One of the most dishonest creationist campaigns is the “academic freedom” one. It can be a very effective “when are you going to stop beating your wife” type of argument as non-one wants to oppose academic freedom, do they? Of course, the creationists really mean freedom from evidence. They want to promote bronze age myths as scientific and to do that they have to remove the evidence requirement that science demands.
However, you would have thought that they would be careful to moderate their own behaviour if they are going to promote this “freedom” mantra. I am reminded of this hypocrisy by the recent banning of a commenter from the local creationist “Thinking Matters” blog. I was also banned there a while back. Many of us have experienced banning from local creationist blogs – and the major US creationist/intelligent design blogs like Uncommon Descent.
Echo of Stalin?
Uncommon Descent recently went one step further – they banned one of their main writers, DaveScott. And what was his transgression? He didn’t blindly accept the charge (promoted by some of his more more rabid co-writers) that Charles Darwin was a racist! Dave transgressed even further by pointing out that some Christians were, or had been, racist! (see Memory Hole: Preserving a post from Uncommon Descent, Uncommon Descent, “unlike the Darwinists, doesn’t ban or censor ideas” and Censorship at Uncommon Descent).
Now, DaveScott is a non-person on the Uncommon Descent blog. The whole issue is just not allowed to be discussed. Isn’t this the sort of behaviour Stalin was guilty of?
My attitude about debates like this is that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It is part of the scientific ethos that there should be open discussion of differing viewpoints – and in the end ideas are tested by mapping against reality. It is this which keeps science honest.
Blogs which refuse to allow open discussion do nothing for their cause. They publicly show a lack of confidence in the ideas they promote and an unwillingness to consider evidence. (Actually, it’s noticeable that many creationist blogs have a no comment policy anyway).
Banning with style
Pro-science blogs usually don’t get into this sort of Stalinist behaviour. However, there is always the problem of trolls who contribute nothing and waste space in their own comments and in those who are baited to respond. Pharyngula, the best known science blog, has a novel approach to this problem. PZ Myers is currently running a “survivors” competition to cull trolls from his blog. All commenters are being given a chance to vote on who they would most like to see removed. And the candidates themselves are given a chance to redeem themselves by writing a brief comment (200 words or less) demonstrating their knowledge about a specific topic (or even about their own behaviour).
I guess the lesson here is that censorship is a last resort. It’s an unpleasant job. If you are going to do it at least be open about it and treat it like reality TV – a joke.