time, too, but got no reply.

And on it went from there. As far as I could ever tell, Chris was chastizing Jerry Coyne for writing a (good, serious, thoughtful) book review in The New Republic on the grounds that it messed with the private matter of religion as published in two books (with funding from the Templeton Foundation). At that rate, nobody would be able to write anything except purely anodyne head-pats. As far as I could tell, Chris was setting a grotesquely high standard for “civility” and publicly rebuking people who didn’t meet it. I thought then and I think now that that is illiberal in the extreme, and inimical to free inquiry

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Posted: 02 February 2010 06:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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A simple remark:
I think it’s a shame that JREF and CFI couldn’t have both been behind a DJ Grothe show. Either to spread the cost among two (non-profit) organizations or to expand the capabilities (video?) all the while assured of a professional and established host.

All the “what was CFI thinking?!” drama is a bit much. I can’t say I’m a fan of Mooney, but I’m willing to wait to hear the results. I can always unsubscribe with a click of a button, and if I hear something egregious - send an e-mail.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 06:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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I read the piece you quote from above (it’s replicated on Blackford’s blog linked to above) and I just don’t see it the way you do. I suspect you’re interpreting it through the lens of your opinion of Mooney, justified or not, and I submit it does not seem to someone who hasn’t already made up their mind about Mooney nearly as inflammatory as you suggest. To me it seems a perfectly civil criticism of the strategic and public relations merit of the position articulated in the book review, which was itself quite similarly critical of the position taken by the authors. What I see here is a reaction against Mooney’s appointment to host POI that is being justified in terms of outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion. It’s fine to disagree with his stance on the issue, but I don’t see how that makes him unfit to be a host of POI.

As I’ve said before, the argument has also been made that his public statements have been rude, dishonest or disingenuous, and unfair and if that’s true it might support the reaction against him. But calling someone “strident” is hardly a vicioous ad hominem attack, and suggesting atheists might make bettter political headway on other issues if they were more accomodatting to moderate believers is hardly the kind of heresy he’s been branded with. Not that anyone needs to justify anything to me, of course, but I’d like to see some evidence of something more nepharious than just suggesting “strident atheism” was counterproductive. Otherwise, the criticisms do seem very much as Ron Lindsay characterized them-based primarily on ideological or dogmatic shibboleths.

[ Edited: 02 February 2010 07:00 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 02 February 2010 07:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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mckenzievmd - 02 February 2010 06:46 PM

Not that anyone needs to justify anything to me, of course, but I’d like to see some evidence of something more nepharious than just suggesting “strident atheism” was counterproductive. Otherwise, the criticisms do seem very much as Ron Lindsay characterized them-based primarily on ideological or dogmatic shibboleths.

Then you haven’t read all the actual objections. Either that, or you’re not taking into account the many months of nonsense when reasonable people tried to get Chris to answer reasonable queries, to no avail. That’s fine, but don’t characterize others as acting out of ideological commitments or dogma. That’s unfair, and it’s rubbish. Is that the preferred CFI insult, by the way? Accusing those who disagree of being beholden to “dogma?” That’s the second time in a day that a CFI spokesman has leveled that accusation at someone who questions Chris Mooney’s appointment. Please don’t do that. It’s starting to sound an awful lot like name-calling, and you’d bristle and be the first to cry foul if I, or Ophelia, or Russell Blackford accused you of holding on to sacred cows because you don’t agree with us (notice how I didn’t accuse you of that, even though it’s tempting to snark back?).

Disguising insults - and it certainly is an insult to accuse your interlocutors of being ideologues - in skeptic lingo doesn’t make them not insults. I think we deserve a little more consideration than that.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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McKenzie, with all due respect I don’t think you followed the brouhaha that erupted when Mooney published Unscientific America. In the book excerpts I read Mooney blamed scientists for the sorry state of science education in America, and specifically attacked (as opposed to criticized) PZ Myers and others outspoken atheists for having the temerity to tell religious people that their outdated, anti-intellectual views were a problem. Mooney then denied saying things he said in public forums, and deleted comments from his forum quoting him saying the things he said. He also went on Daily Kos and misrepresented what PZ Myers and others had written about him, then cried foul when anyone called him out on it.

I have not read Unscientific America and do not intend to do so. I have read enough excerpts and reviews by people I trust and admire to see that Mooney completely missed the obvious in his book, that we need better science education starting in elementary school and that religious zealots are framing how science is taught. Instead, Mooney blamed scientists for acting like scientists instead of getting out of their labs to concentrate on public outreach. When confronted with opposing views Mooney lashed out with personal attacks.

What we are saying here in opposition to Mooney is not dogma or ideology on our part. We are merely recalling Mooney’s actions. These actions were documented as they unfolded, and Mooney’s action in each case was to not address the criticisms, but to dig further and further into a hole he made and try to suppress as much criticism as possible. This is understandable. His only alternative was to admit that the conclusions he reached in his book are wrong and will not serve to increase the American public’s awareness of and appreciation for science.

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Posted: 02 February 2010 08:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Joshua,

What I’ve read and am responding to is what has been said in this thread and on Blackford’s blog, so if there are other specific reasoned objections you think I should take note of please let me know where to find them. I find the rest of your response a bit overwrought, and it has exactly the same tone of exaggerated vehemence to moderate criticism that I am concerned may characterize the reation to Mooney’s appointment. I’ve said nothing “snarky.” All I’ve said is that the examples presented here of the things he’s supposedly said which are so outrageous don’t strike me as outrageous at all, which creates the impression that the objections are more ideological than based on Mooney’s actions. I’ve also acknowledged that I don’t have a detailed familiarity with the online debates that have gone on, nor have I read the book, so I may very well be wrong, and I’ll be happy to admit it if I see something that is truly outrageous or contrary to the spirit and mission of CFI. Until them, I am entitled to view with skepticism the rather heated objections to Mooney’s apppointment and to ask questions about the motivation for them. It is not intended as an insult, but it is also not inappropriate to ask whether the ostensible motive for the reaction is in fact the true motive. It is a standard element of skepticism to ask the same question of anyone making a strong claim, and suggesting it is wrong of me to do so doesn’t seem all that different from the sort of thing you’re accusing Mooney of doing.

Also, please note that I am in NO WAY a “representative” of CFI. I am just a volunteer moderator, and I have no contact with stafff or management at CFI, no influence over policy, and no authority whatsoever apart from monitoring conduct on the forum to make sure it is consistent wit the posted rules. Anything I say here is purely my own opinion and shouldn’t bee seen as “official” in any other way.

fotobits,

I appreciate, as I’ve said, that there are things about the history of this situation I don’t know, so I’m trying to remain open-minded about Mooney and whether or not he is an appropriate choice for the job. I respect the work he did with regard to Republican War on Science. And as I’ve said before, I don’t find the stuff he’s been quoted here and in Blackford’s blog as saying at all outrageous or inconsistent with CFI’s mission, and while I don’t agree with all of it I also don’t see it as reasonable grounds to argue that CFI should fire him before he’s even sttarted the job or to give up on POI. I certainly have no reason based on your participation in the forum to think you are unreasonable or ideologically closed-minded, so I respect that you have sound reasons to object to his appointment. I just haven’t seen those reasons yet myself. And I most certainly have seen examples before of the unfortunate divide between “angry atheists” and “sniveling accomodationists,” as the two sides sometimes label each other, in which the secular community acts quite ideological and sectarian. Suggestions by people that a saavy approach to shaping public opinion might have merit sometimes and that aggressive and headline grabbing rhetoric about religion might sometimes backfire seem to generate a lot of anger, so my concerns that this may be playing a role here are based on past examples of this problem within the secular movement.

As alwas, I respect your opinion, so I’m willing to look at the evidence if you have a link or someplace to direct me. It just seems that conduct sufficient to justify excluding him from this role at CFI ought to be pretty egregious, and again what people are saying they object to doesn’t strike me as all that terrible.

[ Edited: 02 February 2010 08:33 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 02 February 2010 11:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I’ll repeat what I said over at Metamagician. Why didn’t CFI keep DJ as host? He offered to do so. He made the show into a popular, quality podcast. Why not continue with him? Just because he’s now president of the JREF? The choice of Mooney aside, that is just a deeply idiotic reason to replace DJ. It’s stupid and petty and bad for the movement. I know JREF and CFI have a history. But seriously now, grow up.

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