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Another topic idea: Chris Mooney (does not) owe the world an apology
Posted: 15 July 2010 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 08:28 AM

Paul,

The policies for discussion here are clearly set out in the Forum Rules, which you can read for yourself.

I have read them, repeatedly.  I still don’t know what they amount to in practice.

As I explicitly stated earlier in the thread, no rule violation have been deemed to have occurred, and the the only official moderator comment (which are always made in blue type to distinguish them from personal participation in discussion by individual moderators and administrators) was that made by Occam in post#69

It was that official comment that really made me wonder what the real rules are here.  Here it is, verbatim and in full:

Please.  The originator of the thread said drop it.  Let’s do so.  I don’t want to be a prig and delete all the posts after Darron’s final one, I will do so if people keep stiring the bucket.

The moderator said that the originator of the thread said drop it, and said to do so.

That sounds very much like some offense has been committed, and a warning that official action will likely be taken if it continues.

I do not understand what offense has been committed, or close to committed.  I asked for clarification and got none.

I don’t know what authority an original poster has to decide when a subject should be dropped, such that a moderator would step and threaten to enforce that authority.

I don’t know what counts as “stirring the bucket,” as opposed to validly persisting in a line of questioning.

Up to a point, if someone asks a good question and it goes unanswered, it is valid for them to repeat it, with elaborations to show why it really is a good question.  It is also valid for other people to ask the same or different questions and make their own arguments as to why they deserve an answer.

Up to a point, it’s valid for questioners to be persistent, and to justify that persistence.

It’s also valid to take persistent silence in the face of persistent good questioning as a likely bad sign.

The forum rules offer no guidance as to how to judge when a questioner is being too persistent, or when the person being questioned is persisting in being evasive, in a way that shouldn’t automatically be respected.

Please clarify.

I also do not know what counts as “hostile tone,” aside from saying serious things that might turn out to be unflattering.

Likewise, I do not know what counts as not being in CFI’s interests.  I myself believe it’s in CFI’s interest that Chris Mooney not be evasive, and that it is in CFI’s interest that moderators respect that opinion, and not condone evasiveness.

It is not at all clear to me why the moderator would step in and criticize the questioners, rather than politely suggesting that Chris Mooney answer some seemingly good questions.

If the problem is really with the tone, and not the substance, I’d like to know what counts as “tone” and how to avoid tonal hostility while engaging in substantive critical inquiry.  (Seriously.  I would appreciate particular examples of what has crossed the line, aside from it being clear that some people don’t respect Mooney’s actions as much as some others do.  Do keep in mind that Chris himself has criticized quite a number of people rather harshly, and if he’s merely wrong, saying so may necessarily sound “harsh” as well.)

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Posted: 15 July 2010 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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we have suggested that the thread might be best abandoned since it seems to serve no purpose other than continuing to badger Chris Mooney for explanations and apologies he clearly does not intend to give here.

Okay…maybe that gets to the key question here. Why doesn’t he? What prevents him from just explaining things people have asked about? Why is that such an onerous request?

I think this question is all the more pressing because (as has already been noted) this is the Center for Inquiry. CM is one of the hosts of a podcast called Point of Inquiry. Chris Mooney is in some ways actually opposed to free inquiry. This is odd.

I’ve been trying to get CM to explain some things for more than a year; I believe that is the main reason he is so hostile to me, hostile enough to ban me from commenting on his blog. But it didn’t start out with hostility - it started with inquiry. I thought CM would answer my questions, and for a long time I thought he’d just overlooked them, so I asked them again.

It started with this post.
So I’ll just say what I didn’t understand at the time, and still don’t, and hence asked questions about. It’s relevant because it is all about free inquiry.

Here is the central claim in CM’s post:

Forrest eloquently defended this view in the first half of her talk; but in the second, she also 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?

A post a few days later expanded on the point.

I guess you could say I’ve changed my view; certainly I’ve changed my emphasis. A lot more reading in philosophy and history has moved me toward a more accomodationist position. So has simple pragmatism; I don’t see what is to be gained by flailing indiscriminately against religion, other than a continuation of the culture wars. That’s especially so when those who flail against religion do so in philosophically or historically unsophisticated ways, or (worse still) with the bile, negativity, and even occasional intolerance that I have encountered in such discussions.


My questions were to the effect that Coyne did that because The New Republic commissioned him to write a review of those two books, and it was a thoughtful, well-argued, and civil review, so what exactly would CM have Coyne do differently?

And he never answered. He has still never explained what he thinks Jerry Coyne should have done differently, and by extension, what everyone should do differently.

It’s an important question, especially for people who are fans of inquiry. It’s an important question for anyone who reviews books about religion or religion-and-science or related subjects. I, for instance, wrote a review of such a book for the April/May edition of Free Inquiry. I thought it was a pretty bad book, and I said so. If I had been following Chris Mooney’s advice, presumably I would have done something else - but even if I had wanted to follow his advice, I wouldn’t have known exactly what it was. Pretend I thought the book was good? Refuse the invitation to review it in case I thought it was bad? Decide not to review it after all once I had read it, because I thought it was bad? I don’t know.

Mooney could answer that question right now. He could answer it here, where he is among friends - he works for CFI. It really is a question worth answering. He wants us - us “new” atheists - to be more civil, but he won’t explain exactly what he means by that. I don’t see why not. I also think the unwillingness is an uncomfortable fit with support for free inquiry.

[ Edited: 15 July 2010 10:51 AM by Ophelia Benson ]
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Posted: 15 July 2010 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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Oh and I should add - I would of course ask CM these questions on his blog rather than here if I could, but 1) he has banned me from commenting there, and 2) he never once answered me there, but (being an optimist) I think he might do so here.

I think CM owes it to CFI not to stonewall his critics. I think CM makes CFI look bad if he stonewalls his critics here and the moderators back him up. That way of proceeding is obviously not compatible with free inquiry.

So here is the question again:

What should Jerry Coyne have done differently about that review of books by Miller and Giberson? What should we all do differently? What should I have done when Norm Allen asked me to review Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct? What is the overall rule here?

[ Edited: 15 July 2010 10:52 AM by Ophelia Benson ]
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Posted: 15 July 2010 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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Paul,

After discussion among the moderators and administrators, the decision was made not to delete posts or otherwise intervene in this thread. There was a concern among the moderators that many posts in this thread are concerned with purely personal, not substantive, differences, and that there has been a great deal of unproductive repetition rather than interactive discussion (c.f. Rules Sections 3f and 3h). However the consensus was that no rules have been violated and there is no intention to intervene at this time.

On a personal, rather than official note, events and conflicts that have taken place on Chris Mooney’s blog are of interest to only a small fraction of the membership here that have been involved in them, and as I’ve said before I don’t accept that they are significantly relevant to his work on POI. As frustrating as it is not to be able to continue or resolve those conflicts on that forum, exporting them here strikes me somewhat self-serving and several members, not only moderators, have expressed a distaste for the continuance of the topic. That is not a reason for official action, which is why none has been taken, however I would ask that as a new member here you consider the fact that you are joining a pre-existing community and out of simple politeness you might be sensitive to the wishes of other members that you not make this a proxy battlefield for conflicts arising elsewhere.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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Mr McKenzie,

Can you explain why this is not relevant to CM’s work at POI?

I think, as I said, that CM’s non-responsiveness to critics, and sometimes outright banning of them, is in strong tension with support for the liberal value of free inquiry. Can you explain why that’s wrong?

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Posted: 15 July 2010 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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To put it another way - I strongly think you should stop trying to discourage this discussion, because it is indeed substantive, and in a way that really should interest anyone who has any interest at all in inquiry. The issue under debate is whether or not there are pragmatic reasons for self-censorship on issues to do with religion, and science-and-religion, and whether the pragmatic reasons for self-censorship outweigh the reasons for open and free inquiry.

How could that not be relevant and of interest to a discussion board at the Center for Inquiry?

Ultimately, it isn’t personal at all. It really isn’t. I care about the issues. I don’t care about CM except insofar as he represents a certain line of thought, and actions that stem from that. That’s not personal at all, and it’s not private; it’s very public. It’s about how we should all argue and write and discuss. Surely you can’t think that’s not relevant to the Center for Inquiry.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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Ophelia,

Again, speaking personally and not officially, I haven’t heard you in this thread really discussing the issue of “whether or not there are pragmatic reasons for self-censorship on issues to do with religion, and science-and-religion, and whether the pragmatic reasons for self-censorship outweigh the reasons for open and free inquiry.” Instead I have heard you demanding Chris account to you, to your satisfaction, for not answering your questions and for having banned you from his web site, and then arguing that if he does not he somehow casts a shadow on the reputation of CFI. I have started a separate thread on the issue of the compatibility of religion and science, which is touching on the issues of strategy, and I am happy to discuss those there or here, as I agree they are important and interesting issues. I have asked previously in this thread for those subjects to be discussed, but they have been ignored in favor of arguments about who said or did what elsewhere. I am not interested in a debate with you, or between Mooney and you, about whether his or your behavior was appropriate on his blog, which is what this thread has largely been about and why I have criticized it as I have.

As for the true substantive issue, how about this as a starting point for discussion? You seem sometimes to have an inconsistent rubric for what kinds of criticism are acceptable, driven it seems by a sense that the only critique which should be viewed as out of bounds is that which suggests there are things it is unwise, impolite, or unkind to say. You vehemently disagree with people criticizing anti-religious rhetoric as too harsh or strategically unwise, even to the point of using loaded terms like “self-censorship” to describe any restraint exercised in an attempt to be congenial or seek common ground with ideological opponents. Yet when I criticize the tone and content of this discussion, you see it as an inappropriate “discouraging” of discussion that calls into question my commitment to freedom of inquiry. Is it the case that criticism, however harsh, is ok when leveled at opponents but not at allies? Or is it that any criticism is fair except if it suggests limiting the form or content of what is said?

It reminds me a little of the right-wing notion of “political correctness,” which always struck me as a PR strategy designed to make any challenge to abusive or threatening language or any attempt to require some civility and rationality in debate seem like some sinister form of censorship. Is the argument that polemical language may be strategically unwise, or even just juvenile and anti-rationalist really tantamount to a call for censorship? Could it not be argued that the kind of rhetoric Mooney is criticizing is itself a kind that limits or stifles true inquiry and debate by excessively emotionalizing the discussion?

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Posted: 15 July 2010 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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Discussion on this forum of Mooney’s handling of this issue (banning of specific commenters on his blog, refusing to answer questions) became appropriate at the moment he became a CFI employee (for reasons I can’t begin to fathom). CFI took on his liabilities as well as his assets as an employee. Live with it. We have to.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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I am not involved in any conflict between Ophelia Benson and Chris Mooney except as an observer/reader; I don’t know either of them personally; I have commented multiple times on ‘Butterflies & Wheels’ and once or twice at ‘The Intersection,’ and to my knowledge I am not banned from further comments at either blog. I am a regular listener to the POI podcast and a paid subscriber to Free Inquiry. I don’t believe in god, but I do believe in free and open inquiry. I keep a blog called ‘faith in honest doubt.’ I like movies, running, science, and poetry.

Having established those bona fides (such as they are), I would very much like to see Chris Mooney—or really anyone who has a solid purchase on it—answer the following question (it might sound familiar): 

What should Jerry Coyne have done differently about that review of books by Miller and Giberson? What should we in the freethought community all do differently in those and comparable circumstances? What should Ophelia Benson have done when Norm Allen asked her to review Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct? What is the overall rule here? Please be specific and concrete.

In the spirit of open inquiry, I look forward to seeing the answer here soon.

Thank you.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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danceswithanxiety - 15 July 2010 12:34 PM

I would very much like to see Chris Mooney—or really anyone who has a solid purchase on it—answer the following question (it might sound familiar): 

What should Jerry Coyne have done differently about that review of books by Miller and Giberson? What should we in the freethought community all do differently in those and comparable circumstances? What should Ophelia Benson have done when Norm Allen asked her to review Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct? What is the overall rule here? Please be specific and concrete.

I think this is an especially reasonable request given that Mooney presents himself as a communications expert, and routinely complains about the lack of use of communications principles in this area.  Many of those who have criticized Chris in the past (and I am one of those) have argued that he fails to present any sort of specific positive program for science communications, and when questioned offers no detailed, “down in the weeds” suggestions, instead presenting vague generalities.  In other words, these questions speak directly to Mooney’s claimed expertise.

I know this request for answers may come off as a “gotcha” attempt, but I honestly think that any sort of concrete suggestions about these issues would go a long way toward clarifying the positive approach that science communicators are supposed to take, and might actually serve to cool some tempers and elevate future discussion.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 01:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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Mr. McKenzie, this quote from your last note is something that perhaps needs to be highlighted and discussed.

It reminds me a little of the right-wing notion of “political correctness,” which always struck me as a PR strategy designed to make any challenge to abusive or threatening language or any attempt to require some civility and rationality in debate seem like some sinister form of censorship. Is the argument that polemical language may be strategically unwise, or even just juvenile and anti-rationalist really tantamount to a call for censorship? Could it not be argued that the kind of rhetoric Mooney is criticizing is itself a kind that limits or stifles true inquiry and debate by excessively emotionalizing the discussion?

This took me a bit by suprise. I’m a new commenter here, and came across this thread. It interests me, since when Chris Mooney was first taken on at POI I seriously wondered about the wisdom of this choice, since he had already blotted his copybook rather badly with some members of the thoughtful secularist community, like Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, etc.

To put this into the context of ‘political correctness’ is a real surprise, since, arguably, what Chris Mooney has been doing is to use canons of political correctness of his own, and yet has failed to explain them to anyone’s satisfaction. Yet he has used those canons to condemn, in very public ways, some of the prominent secularists and atheists of our time, like Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers. The whole idea of ‘framing’ is really a way of imposing PC conditions on secular discourse.

You ask: “Could it not be argued that the kind of rhetoric Mooney is criticizing is itself a kind that limits or stifles true inquiry and debate by excessively emotionalizing the discussion?” Well, yes, it could, but Mooney has yet to show that the kinds of framing he objects to do in fact stifle true inquiry and debate in this way. In fact, quite to the contrary, it is Mooney himself who has undertaken the project of stifling the inquiry and debate that you are rightly concerned about. In order to clarify things that remain unclear for a lot of people, Chris Mooney must, at some point, clarify his point, and explain what the implications of his technique of framing are, and what he means by tone. So far it seems simply a way of accommodating to people whose views are diamentrically opposed to those who are interested in CFI. And yet, I should have thought, the purpose of CFI is to challenge the kinds of views whose expression garners almost instant respect by their being framed in religious ways. Can Chris explain how secularists are to frame criticisms of religious views in such a way that they will at once seem like criticisms, and yet will help to address real disagreements with the religious, whose discussion is of the first importance to the project of free thoguht? So far, other than speaking about his conversion to pragmatism, he is given us scant indication of how this is to be done.

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Posted: 15 July 2010 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 10:48 AM

Paul,

After discussion among the moderators and administrators, the decision was made not to delete posts or otherwise intervene in this thread. There was a concern among the moderators that many posts in this thread are concerned with purely personal, not substantive, differences, and that there has been a great deal of unproductive repetition rather than interactive discussion (c.f. Rules Sections 3f and 3h). However the consensus was that no rules have been violated and there is no intention to intervene at this time.

I disagree with the idea that the issues here are particularly personal, or not substantive.

Mooney is a public figure of the secularist movement, and within the movement.

He puts a whole lot of effort into criticizing other public figures of the movement in ways that strike me as no more “personal.”
That is in fact his major identity as a secular atheist pundit for secularist consumption—-he specifically criticizes atheist leaders’ personas, their allegedly bad influence on lesser figures such as me and other scientists, and their allegedly disastrous effect on the public image of the movement.

I can’t think of anybody in the movement about whom this objection that it’s “too personal” is less valid.  That’s what Chris Mooney is largely about.

For Mooney, “style” is the major substantive issue.  He’s all about image and strategy, and holding other people’s feet to the fire for their perceived misdeeds—-and, it often seems, personality flaws.  IMHO, it would be ridiculous to exempt him from the kind of scrutiny and criticism he constantly applies to others, not just on his blog, but in print and other media appearances. (For which he often lists his affiliation with CFI and PoI, if I’m not mistaken.  Either way, the connection is there.)

On a personal, rather than official note, events and conflicts that have taken place on Chris Mooney’s blog are of interest to only a small fraction of the membership here that have been involved in them, [...]

I disagree.  The undending conflict between Chris and his partisans and the New Atheists is one of the issues of enduring interest among a nontrivial percentage of CFI members.  (I can list some just from my local CFI happy hour.)

I don’t accept that they are significantly relevant to his work on POI.

I don’t accept that they aren’t.  Given Chris’s quite clearly and frequently stated views about strategy, how could they possibly not affect, for example, his selection of guests and his treatment of them on PoI—-for example, inviting Elaine Ecklund on, but not inviting Ophelia Benson back.

It is simply not plausible that the things that make him “personally” different from some other possible hosts would not affect his performance as host.  What those views are and how they affect his control of a CFI media outlet give CFI members not only the right but very good reason to discuss Chris Mooney’s so-called “personal” issues.

As frustrating as it is not to be able to continue or resolve those conflicts on that forum, exporting them here strikes me somewhat self-serving and several members, not only moderators, have expressed a distaste for the continuance of the topic.

Please clarify that, a lot.  My understanding of free inquiry is that some people being bored with a subject or finding it distasteful is not generally considered grounds for expecting other people to stop discussing it.  That is one reason why I asked you—-twice—-if Darron, as the original poster, gets special consideration in deciding when to end the conversation.

Why can he not opt out while others opt in?  More generally, why can any number of people not opt out, and let others opt in?

I sincerely don’t understand what these “personal” and apparently aesthetic considerations—-or democracy—-has to do with free inquiry and what’s an appropriate discussion for people who are still interested.

I have to wonder if “distasteful” is being used as a code word for something more like “unfair.”

If the concern is that we’re not being fair to Chris Mooney, or something like that, by all means say so.

If its not, what is the point of saying that some people find it annoyingly repetitive, or “distasteful.”  Why shoud people who are not bored and are not put off, find those personal, apparenty aesthetic judgments particularly compelling?

Overall, it sounds like you retracted the claim that something wrong had been done, no harm no foul, but then you made it pretty clear that you hadn’t really retracted it.  The moderators are in fact annoyed with this thread, and are ready to end it if it keeps annoying them, right?

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Posted: 15 July 2010 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 11:56 AM

Ophelia,
... You seem sometimes to have an inconsistent rubric for what kinds of criticism are acceptable,

Hmm…seems to me that what Ms. Benson is asking is for some consistency from Chris Mooney, who is very much one of CFI’s public faces. Mooney criticizes some for being too critical of religion, but he is astonishingly vague when it comes to any concrete principles or recommendations, let alone any actual evidence that his suggestions are efficacious. The issues over at Intersection are very much germane to the dissuasion since Mooney’s inconsistencies and evident weakness for confirmation bias and arbitrariness are related to Mooney’s inability, or refusal, to articulate any actual principles for everyday use, for instance, by critical book reviewers such as Coyne or Ms. Benson, whom Mooney criticizes but offers no sound suggestion for what they could have done yet still given honest, sound, critical and relevant reviews.

mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 11:56 AM

It reminds me a little of the right-wing notion of “political correctness,” which always struck me as a PR strategy designed to make any challenge to abusive or threatening language or any attempt to require some civility and rationality in debate seem like some sinister form of censorship.

I’m not seeing your analogy. Mooney is the one arguing for classic Political Correctness, that New Atheists mustn’t hurt people’s feelings or risk offense and that they mustn’t state uncomfortable facts of epistemological incompatibility between science and religious assertion too loudly lest they ruffle the feathers of believers, sending their sensitive selves rushing into the comforting arms of creationists and IDers. That is clearly the PC analog, not Ms. Benson’s argument.

The fact is that CFI hired Mooney because of his experience and other media endeavors, including his books, blogs, editorials and advocacy for science. CFI can’t do that and then declare those same things irrelevant to his work at CFI if they cast CFI in a bad light. Such tactics would be both inconsistent, unsound and inimical to objective and free inquiry.

As a subscriber to SI and sometimes reader of FI I’ve never paid too much attention to the forums here, but I’m pretty stunned at how quickly the mods wanted to pull a thread at least in part because a factual discussion might somehow have an unflattering bearing on CFI. I expect skeptics and skeptical organizations to not only be able to stand up to scrutiny, but to welcome it on general principle. Instead, I see that CFI seems to almost allow it only grudgingly. That is a great disappointment and a first impression that I hope will be washed away by proof that such thin skinned reactions are atypical and not condoned by CFI or its employees or moderators. I’m also stunned that the mods would try and pull a thread because the **OP** became convinced, as if that settles the issue for everybody… The OP is not my proxy. Just because he changed his mind (in spite of none of the substantive points in his OP being rebutted by Mooney) doesn’t mean the issues have been disproved or are no longer relevant. That anybody would seriously advance such an idea, and threaten to delete subsequent posts based on the same theory, is really surprising.

[ Edited: 15 July 2010 02:22 PM by Skep ]
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Posted: 15 July 2010 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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paul_w - 15 July 2010 09:51 AM
mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 08:28 AM

Paul,

The policies for discussion here are clearly set out in the Forum Rules, which you can read for yourself.

I have read them, repeatedly. 

Get a life.

Stephen

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Posted: 15 July 2010 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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paul_w - 15 July 2010 01:12 PM
mckenzievmd - 15 July 2010 10:48 AM

Paul,

After discussion among the moderators and administrators, the decision was made not to delete posts or otherwise intervene in this thread. There was a concern among the moderators that many posts in this thread are concerned with purely personal, not substantive, differences, and that there has been a great deal of unproductive repetition rather than interactive discussion (c.f. Rules Sections 3f and 3h). However the consensus was that no rules have been violated and there is no intention to intervene at this time.

I disagree with the idea that the issues here are particularly personal,

PMSL

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