On boggling

You know, I really hate to send traffic over to Pharyngula, because it’s rather tiresome and whatnot, but Henry Gee just alerted me to something quite extraordinary.

There’s a lovely, well-crafted Futures this week (sorry, subscription required) by Shelly Li. And a response on Pharyngula, full of hate, bile and spittle

…aimed at Henry.

The piece is about a dystopian future in which people of faith are identified by certain brain signals (when they pray) and subsequently ‘cured’ by forced surgery. You can take the story several ways, seeing metaphors for forced sterilization, eugenics; just about anything.

But the PZMyerites, the most blinkered load of reactionary anti-intellectuals I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across, see it as a direct attack on atheism. Even if it that was Li’s target, I fail to see a problem (why should atheists have a privileged position above satire and ridicule anyway? It’s not as if every other classification doesn’t get its fair share of abuse), and, as Henry writes on Facebook,

I think Li is a super author… And what PZ and his crew don’t quite grasp is that the views of characters in stories needn’t bear any relationship to those of the author, let alone the editor, or anyone else.

It strikes me that people who get upset at such things, and turn that upset into personal and misguided attacks, were possibly dropped on their heads as children (and need to smoke something, seriously dudes). Or maybe it’s because saying outrageous things is bound to attract attention, and giving the business model, attention = $$$.

Sound familiar?

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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35 Responses to On boggling

  1. Bob O'Hara says:

    I’m with you.
    It’s possible that PZed is trying to drive traffic to Henry, but I’m not sure. Especially when he complains that SF should be about something we could do.
    It’s a great story, and I’m not surprised Henry published it.

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    On reflection, this post is pants.

  3. Richard P. Grant says:

    That comment certainly was.

  4. Bob O'Hara says:

    Oh, and Henry replied

  5. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Why isn’t your blog showing up on the main page? Thank goodness for rss and loyal followers…

  6. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I’m even getting a 404 when I click on the recent comments on this blog. The only way to read it is to go directly to your blog. Does MT4 hate you?

  7. Åsa Karlström says:

    thanks for posting this. I read the Futures before I read this and it’s really well written. I loved it.
    Didn’t really get why the comments on it was that focused on what they wrote since I thought it was a bit overdrive.
    Guess total believers of faith aren’t the only ones who can overreact…. duh.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    Can you imagine if PZ Myers and all his acolytes were Mohammedans? ouch

  9. John Wilkins says:

    In line with my recent comments at my blog about how the atheists at Pharyngula treat nondisbelievers, it seems to me they have developed a practical purity test, and woe betide anyone who falls short! And if you are religious, you are bad, but if you are nonreligious in the wrong way you are Badder! Nothing is so objectionable as a splitter from the one true ideology.
    Meanwhile the bulk of atheists and agnostics attend to what really matters: The World Cup.

  10. Richard P. Grant says:

    Interesting point, John. Ideological purity, paging Dr Strangelove.

  11. Henry Gee says:

    Let’s get this into perspective. PZ is a middling academic of middle years who works in the Midwest. All very … Middling. His only claim to fame is running a blog in which he is gratuitously rude to people who have never done him any harm. Like the host of a cheap daytime gameshow. His followers are all borderline autistic dweebs who get off on being rude to people who’ve never done them any harm either, and I wonder whether they’d say things to those people were they actually to meet them face to face. Certainly, whenever I have met PZ he’s always been fastidiously polite. The pharyngulites hate me because I accused them all of being Nazis, and I stand by that view. They are the same cut of cowards and bullies who joined the Hitler Youth because wearing a nice uniform made them feel Big and Important and allowed them to bully people without possibility of meaningful response.

  12. Brian Clegg says:

    Much support for what Richard said.
    On reading through some of the comments on the Myers blog (I couldn’t be bothered with them all), it struck me just how simplistic the viewpoints were. For instance, one asked Henry if, now he was an atheist, he no longer disparaged Dawkins. That’s a bit like saying ‘Now you are a member of the human race, do you no longer dislike Pol Pot*?’
    This attack for publishing a story (apart from commenters who seem to think Henry wrote it) is, apart from anything else, blatantly anti-freedom of speech. What is wrong with these people?

    I was going to say Hitler, but he gets a bit overused.

  13. Nicolas Fanget says:

    Not to be devil’s advocate here, but there might be a strong US-centric issue at the centre of how people responded the way they did over at PZ’s. Over there, science is under serious attack by creationist NJs, so that rationalists sometimes over-react to quite mild criticism (aklthough I didn’t find any in the piece).
    I have personally experienced the same when a long time ago in the US as a teenager I told my friends that my parents voted socialist. You should have seen their reaction, like Beelzebub himself had materialized and threatened to take their burger and chips fries. So I think the US culture is partly a reason for such a strong reaction to what is, after all, fiction. And may I say I am mightily impressed at how well Li writes at 18 years old? I hope we’ll see much more from her.

  14. Maxine Clarke says:

    One point of info for Richard (and everyone) – Futures is not subscription. You can read them for free. I just bravely logged out of the Nature website to test this in case I’d gone mad, but I had not, it is perfectly readable without a subscription.
    And one question for P Z Myers and co (as I do not visit blogs with an uncivilised commenting culture) – do they realise that Futures is fiction? (And don’t they believe in freedom of information, right to free speech and all of that?)

  15. Richard P. Grant says:

    Maxine, are you within an NPG IP range?

  16. Cath Ennis says:

    Getting worked up and calling “conspiracy!” over a fictional story is just plain silly, whatever your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) may be, or where you’re from (and yes, non-believers do seem to get a much harder time in the US than in other Western countries. But still).
    I’m getting a 404 when I try to access this post by clicking on its title or any of the comments – I can only see it by clicking the name of the blog. I can’t see the latest post that’s showing on the main NN blogs page at all, by any route.

  17. Ken Doyle says:

    I’m getting a 404 error too, when I try to click on any of the links to this post from my NN “snapshot” page.
    I haven’t read Futures for a few months, but will remedy that problem soon.

  18. Grant Jacobs says:

    Speaking of not getting access, i.e. confirming the now dead obvious! :-
    Clicking on ‘On boggling’ from the Nature Network Receent Comments or Recent Posts page yields a 404 (File not found) error.
    The URL offered is:
    The working URL is:
    Note the change in date.
    I got access by going to Richard’s profile page, then his blog, then then post. A bit long-winded 🙂
    Did you edit the post after it went live?

  19. steffi suhr says:

    This comment just about sums up what is going wrong with the debate, doesn’t it.

  20. Ian Brooks says:

    I am too cross to be polite, so because of the rules I’ll be brief instead.
    I can’t remember the story, but I think it was one of Dickens. A teacher asks a child if horses are suitable to be seen on wallpaper. When the child answers in the affirmative, because he likes horses, he is lambasted as a fool because, obviously, horses don’t climb walls!
    PZ made a comment a while back about how he hated the new Sherlock Holmes movie, and didn’t like the books as a kid because Holmes’ deductions are impossible. That strikes me as such an inability to willingly suspend disbelief that I am not really surprised that him and the Horde went threw a wobbly over the Futures article.
    They are above reproach, and no, as some have mentioned, the First Amendment doesn’t apply: no one likes to be lampooned and this is what happens when we are intolerant.
    Very sad.

  21. Richard P. Grant says:

    Interestingly, it appears that the piece doesn’t require a subscription after all. When did that happen?

  22. Richard Wintle says:

    His followers are all borderline autistic dweebs who get off on being rude to people who’ve never done them any harm either
    Possibly, comments like this don’t help your cause, Henry (although I am totally with you in the Gee vs. Pharyngula debate). A little sensitivity for autistic people perhaps?

  23. Henry Gee says:

    There is no sense in trying to ‘help one’s cause’ on pharyngula, because it is always lost before one starts. The obvious solution is not to get sucked in at all, I guess. As the parent of an aspergic child, I can see all the signs – the withering rudeness without thought of consequence; the inability to see the world in anything other than black and white; the difficulty in face to face communication magically liberated by the impersonality of the web. No, I think I have it about right.

  24. Richard Wintle says:

    …and if I’d been thinking, I would have remembered your daughter’s Asperger’s. Mea culpa.
    Where this leaves my previous comment is anybody’s guess.

  25. Henry Gee says:

    De rien.
    Ego Te Absolvo, Squire.

  26. Richard P. Grant says:

    How very civilized.

  27. Henry Gee says:

    Actually, I am getting such a lot of flak about rejecting various things (and publishing various things) that my response, being as I am in a state of fatigue and some ill-health, is to tell the world to eff off. I try, very hard, to do an honest job and to be nice to people, even if – as I have to do most of the time – I have to reject their stuff. My ex-boss, the late and very great John Maddox, once said that I was ‘easily bruised’, but that was long ago, and I now have a pretty thick hide. But the cumulative effect of all these various insults is toxic and sometimes I really just want out. As for Li’s story – I’d defend it to my dying breath.

  28. Richard P. Grant says:

    Ouch. You have my sympathy, Henry.
    It’s this strange sense of entitlement everybody has. Bloody bloody bloody.

  29. Henry Gee says:

    I can haz big hug?

  30. Alejandro Correa says:

    Bloody bloody bloody
    I have a confession to make:
    Is Awesomesauce with Ad-Ketchum

  31. Richard P. Grant says:

    LOL @Alejandro.

  32. Henry Gee says:

    It’s this strange sense of entitlement everybody has
    I think you’re right there. Authors of any old screed think that their paper is (a) the best, and (b) that if as an editor you reject it you’re a blind fool. Of course, for an author to point these things out to an editor, especially the second, is a good way of getting an editor to hate you.

  33. Ken Doyle says:

    I can personally vouch for Henry’s extremely kind, considerate, and helpful rejection notes; I’ve had two of them so far 🙂
    @ Henry: I can imagine the volume of stuff you receive every day, and I don’t envy you your job one bit.

  34. Kristi Vogel says:

    Lois the Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus spp.) is likely to bloom this weekend at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. She has her own webcam and Twitter feed. If I can get a photo, would that cheer you up a bit, Henry?
    Open corpse flower + sweltering July heat in Houston = unbelievable pong, I imagine. Do I really want to buy a ticket?

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