I get emails from loons

Here’s an email I got this morning from someone named Robert. What a lovely morning!

Hello Mr Fraudster,

Scientists ten times your worth (Ronald Fisher, Pauli, Freeman Dyson, B Josephson and many others) understand that ESP is entirely within the realms of scientific possibility. So I suggest you pipe down your propaganda/business PR (meant to sell more of those “atheist” books/magazines and popularize your blog). Mind you, your statements are not in the least unexpected since you have been trained by the lying, anti-science pseudomarxist Lewontin, who deliberately miscalculated genetic distances and pushed his propaganda through the american anthropological association. THAT is the new, prevalent anti-science argument in academia these days, same as the old anti-science  argument.

Of course I don’t deny that ESP is within the realms of scientific possibility. Almost everything is that’s not inherently self-contradictory (i.e., a grasshopper that’s also a platypus). But the sad fact is that there is not a scintilla of evidence for ESP.

What’s curious about his email is that I myself wrote some criticisms of Lewontin’s “genetic distances between races” arguments—or rather reproduced Lou Jost’s criticisms. I’m not sure exactly what is bugging Robert here. All I know is that it takes all kinds to make a world. To call this man a jackass would be an insult to jackasses everywhere, who are cute and amiable.




  1. Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like you made him cry. I will out of kindness remind Robert to watch where he steps. He wouldn’t want to fall of the edge of our flat earth.

  2. Terry L Pedersen
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Guess you get a few bad emails. But, Loons are very good birds. And this one is not a good bird!

    • Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      PCC would rather get emails from ducks.

      • JezGrove
        Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        I guess it would be letters, with all those quills?

        • Posted May 11, 2020 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

          Only bills.

          • JezGrove
            Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

            How ungrateful after everything he’s done for them!

  3. ploubere
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    If the man has ESP then it’s pointless to post our thoughts here, he must already know them.

    • Neil Wolfe
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think he claimed to have ESP but as a test maybe he can complete this sentence for me: “Right now, I’m thinking that Robert is a daft ____.” I will do my best to send the answer to his brain but it’s a pretty small target.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Robert may be a Russian bot. 😉

    • GBJames
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Or just your standard evangelical Republican.

      • Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Do evangelicals go for esp? I thought they’d see it as a sin or black magic or something.

        • GBJames
          Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          Isn’t that what prayer is all about?

          • Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            Ah yeh, I guess they might see it like that — I’ve never had anything to do with them. I assumed they’d see esp as spooky New Age devil worship.

        • enl
          Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Belief in ESP is a prerequisite for belief that it is a sin.

          I would guess at p=1.0 that those who believe ESP is a sin believe in ESP.

          I would also guess that p is not 1.0 the other way.

          Amongst the evangenlicals I have known, there is are a fair number that believe in pretty much anything you care to name, but certainly not all, and probably not a majority for the wackier stuff like ESP.

          • GBJames
            Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

            But how is prayer, in which they believe strongly, not a form of ESP?

            • enl
              Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              I can guess that considering prayer to be ESP would, for some, equate man with god. But that is only a guess.

              There is no accounting for odball belief and justifying inconsistencies when god comes into play. I had an apartment mate in college who wouldn’t pay his rent. The lease was in my name. Said he would if I came to a prayer group with him- there was a lot of god doesn’t want him to pay the godless, adn other mumbo jumbo- so, in the end, I went to get the several months of rent.

              He still didn’t pay, and got pissed about religious freedom when booted out. He couldn’t see the layers of hypocrisy.

            • Posted May 11, 2020 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

              If someone sees prayer as receiving information, then I guess it could count as esp. But I think it’s usually taken to mean telepathic communication between two people. Though I guess evangelicals see Jesus as a person as well.

              Robert doesn’t sound like an evangelical to me though, as he knows the names of some scientists. I would bet he is some kind of spiritual ideologue who thinks he knows more about science than scientists do.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                Well, somebody is receiving the information (friend Jesus) or else there’s no point in it at all! Beyond that, many evangelicals speak about how Jesus speaks to them as well.

                Creationists at the Discotute also know the names of a few scientists.

      Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Russian bots have esp programming—damn clever bastards. American bots are way behind the curve—they’re much too pre-occupied with porn.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        That’s what you get when you spend all your time on the free market!

  5. peepuk
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Our emotions often diminish reading comprehension performance.

  6. Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    If Robert were truly clever, he’d drop the “fraudster” moniker and just address you as “counterfeit coyne.”

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Invoking Gresham’s Law?

      • Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        In their long string of interviews, Howard Cosell once told Muhammad Ali (who was describing what he was going to the other boxer), “My, you’re mighty truculent today.” Ali, without skipping a beat, said fiercely, “Whatever ‘truculent’ is, if it’s good, I’m it.” Well substitute “Gresham’s Law” for “truculent,” and I’m all about Gresham’s Law!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      An alliterative loss. Fake Jerry would also work but both suggestions could be misinterpreted as a pretend Jerry rather than a deceitful one.

      It was a bit inaccurate to use the appellation, “Mr.” When Jerry has his PhD. “Dr. Fraudster” should be the insulting name of choice.

      • Posted May 12, 2020 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        True about misinterpretations, Diana, but what good is a name like “Coyne” if you can’t elicit an abusive pun every once in a while?

  7. Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The problem with a nasty letter like this is its ability to hurt the most generous and genuine of people. In my opinion it is best to dismiss it with an expression of sympathy for all those suffering mental health difficulties… and there are a lot of them…


  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    If ol’ Robert’s got himself some ESP, he just received a very rude telepathic message from me as I read this post.

    • JezGrove
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Not if he’s still wearing the tinfoil hat, Ken!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      Im sure he telepathically opened your message and angrily narrowed his third eye.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “Scientists ten times your worth ”

    I suppose this was measured by Google Scholar citations…? And is it supposed to mean something? Like a Steel Cage Citation Match? And what exactly would that prove?

  10. Posted May 11, 2020 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Robert could do something positive and join the American Society for Psychical Research and help them in their quest to prove that esp is real. They were founded in 1884 and still haven’t made a single step of progress.

    Narrow-minded materialist scientists with their dogmatic beliefs meanwhile are busy flying around in space ships, reading and editing the genome, and developing trampolines for ducklings.

    • Nell Whiteside
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      I appreciate – ‘developing trampolines for ducklings’. It(perhaps by ESP) tickles my imagination.

  11. Angela McCollister
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Too bad it wasn’t a real loon. A talking water bird would be fantastic.

    • Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I had more or less the same thought.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      But it would be disappointing if Jerry went to offer the loon some premium feed and it waddled over, opened its beak and greeted him with, “Hello, Mr. Fraudster”. Cool it spoke, bad what it said.

  12. George
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    He could have addressed you as “Professor” Fraudster. Show some respect you loon.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      That’s what I thought too. That’s “Dr.” Fraudster to you, Robert!

      • JezGrove
        Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        What if Robert is a professor himself? Loonology isn’t recognized by many institutions, but it might be by the one where he happens to reside…!

        • Dominic
          Posted May 12, 2020 at 1:11 am | Permalink

          Professor of ESP …

  13. Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Robert is supermad that someone would dare to disagree with him.

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Those scientist he mentioned are all pretty much dead now so maybe they are doing ESP.

  15. Posted May 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Here, when I read the headline of this post, I thought maybe you’d received correspondence from a different kind of water bird than you usually highlight. Disappointing.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      When I saw your name come up before your image loaded. I thought it might be THE Robert replying.

  16. Posted May 11, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I have ESP; I knew this jerk was going to email you…

  17. Posted May 11, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    There was this mind reader magician who recently appeared on Jimmy Fallon and he completely floored me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6slnGsgnTMM
    There is a good chance that if folks try it now, weeks after the show, he will still read your mind! No idea how it works. And what else you got going on?

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t it always cold reading, sometimes with tricking people to take a preset cue?

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        … sometimes mixed with… [Also, didn’t watch sorry to say – bedtime here.]

  18. Roger
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    If he had ESP he would know that Uri Geller can bend lottery tickets or something. I forget what ESP does but it’s really cool.

  19. Posted May 11, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Do NOT lockdown the loon! ESP is on the loose! Scrub the brain thoroughly with LSD for better contact and transmission. (also helps depression) Last seen, Robert has left the planet talking and grumbling happily to himself. No ESP was required.

  20. boudiccadylis
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Unbeknownst to me Robert was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office this morning. There were 5 of us all bundled up in our covid 19 mask looking particularly quiet and I had to open my big mouth. This was of course, after I had tried to communicate with them telepathically. I said “anyone know a bad joke.” My idea to lighten things up. They all looked at me,you know,someone spoke in that profound silence. No jokes but one man said he thought the “virus hype” was just a political ploy on the part of the Democrats. I quietly sat there as this conversation went on.
    I don’t discuss politics of any sort with total strangers. Way too scary

  21. jedijan
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only one that visualizes such nutters falling off the edge of the planet. Flat Earth was made just for them. Eh?! Stop it with that pushing!

  22. Posted May 12, 2020 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    HAHAHH! “Dear Mr. Fraudster” — you know you’re dealing with a level headed gentleman right off the bat! HAHHHA. People take their closely held wild, false beliefs very seriously sometimes don’t they? And with stress -“biting the nearest shaved ape” is valuable cortisol reduction for some of our less stable fellows.
    I get this kind of mail when I write stuff against fanatics/religion in my column.
    D.A., NYC

  23. Warren Johnson
    Posted May 12, 2020 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr Robert

    Like most of Jerry Coyne’s readers, my first impulse was to make fun of you. On second thought, I want to know what has made you so angry. Is it has really about the conflict between science and religion? Or maybe something else?

    Waiting for your reply, Warren Johnson

  24. A C Harper
    Posted May 12, 2020 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Obvious loons are not an issue. Any real life problems they cause have equally obvious responses.

    The ones you have to watch out for are the subtle loons. Unfortunately their ‘drive’ is likely to make them more successful in business or politics until they are finally exposed by their absurdities. No nationality, political party or business is immune.

  25. Peter Taylor
    Posted May 12, 2020 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Since he mentioned Brian Josephson in the email, you might be interested to see a response by the late Martin Gardner to several proponents of esp (including Josephson).

    As Gardner puts it: “…knowledge of physics no more qualifies a scientist to evaluate psychic claims than does knowledge of chess or medieval Latin.”

    (I recall reading this in Gardner’s book “Science, Good Bad and Bogus”, which unfortunately I no longer have.)

    • Peter Taylor
      Posted May 12, 2020 at 5:17 am | Permalink


  26. Steve Lawrence
    Posted May 12, 2020 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    We laugh at loons and loons laugh at us. I for one am inspired by JAC. It’s not so much being a fellow W&M alum, sharing experiences (Harvard and Euro-travel in ’71) but superior recollection and quality of thought and expression. I’m inspired to be a bit better. Loons are but one of many. JAC, forward!

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