Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PZ Wins the Internet

ERV found this article on google news and forwarded it to me. It is an interview with PZ Myers of Pharyngula by Jeff Gardner, CEO of PZ Myers recently caused quite a kerfluffle with his notorious "cracker" post.

According to the article, PZ's post is "No. 1 read and discussed blog post in the world."

That's pretty impressive for a developmental biologist from Morris, Minnesota.

Personally, I think the rhetoric, on both sides, is way too overheated, but I think this passage was pretty interesting.

Donohue and the Catholic League have sounded the alarm, and loudly, about Myers, especially concerning his antics with the Eucharist.

For his part, Donohue called Myers “part egotist, part bigot — his behavior is clearly designed to insult, hurt and intimidate Catholics.

“We want to know what the University of Minnesota [Morris] is going to do about professor Myers,” Donohue continued. “Clearly, the university would act in a situation in which someone was burning a cross to harass African-Americans or spray-painting swastikas to intimidate Jews. Why will they not act in this case?”

Good question.

I called the university and spoke with Daniel Wolter, director of the news service in the Office of University Relations.

In response to my questions, Wolter e-mailed me a prepared statement in which Jacqueline Johnson, chancellor at the university, said that the school had deactivated the link from the university’s website to Myers’ blog, but would not take any action against Myers because the university and Board of Regents “affirms the freedom of a faculty member to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint.”

Are PZ's actions equivalent to racism? Does the "freedom of a faculty member to speak or write as a public citizen without institutional discipline or restraint" apply to racist and/or hate speech?

Photo: PZ in the snow from PZ's homepage.


  1. I think the answer lies in the examples of "hate speech' that Donohue brought up. Clearly, burning crosses and painted swastikas are symbols used to intimidate. So one has to ask the question, how does what Myers did 'intimidate' anybody? How, for that matter, did the UCF student's actions 'intimidate' anyone? Yet both have received death threats and howls for their dismissal. Who's doing the intimidating here?

    Dave Wisker

  2. I just read the definition of hate speech from wikipedia.

    "Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability."

    Myers is skating an awfully thin line here, whether or not his actions can be construed as "intimidation."

    However, the article goes on to state "the use of speech codes in public universities in the United States is illegal, because public universities, as agents of the State, are Constitutionally restricted from regulating or penalizing speech based on content."

  3. "any other distinction-liability". What?

    Dave Wisker

  4. Since their god is omnipotent, what are they upset about? Is it possible that they don't really believe in the god they profess to believe in? Is it possible they don't really believe they need to let God be the judge of PZ Myers? I think their consternation is evidence that they don't really believe what they say they believe. What I believe is that "it's just a cracker" and that one is insulted only when one chooses to be insulted.

  5. The fact is, religious nuts *love* the sort of atheist PZ is because it feeds into their conspiracy theory that atheists are people who obsess about bringing down religion. Everybody loves having arch-nemeses -- it boosts one's sense of importance. But it's far less flattering to religion, I think, to simply find it dull and not worth bothering with.

  6. Always a little ironic to see evo jocks make a shrill attack on religion, given that religiosity may well be (at least in part) an evolved trait, selected for its ability to forge larger politico-military units with higher levels of cooperativity and self-repression.

    (Though I will admit that there is no logical contradiction there, strictly speaking: indeed, if there is an evolved disposition to religion, that might imply that shrill rhetoric would be the only rhetoric able to counter said disposition, assuming one wants to counter it.)

    Religion could also be, at least in part, a non-fitness-enhancing spandrel by-product of fulsome sentience.

    Bottom line, I'd hate to live in an America where Meyers couldn't make this post and keep his job; that would be a nation with a much weaker academe. Not necessarily because we can't get along without his thoughtful if brusque contributions to the centuries-long tradition of inquiry into the nature of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. Rather because we can't get along without people who are skeptical, heretical, and frank. A society free of chagrin seems impossible and/or undesirable. Father Gonzales - expressing his hurt in modest terms and offering to meet with the wretched sinner personally to explain his feelings - seems like a concrete and a decent person for all one can tell. Those calling for Meyers to be restrained (etc) go too far. Let a private body condition Meyer's employment on his speech, if they wish, but U Minn is a public institution under a government which protects non-criminal speech. Besides which, if we are gonna get rid of Meyers we are definitely gonna have to get rid of Nietzsche.

  7. > Rather because we can't get along without people who are skeptical, heretical, and frank.

    Ie skeptical and frank in regards to their overall nature. We all have these traits to some degree, and while they arent the end-all and be-all, no few great scientists have them in spades.

  8. My problem with PZ Meyers is that he is very bright, sometimes interesting, and often boring. The boring part comes from his evangelical atheism. Much, if not most, of what he writes is so monochromatic that if you read 20% of what he writes, you've read it all. I do not care about his job, but I would hope that an academic would not be quite so narrow minded about the human experience.

  9. Myers shows a lack of tolerance for sure, bigotry most probably, but I’m not sure if crosses the hate speech line. Going strictly by the definition, hate speech is breached every day on thousands of blogs and forums. “Degrading” a race or religion? Nah, that never happens. So if this is hate speech, so is all the rest. My point is that this isn’t any worse than what we see every day posted about Muslims or illegal immigrants. You could go through Myers’ post and replace “IT'S A GODDAMN CRACKER” with “It’s a goddamn teddybear” and you would have a post that sounds like hundreds other that “degraded” Islam over the Mohammed the teddybear issue in Sudan. Donohue’s line comparing this post to burning crosses and spray-painting swastikas is ludicrous. One difference is that people don’t have to read this post, while burning crosses and swastikas are there for all to see. That’s how real intimidation works. Another difference is that burning cross and swastikas are powerful symbols that stand for oppression and violence against a group. Crackers are indeed a symbol, but don’t have the very violent and horrible connotations.

    Myers’ blog is personal, so the University of Minnesota would be overstepping its bounds by taking actions against Myers’. He is not stating these things on a university forum. However, I fully agree that if this were hateful rant against a more “PC protected” group, there would be more of a media outcry and more discussion from the university. Like it or not, fair or not, that’s just the way it goes, guys. White Christians are much more fair game than minorities. Something we POOR white men have to suffer with!

  10. Myers is skating an awfully thin line here, whether or not his actions can be construed as "intimidation."

    How is destruction of a cracker intimidation? Maybe if Myers walked onto a Catholic's lawn and destroyed a cracker, that could possibly be construed as intimidation. Certainly if there were a history of people walking onto catholic's lawns, destroying crackers, then lynching the Catholic, that would definitely be intimidation. But just destroying a cracker? That's intimidation?

    You belittle true hate speech and actions.

  11. The misunderstanding is remarkable. He's not quite "like a little girl trying to hurt another little girl by pulling the head off her doll."

    These guys don't seem to understand that he's pulling the head off the doll to show that it doesn't hurt the other little girl!

    It's like jabbing needles into a voodoo doll to show that nothing happens.

  12. Intolerance of nonsense is not a bad thing. Keep it up, PZ.