Help from your enemies?

There’s probably a lot of truth in the dictum that you should avoid criticising your enemy because it only gives them publicity. The corollary of this may be than its worth antagonising your enemy as their responding outrage will give your own viewpoint more publicity.

The issue of criticism came up with many scientists as they sought the best way to respond to the anti-science attacks made in Ben Stein’s creationist film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The American Biologist PZ Myers has often been criticised for his strong defense of science and frequent attacks on creationism and the excesses of religion. Whatever you views on how the response to such issues should be framed, or even whether there should be a response, you have to admit that PZ Myers is very successful in getting his view across. His blog  is the most poplar science blog on the internet.

Why is  Pharyngula so popular? How has it come to the attention of so many people. Part of the answer must surely be the attacks and criticism (not to mention death threats) PZ Myers gets from supporters of creationism and religious extremism. Have a look at the Google Trends graph below showing search volumes for PZ Myers over the last 12 month.

Expelled and wafer “hate crimes”

The first boost came last March when the producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed expelled Myers from a screening of their film (see Should Dawkins have been Expelled?).  Despite the fact that an interview with Myers was included in the film and he is thanked in the credits! At the same time they didn’t recognise Myers guest, Richard Dawkins, and allowed him in!

The second boost came this month after PZ Myers brought to our attention (IT’S A FRACKIN’ CRACKER!) the treatment of a student, Webster Cook, at the University of Central Florida  who had taken a wafer out of a Catholic mass. (For his story have a listen to the interview on Free Thought Radio). Myers pointed out how ridiculous the reaction had been (it included death threats, accusation of hate crime and attempts to expel the student from his university). He also offered to carry out his own desecration of any wafers Catholics sent him. (For details of the actual “desecration,” which in the interests of fairness was also carried out on pages from the Qur’an and The God Delusion, have a look at The Great Desecration.)

Now Myers has been subjected to a number of death threats and a campaign, orchestrated by the Catholic League, to have him sacked from his job at the University of Minnesota. (See the response of his University Chancellor).

Of course these campaigns are silly, and some aspects are criminal. But one thing they have achieved has been to create many new readers for PZ Myer’s blog!

As for the other side – Ben Stein and his film received a peak in Google searches during April but Bill Donohue and his Catholic League appears to have not yet received any increased interest as a result of their attacks.

By the way – Myers also produces some excellent posts describing advances in science. Have a look at Epigenetics which describes an exciting new develoopment in evolutionary science.

See also:
MnIndy interview: Unrepentant science-heathen PZ Myers still intends to prove “this cracker is nothing”
PZ Myers debacle escalates
Can this possibly get more insane?
The cost of delusional derangements
An evil atheist and a Catholic priest have a conversation…
Woman fired over death threat sent from work e-mail
Save the cracker
Student impeached
Guilty by Association

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9 responses to “Help from your enemies?

  1. Maybe we can buy a bunch of crackers and celebrate to welcome the new readers to PZ’s blog! I hear they go well with red wine…


  2. Well, I’m doing my best with the red wine. I tend to keep away from (other) carbohydrates though.

    Still, the increase in the number of PZ’s readers is surely a good outcome.


  3. I don’t think I’m quite brave enough to go where PZ treads, though! I shall stick to the letters page in the Waikato Times for the moment 🙂

    (Nice example of quote-mining from the Times on Saturday: my other half says I know I’ve got it made when people start quote-mining!)


  4. Alison: I know what you mean. I’ve ended up in some idiotic wrangles with some people along those lines myself. Not exactly at PZ’s level. I can’t imagine how I’d cope with the hate mail he gotten. I’d probably find a little bach on the ‘Coast and go hide in it!

    Ken: Port for late nights for me! 🙂 Or a dram of single malt for a treat. Not a big drinker though, just a naff sipper who savours each drop 😉


  5. About “Expelled”, its apparently now on and PZ Myers is calling for reviews…!

    About the epigenetics post: its a fascinating area, which I try follow.

    Alison: tell you what the quote of your’s that got mined was!


  6. Hi Heraclides
    I’ll have to check my e-mails on my ‘other’ computer (the work one!) to remind me. Something to do with the tempo of evolution, I think. I larfed & larfed.


  7. I’m interested too, Alison. We don’t get the Times and I couldn’t find anything on their website.


  8. I wrote:
    It’s been argued (Friday 11 July) that since a 747 could not be produced by a whirlwind in an aeronautics workshop, the theory of evolution must be wrong. This would be true only if organisms sprang fully formed from some evolutionary drawing board. But this doesn’t happen – in general evolution proceeds by relatively slow, incremental change.

    //And – contrary to popular belief – . While mutations and gamete production generate random genetic variation, natural selection acts on that variation in a distinctly non-random manner. An organism with a genetic trait that makes it more likely to survive and reproduce is more likely to leave descendants, & at least some of those descendants will also have that trait. Thus the variation spreads through the population.

    Mutations are never ‘beneficial’? Of course they are! Think of the mutations that give bacteria the ability to resist antibiotics – not good for us, but enormously beneficial to the bacterial populations concerned.//

    The quote-miner picked on “evolution is not a random process”, did the usual by making it look like that was all I’d said, & then wrote “must be design, then; case closed, your honour.” Head-desk.


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