On the incivility of atheists: “Tom Johnson” and Exhibit A

July 25, 2010 • 11:58 am

If you’ve not heard of the “Tom Johnson” affair, or aren’t interested in it, you’ll want to skip this post, which I offer simply to bring some clarity to a confusing situation.

On October 22 of last year, Chris Mooney put up a post at The Intersection called “Counterproductive attacks on religion—exhibit A.” The “exhibit” was an excerpt from an earlier comment on that website by someone named “Tom Johnson.”  Johnson claimed that he was a biologist who had gone to “conservation events” (that is, outreach meetings designed to educate people about conservation), and that atheists had behaved very badly at these events, yelling and screaming at religious people for their faith and thereby turning them off.  Mooney elevated Johnson’s comment to a full post to buttress Mooney’s frequent assertion that “new atheists,” through their stridency, thoughtlessness, and lack of respect for others, were hurting their cause by driving people away from science.

“Tom Johnson” said he was a scientist working at a large, well-known research university.  The fact that he would not fully identify himself, or reveal details about the “conservation event,” excited a good deal of speculation and rancor at various websites.  The situation was further exacerbated when it turned out that “Tom Johnson” had also created an anonymous website called “You’re Not Helping,” which excoriated various atheist bloggers, including myself, for their counterproductive messages.  “Johnson” was then caught engaging in “sock-puppetry” (making mutually supportive comments under a variety of names) on not only his own website, but on other blogs like The Intersection and even here.  Chastened, he took down the You’re Not Helping website and confessed to sock-puppetry.

All of this led to an explosion of interest, acrimony, and accusation among several websites.  One post, at The Buddha is Not Serious, is followed by 826 comments! Despite “Tom Johnson’s” confession and apology, questions remain.  Who is he? Under how many names did he post, and who are these sock puppets? How much truth was there in his description of the “conservation event” that became Mooney’s “Exhibit A”?

“Tom Johnson” (hereafter “TJ”) remains anonymous, though his identity is apparently known by Mooney, Jean Kazez, and others.  For a few weeks I have known it as well, as I am friends with some of the principals in this case.  In return for my promise not to reveal TJ’s real name, I have been party to some of the details of the situation presented as “Exhibit A.” I have also questioned the other person who was supposedly involved in that “conservation event.”  I have spoken to TJ’s advisor (Johnson is a graduate student at a university in the South), and have learned more of the details from that person.  TJ has apologized to me by email for his actions, and says he will be apologizing to others soon.  His advisor and his university are looking at his actions to see if any formal academic transgressions occurred.

I am as certain of TJ’s identity, then, as I can be.  The purpose of this post is not to “out” him. I personally don’t care much if his identity becomes public, but I want to honor my agreement to not divulge his name.  What I would like to do is to clear up, insofar as I can, what happened at the event known as “Exhibit A.”  I want to concentrate on this episode because, despite TJ’s confession that his story of atheist mockery was “obviously false,” some people are keeping alive the idea that it contains a kernel of truth, or that something akin to that episode might really have taken place.  And indeed, it would reflect poorly on atheist scientists if they habitually engaged in overt verbal mockery of religious people at outreach events.  Further, because much of the controversy about the “Tom Johnson” affair centers on how much truth there really was in “Exhibit A,” I want to give my appraisal of what really happened.

I am putting up this post with the assent of TJ’s advisor, who has read it in advance. TJ also knows that I will be making this post, though I have not shown it to him in advance.

Let me first post the relevant comments by TJ so you can see his claims (he’s admitted that he’s male).  All misspellings and typos are in the originals.

The comment by TJ at The Intersection that was labeled “Exhibit A”:

Many of my colleagues are fans of Dawkins, PZ, and their ilk and make a point AT CONSERVATION EVENTS to mock the religious to their face, shout forced laughter at them, and call them “stupid,” “ignorant” and the like – and these are events hosted by religious moderates where we’ve been ASKED to attend. They think it’s the way to be a good scientist, after all.

So what do you think happens when you spit in someone’s face, mock them openly, figuratively throw them to the ground and kick dirt in their face – and then ask “now we really need your help!!”? When my colleagues do this, you can watch the attention visibly disappear from the crowd when you finally start talking about conservation and real science.

That’s the problem with the blogosphere – you can say all the extreme, controversial things you want without consequences. But when your readers start echoing those things to the public (the people that science desperately needs to translate research to action), I’m afraid the consequences are rather severe.

A further comment by TJ on that thread:

But I’m an atheist that sees the value in working with the moderately religious instead of against them – especially when they are the ones who extend a hand first. I don’t give credence to their belief or agree with them; I often have lengthy discussions with ministers and others at the events like the one mentioned in this original post where I will tell the believers that I disagree with them…but I do it without laughing loudly at them, making it my job to mock their belief, or calling them “ignorant.”

Another TJ comment on the thread:

The organization I work for is a large, well-known research university (I won’t say which or name names as I don’t want to go down that road). We go to events representing the university, and many (most, actually) of the events we go to are ones in which we are specifically invited because we advertise ourselves as providing educational scientific outreach. (We also advertise about the need for scientists to work with diverse audiences but, as you can probably guess, that claim leaves much to be desired.)

Personally, I go into these events viewing them as a chance to reach out to groups that may not always get goood exposure to scientific topics. The state that I happen to work in is miserably lacking in scientific awareness, so these events are a great chance to “spread the word” in a way that doesn’t put the public off to science further. What happens, however, is that my collegaues turn the purpose of the events from spreading scientific knowledge to ppromoting atheism (by only bashing religion). As I told Anna K. later in the comment that brought on this post, these collegaues of mine act like they’re gearing up for battle on the way to the events, saying things like “this is our chance to tell these religious bimbos off.” When we get there, however, there’s no battle. Instead there a bunch of normal people who happen to go to church who are looking to help and instead get laughed at and mocked for an hour.

I’d like to say that the superiors in this case would chastise such behavior, but in reality, the superiors are part of the group partaking in it. I can’t stress enough how the writings of PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne (especially) are quoted by them when they’re gearing up for a “fight” or discussing their behavior with you. The sentiment that religious moderates are no better than a creationist comes up frequently (a common theme on Jerry’s blog), as does the sentiment that NOT showing vitriol is somehow really just giving support to religion (another common theme). I get frequently told that I’m a ‘bad atheist’ because I’m not willing to figuratively spit in the face of everyone I meet who is religious. Honestly, I’m more interested in being a good scientist.

Another comment by TJ:

One more addendum to what I just previously posted. What makes you doubt that I’m telling the truth? I apologize for not videotaping the incidents in question, nor my discussions with my colleagues (as that’s what it would apparently take to turn off the automatic doubt machine), but I can assure you that what I’m commenting on here is true and not truth exaggerated by hyperbole.

It is your responsibility, as the ones accusing me of lying, to prove so. The burden of proof rests on the accuser. I’m not trying to start a smear campaign; I am simply reporting what I have seen as an example (yes, even an anecdotal one) of New Atheist vitriol missing the mark (badly) when it comes to scientific issues and the public which, unless I’m mistaken, is a common focus of discussion on the value of this kind of rhetoric.

And, finally, TJ’s confession at The Buddha is Not Serious:

As mentioned earlier, I posted most often as “milton c.” and “bilbo.” I also appeared as “seminatrix” and “philip jr.,” and I believe I posted as “petra” on the value of science blogs thread. My posting under multiple names on the intersection was much like YNH: out-of-context sniping and trying to make a chorus of agreement when I was challenged. It all happened, I guess, because I let my emotions get the best of me, like on YNH [the “You’re Not Helping’ website]. I honestly don’t think Chris and Sheril ever noticed the similarities in IP address, since I never heard from them other than what they posted in comments.

“Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false. When Chris contacted me, I made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from because I didn’t want the Tom character to get exposed as false. As Paul W. said above, some of the stuff I said as Tom and how I said it should make it glaringly obvious in hindsight that I have no experience with anything in the professional world, and that the story and “Tom” character are both caricatures. That’s probably why no one took the story seriously anyway when I said it months ago. I’ve never had any contact with Chris or Sheril or anyone else in the blogosphere outside of that instance, and that’s the truth.

I don’t know how to make things right, but I want to. I don’t expect forgiveness from anyone because, as I said with YNH, I acted like an immature, self-interested jerk. There’s no excuse for it. Perhaps the best thing in light of all this is a permanent ban from the Intersection or discoverblogs in general. That’s something I would accept, even though I promise not to blog or comment again anywhere. Period. I’m not going to take the advice of others from earlier and blog again in the future. I don’t deserve to. I did everyone at the intersection wrong, including Chris and Sheril, and I apologize.

Now, what really happened? After hearing from TJ, talking at length to his advisor, who has queried him in detail, and hearing from the person at the “conservation event” who was said to loudly deride the faithful to their faces, I conclude the following:

  • The incident known as “Exhibit A” did not happen as described. TJ has admitted as much already, so this is not news.
  • Despite TJ’s avowal that he “made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from,” he is a graduate student.
  • There was indeed one (and only one) “conservation event” at which Tom and a graduate-school colleague participated—an outreach event involving a Baptist organization—but there was no laughter at religious people, no mockery of their views to their faces, no accusations of stupidity.  As far as I can determine, there was not a single sign of disrespect toward the faithful evinced by TJ’s colleague, who is an atheist.
  • TJ’s assertion that his “superiors are part of the group” that publicly mocked the faithful at conservation events is false.  This did not happen.  His “superior” (whom I take to be his advisor) did not and does not sanction that behavior—which of course did not even occur—at outreach events.
  • The episodes of mockery and derision supposedly directed toward religious people at this and other events—for TJ implied that there was more than one episode—were complete fictions concocted by TJ, fictions apparently based on various conversations he had had with atheists and agnostics both before and during his tenure as a graduate student.  These private conversations were then amalgamated into a fantasy scenario that was passed off as a real public episode.

I’m not foolish enough to think that these conclusions will quell all the ferment on the internet.  But I hope they at least do something to settle the issue of “Exhibit A,” which everyone agreed from the outset was an anecdote.  We know now that this anecdote is not only false, but doesn’t even contain a kernel of truth.  Or, if there is a kernel of truth, it is just this: that TJ and some atheists had private talks about the compatibility of science and religion and the ways to improve science education, and that those atheists frankly and forthrightly conveyed their views to him.  This is hardly newsworthy, and it would be grossly misleading to tout this non-event as an example of the stridency and incivility of atheists.

If, after this, “Tom Johnson” wants to claim that there is more to his story than just a fabrication based on private conversations, then it is incumbent on him to finally reveal who he is, and to give names and dates to buttress his claims about the public misbehavior of atheists.

276 thoughts on “On the incivility of atheists: “Tom Johnson” and Exhibit A

  1. Dr. Coyne: Private Investigator!

    Jerry, I think my wife is screwing around on me; can you tail her?

    Seriously though, nice work.

  2. Reminiscent of another bogmire of the internet: false bad reviews on commercial product sites — both indicative of bad cases of immature ‘look-at-me’-ism progressing into literate vandalism.

    1. Those merely cancel out the false good reviews and vanity reviews (ie, people using sock puppets to give good reviews to their own products and services).

  3. This part is very useful indeed –

    His advisor and his university are looking at his actions to see if any formal academic transgressions occurred.

    That means nobody else has to out him. Excellent. I wanted him to be accountable, but I didn’t want to out him.

    1. “That means nobody else has to out him. Excellent. I wanted him to be accountable, but I didn’t want to out him.

      No, it doesn’t. TJ’s actions were against the public at large, not his university. There is no reason to think that passing this off to his university adviser will result in any accountability. In fact, there is no reason to assume that he violated any academic policy or law. What he did do was embark on a deliberate and pre-meditated scheme of lies and machinations to falsely smear New Atheists in general and some in particular. So long as his name is known only to a select few rather than the actual public he manipulated and fooled he is relatively free to do the same over and over again, especially if each time he does so people like Hitch and Cam will claim over at your blog, in Chris Crocker style, that we should all “Leave Tom Johnson Alone!!11!!1!!” because he has already “gone through hell” (Hitch’s idea of hell, having one’s house of lies crumble but getting off scot free, doesn’t seem to have a level in Dane’s inferno…)

      So, no, this is by no means resolved and Tom Johnson is by no means presumed to be held accountable by dint of being turned in to his adviser.

      1. TJ’s actions are a gross violation of ethical standards in the academic community, and his advisor is under obligation not to cover this up. We may never see the consequences, but I’m confident that this guy will be held accountable for real.

        1. Are they? In what way does the school get to claim this? He never mentioned the school publicly. There is no evidence that he has cheated or done anything wrong academically in school.

          While I agree that “Tom Johnson” has lied and committed ethical violations, so far as I know they have all been outside of school. I’m generally against schools claiming the power to adjudicate ethics violations that occur outside of school. “Tom Johnson” has not, so far as we know, been convicted by civil authorities of any crime, so I’m wary of the school having any power to punish him for this, just as I’d be wary of his boss doing the same, or his dorm adviser, or anybody else not directly affected.

          I think Tom Johnson is an ass, and I’ve argued strongly and steadfastly that we should all know his real name so that he will be personally accountable for this and future actions, but without a definite academic connection in this issue, I’m reluctant to believe that non-prosecutable ethical lapses that happen outside of school should be adjudicated by the school.

          I thought it was wrong for BYU to withhold the degree of a man who created a tame calendar of shirtless, hunky Mormon missionaries. I thought it was wrong for a school to withhold the educational degree of a female student when somebody posted a photo of her holding an **opaque** plastic cup because it might have contained alcohol. And I’m wary of “Tom Johnson’s” non-academic transgressions be adjudicated by his school based on the same principles.

          1. Scote,

            I have mixed feelings about the broad applicability of academic honor codes, especially broadly written clauses about “illegal activity on university premises” or using university computers for “obscene or abusive messages.”

            I think it’s silly to have codes that could theoretically get somebody expelled for calling somebody an asshole in an internet flame war, or for smoking a joint in a dorm. That’s just nuts.

            On the other hand, I think there may be a valid purpose for honor codes that cover more than cheating on tests and plagiarizing papers.

            I think this is exactly the kind of case that an honor code should cover. The issue isn’t really technical illegality or obscenity, or any damned thing that some pearl-clutcher might find embarrassing if somebody at their university turned out to have done it.

            The issue is serious hard-core dishonesty and abusiveness. This guy is hardcore, and he’s the kind of guy that honor codes should enable universities to tell to take a hike, because nobody wants to work with an untrustworthy and bigtime malicious asshole.

            If this guy were my grad student, he’d unquestionably be gone. Maybe not right away, and with a big public deal made about it, but he’d simply have to go, out of my lab and out of my department at least.

            I’d use the option of official severe and public and permanent penalties to enforce an unofficial one, more in sorrow than in anger: you can’t stay here, because we don’t trust you, and you really should learn from that—this shit is just not acceptable. Best of luck.

        2. No, they aren’t. I’m a graduate student as well and am familiar with the ethics policies. They cover his own writing *for the university* only (in other words, if he’d written a report on New Atheism for his major and falsified data, he’d be in trouble). Even if he’d mentioned the university’s name, I doubt he’d be in trouble with them as he could just say, “That’s what I thought happened…” It might *might* have risen to the level of libel if he’d named names but he did not.

          I don’t think there is anything the university can do. Maybe if he wrote all this on a university-owned computer or on the clock he might get a slap on the wrist. But there is no major ethics violation here that I can see. Just a liar being a dick.

          1. Allie,

            If “William”/”Tom”/bilbo/et al. is in fact at the U. of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, as has been asserted (but I don’t know if it’s true), his behavior is likely covered by the UA Student Honor Code, on several counts.

            One clause says that students shouldn’t use University computing facilities to send abusive or obscene messages.

            I think that’s kind of silly and general, but if anything should count under that clause, “William”‘s behavior should.

            (Some of his stuff was both abusive and obscene, e.g., calling Ophelia a “useless putrid twat,” but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of how systematically and calculatedly abusive he was.)

            I also think he may be covered under a clause that prohibits illegal activity on university premises.

            I think that some things William did were actually illegal libel, but likely not actionable. (A suit might well be thrown out over difficulties like quantifying damages.)

            The fact that the libels may not be actionable wouldn’t necessarily keep that clause of the honor code from applying. (That’s exactly the kind of crap honor codes are good for, if they cover anything besides plain academic dishonesty in assigned work.)

            There are some other clauses that likely apply. He impugned academics and their academic work, about stuff related to his discipline, so it’s arguably “academics-related” activity.

            He also did things that reflect badly and damage the image of the university and/or the academic community.

            He did, after all, make false claims about unconscionable behavior by scientist colleagues in his own department, and that such behavior is representative of a widespread problem in his academic discipline.

            If “William” actually is at UA, or someplace with a similar honor code, he could be in a heap of trouble if anybody wanted to actually do anything about him.

            He’s behaved utterly dishonorably and apparently illegally if not actionably, and falsely impugned prominent academics and colleagues, and has apparently done it on university premises with university facilities.

            Not that I think they’ll want to throw the book at them; I’m betting they won’t because people hate that kind of unpleasant shit.

            I suspect they’ll take the easy way out, and let him off with a stern warning. Or if they do more, it’ll be to kick the can down the road, because they personally don’t want to work with somebody so untrustworthy, and let somebody else somewhere else inherit the potential problem.

            (Discaimer: I am not a lawyer. Don’t take my word for it about things being “libel” or “illegal” but not “actionable.”! I’m sincere but no expert.)

      2. Damn right, Scote. TJ needs to be outed, especially if he is a grad student in the sciences as is implied. Anyone who can lie so mellifluously, and for so long, cannot be trusted not to falsify data in the future. His identity being known would not necessarily ruin his career, but it would certainly warn people to look closely at any future scientific claims he might make.

        1. His identity being known would not necessarily ruin his career, but it would certainly warn people to look closely at any future scientific claims he might make.

          For this purpose, his identity is known.

        2. I agree that his identity should be made public so that he never obtains a professional position where anyone has to trust him. He has ruined his reputation by his actions and others should not suffer possible future malicious actions.

          1. I disagree. A lot of people think the internet is just for teh lolz and they act very differently in this space then they do in real life. I agree that what he did was very wrong and I personally don’t understand it. But, despite we NA’s who consider it srs bizness, in the real world…it isn’t. Sorry, but I don’t see ruining a kid’s future for being an internet dick (otherwise, a LOT of people would be working the fry pit an McD’s).

          2. He is not a kid. He is a grad student in his 20s. He is responsible for his actions. Your analogy is ludicrous

          3. I think we _should_ know his name, so we can judge him for the facts at hand; at the same time I think that ruining his life and career because of this incident is too much, too far. If I’m caught between the two – we can’t out him because it necessarily WILL ruin his career, I’ll lean towards not outing him.

            However, this:

            lot of people think the internet is just for teh lolz and they act very differently in this space then they do in real life.

            seems just silly. First, as NewEnglandBob says, he’s not a kid.

            Second, people who think the internet is “just for teh lolz” are wrong. This is fact, not opinion; some peer-reviewed research is posted and commented upon only online (PLOS). People who literally think that that the internet is all fun and games are demonstrably incorrect and either ignorant or stupid.

            So seriously, Allie, what’s your point? That the internet SHOULD be a place where there are no standards and no one is accountable for their actions?

  4. This is most welcome, especially the confirmation that the full story is known to persons able to provide advice to the principal, and to hold him accountable. The behavior at question is, frankly, sociopathic, and I was concerned that TJ, in anonymity, could be inflicting similar damage to family and colleagues. I am genuinely relieved.

  5. This is a valuable lesson for other student science bloggers as well.

    I am ‘out’.

    I have always been ‘out.

    I made sure my uni knew about my blog, knew what I wrote about, and I knew what the ‘rules’ were about my blogging, for them. Its a very open relationship where they support my free speech rights but dont ‘support me’ as a university (ie, ‘OU supports the use of Spin Clips!’). They have made it clear that they would still support me in this same manner if I were a Creationist, because they respect the free speech rights of their students.

    I also warn my mentor/department head/dean when anything crazy comes up (the CFSers are INSANE about my XMRV posts, flipping off Casey Luskin, etc) so they can deal with/ignore any hate letters they get about me appropriately.

    Not being ‘out’ and not being open with his uni about his blogging led Tom to do things and say things he would never have under his real name, and not because hes a ‘whistle blower’.

    1. I think it’s taking things a bit too far to say that pseudonymity necessarily enables one to act in borderline sociopathic, or otherwise unacceptable, ways. A blogger tends to establish a reputation associated with a certain pseudonym, and can’t exactly throw them around as you essentially end up starting over. Pseudonymity is not nearly the same thing as anonymity…

      Furthermore, some of us are pseudonymous towards the public, but not towards people who know us in private. Many in my department know of my blog, including my boss. Some are even regular readers. I know anything I write will ultimately be known and seen by various people at the uni and our field at large, especially as it’s such a tiny field…

      I keep my pseudonymity because I would like some control over what people know about me before they meet me personally. Using real names provides for ample stalking opportunity (not just the pervy kind either; potential employers can track stuff too), which is very different from following a pseudonym around the internet. Thus, some use pseudonymity out of privacy concerns, and not for the sake of hiding and ambush.

      Thus one doesn’t have to be “out” to random visitors from the internet. It’s similar to protecting your facebook pages from that horrible “everyone” setting. So please don’t paint us all with the same brush…


  6. A terrific post and summary of TJ’s claims and falsehoods. Thank you for the fact finding, which shows that you, as a “mere” author and biologist, are far, far more proficient at fact checking than the supposed journalist, Chis Mooney, who used TJ’s incredible tale, without verification, as “proof,” as “Exhibit A” of a supposed larger truth, to prove Mooney’s prejudices.

    To date, Mooney has cast himself as victim rather than a culpable party to using the TJ’s very convenient tale to his advantage without vetting, with Mooney still claiming that TJ’s story could still be true, in spite of TJ turning out to have the credibility of a con artist, if that, and that Mooney only posted the tale as one person’s perspective–which is nonsense. Mooney posted TJ’s provocative fairy tale as representative anecdote, not as an outlier, because only as a representative anecdote would there have been any reason to post it in the first place. The facts about this situation serve to prove that Chris Mooney has much to answer for, and that his credibility as an ethical or responsible journalist is very much in question.

    While I do hope that TJ’s name comes out eventually, so that we can all know more about the background of this issue, I can say that you of all the people with TJ’s contact info are the first to do and publish anything substantive with that information.

    I do hope people will keep in mind that TJ is an admitted serial liar, who has confessed only when caught, and then only about what was already discovered, and then confessed again when caught yet again, but confessed falsely, claiming not to be a grad student to throw people off of his trail. TJ’s confessions, apologies and contrition are worth the ether they are transmitted through. He is a con-artist with a proven, self-admitted history of serial lies. His name should be exposed by somebody who is not under obligation so that he can be held accountable and so that if he tries this or other chicanery in the future that it can seen to be a pattern rather than a first offense.

  7. Great investigative journalism, Dr. Coyne. Thank you so much for taking the time to research and report your findings. That said, it doesn’t appear that you had to exert yourself in any extreme way to obtain these facts. No air travel to the Southeastern US or midnight meetings in parking structures, seemed required. As such, one wonders what prevented Mr. Mooney himself from engaging with the facts in similar fashion, and reporting them in any of his subsequent attempts to ‘get to the bottom’ of the TJ affair.

    1. one wonders what prevented Mr. Mooney himself from engaging with the facts in similar fashion

      He needs to go the hairdresser a lot. Hard to take time away from that.

    2. Mooney loved TJ’s fable because it pandered to his prejudices. It was so obviously true he felt no need to investigate it. When TJ’s veracity was initially questioned Mooney made a cursory investigation and was told by a presumptive third party “yep, it’s all true, cross my fingers and hope to die.” That was enough for Mooney.

      Chris Mooney still hasn’t apologized for publishing TJ’s lies. He’s decided he’s the victim and so doesn’t need to express any remorse over his shoddy journalism.

      1. In that respect, Mooney fits in very well with what passes for “journalism” in America these days. Regurgitating the claims of other people without fact-checking is “balance”.

        1. Goodness, Mooney and that woman associate of his, wow, what gullible fools, so incredibly stupid, and they are calling themselves victimized?

          Get yourselves a pair of his and her’s monogrammed baloney detection kits, you pair of idiots who are more focused on being polite for politeness sakes than anything else, more focused on surface than depth, goodness, I never thought I could think more poorly of these two that I already did.

          Cooly conducted research, Jerry, Kudos.

          1. Let me spell it out for these fools, they are not the victims, the new atheist are!

            Besides being gullible beyond belief, these two are unethical beyond belief.

  8. After being away from the internet for a few days, I read this just after reading about the Shirley Sherrod story. Our side – the liberal/rationalists, seem to be doing a good job of completely humiliating the opposition, and exposing their lack of any compunction.

    1. Yes, I was noticing the parallels the other day at my place. In both cases, the story was just obviously dubious to anyone who was paying attention. In both cases, the fakery was in the service of portraying a group of people as evil.

  9. And once again a real scientist has to do M**ney’s research for him.

    And this post will somehow be taken to be Exhibit B in demonstrating how mean and vindictive New Atheist™ are.

    I’m betting … $100 to a charity of your choice that within a month 1) TJ has been outed to the public 2) M**ney will use that outing as Exhibit C for the cruelty of New Atheist™ and 3) the outing will turn out to be by the hand of, it not M**ney himself, then one of his meatpuppets.

    1. You are but two hours late:

      “PZ Myers now says he knows who “Tom” is. This certainly raises the possibility that someone may soon “out” him. [Mooney, “More to say…”]

      Really, that man has no shame; and he is certainly strident.

      1. Oops, that was one day and two hours. Post was time stamped “July 24th, 2010 11:52 AM”.

      2. That’s practically the very definition of yellow journalism. I didn’t think I could possibly lose any more respect for that man.

        What’s next? Will he claim that ‘Tom’ was a “New Atheist” plant intended to discredit him? Maybe he can imagine an elaborate conspiracy…

        1. Well, I learned 3 things:

          1. By definition, accommodationism is “framing”, which is morality before facts (which is political correctness) – and so do some of their key people act.
          2. Never, ever bet against Sili!
          3. “Yellow journalism”. Thank you!

  10. Jerry,

    It’s wonderful that somebody has done Mooney’s basic journalistic legwork for him. Thank you.

    Many of us could tell immediately that the story wasn’t true, and explained how, but Mooney repeatedly pushed the anecdote without verifying it at all, and vilified us skeptics as “attacking” the poor, beleaguered and wisely-anonymous whistle blower.

    I’d be interested in further reports on what’s being done with “William.” I hope he’s in therapy—that should be a condition of his not being outed. I don’t know what his major malfunction is, but he’s clearly a dangerously amoral individual.

    (Many people observing this debacle from afar are unaware of the extent and severity of of “Tom Johnson’s” offenses, including trying to out someone else and get him fired from his job. Anybody wringing their hands over possible consequences of holding “Tom” to account should take that into account.)

    1. Many people observing this debacle from afar are unaware of the extent and severity of of “Tom Johnson’s” offenses, including trying to out someone else and get him fired from his job.

      ooh, I missed that car of the trainwreck. Link please?

      1. It was on a thread that Mooney took down, maybe to protect the innocent, so I can’t give a link.

        1. It was about climate denial, right? I don’t think I saw it (believe it or not, I try to ignore Mooney when he’s not poking “new” atheists with a stick!) but I’ve seen it discussed a lot. TJ said AGW deniers should lose their jobs, something like that?

          1. Mooney deleted the thread. Here’s his comment on it:

            What’s funny is that bilbo and Milton C. were the ones causing the problems. Hell, Milton C. even says he understands if his posts will go into moderation. Right there Mooney should have caught the sockpuppetry.

            Also funny, the way bilbo/Milton C. grovels and apologizes. Hence why many people didn’t believe bilbo/Milton C./ Tom Johnson’s apology.

          2. I remember bilbo and thinking what an obviously unhinged individual, and this is whom that pair of pathetic politeniks believed?

          3. I wonder if the bilbo on ‘The Intersection’ is the same bilbo that posts on UD?


            I have a petra that clearly isnt this petra, but the UD connection would be funny.

          4. > Feynmaniac
            >What’s the opposite of sock puppeting?


          5. Opposite of sock-puppeting? Since the “bilbos” provide a good example, how about hobbiting? hobbits, having furry feet, would not even possess any socks!

          6. FWIW, Abbie, I think the “Bilbo” (capitalized) at UD is a different person than the “bilbo” (uncapitalized) at YNH and The Intersection.

          7. pathetic politeniks [sic?]

            “Pathetic politchiks” or a-apathetic apparatchiks, wonderful description! I will try to put it to good use.

          8. The opposite of sock puppeting… Mitten-ing? As in sticking a bunch of different fingers into one garment?

  11. Most of this is old news. I don’t know if Mooney has conceded that the Exhibit A event never happened, but nobody is still claiming that it did.

    So now it’s up to Mooney to come up with Exhibit B. If he doesn’t, then I guess everyone but Mooney can conclude that his thesis is unsupported.

    1. As far as I know, Mooney never got around to say “it didn’t happen” in so many words, and some of his usual commentators still argue that there was “some truth” to TJ’s story. Jerry’s post should give them all something to think about.

    2. Not true, actually; some people are still claiming it did happen or probably happened or may have happened. Some smear “the new atheists” for being so whatever at the same time.

    3. nobody is still claiming that it did.

      Except, apparently, Mooney:

      “In light of all this, there’s no reason to trust the story that “Tom Johnson” originally told on this blog. It might still be accurate, and it was never any more than one person’s perception anyway. [My bold.]”

      and Kazez below:

      “That certainly wasn’t the intent of my post yesterday, if I’m one of the “some people.” I said the story was “doubtful but not disconfirmed.” That was a simple statement of fact, as of yesterday.”

      Note that none of them is rejecting an a priori preposterous anecdote (“story”), which furthermore a posteriori is claimed from two sources (TJ and his fellow student) to be false!

      Oh, and to make matters worse, if possible, Mooney is equivocating on his New Accommodationist sockpuppetry as in evidence and atheist which isn’t in evidence:

      “Since we weren’t checking (and will not go back through every single thread), it’s not at all impossible that there were other sock puppets–and this might well have occurred on either side of contentious issues.”

      Not at all impossible but highly unlikely given the data and the morality (“framing” vs facts).

      Again, “the importance of bridge building toward shared goals” is clearly not what occupies the mind of a framer.

      1. As if going back and checking would be somehow difficult. If Mooney can’t figure out how to do it easily he does need some help.

  12. “some people are keeping alive the idea that it contains a kernel of truth, or that something akin to that episode might really have taken place.”

    That certainly wasn’t the intent of my post yesterday, if I’m one of the “some people.” I said the story was “doubtful but not disconfirmed.” That was a simple statement of fact, as of yesterday. My argument was that it wasn’t worth exposing the student if that was only way to get the whole thing cleared up. That’s what some people were urging. I think it’s all to the good that you have found a better way.

    There’s one more thing that hasn’t been cleared up. What did the student put in an email to Chris Mooney in October 2009 to make him believe his story? Obviously it will be up to Chris to explain or not explain.

    1. That wasn’t the only intent of your post yesterday – to say that it wasn’t worth exposing the student if that was only way to get the whole thing cleared up. You said more than that. You said, for instance

      The difference this story makes to the image of atheists is minuscule. The difference exposure could make to the student is huge.

      Easy for you to say. The difference this story and the rest of TJ’s story make to the image of some, particular atheists is not minuscule at all. I now have “liar” attached to my “image” in several places on the basis of TJ’s extended fraud.

      1. Ophelia, “This story” refers to the story in the Tom Johnson comments. That’s very clear. That’s the story YOU were talking about when you said Chris should expose the guy. I said no–for the sake of clearing up that particular story, it was not worth outing the guy. That story was not about you, but about unnamed people at a meeting.

        As to the total package of his sins (against you, against Chris Mooney, etc)–I have known all along his adviser is aware of them and in a good position to take appropriate action. I don’t like “outing on the internet” as a solution. Too broad, too permanent, too likely to attract crazy people to the guy’s doorstep.

        1. You don’t seem to worry about the crazy people attracted to the doorsteps of the “new atheists” due to the fomenting of bigotry by the likes of “tom johnson”.

        2. OMG u. really think there are child soldiers.

          Were atheists we want truth not our critics to die. Its not like we answer to s higher power. Grow up. Stop w the crazy ” he’s not safe” baloney

        3. Too broad, too permanent, too likely to attract crazy people to the guy’s doorstep.

          They’d likely be sockpuppets.

        4. Since only crazy people would go near crazy people like “TJ” (who knows what will set off the next round of misogynistic stalking, outing, persecution or serial lying), it seems far fetched.

          But not at all inappropriate.

          1. And because Mooney or other accommodationists will milk this: no, it wasn’t a suggestion of action, just an analysis of Kazez’s suggestion of consequences.

    2. Yes you are some people your post yesterday was hilarious. You minimized exhibit a and said that it happens all the time.

      Look writing a book that says WEIT is seen as an insult to a SBC school board. Calling them morons is necessary. In just the way Coyne does it. There are no child soldiers

    3. What, then, was the function of “not disconfirmed” supposed to be? I mean, it’s also a simple statement of fact that the existence of a teapot somewhere between the orbits of Earth and Mars has not been disconfirmed, but what possible reason could I have for saying it unless I wanted to suggest that there is such a teapot?

      1. At this point nobody can say definitively whether there’s a teapot or not, but the issue is that Saddam is in defiance of UN resolutions.

        1. I have tried and tried, and I keep failing to disconfirm that story that Jean Kazez molests penguins.

          It could be true. Just saying.

          And if it’s not true, there’s probably a kernel of truth to it. Just saying.

          And it doesn’t matter if the particular story is true, because it’s believable; we know people like Jean do that sort of thing, so it’s no unreasonable to have believed that Jean Kazez molests penguins, even if in fact perhaps she herself doesn’t.

          But as I said, I’ve failed to disconfirm that, so maybe she does.


          1. Well quite. Orcas molest penguins, so it’s plausible that someone could molest penguins, therefore a claim that Kazez molests penguins is not obviously implausible, so we might as well assume Kazez does molest penguins, unless of course Jerry Coyne gets to work and collects evidence that Kazez has never been near any penguins apart from one trip to a zoo with a colleague who says no penguin-molestation happened there.

          2. Well, quite.

            Also remember that was a simple statement of fact, as of yesterday. Today we know that there is some evidence that Kazez has never been near any penguins apart from one trip to a zoo with a colleague who says no penguin-molestation happened there. But that evidence is not applicable to the fact that we must continue to assume that Kazez does molest penguins in the face of the not obviously implausible, so therefore we can not use it to disconfirm.


    4. Wow.

      You can’t disprove Santa Claus, so maybe he is real!

      Except Mooney’s SOLE source has admitted he LIED. About everything.

      Meanwhile, dishonest tools like you keep trying to salvage something from the flaming pile of bullshit on YOUR doorstep.

      Is there a single lie, distortion or bullshit argument you won’t not only support for Mooney, but also propagate?

      Honestly, the whole point of all this is that your BFF Mooney DIDN’T establish the veracity of this claim up front. He still hasn’t. His looney tunes bias against New Atheists had him believing a bullshit story at face value, so that he could bash New Atheist’s with it.

      No matter how much tap dancing you do, that is the essence of the problem.

      That’s what you just don’t get.

      1. This is why it is useless to argue with religious thinking. It _is_ nothing but lie, distortion or bullshit argument. What else do they have? It’s sad, really.

    5. Now I am confused all over again. Jean, are you saying that there is some heretofore secret piece of information that this guy mailed to Chris in October ’09 that made the anecdote particularly believable Something that you know and which it is not your place to reveal?

      Or have you not seen anything like that? Are you just saying that you trust that Chris wouldn’t have swallowed such an inflammatory story without a good reason which he has not seen fit to reveal?

      Or are you saying something else?

    6. Jean, do you know why Chris has repeatedly refused proposals to share the information you possess with a mutually-agreed-upon third party who commits to keeping it private?

    7. Joan Kazez: “What did the student put in an email to Chris Mooney in October 2009 to make him believe his story?”

      It must have been truly epic, since Mooney didn’t bother confirming TJ’s identity until after he posted “Exhibit A”

  13. But why did he want to smear you? Was he doing it because he simply agrees w Mooney or was he using Mooney to hurt atheists like you. He said he is an atheist. Is he?

  14. Ho boy! I have read “The Buddha is Not Serious”, and there are serious circumstances.

    Unfortunately I have been only peripherally aware of this from here, and the personal analysis it merits have no doubt already performed many times over elsewhere. But for a first round commenter Hitch on TBINS called out stereotyping of atheists.

    I’m sure it is more than that though, as it is painfully obvious for the in-group of atheists but also scientists that TJ’s anecdote is fake.

    Of course that is no reason for Mooney to grab at anecdote, which plural is not data. It is entirely anti-science as I understand it. One can occasionally use “case studies” to try to elucidate general mechanisms – which then need data for support. I guess at a stretch that one can have “representational anecdote” as some sort of educational tool – but it is fraught with problems: what is “representational” without having a data context?

    But in no way can one use it as Mooney, as a show case support. Ironically then that his use AFAIU understand reflect back on his blog, as TJ sockpuppetry and heavy moderation has kept it a “small and relatively homogenous intellectual group” if TBINS commentary is correct:

    “In the real world, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, than to score intellectual points when only a small and relatively homogenous [sic] intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.”

    Now how was this an illustration of the importance of bridge building toward shared goals, or even a trivial example of the latter? Methinks Mooney plays the Mad Hatter: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

  15. Thanks for the post! It clears up several things, and the best part, IMO, is that any contradiction of these conclusions on TJ’s part will require him to disclose his identity. I think it might still be too easy to look up TJ’s identity, but this is a mixed blessing:

    1) It means that if TJ reemerges and causes more trouble, then he will ensure his own outing.
    2) If anybody outs him, it will likely be an anonymous commenter and that will not be an action attributable to the consensus of the “new atheist blogosphere.”

    Also, his adviser is (apparently) aware of his actions. This at least ensures that any of TJ’s actions in the academic world that border on sexism/harassment will be seen as a trend as opposed to a mistake. Also, it means that the `grain of truth’ line for TJ’s story is rendered untenable.

    So, I second Ophelia above (and apologize if I misunderstood her earlier as wanting to `out’ TJ) that accountability without outing was an agreeable goal and that Coyne delivered.

    1. Thanks Zach. I wanted TJ at least accountable, if not outed, but I sure as hell didn’t want to out him myself. I wasn’t particularly clear about that though – as I said a few hours ago (before Jerry’s post) I had a whole slew of conflicting thoughts, so if you misunderstood it’s probably because I was incoherent.

      1. It happens. I’ve looked back at some of my previous comments, and they could be reasonably taken to mean “no accountability” as well, something which I should have separated from “outing” more clearly.

        So, I still want my share of the blame :p

        1. Accountability has always been the big issue for me.

          Unfortunately, I am not convinced there’s any real accountability in referring it to his advisor and university.

          It’s the kind of thing that they’re likely not to want to seriously deal with, for the same reasons nobody else does, plus a few others.

          (Think about it. If they do anything serious to him, he can sue them for overstepping their authority and fucking up his prospects—he might not win, but the prospect of a suit is often plenty to deter people. And if they do nothing substantial about it, nobody’s going to sue them.)

          I’d be surprised if he gets much more than a stern warning, with no teeth, and I don’t believe that will be much of a deterrent for him.

          I also do think they will or can do anything to make him really accountable in the future, after he’s left his current institution, without outing him.

          If he’s not outed, he can do this again, and unless he gets caught doing something so serious that people seriously poke around in his past—e.g., finding out his real identity, finding his advisor, and asking if he’s ever been involved in this sort of thing before—then next time around, he’ll effectively have a clean slate.

          That sucks.

  16. After reading this post, my respect for Jerry Coyne went up a notch. Now, this is what critical thinking and fact-checking look like!

  17. The reason Mr. Mooney didn’t do the research was because he and I accidentally got locked in the bank vault. It was another one of my harebrained schemes…
    Wrong Mr. Mooney? Never mind.

  18. I didn’t think Mooney would let it get by moderation, but he did:

    The problem, as I see it Chris, wasn’t the liar that caused this problem. It was your jumping for some sort of confirmation of YOUR strawman arguments about the so-called “New Atheists.”

    And, just so you know, I think your position is bunk because it is a capitulation to second-class status. What you say to us New Athiests is the same thing said to the black-man for a hundred years after the civil war. The same, functionally equivalent, thing that Martin Luther King addresses in so many of his speeches — the PEACE OF SUBJUGATION AND IN-EQUALITY.

    That’s your accommodationist peace. That’s what the accommodationist white liberals, whom MLK railed against, many times, wanted. They’d sympathize with what he was doing, but would not help him in the cause. Because PEACE was more important than Justice.

    …and Jesus looked at them and said, in no uncertain terms, “Brethren, I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” He didn’t mean, “I come to bring a physical sword. He didn’t mean, “I come not to bring positive peace.” What Jesus is saying, “I come not to bring this old negative peace which makes for deadening passivity and stagnant complacently. And whenever I come a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new. (Yes) Whenever I come, (Yes) there is a lashing out between justice and injustice. (Yes) Whenever I come, (Yes) there is a division between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.” (Yes) Peace is not merely the absence of tension, but it is the presence of justice. (Yes) [applause] And the peace which existed at that time was a negative, obnoxious peace devoid of any positive meaning.

    And that is accommodationist result. You want PEACE. You think, magically, things will get better. You ignore at least 100 years of American history that say things won’t.

    If blacks didn’t fight for equal rights, they’d still be living as third-class citizens. If women didn’t fight for equal rights, they’d still be the chattel of their husbands without the right to vote. If unions didn’t fight for the right to organize, we’d still be slaves to the Company Store. At no time in history do those in power surrender their privilege without discord.

    And I’m not going to shut up until I can go to my grandchildren’s graduations and not be subject to illegal commencement prayers. When my grandchildren can go to public schools and not be harassed by teachers e-mailing Christian prayers and parables while using “search-and-replace” to remove God and Jesus and replace those words with “a wiseman.” Where if you don’t pray to the Flag, you’re un-American. Where if you don’t have a church when the teacher is asking people what faith they were, (which happened to my younger daughter in 5th grade), you’re ostracized.

    Of course, I guess it’s just your being young. You lack of relevent experience about the crappy way things were before you became semi-aware. You grew up after the upheavals of the 60’s. You didn’t march on any lines. You weren’t, like I was, forced to see the evil of your “peace.” To see how your belief in societal “peace” was a tool used by those who wish to oppress others through social pressure.

    1. It is not his youth, it his conceit, his smugness, his desperately needing to be right without any evidence. He will not outgrow any of his vices. He sucks.

    2. Well made point and good analogy Moses. Atheists are probably the most universally hated group in these united states, if the fundies could get away with it there would be stakes in every town square.

      There is a dimension to this that has been touched upon but not really emphasized. Those who were wronged by TJ and/or his sockpuppets will be afflicted by those wrongs until the Internet goes away. Others will use the same false claims or accusations as evidence for new false claims and accusations and until there is absolute clarity, it will be difficult if not impossible to refute each new libel.

      Therefore I am not in favor of giving the boy wonder a pass at all, not only should he be outed, but a concerted effort should be made to associate him publicly with every single instance of wrongdoing that he perpetrated.

      Apparently there was a time when people thought going to the local pharmacy and substituting a few laxatives for aspirin or something was a “practical joke”. Until someone else did it with cyanide.

      Propagating falsehoods about people in this medium is way too easy and when it does actual damage there need to be appropriately serious consequences.

  19. Just curious about how many of the godbots and their accommodationist cronies like to act as agent provocateurs.
    Nothing is beneath them, so . . .

    1. I doubt TJ was/is a conservative (“godbot”) believer. Not because (as you point out) it would be too awful or evil for a believer to pose as a (f)atheist sockpuppeteer–but rather because it would be too arduous. For a conservative believer to create the TJ story or the “You’re Not Helping” blog would be an incredible amount of work, across a significant amount of time, for minor and uncertain “reward.”

      Seems to me implausible.

  20. I can only repeat what others have said here, but some things are worth repeating.

    Scientific investigation often really is like a Sherlock Holmes – type investigation: the philosopher-logician Jaakko Hintikka has emphasized this point in many of his books and articles.

    My congratulations for cracking the main problem in this case; I am sure the rest will follow in good time.
    May this be a lesson for other “Tom Johnsons” – and for Chris Mooneys, for that matter!…:)

  21. Great piece of investigative journalism! Something Mooney should have done in the first place, before he put so much weight on the story.

    I was quite prepared to see the man outed, but this is a fairly neat solution. Now, it seems to me, the ball is in Mooney’s court. I think he needs to say something.

    1. Like, what was the motive. Coyne doesn’t say. Was this motivated by TJ agreeing that NA hurts science or was this guy culture jamming Mooney to get him to discredit the NAs?

      Is TJ a believer?

  22. It seems to me that the topic is with the right people and in the right mode of operation. I’ll follow PZ’s lead and consider the topic TJ closed. Thanks much for the initiative.

  23. Ah, Mooney has his attempt at face saving up again:

    “See here. It is a very good piece of work–and you know I don’t often agree with Coyne. I’ll have a bit more to say as soon as I can get a post together, but there really isn’t much more to say…”

    I tried posting this response:

    “Well, actually, there is much more to say, like why didn’t you, the **journalist** who has a career that includes exposing falsehoods about science and scientists, do the fact checking Coyne did?”

    But I seem to be banned, my comments don’t even go into “moderation,” just straight into the Mooney Memory Hole, where all inconvenient criticism goes.

    But it is pretty funny that Mooney posts this as if this somehow vindicates him when it does the opposite, showing how he utterly failed to check the facts in total abrogation of his duty, a duty that he certainly had by the time of his 4th post on the matter, his “I was victimized” not-so-mea-culpa, and that his continued attempts to claim that the event might have still happened as described were merely the petulant obfuscations of a former journalist who has no interest in getting to the truth if it conflicts with his prejudices.

    1. Pathetic. Just jaw-droppingly pathetic.

      Especially that “you know I don’t often agree with Coyne” when what he means is “you know I have a history of mindlessly bashing Coyne and then refusing to reply when people ask me what I can possibly mean by it.”

      1. Here’s a good rewording of Mooney’s post:

        “I accepted an anecdote on a contentious issue and used it as a politically damaging point, refused to retract it until it turned out that the source was a pathological fraud, and even then, I hinted that it might still be true. Afterward, I banned a slew of people who took issue with that on the basis of rudeness, even though I allowed this same pathological fraud and others to abuse my critics for months on end. I left the issue muddied and incomplete, refusing or ignoring several offers to clarify the issue while preventing an outing, leaving the relevant information with a few people that regularly agree with and defend me. Predictably, they were not too helpful to critics. Afterward, some of my critics took the initiative of distributing the relevant information, and as a consequence, one of them did what I should have done months ago, something would have prevented this entire mess. Here you go!

        In other news, accusations involving incivility and tone from me should be treated as mostly Swiftian in intent.”

        1. Excellent summary. I think you nailed all of the key facets. Why can’t others see Mooney as clearly as we see him?

          1. Oh, they can.
            But they do not hold truth to be particularly valuable.

  24. Knowing how things work in the academy, I have a question for the advisor:

    Would you ever consider writing a positive letter of recommendation for this student knowing his lack of ethics?

  25. Mooney posted that really there isn’t much more to say. So I posted a suggestion. Because Mooney seldom allows posts critical of him, and because my post mentions the name “Ophelia Benson”, I doubt that it will apear there. For the record, here’s suggestions to Mooney on what he could say.

    “I think there are some things for you to say.

    You could apologise for choosing to promote a malicious lie, so this guy could slander “new atheists”.

    You could apologise to Ophelia Benson, who has reason to be somewhat offended about being called an “useless putrid twat” by that malicious liar whose cause you took up. You highlighted him, to slander “New Atheists”, remember? You are not the victim here.

    You could apologise to Ophelia Benson, who was slandered as a liar on your blog, while you prevented her from commenting or responding.

    You could say, “Sorry, I’ve been a bit of a jerk, and one of the things I’ll do, to prevent me from continuing in this jerkish manner, is to unban my critics on this, who were right all along. Starting with Ophelia Benson.”

    I’m sorry, but I observe that your reputation is shrinking to a state not too dissimilar to that malicious liar whose work you so appreciated, highlighted and encouraged. I observe you’re at best a laughing stock, and that many people, including me, think worse of you than that you’re merely a fool.

    But a genuine apology, and restoration of comment rights to your critics, would be your only possible step back. That’s my suggestion on what you could say.

  26. It was obvious from within the first day or so that it was false. The only thing lending it à veneer of truth was Mooneys claim that he had verified the source.

  27. Knowing full well how hard it is to set false information straight again, the whole situation is somewhere between disgusting and pathetic. But it’s also sad – sad that Jerry has wound up investing a lot of time on this – time that could have been spent far more creatively.

    Mooney owes him a bottle of something along the lines of 23y/o Pappy Van Winkle.

  28. Does anyone agree that the motive for the lies is valuable to know?

    Was Johnson lying because he agrees that the NA’s damage the cause of Science Education, or was this a religious person, cranking up Mooney’s fear mongering about the NA’s?

    Jerry, do you know TJ’s motives? Can’t you comment on “why”. All you did here was tell us that “there is no grain of truth” , but we’ve always known that, what we still don’t know, and what you have a right to ask the advisor and the student, is why he smeared you?

    Don’t you want to know why? Doesn’t it matter?

    Did he do this for Jesus, or Science?

    Child soldiers usually work for Jesus.

    1. Jerry says over at Ophelia’s blog that he doesn’t know TJ’s motives and doesn’t think it wise to speculate.

      I think it is pretty clear that it would be very damning to Mooney’s case if Johnson turns out to be a staunch theist who had been pretending to be an atheist. Of course, Mooney is still a vacuous fool regardless.

      Because we can only speculate without knowing TJ’s real identity I think it is key to get that information so that we can learn more about TJ and his beliefs.

      1. I think Mooney is as much to blame as TJ. He had no evidence to back up his assertions about the “new atheists” in UA, and so he jumped at TJ’s manufactured evidence.

        Mooney needs to see the NA’s as bad guys and the theists as good guys, so he can imagine himself some grand moderator and “science communicator”.

        But there is no evidence to suggest that catering to religion increases scientific understanding and much evidence to suggest that giving lip service to “other ways of knowing” confuses people more than it clarifies. (If there are “other ways of knowing”, why not pick the one that claims to ensure that you live happily ever after? Study after study show that the religious do just that.)

        Frankly, I think Mooney should go frame himself.

      2. I don’t want Coyne to speculate, Coyne was smeared. He’s confronted his attacker.

        One of the things you get to do when you confront your attacker is ask the attacker, “why did you do it?”

        Now the attacker can lie, but part of saying your sorry means giving the victim, in the case Dr. Coyne, the respect of an explanation, and contrition, in this case demands knowing “why he did it”.

        Why did he spend so much time harrassing PZ and Coyne … was it just sport, was if his personal conviction that atheists are doing the cause of science education harm? Or was he just shilling for God?

        I’d like to know. Coyne, doesn’t have to speculate, he can ask the guy. If the guy really is contrite, he’ll tell Coyne, WHY?

      1. true, but at some level he seems to care. He might just be vandalizing the web for anarchist fun, but his posts ring true, he seems to either believe what he is saying, or he’s lying for a purpose.

        He either wants Mooney to be right, or he wants to use Mooney to create sense of rejection for explicit atheism. Thats how I see it.

  29. Jean Kazez wrote:

    “As to the total package of his sins (against you, against Chris Mooney, etc)–I have known all along his adviser is aware of them and in a good position to take appropriate action.”

    I doubt that very much. On July 11, over at The Buddha Is Not Serious, you basically called me nuts for suggesting that “TJ’s” behavior merited any sort of review by his university. Instead of implying that I was insane for saying that you were obstructing what little justice I could get from “TJ,” you could have simply said, “his advisor is aware of what happened,” and I would have been satisfied that his offenses against me in particular were being addressed by the appropriate people.

    That’s all I wanted. You suggested that such a solution was totally unreasonable. Yet here you are, saying that you knew “all along” that exactly that solution was being implemented.

    And it’s still completely beyond me what you, Jean Kazez, had to gain by attempting to portray yourself as protecting “TJ” from that justice. Apparently, you weren’t actually protecting him, since “all along” his advisor has been aware, so you were just putting on a show of keeping him out of trouble. Why?

    Don’t forget, this was never about “outing” him, for me. All I wanted to see was that “TJ” face consequences, and I had (and still have) no need to know who he is to be assured by trustworthy folks like Dr. Coyne that “TJ” is, indeed, facing those consequences. Those consequences being “His advisor and his university are looking at his actions to see if any formal academic transgressions occurred.” I’m not out for blood, since if no formal academic transgressions occurred, “TJ” still had to address the accusations with people who have actual authority over him. If he’s innocent, that’s fine, the question will have been answered. That’s all I wanted.

    Well, actually (and this isn’t directed at Jean Kazez), now I want to know if “TJ’s” advisor and university are aware of what he specifically did to me (or rather my comments). I imagine that such a scenario would sink a scientific journal’s integrity if an editor decided to pull such nasty tricks with a letter. I’m not favorably comparing myself to any editors of any journals, I’m just saying that if “TJ’s” career is heading in that direction, his advisor needs to straighten him out, quickly.

    Anyway, it’d be nice to see the list of events as his advisor is aware of them, to ensure that it is correct and complete – and I wouldn’t want “TJ” taking the fall for things that weren’t of his doing.

    1. Hum, that’s interesting. As I said to Jean Kazez above, I certainly didn’t know that TJ’s “adviser is aware of [his sins] and in a good position to take appropriate action.” She could have simply said that, yet she never did; instead she called a lot of people a lot of names, shut down comments, and generally made a stink because we didn’t simply take her word for it that we should all shut up and forget all about poor crushed Tom Johnson. Hm.

      Now she’s calling Athena Andreadis names for asking skeptical questions. Hm.

    2. For the record – here it is


      “As to people who think campus honor codes cover personal misbehavior like lying on the internet–think again. Not at all. So “obstructing justice”? That’s just wild.

      Continuing this conversation just makes me feel like I’ve left the reality based community, so–by all.”

      From Jean Kazez, who just said she knew all along that TJ’s advisor was investigating. So much for the reality based community.

      1. So, was Kazez lying then or is she lying now? Why would she feel the need to lie in either case? Is it just some kind of pathological compulsion to lie at this point (of the same type that drove Tom to his misdeeds perhaps)?

    3. Dave W– You told me that I had a responsibility to report this thing to the guy’s academic honor board.

      “So even if you’re not willing to publicly expose “William,” you should let the school’s system function by reporting “William’s” conduct to them.”

      I don’t agree that I have any duty to turn students in to honor boards at other schools. You then went on to say I’d be “obstructing justice” if I didn’t, and Ophelia chimed in enthusiastically. I thought it was all pretty over the top, and still do. Yes, it would have reassured you if I’d said his adviser knew about it, but I’d been told that in confidence and it simply wasn’t an option.

      1. As I asked you on your own site, Jean Kazez: who could it have harmed? “His advisor knows.” That’s all the justice I was looking for, and yes, you seemed (at the time) to be dead-set on obstructing it for me.

        As for your duty, I guess we have different ethical standards. From my point of view at the time, you were helping to keep a known lying student’s record spot-free, regardless of the damage he could have done if his behavior had gone without consequence and continued on into whatever his career was going to be.

        And I think you thought it was “over the top” simply because you were privy to information which the rest of us didn’t have. From my point of view, I was asking for you to do the right thing, and let the people who could have all the facts figure out what to do. From your point of view… well, I still don’t know what you know, so I don’t know what your point of view really is. But for you to claim that I’ve left reason behind based on knowledge that you were specifically keeping secret from me is itself unreasonable and insulting.

        1. Oh, yes we DO know her point of view, her point of view is that TJ is in DANGER because who knows what some nut might do if anyone knew anything.

          The witness protection program is part of the smear. The Atheists are rabid witch hunters, baying for blood. They are INSANE, they will kill TOM JOHNSON.

          They have zombie child soldiers who will fixate and destroy whatever PZ Myers says. If Myers wants a cracker defiled, these nuts on his blog will gladly go kick old ladies out of the way to steal the host.

          See how this works. The whole thing is insane.

          Some asswipe socks a blog, and she thinks we care enough to burn a cross on his lawn.

          Only religious people feel their cause merits violence … but it would be rude to say that.

          1. Why is it that every time you poke on religion, ugly rears its head? It is always there besides the insanity and violence of religion. (And accommodationism or agnosticism is not neutral rejection of the unlikely unseen but embracing it as positive belief in belief or positively embracing it as as likely as the observed – both still religion at hearth if twice removed.)

      2. Jean – I did not chime in enthusiastically. You really need to dig deep at this point and at the very least get back your ability to refrain from making up shit about people you dislike.

        I did not say one word about you reporting TJ to his university or obstructing justice. Not a word. I replied to Dave’s comment, but in a different vein.

        1. Ouch, reading the thread and can only agree with your description of Kazez – there was that ugly again!

  30. The horse appears to be dead and decomposing, but I’m still a little perplexed about the hand wringing about Tom Johnson’s “youth.” As I understand it, he’s in his early 20s and a graduate student. When I was in my (very) early 20s I was a missile operations supervisor on a Polaris launching research ship. Early 20s is past the age of consent and well into the age of responsibility. Appealing to TJ’s youth is coddling a grownup liar who even lied in his apology for lying.

    1. this is exactly why Kazez is afraid for Tom Johnson … Atheist child soldiers have nukes, and they smoke ganja rolled in pages of the god delusion. The terror.

      Yes, poor terrified Tom Johnson, please not the horror of tossing him in the briar patch.

      Song of the South baby.

  31. TJ’s self-imposed punishment of never blogging again isn’t fair or reasonable. TJ may well live five more decades, at which time “blogging” in one way or another may encompass who knows how much of life?

    TJ should come out of the closet now, start blogging honestly forever after, take his lumps publicly, and hope that his reputation will one day heal.

    But I fear that TJ will instead resurface three or five years from now, blogging away, his promise of self-punishment notwithstanding. When he’s exposed, he’ll apologize again….

    1. this is called “don’t throw me in the briar patch” … “oh, ban me from the intersection … if you must”. It will hurt, but I deserve it.


  32. I wish to (hopefully) clarify an outstanding issue.

    Let P be the proposition that something happened which resembles the Tom Johnson story.

    Last year Chris makes the claim that P is true, though he offers some caveats. Later he finds out that “there’s no reason to trust” that P is true.

    Chris then goes on to say that P “might still be accurate”. He tells us of confidential information given to Jean and TB supporting this idea. Jean and TB confirm: P might still be true! No other person possesses this information, and Chris refuses requests to allow a mutually-agreed-upon third party to review it in confidence.

    Now what does it mean to say that P might be true? There is a trivial sense in which most any proposition might be true. It might be true that Condoleezza Rice has a bionic eye, etc. If that is what Chris means when he says that P might be true, then he is being misleading: a vacuous statement is being passed off as an information-containing one.

    Now if P might be true in the non-trivial sense, then there must be something in this secret evidence besides the already-discredited claims by Tom Johnson, for otherwise it cannot be claimed that P might be true, non-trivially.

    Now Jerry Coyne has investigated. His conclusion is that no such evidence exists in support of P (which matches my conclusion two weeks ago).

    Now we wait to hear from Mooney. Possibilities are that he (a) admits to giving a vacuous, misleading statement and allowing Jean and TB to defend it; (b) finally offers this TJ-independent evidence; (c) maintains the not-telling-anyone-but-Jean-and-TB gambit; (d) ignores all of this.

    1. You bring up a very good point. We were told there was super-secret-information that still made the “Tom Johnson” story somewhat convincing. Does Coyne know about this information?

      If so, then it was obviously nowhere near as convincing as Mooney and Kazez claimed.

  33. I do not see why this person should be shielded from the consequences of his actions. He should be outed, probably it is Mooney’s responsibility to do this.

    1. If “TJ” had a single functioning nut (that’s a technical phrase relating to integrity and ethics)he would come clean himself. These concepts are obviously foreign to him which, in my view, make it more important for someone else to out him if he refuses to do it himself.

      And I have to laugh out loud at Jean Kazez’s posts on this. Doesn’t she purport to write on ethics?

      1. *Slaps head* Is that Jean Kazez? “I regularly teach a course on the good life titled “The Meaning of Life” and a course on animal rights. In past years, I’ve taught Ethics and Literature,”

        Philosopher. [/figures] Ethics. [/figures] Religious school. [/figures]

        That is like having Mooney reporting on science.

    2. he must be shielded because Coyne and Myers not only made up the word “faitheist”, which is soooooo insulting, their books and blogs are a front for a much sinister plot to trick children into hacking off the limbs of the faithful … just because they can. They want to keep TJ safe from the child soldiers of atheism.

  34. So basically you guys want to make some kid’s identity public, because he lied to you on the Internet, so you can harass him IRL. That’s pretty screwed up.

    1. Harass isn’t the right word, the New Atheists are made up of two factions. One, a small cadre of intellectual elites, like Jerry Coyne, lets call them “the horsemen”.

      The other faction is made of child soldiers.


      These are mindless drones, with no ability form opinions of their own. The danger here isn’t simply exposing the serial liar, it is what the child soldiers will do to him once he is located and Coyne gives the word to have him … its too frightening to even think what will happen

      1. People will find his address, send him harassing letters, maybe harass his family or friends. I don’t know why giving away this guy’s identity is necessary to you unless you want to affect his personal life because he had conversations with himself on the Internet.

        1. Alex,

          You characterize his taking advantage of his pseudonymity to try to out someone and get them fired from their real-life job as mere “talking to himself on the internet”?


          By that logic, I suppose you could characterize yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded theater as “briefly talking during a movie.”

          The guy spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of his time obsessively trying to shut other people down, and make it as unpleasant as possible for them to publicly express their opinions.

          Not in legitimate ways, by just insistently publicly disagreeing, but by using sock puppets in a supposedly fairly open forum to make it seem that many people disagreed with the speaker, many people thought the speaker was a moron, and most people there wanted the person to shut up and go away.

          Worse, he libeled people, constantly. Likely not in a legally actionable ways, but he knowingly said things that were false and derogatory about people. Constantly, for months on end, and using a variety of sneaky tricks to get away with it.

          (Did you ever deal with him? If you think he was just “talking to himself on the internet,” I have to guess that you didn’t, and you have no idea what you’re talking about on the internet.)

          That may not mean anything to you—somebody determinedly trying to undermine hundreds of hours of other people’s efforts, lying about them, and trying as hard as he could to inflict misery.

          Maybe you don’t think they should waste time expressing themselves on the internet.

          And maybe you think they should just roll over and let such assholes win by using such dishonest and malicious strategies.

          If so, I think you’re morally underdeveloped. It’s really not okay to just let people get away with abusing others so thoroughly, viciously, dishonestly, hypocritically, and systematically. If you do, you’re effectively condoning and encouraging that person and others to do the same thing.

          The things you’ve written here amount to saying that it’s no big deal to fuck people over on the internet, no matter how much of their time and effort you waste, and no matter how much misery you inflict, and no matter how dishonestly you do it. If they care about their opinions and whether their time and effort expressing them is wasted, that’s their mistake.

          As I’ve said before, that’s like saying that other people’s hobbies are a waste of time, so if you vandalize their model train setup, it’s okay—they shouldn’t care about model trains anyway.

          And that would be wrong. It is not for you to decide whether other people should care about their opinions or expressing them, any more than it’s up for you to assign a value to their model trains or their downhill skiing or their relationships with other human beings.

          That’s just not your call. Other people have a right to value expressing their opinions, and value it highly, and to value their time and effort.

          If you don’t value it much, don’t even bother responding, okay?

          If you want to make a serious effort to quantify the seriousness of this guy’s misdeeds, go for it. That could be interesting.

          But if you’re just going to blatantly minimize and dismiss them, don’t expect to be taken seriously.

    2. Alex,

      As Jean Kazez has noted, the internet is part of real life.

      Keep in mind that this guy put a phenomenal amount of effort, for months and months, into making others miserable. He spent hundreds of hours trying to suppress other poeple’s opinions, distort their ideas to make them look bad, and damage their reputations, by any means necessary, and as publicly as he could manage.

      He even tried to out somebody else and get them fired. Is that real life enough for you?

      This isn’t about a lie or two on the intertubes. This is about a systematic and methodical smear campaign.

      If you don’t care, fine. But don’t give us that “it’s only the internet” stuff. You may not care about your ideas and reputation on the internet, but other people do.

      You may think they’re stupid to care, but that’s not your choice.

      There’s no rule that says what happens on the internet stays on the internet, no matter what you do and no matter how many times you do it. Nor should there be.

      There’s no rule that says that if you viciously lie about people, they’re obliged not to tell the truth about you, e.g., who did the lying about them.

      He’s old enough to know better, and he’s old enough to be held responsible for his actions. Whether he committed them on the internet isn’t what’s important.

      1. “He even tried to out somebody else and get them fired. Is that real life enough for you?”

        Actually, yeah it is. In that case, I don’t really mind.

        “There’s no rule that says what happens on the internet stays on the internet, no matter what you do and no matter how many times you do it. Nor should there be.”
        How would such a rule even exist?

    3. It is also your own strawman on what “we” _all_ wants/will do. What does that say about you?

      1. I’m sure some of you just want to know who he is so you can stalk him too, of course. Sorry for not mentioning that possibility.

        1. You are still telling us a lot about your own problems of mind, but very little concerning us.

          Yes, it is possible that some would want that. After all, TJ AFAIU showed us that stalkers are a reality; if not there are statistics that shows it happens across all of society.

          But you are _sure_?! To have faith in benevolent gods is not too bad, but to have them in sociopath humans …

          I have I said ugly today? No? Well, ugly!

    1. My comment in moderation:

      Autonomic, your post is reasonable up until the end. Obviously the story isn’t evidence of anything now, because it isn’t true.
      But that’s different from saying there’s no evidence or basis for thinking the New Atheism might be counterproductive. It’s a different, broader issue.

      This is what people have been asking you for months. What’s the evidence that New Atheism is counterproductive? No weaseling with ‘might be counterproductive’. Either you have evidence* that it’s counterproductive or you don’t. So far, the only evidence you’ve produced is Tom Johnson, and that was a failure. But here you’re still alluding to some evidence. What is it?
      *also, none of this slipping into “evidence or basis for thinking”. I reckon you can come up with a ‘basis for thinking’ just about anything you can imagine. What matters is evidence, full stop.

  35. To me, the big issue here isn’t TJ and never really was TJ, it is the original account.

    Mooney hasn’t actually retracted there – he still maintains that the story “May still be accurate.” His defenders have joined him in that, even as evidence mounts against that position.

    And THAT is the really unacceptable thing.

  36. Well, Dr. Coyne presents Mr. Mooney (again) some 101 in journalism.

    Is there anything Mr. Mooney could do for science in return? He is supposed to be a science journalist, isn’t he?

  37. That’s great news; it was all nonsense as I suspected from the start. My only question is: Is TJ a religious person as I suspected? I also wonder if TJ should see the head shrinker.

    Well, I guess to date Mooney has as much ‘evidence’ for his claims as the jesus cultists have of their deities. It’s all someone else’s word, isn’t it – in fact it is claimed to be god’s own word. Hehehe. I can’t even type that without laughing.

    1. Damn you – now you got me laughing as well! Damn, damn, damn… (but it felt good!)

      Spot on analysis, I would think.

  38. I’m not a fan of outing TJ, but I’m in favour of persuading him to out himself. He’s been a dishonest arsehole and might remain a dishonest arsehole but he might have it in him to redeem himself, I suppose.

    If he outed himself, that would be a small start. If he continued to post under his real identity, being careful to cite sources and so on, there might be some grounds to eventually trust him, regardless of whether we agree with him.

    That way, he’d face some consequences *and* get the chance to try to make things right. If he doesn’t out himself, that road is harder to tread.

    So perhaps irresponsibly, I seem happy to be judge but not executioner. But encouraging TJ to out himself seems a thing we can do.

  39. Ultimately, all this kid did (yes, someone in their 20’s is still a kid, kids), was discredit the integrity of the “quiet diplomacy,” atheists, not the new atheists as he intended. Of course he shouldn’t have done it, but this is a storm in a teacup.

    He’s young and has a real opportunity to mend his fucktard ways. This BS shouldn’t affect his work in meatspace. No one can tell whether he’s pathological until he tries to pull this stuff in his academic career. And already, many people will know and scrutinise his work.

    He does not need to be outed, bear the mark of Caine, and wander the Earth for eternity for some idiot crap he pulled in his twenties.

    1. “someone in their 20′s is still a kid, kids” He or she is also legally adult, which is what will count.

      [As for “meatspace”, other commenters have already noted that internet is socialspace now (i.e. real life).]

    2. He does not need to be outed, bear the mark of Caine, and wander the Earth for eternity for some idiot crap he pulled in his twenties.

      I do, for crap I pulled in my teens, and that was over 25 years ago…

      All that being said, TJ is an adult and is responsible for his actions.

  40. Thank you so much. This has answered all the questions everyone has been asking but which Mooney and co has refused to answered.

    Why couldn’t Mooney have just said this from the get-go? I and at least a dozen others asked him to answer these exact questions and he totally ignored us. His post was muddled and essentially indecipherable. All everyone asked for was a clear statement of what happened and what didn’t and he completely ignored it. How could someone who prides himself on science communication be so totally incapable of intelligible communication?

    I do have one question, Dr. Coyne: why did “Johnson” claim earlier that he wasn’t a grad student? I still don’t get this. I can’t think of a single logical reason to do so.

    1. It appears that TJ falsely claimed not to be a grad student, in his big confession, in order to throw people off his trail.

      Mooney later checked into and found out that he’d lied about having lying about that.

      1. But why? Would anyone have know “Johnson” was really one of the sock puppets if he hadn’t said so himself?

        1. It should have been trivial to see that “Johnson” and all the other puppets were coming from the same IP address.

          I agree with Paul that TJ decided to throw all his socks under the bus and lie to try and keep his meatspace life separate from his on-line escapades.

        2. It was not confirmed until he said so himself, but there were suspicions beforehand when the sockpuppeting was caught by Oedipus. “William” (or whatever his real name is) was directly asked if Johnson was one of the sockpuppets.

          1. Right. Once the question was asked, it would only have taken Mooney a few minutes to find out that “William” was also “Tom Johnson,” by comparing IP addresses.

            That’s when he confessed to that—when he realized was pretty much caught already.

            It’s worth noting that he did that several times, making it sound like he’d made a clean breast of things, only to be caught in another lie, and confess again.

            That’s one of the things that makes it difficult to believe he’s honest about anything, including his contrition.

            He owes a lot of people some very specific apologies for some many specific acts of merciless viciousness.

            We’re unlikely to get those, though, because Mooney apparently doesn’t want us to know the extent of his sock puppetry—he wont’ give us a list of socks, or answer any more questions, and Mooney says he won’t check the IP’s in old threads.

            That’s really interesting, given that Mooney has insinuated that similar actions were likely taken by New Atheists. He makes the insinuation, but won’t even look at the evidence in his possession to see if it’s true.

            (Mooney’s insinuation is carefully worded—it could be construed as about AGW denialists or something, not New Atheists. But when asked, he won’t clarify or examine the evidence that is available only to him, and either retract or substantiate the insinuation. Big surprise.)

          2. “Mooney’s insinuation is carefully worded”

            Mooney and Kazez (“yesterday”) has learned me a lot about sophistic rhetoric. For that, and that only, I’m grateful. (So now I know when to steer clear.)

  41. I think the kid learned a lesson. Who did he hurt other than himself anyway? Wanting his true identity made public seems a little vengeful on such an insignificant matter. Lord knows (just a saying, not a belief) everyone here has done their fair share of mistakes, and wouldn’t want to be outed for them publicly.
    Vengeance is mine. The Christian way.

    1. Yeah, telling lies anonymously on the internet is pretty darn close to being a victimless crime IMHO. If people get worked up over it and devote time to gnashing their teeth it’s as much their fault as his.

      1. “Victimless crime”?

        Did you read the thread?

        This guy, among other things, tried to get somebody else outed and fired from his job.

        IMHO, that crossed a very big line, and he forfeited his right to anonymity by both abusing his own anonymity—escaping responsibility is not what it’s good for—and by trying to violate someone else’s in the most harmful way he could manage.

        I do not believe that this “kid” has learned his lesson.

        He has repeatedly feigned repentance and gone on to even more determined dishonest and utterly hypocritical smear campaigning.

        This guy is an apparently unrepentant sick fuck, who by his own actions has made it very difficult to believe that he’s sincerely remorseful, or sincerely reformed.

        Perhaps he really is remorseful, this one time, but nobody has any good grounds for believing that. We have excellent grounds for disbelieving it.

        I can believe he regrets his actions, but very probably only because he got caught, not because he has a functioning conscience.

        1. Right, he “tried” to do all kinds of nasty things. But it turns out anonymous trolls have very little power to actually get things done. That’s why I think it’s effectively victimless. He was all talk (sticks and stones and all that).

          I would be surprised if someone googled you and the first hit is a random blog comment section where you got insulted.

    2. People use google in real life. What is said about real people on the internetz does not exist in some magic internetz sphere that has no effect on anything in real life.

    3. Right. He learned his lesson. What lesson was that, exactly? That he could spend months executing an elaborate charade of false identities and a sham website to smear and defame New Atheists in general and some in particular, without so much as his name being made public when caught red handed, repeatedly? Oh, and his name has been reported to his school, which may well do nothing since his actions weren’t school related (and should do nothing if his actions weren’t school related)? My, my, that certainly seems a harsh lesson. Clearly he would never want to have to suffer those same harsh circumstances. :-p

      This isn’t a 6 year-old we are talking about. This is an adult grad student who spend months creating is fraudulent web of lies, smearing real people from his protective cloak of anonymity which insulated him from accountability, a cloak many of people he tried to smear in generalities are defending, saying that he has “suffered” enough and gone through “hell”. Suffering and hell just aren’t what they used to be…

      1. Suffering and hell just aren’t what they used to be…


        I think it’s worth noting (as we’ve done elsewhere) that in the so-called “real world” merely telling the truth about someone’s offenses is not generally considered punishment.

        So, for example, if Bernie Madoff were caught and exposed as a con artist but was exempt from prosecution due to screwups about evidence, we’d say he went unpunished and got off scot free.

        The fact that he might be humiliated to have the truth made public—that he’s a con artist—is simply not punishment.

        The term punishment is usually reserved for something over and above getting caught.

        Think about that.

        If somebody was demonstrably conned or simply libeled by someone else in the so-called “real world,” would anybody say the victim had an obligation to keep the perp’s identity secret?

        No way.

        So let’s get this straight. If “Tom’s” identity comes out, and people find out the truth that he lied about people, and tried to out someone, that’s simply not the fault of the victims, or whoever outs him.

        It’s his fault for making those things true, and forfeiting his right to have his pseudonymity preserved.

        Victims do not have an obligation to keep their victimizer’s identity secret.
        How could they?

        Saying who did it to you is not punishment. If the perp suffers collateral damage just because people find out what he did, that’s not being punished. It’s just one of those things that happens when you shoot yourself in the foot.

        Let’s stop blaming the victims here, just because this faux-contrite malicious twerp got himself into “trouble” that likely won’t even include any actual punishment, or any real accountability.

  42. Thank you, Jerry, Mooney had been hopelessly vague to the point where it was difficult to draw even the most tentative conclusions about what actually happened. You managed to give us enough info without actually betraying anyone’s identity. I really appreciate it.

    I wonder if the story came from comments made by atheist colleagues not to theists’ faces. I certainly say some things in private to people like my wife or atheist friends that I would not say in person to a theist — not out of cowardice, but out of courtesy. (Which is exactly what these liars are saying us NAs lack, ironically) In fact, an even more striking example: A co-worker of mine is a committed Christian, and we’ve had some very interesting and respectful discussions. He’s also read my blog, in which I am not particularly respectful even of moderate religion. And we’re both okay with that. Even someone who is an indirect target of some of the venting on my blog can understand that there is a difference between the kind of venting you do in the presence of like-minded (and like-frustrated) people vs. the kind of in-person conversation you have with someone with whom you disagree but respect.

    TJ may have failed to grasp the difference, and thought that because his colleagues used very harsh and derisive language about theists in the company of other atheists, that it was therefore plausible that they would use the same language at conservation outreach events. A preposterous notion, of course — all humans modify their tone based on audience, that’s just part of being a social animal.

    1. Well, some people insist that it’s actually the same thing – that there is no distinction that matters between saying it in a book or article and saying it to someone in conversation. This is an argument I had with Jean Kazez last summer, during the overall multi-blog discussion of M&K’s book. Kazez really claims that the two amount to the same thing.

      In a sense, thinking this explains some of the malice of the Nice Police…but the trouble is, they have no right to think that. It’s absurd, and it’s death to honest public discourse.

      1. Yeah, that’s just crazy. Ironically, that position only makes sense if you take a “Spock”-ish view of what humans should aspire to be (perhaps not coincidentally, yet another thing that New Atheists get wrongly accused of!). Yes, if we were all perfectly rational information-processing computers, there would be no difference between what I say on my blog and what I say to someone’s face. Not only that, but the relationship between the tone of each and the effect on the reader/listener would be identical.

        News flash: Humans don’t work like that. As writers/speakers, we habitually and mostly subconsciously modify our tone depending on the identity and proximity of the audience. Moreover, as readers/listeners, the audience will have a different reaction to tone based on their proximity — it is becoming increasingly apparent that, while a respectful and carefully reasoned dialog may be the most effective way to convince a person in one-on-one conversation, when writing a blog or any sort of opinion piece it is far more effective to state your case unequivocally, unambiguously, and uncompromisingly. Probably with exclamation points.

        1. Well quite. And the thing is, if all discourse had to be governed by the rules – the instinctive, emotive, semi-“natural” rules – that govern personal interaction – well just imagine how inhibiting that would be! It is necessary for public discourse to be much freer than personal discourse can be on contentious subjects.

          1. I suspect they also make another error, that of believing that if person A says they were attacked by person B, then person B must necessarily be at fault. It doesn’t matter what person B actually said; person A perceived it as hostile, therefore it was hostile. This belief seems to be pretty common in some circles.

    2. But I can’t see how that is an explanation either.

      In your face and bigoted US religiosity as displayed by society in general and accommodationists specifically can be frustrating. But when I worked in US, not in science but among many academicians, the topic never came up. Of course they suspected that swedes were atheists, but at the most they asked about religion in Sweden.

      So if it is frustration, it is severely repressed. I don’t think it is likely to hear public venting in such an atmosphere.

      Of course you will hear atheists and perhaps especially scientists describe the group of religious as comparably “”stupid”, “ignorant”” (TJ). That is exactly what statistics tells us about the group!

      But those are facts on the group, however aggressive worded, and nothing that you would use to describe individual members as (because when you would be often wrong). So again we come back to the flagrant unintentional problem or intentional method of religionistas of mistaking general criticism of the phenomena for attack on the person.

      1. My hypothesis about TJ’s confusion was not talking about a professional setting. I was picturing more like, he’s hanging out in a dorm room or a bar or something with another (atheist) grad student or two, and they start going on about how the upcoming Baptist-sponsored outreach event is going to be mobbed with a bunch of “brain-dead idjuts” or something. I don’t think that’s an implausible scenario.

        Nor is it a disturbing scenario. College students using derisive terms in a private setting to describe people with whom they have a major ideological difference? OMFG that’s never happened before!!!1!1!!11!!Eleventy!!11!

        1. Oh, you said “private” et cetera. My mistake!

          Yeah, _that_ could certainly happen.

          [And no, it is not disturbing. It would be disturbing if venting _did not_ take place, it is a sound mechanism to handle fatigue and aggression and so on.]

  43. Jean Kazez said something untrue about me above, in the thread on Dave W’s comment 35, and I want to set the record straight.


    “I don’t agree that I have any duty to turn students in to honor boards at other schools. You then went on to say I’d be “obstructing justice” if I didn’t, and Ophelia chimed in enthusiastically.”

    I did no such thing. That is a falsehood. My two replies to Dave W are here



    Neither one so much as mentions JK’s duty to turn students in or obstruction of justice. I would paste them both in but I don’t want to clutter Jerry’s blog more than the minimum necessary to get it on the record that Jean Kazez saw fit to tell a flat-out falsehood about me.

    1. Ophelia, Since you are essentially accusing me of lying (using all but the word), it is worth quoting you. In fact, you DO mention my alleged “obstruction of justice.” (Didn’t you check before making the accusation?)

      You wrote:

      “‘And just how much do you have to gain by obstructing justice on behalf of a known liar? I can’t figure out your motivation at all.'[you were quoting Dave W, who was speaking to me]

      My guess about the motivation is that it has to do with increasing hostility to “New” atheists. Mooney and the many many other demonizers of explicit atheists are having their effect, and hostility to us is indeed ratcheting up. At the same time, though, our obstinate determination not to be demonized and othered without a fight is also being entrenched. So we see new fissures and divisions, which perhaps make “William” in his fetid cave happy. [etc]”

      You accepted the presupposition of Dave W’s question–that I was obstructing justice. Clearly you did. And then you speculated wildly about my motivations.

      If you have a quibble about the adverb “enthusiastically” then say so. But please don’t say I’m “telling falsehoods” (to use your euphemism) when I’m not.

      1. Since you were able to quote verbatim from something, why were you unable to link to it, so that everyone can look at the evidence?

      2. Yes I checked. I quoted for orientation, as is customary, then I talked about motivation. I did not “chime in enthusiastically” with the claim that you were obstructing justice; I ignored it; chiming in enthusiastically with it would have been repeating it or agreeing with it, not including it in a snip for orientation purposes. (That thread is incredibly long and complicated, even more so than this one; it was necessary to make it clear what one was replying to.)

        This is of course of a piece with the hyperbole that is generally directed at Gnu Atheists by the people who hate them – in fact it has a whiff of TJ himself. A mere where-are-we quote becomes “chiming in enthusiastically.”

      3. Oh dear me, I’m supposed to take the high road here:

        ” ”

        And that is unfortunately all I can say in response.

        [Luckily Ophelia can say more.]

  44. I can only show respect to a theist insofar as their beliefs don’t infringe on whatever topic is at hand. If they start pulling yarns from the Bible on topics such as evolution or the human psyche, I’m quite sure I would be pretty damn derisive in person. It’s simply too much to ask of me to be respectful about any such crazy and unfounded beliefs. I dislike the idea that I must treat with respect any kind of conjured beliefs — if a kid comes to me with ravings from his imagination, you better believe I’ll treat them little more than such.

    So, I imagine TJ won’t like me too much.

    1. “Have you read my book?” is how M’s responding at the Intersection.

      26. Chris Mooney Says:
      July 26th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

      The reason I asked is that it seems like people want me to reinvent the wheel–I’ve already made my arguments about the New Atheism in that book.

      We all know how well that went…

      1. I have to kinda agree with Chris here. He does make some arguments.

        The big problem with the way he presents things is that he doesn’t address important countervailing arguments, and goes out of his way to make it sound like they don’t exist.

        The chronic example of that is that Chris appeals to the idea that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar—if you’re not very very nice to people, they’ll just react against you and move the other way, opinion wise.

        He never addresses the major arguments and evidence that go the other way—Overton Window reasoning, and the evidence of (1) the success of the Religious Right coming to power while being anything but nice, and (2) the success of the gay rights movement after becoming visible at the cost of being vilified in the short term.

        Mooney systematically avoids the issues of whether the strategy he suggests really works in the long run, or is just giving away the store, winning battles but losing the war, etc.

        He makes it sound like he’s “mystified” that anybody could disagree with his seemingly obvious reasoning from shared premises.

        In that, he’s simply dishonest. He is not mystified at all as to why people disagree with him. He is framing the subject to avoid the real argument—e.g., are Overton Window effects more important than the effects he talks about, in the long run?

        That’s one of the things that people have been pointing out for years—that Mooney is avoiding real argument.

        He proceeded to write Chapter 8 of UA saying the same things people had disagreed with before, and again generally avoiding saying why his critics actually disagree with him, distorting what they said to make it sound like they’re basically just ornery and or stupid.

        Since then, he’s proceeded to stonewall about the weaknesses of his arguments, and the strengths—or even the existence—of counterarguments.

        He’s doing it again, right here, right now.

        Come on, Chris, when are you going to seriously address Overton Windows and how they do or don’t apply to accommodationism?

        Never, I’m guessing.

        1. Chris appeals to the idea that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

          Right, this is the entire substance of the argument from this vaunted “communications expert”. If I respond with contrary but similarly banal folk-wisdom, like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, could I get a book deal too?

          1. If I respond with contrary but similarly banal folk-wisdom, like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, could I get a book deal too?

            No. Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s secret is that they were co-authors. After all, there is no I in ‘team’.

            However, you should write a book even if you can’t get it published, since the pen is mightier than the sword.

            And don’t delay; after all, a stitch in time saves nine.

          2. Are JK, TB, Jon, Anthony Hall, Kwok, and Gurdur example of the flies Mooney is catching?

            And isn’t the TJ episode the only actual “evidence” Mooney referred to –and now it turns out to be bollocks?

            I’d say this shows that accommodationism turns out to be a big FAIL. It’s a win for the Dunning Kruger effect, because like religionists, the faitheists seem to think much more of themselves than anyone else does (and much, much more of their technique than the evidence warrants.)

          3. It also shows a great ignorance of biology. Jerry (and my) fruitflies would far rather go for vinegar.

          4. Vinegar? Yeah, that frequently works.

            I’m told by biologists and right-wing strategists that it also helps if you fling some shit in there.

        2. The chronic example of that is that Chris appeals to the idea that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

          While not bothering to check whether his honey isn’t actually motor oil, and while apparently not caring whether it’s flies or yellow jackets that are attracted to it.

        3. He never addresses the major arguments and evidence that go the other way—Overton Window reasoning, and the evidence of (1) the success of the Religious Right coming to power while being anything but nice, and (2) the success of the gay rights movement after becoming visible at the cost of being vilified in the short term.

          There is much more.

          First, we have groups like abolitionists and suffragettes that made the same journey.

          But, second, it has already been done precisely on religion in a modern time nation! I have mentioned it before, but what broke the back of religion in Sweden was the philosopher Ingemar Hedenius in the 1950’s.

          Religion and its head figures were publicly ridiculed, and the slow moving separation between secular state and state church got going, first as a separation between theology and study of religion in academia. (Which again was one of Hedenius specific proposals.)

          According to the swedish Wikipedia Hedenius was a cross between PZ Myers and Hitchens – softspoken in private, hard as nails in public.

          I haven’t read Mooney, but I can assume he will take the myopic stance and note that US isn’t Sweden. But at least he can’t deny that being strident has a proven track record as far as religion goes.

          Being nice, not so much AFAIK. At least, you won’t hear about it as much. And that is not exactly a fact in support.

          1. And I should also note, in this process of Hedenius, what constituted accommodationists at the time “were not helping”.

          2. Well, new and new, but I wanted to ensure that Hedenius (which history I haven’t studied) really went up against a still powerful church:

            From a review of Hedenius “Faith and science” (which I didn’t like much of the rest of, really) by way of Google Translate and minor edit:

            “It was, in other words, a powerful organization with statutory privileges Hedenius exposed to lust murder. His approach was brilliant. “Faith and science” consists largely of crackling dry religious philosophical expositions little available for other than the special interests. But it was not that difficult to digest food that put the feelings in the groove and created one of 1900s biggest debate of ideas. It has a spin to the debate was Hedenius attack on some specially selected bishops in the Swedish Church. His tone was completely disrespectful and invective on the Bishops’ intellectual inadequacy spiced with a special malicious humor. For those who angered the priests and bishops in the authoritative tone that was gefundenes Fressen. When Hedenius good friend, Dagens Nyheter powerful editor Herbert Tingsten, then invited to debate the contested bishops were often angry and sour while Hedenius responded in happy, nasty and hilarious style.

            Hedenius and Tingsten together had rigged the medial victory and no doubt won the rhetorical battle Hedenius in style – theologians and bishops had to run the gauntlet. Dirt in the beaker was possibly the Hedenius not received any benefit from his philosophy professor colleagues who instead exposed the weaknesses in his argument, but this discussion is not exposed medially.


            Despite his critical attitude Hedenius felt a strong attraction to Christianity. Figure of Christ and Easter events involved and took hold. He studied the New Testament in Greek and at times he attended church services. He was ambivalent and even wrote that he was religious, although this must be understood in a special emotional meaning. With Hedenius own words, he was not “religiously innocent.”” [My bold.]

          3. its a good example, I’ve lived in Sweden, and pressure from the outside gives moderates a chance to reform the church.

            The modern Swedish Church is practically humanist today:


            Carl Linneus is burried in the Cathedral in Uppsala, and should be on every scientists bucket list.

            If anything, the swedish lesson shows the value in attacking the church in an intelligent way. We often just hear religion being attacked as a vauge idea, Hedenius attacked doctrine, not religion generally, the net of this is that the swedish church is “humanist” and the bishop says, “you don’t have to believe in anything to be a Christian” … you don’t get to that by respecting the views of Sam Brownback.

          4. As an example of Hedenius’ tone, he made an explicit analogy between the Christian God and Hitler – in 1949. (To demonstrate that God’s actions as described in the Bible could hardly be called “good”) What was that about the unprecedented incivility of our newer “new atheists” again?

          5. Excellent point, Torbjörn.

            I’ve often thought (and sometimes said) that Mooney seems to be completely ignorant of Western Europe.

            He seems to assume that the U.S. is and always will be a highly religious (and fairly orthodoxly religious) country.

            He is not interested in any strategies which reduce the overall impact of religion on society, only in accepting religion pretty much as-is while minimizing the short term effects on science teaching.

            He generally avoids the kind of point that Jerry makes, when Jerry says that the basic problem is a conflict between the scientific worldview and the religious one, and if you want to promote science, the best way to do that—and perhaps the only way to have a major effect in the long term—is to undermine religion’s influence.

            But of course we’ll never get Mooney to seriously discuss how things changed in the last fifty years in Europe, and whether it could happen here in the next fifty years.

            He’s already picked a strategy, and doesn’t really want to justify it; he’s just looking for spin to promote it, and to divert from serious discussions which might not go his way.

          6. I wonder if Mooney has the same attitude as many in marketing – that people’s attitudes never change. If you are programming a radio station, you pay a company survey a bunch of likely listeners to see what songs they like. You then program the station on the assumption that people want to hear songs they already know and like. The underlying assumption is that people never take in new information or change their tastes.

      2. Sadly, Chris seems to think that telling people that such a thing as a wheel exists, and what one would do if he had one here (which he could have done, but didn’t want to do) counts as ‘inventing’ it.

        No, Chris, we want you to actually present your wheel – not keep on whipping out the same picture of one you keep drawing. In crayon.

      3. The O’Leary school of journalism teaches the “Buy My Book” strategy, and I’m not surprised to see Waffles doing it.

    2. It looks like my comments no longer make it through moderation after this last pointer of Chris towards his book.

      I wrote an extensive response to chapter 8 which is stuck in moderation in addition to two other responses.

      I never used ad hominems or foul language and always worked hard to make fair arguments (which made the posts long).

      Any ideas where I can back up my comments so that the efforts of writing them doesn’t go to waste?

      It also would help document what kinds of comments do not make it through moderation now.

      1. One place you can always post anything you want (although if it’s bigoted you probably won’t get a kind reception) is the Endless Thread at Pharyngula. There’s normally a little bit of discussion there every time Mooney does something insane, and they were rather heavily involved in the whole Toxic Sock affair so it’s not even that offtopic.

  45. Back in the original “Exhibit A” post- Chris Mooney said the following:-

    “Exactly. In the real world, it is vastly more important to build bridges with those who might be different from ourselves so as to achieve shared goals, than to score intellectual points when only a small and relatively homogenous intellectual group is even keeping track of those points.”

    What I would like to know is what is Mooney doing to “build bridges” with the ‘New Atheists’*. He is after all very ‘different’ to them. Hypocritical git!

    It really is one rule for the religious, and another completely different rule for the rest of us as far as Mooney is concerned.

    *Particularly after he has embarrased himself so fully in this TJ debacle. Not to mention his attacks on Ophelia, Jerry etc.

  46. Following on from the subject of my previous post….

    I have come to the conclusion that Mooney’s attitude towards the “New Atheists” seems oddly reminiscent of the New Atheist attitude towards Religion that he so harshly condemns. Ironic that. Except of course, in the sense that the New Atheists don’t tend to use false testimonies as their “exhibit A” when making their case.

    One wonders why he doesn’t make a bit more effort to act all ‘accomodationist’ with the views of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, PZ etc…. Maybe he really doesn’t care about the views of his fellow Atheists after all.

  47. There’s practically no point commenting on the Mooneyerated blog anymore; it looks like he’s allowing about a 10:1 ratio of fawners and backslappers to critics.

    Well done on those who’re perservering, though. You’ve got more patience than I have.

    1. I’m amazed that he is allowing any critics at all. What are the critics saying? No doubt something nebulous uncontroversial, otherwise it wouldn’t make it through moderation.

      1. damn! missed out the “and” between “nebulous” and “uncontroversial”.

        It must be getting late!

    2. Actually, one can be as harshly critical as one likes at The Intersection. Just last week, I was repeatedly critical toward a AGW skeptic.

      However, today my criticism turns to Mooney and his book and I’m silenced. That’s how it works there.

  48. Jean Kazez,

    Apart from the testimony of Tom Johnson, do you have any evidence that atheists had misbehaved at this conservation event?

      1. Kind of like when we ask someone religious to explain why they believe what they believe, and they respond by calling us ‘militant’.

  49. I think this thread is running its course. I’m not going to shut it down, but could people consider posting only if they have something NEW to contribute to the discussion? Remember, I’d like us to be taking the high road here.

    That said, humor is usually welcome!

  50. Evolution is valid as all species have a common ancestor and constantly evolving as a means to adapt to their environment. However keep in mind it is still a theory and will never be a unarguable fact because it’s based on evidence not faith. The reason over 4.5 billion people are not athiest is that any retarded myth with hints on morals is very effective as they don’t need evidence just blind belief.

    1. The reason over 4.5 billion people are not athiest is that any retarded myth with hints on morals is very effective as they don’t need evidence just blind belief.

      That and they all call you a “poopyhead” if you don’t join them. Or worse!!

  51. I appear to be banned over at The Intersocktion, so I’ll post this here.

    It gets at what I see as one of the two basic conflicts between the “New Atheism” and accommodationism, which Chris constantly avoids addressing. (The other is strategic, and he likewise avoids that.)

    Anybody who can post there should feel free to lift any of my rhetoric that you like. 🙂


    I found this compelling, from page 183 of the hardcover edition:

    Insofar as the new atheism strives to reach beyond science’s limitations – boundaries that end at the natural world – and claims that it’s “scientific” to be an atheist, then it also seeks to turn science into an anti-religious doctrine. [much omitted]

    That’s more than just anecdotes and hearsay. That’s a reasoned argument based on evidence [more omitted]).

    Without wading into the issues in the omitted stuff, I’d like to object strenuously to the implications of the opening phrase of the opening sentence of your chosen quote, and any conclusions that follow from them on them.

    You are right, in a sense, that Chris is making a “reasoned argument.” But in a more basic sense, he’s just reasoning trivially from controversial assumptions that many of us think are false. (Including most scientists and philosophers in the relevant disciplines, I think. It’s really not an accident that most scientists and philosophers in areas relevant to religion are atheists and materialists.)

    In my opinion—and it’s a common one—the “New Atheism” simply does not strive to reach beyond science’s limitations, in the sense Chris Mooney wants you to think it does. On this point, Chris constantly fails to make his case, and fails to address the good arguments that science does not have the kind of limitations that many people think it does. (Or conveniently pretend that it does.)

    The accommodationist line is essentially that something like NOMA is tenable, and that science for one reason or another can’t disprove religion, except for specific and peculiar oddball claims of fundamentalists. It can’t, for example, prove that there’s no god, or that people don’t have souls, or that religion isn’t a good “way of knowing” that reveals Deep Meaning. And science can’t study the supernatural.

    That’s all goofy, for several reasons. It’s systematically misrepresenting the conflicts between science and religion, and Chris never really makes the case for the accommodationist assumptions behind is usual arguments. He usually just assumes and asserts them, or bottoms out in an argument from authority using carefully selected statements from carefully selected philosophers etc. and acts as though they are authoritative truths that the New Atheists are too stupid or pigheaded to ackowledge.

    He avoids the real argument, and proceeds to draw his conclusions from extremely controversial assumptions, which he falsely presents as reasonable and even uncontroversial.

    Science isn’t about strict proof and disproof. It’s basically about debunking bad explanations in favor of good ones. The fact that something can’t be strictly disproven doesn’t mean that it’s hunky dory to believe it and consider your worldview consistent with science.

    Science can and does study the supernatural, for any reasonable sense of the word “supernatural.”

    It’s an utterly basic mistake to think that since science “studies the natural world” it can’t “study the supernatural.” The “supernatural” in the sense of supernaturalist religion simply isn’t non-natural in the sense that science studies the “natural” world. That’s a convenient myth that religious apologists have pushed, and which accommodationists have generally accepted.

    Science can study anything with observable effects, period. The “supernatural” entities of common religion—not just fundamentalisms—are therefore natural in the sense that science studies the natural world.

    And in fact, science studies the natural world all the time. Every time we explain something naturalistically that has traditional supernaturalist explanation, we are studying the supernatural, and we generally find it to be a bad explanation, and apparently false.

    The history of the progress of science is largely one of finding naturalistic explanations and debunking supernatural ones.

    At this point, it’s pretty clear that science conflicts not just with peculiar literalist interpretations of scriptures, as the accommodationists would have it, but with core doctrines of most religions. The crucial entities presupposed by traditional non-fundamentalist religion pretty clearly do not exist.

    Not only is there apparently no creator god, or none that anybody actually knows anything about and is particularly worship-worthy, there is apparently no traditional (substance dualistic) soul. It’s quite clear that the brain’s information processing explains most if not all of the things that the soul was invented to explain, and if there’s a soul in there doing something, it’s not the kind of soul ever appealed to in common religious doctrines. There is no good reason to believe in immortality of the soul, either of the heavenbond-or-hellbound variety or the reincarnation-supporting variety, or anything like that.

    We have excellent scientific reason to think that when you’re dead, you’re dead.

    Even more importantly, we have good reason to think that there isn’t anything like the traditional soul that can somehow intuit Deep Truth through mystical connection to an underlying deeper reality. Navel-gazing may be a useful psychological trick, and achieve interesting and even worthwhile states of mind, but it simply is not a pipeline to truths beyond the scope of science. Scientifically, we’re pretty sure now that human minds are just not built that way. They have quite limited and extremely fallible powers of introspection and intuition. That, right there, casts religion in general into grave doubt. The proper scientific attitude toward religion is grave skepticism, not faith.

    We also have excellent scientific reason to think that religion systematically tends to make false claims if it makes interesting claims at all. We have some pretty good general scientific explanations as to why, as well, although those are vaguer and more controversial at this point.

    What the “New Atheists” are saying is that religion is in deep trouble on scientific and basic philosophical grounds, and they’re right—the conflicts between science and religion are broad and deep.

    What Chris seems to want people to think is that while fundamentalism is clearly problematic, common religion is consistent with science. It isn’t. It’s consistent with some science, but not with science overall, because some science or other casts grave doubt on each core proposition of any remotely orthodox religion. You have to pick and choose your science to protect your religious beliefs, as people like Collins do, and that’s anti-scientific. (Whether those beliefs are literalistic or simply interesting and contentful and recognizably religious.)

    I’d say that this is one of the two central ideas of the “New” Atheism. (And of course it’s not at all new.) The idea is simply that we have good reason now for disbelieving typical religious claims, and doubting all religion, and that modern science provides a lot of quite relevant evidence. Science shows that traditional religious beliefs are mostly false, and that religion tends to be false, and can even provide naturalistic explanations as to why.

    If Chris disagrees, he needs to clearly argue against that view, without controversial appeals to authority, rather than arguing from his contradictory assumptions.

    Only then will he be making what most of us would call an actual “reasoned argument” against the “New Atheism.” Until then, it’s just biased, axe-grinding propaganda, pitched at people who don’t know better.

    The problem here is not that the “New Atheists” are somehow trying to hijack science and make it anti-religious.

    The problem is that all traditional religion is antiscientific in a basic, deep way. It makes truth claims that science is quite relevant to, and resists scientific debunking of those claims.

    That’s just not the “New Atheists”‘ fault; it’s religion’s. Religion goes looking for trouble by making truth claims about stuff it just doesn’t understand, and Chris wants to blame the conflicts on uppity scientists failing to respect his artificial and bogus “limits on science.”

    1. What a horribly uncivil post!111!!!!1! Chris Mooney is clearly justified in banning you!!!


      Your post is a very cogent summary of the issue. That Mooney won’t let you post it, nor others post similar comments, shows that Mooney is afraid of substantive criticism because he knows that his thesis is unable to stand it.

    2. Thank you, Paul. I don’t know if it will enjoy and engage over there, but it certainly enjoyed and inspired me. And I have to give Scote right: if similar comments are barred from appearing, it must be because criticism can’t be accommodated.

      Some of he things Paul inspired me to comment on, perhaps in increasing relevance:

      * There is a conflict between “New Atheism” and accommodationism, but also between NA and what I have seen people refer to as Mooney’s “New Accommodationism”. If that is so, one need a definition.

      Perhaps in addition to the basic conflicts one could add the use of framing, as in stereotyping and strawmen. And their immoral cousin ostracism: barring comments, commenters and experts on science from discussing the social effects of religion on science.

      * Science has limitations, but not the ones theologists want to imply. As Paul so eloquently say, science can reject what doesn’t work. This gives it power to make forceful generalizations. ” … when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” [The master empiricist Sherlock Holmes, by Conan Doyle.]

      In fact, while religion makes claims of limitation in areas “it just doesn’t understand”, science itself has a good handle on its limitations. It has all to do with, naturally, natural resources. After all, you can’t go after an exponentially increasing set of pathways with finite resources. These limitations are the basis for chaos theory and computer science among others, similarly to how contingency of evolution is very much the basis for biology.

      * Finally, if science isn’t anti-religious, but pro-natural, what type of accommodation can be made? It isn’t as if it hasn’t happened before – both other religions and society has accommodated the old religious tool of astrology as a social phenomena.

      And this is exactly what those nasty old … excuse me, New Atheists have proposed. PZ Myers have noted that when religion becomes a social event like knitting, neither a social (science and education) danger nor a social necessity in order to get clothes on your family, then it has become what one can reasonably accept on its own terms.

      Of course, this is old style accommodationism, the one you meet when you visit parts of Europe (say). Isn’t it ironic that when you rub a New style Atheist you can often find an Old style Accommodationist?

    3. Hey, this post is way too long for this space, and also belongs elsewhere, even if you are banned there.

      Unless someone has something really new to post here, please don’t abuse the space!

      1. Rrrr?

        The posts may not contain previously unknown facts or ideas but I do think that there is value in trying to express ideas clearly, and where one post might not resonate another might.

        I really can’t see quality long posts as “abuse,” I think they add value to the comments and even raise the average level of commentary up a notch. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

  52. Hitch,

    Kudos on your generally excellent comments on M&K’s Unscientific America.

    About the “demented fuckwits” thing, which I think is one of the best examples of M&K’s mischaracterizations that they use as “evidence,” here’s Jason Rosenhouse commenting over at The Intersection:


    They say that “the most outspoken atheists” call believers “demented fuckwits.” Of course, it’s really just the most outspoken atheist—singular—namely P.Z. Myers. Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and Coyne don’t talk like that.

    And of course even PZ himself doesn’t call believers demented fuckwits. He calls believers who issue death threats and things like that demented fuckwits.

    And of course, he’s right. But that wouldn’t bolster M&K’s case that the New Atheists, as a group, are wantonly and inexcusably offensive to religious people.

    This is a pretty good example of M&K’s rhetorical strategy re “New Atheists.” They present something as being commonly done by a significant contingent of those nasty New Atheists, but in fact it was only done by one person, and in fact wasn’t actually done at all.

    The actual fact is that the New Atheists typically just say what they think, giving good reasons for thinking those things, and it’s only “confrontational” because they’re saying some things that some people disagree with.

    This reminds me of what happened to Bill Clinton. When he’d moved to the center so much that he had almost no positions that most Americans didn’t agree with, his advisors told him to expect a lot of personal attacks. His opponents would have no way of “getting” him and making him look bad on points, so they had to resort to smearing him and Hillary personally.

    And of course, that’s much of what Mooney’s version of accommodationism is really about. It’s about smearing New Atheists as bad people, rather than merely wrong.

    He doesn’t have good arguments against what the New Atheists are actually saying—the real conflicts between science and religion, and the real advantages of Overton strategies—so he has to make them out to be so stupid and ornery that they must not understand his oh-so-clear arguments, or they must not care because they just delight in being assholes even though they know he’s right that it’s counterproductive.

    1. I love how below that post, bilbo wrote this:

      1. bilbo Says:
      October 28th, 2009 at 9:32 am
      Can we add “getting past superficial judgments of character” to that list of things that need to happen to foster useful dialogue? One thing I’ve noticed both here and on the NA blogs is that a comment from either side gets judged primarily on the basis of its source rather than its merit. If something gets said by Jerry Coyne here, it’s met with “well, we all know he’s an idiot….”. The same goes in the opposite direction if Chris is mentioned on an NA blog. If we’re all so intellectual, we should all know that doing this kind of thing is silly and shallow and gets us nowhere (myself included). Just a thought.

      It is funny, how this subset of, non religious, people seem to care more about the feelings of the churches than the churches seem to.

      I mean, Albert Mohler (Southern Seminiary, BioLogos’ critic), doesn’t “make stuff up” about what Atheists say, he doesn’t accuse them of having bad manners and being offensive, he says what they are saying is wrong, and leads to harm.

      In fact, he respects them for having the courage of their convictions. I respect Mohler for having the courage of his convictions.

      See “Collision” with Hitchens on this point.

      All Mooney is saying is that the WAY some atheists communicate is bad, or does he really not think that evolution has any philosophical consequences?

    2. I’ve just read (or possibly re-read; I can’t remember) that thread, and it’s a very good illustration of exactly what we’re up against: lies, sock-puppets and profound intellectual dishonesty – the real fruits of accomodationism.

  53. Pretty rich that this post comes right after one in which you explicitly call religious persons “morons.”

    1. Sorry, my irony meter exploded a while back, and my backup irony meter vaporized.

      Are you a Poe, “Chris,” or was that meant seriously?

      1. this is a valuable teaching moment, lets take the comment at face value.

        Coyne did in fact write that the people in LA were “morons”.

        But, is Coyne calling all “religious people” “morons” or is he calling the people who branch stack, and undermine the teaching of evolution in schools “morons” …

        Is he uncivil? Yes. Jerry Coyne is occasionally rude, and blunt.

        Is there in fact a group of people in LA, as there was in Dover, PA, who think that there are no transitional fossils? Yes.

        So is Coyne calling “all religious people morons” or can we accept that there really are “morons” in places like Dover and someone, someone has to call these people “morons”.

        Maybe not everyone, not all of us, but someone needs to say it.

        Thank you Dr. Coyne for your courage.

  54. Mooney’s latest is better in some ways than his previous posts about “Tom” but still pretty pathetic.


    In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who has tried to establish and to explain the truth here: “Johnson’s” adviser and Jerry Coyne; and also TB and Jean Kazez.

    Funny how he thanks TB & Jean, who did nothing to establish the truth, but did vouch for Mooney’s narrative when they shouldn’t have.

    Even more interesting how he leaves out the people who actually did Mooney’s job for him, investigating and actually catching the guy, and the breaking the real story—notably Oedipus and others at The Buddha is Not Serious, including Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels.

    Not to diminish Jerry’s contribution—he really performed a valuable service—but most of the credit should go to people that Mooney carefully avoids mentioning, not TB and Jean Kazez, who opposed them.

    1. Well, it is not as much pathetic as still weasel-worded AFAIU. He still doesn’t detract the claim of his that TJs story “might still be accurate”.

      Instead he says: “He did suggest that a “colleague” who had been with him at a 2008 event had made more minor critical remarks, but nothing on the scale originally described. Even if we were inclined believe this—and I really don’t believe anything at this point—it would not justify the much more dramatic claims of the original story.”

      So he doesn’t believe for or against, leaves that it “might still be accurate” but adds “it would not justify the much more dramatic claims of the original story.”

      Now this can be a mistake for all I know, but considering the fast foot work before and in this mea culpa instead of simply acknowledging that all his earlier claims was wrong, and considering that he now shoves this over to that something nasty happened to TJ, specifically to keep the imagined offense explicitly alive, I don’t believe it.

      Too bad, I would have liked to say “good show”, but his leaving the implications means I can’t.

      On the other hand Mooney is forthright and clear with that there is no _evidence_ left, and more importantly he notes that accommodationism was the frame under which TJ’s behavior operated.

      That he would use this “Exhibit A” as evidence that accommodationism a) is, not a jerk’s behavior, but a jerk behavior (accommodationism logic) b) does not work (accommodationism logic), might just be a little too much to ask at this point. 😀 At least he won’t do anything like this again, he now knows he can’t get anything like this to work.

    2. I think the most hilarious thing in Mr. Mooney’s post is when he concludes how accommodationists and new atheists worked _together_ to reveal the truth.

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