Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?
Her conclusion on her way to the exit:
Hammering away at an ideology, substituting stridency for contemplation, pummeling its enemies in absentia: ScienceBlogs has become Fox News for the religion-baiting, peak-oil crowd.
And of PZ Myers she writes this:
Science writers play rough. They like hoaxes, humiliations and Oxbridge-style showdowns that let them use words like “claptrap” and “gibberish.” . . . Over at Pharyngula — which often ranks in the Top 100 blogs on the Internet— PZ Myers revels in sub-“South Park” blasphemy, presenting (in one recent stunt) his sketch of the Prophet Muhammad as a cow-pig hybrid excited about “raping a 9-year-old girl.”
OK, but isn’t Virginia Heffernan also playing a one-up elitist game herself? Her tone is that of the hip New York Times writer who is above the sort of things that PZ Myers and his fellow ScienceBlog atheists critique and parody. And she wouldn’t, for example, think of broaching United Nations-style etiquette about Mohammad cartoon drawing. But in the teeth of real (not hypothetical) Islamic fundamentalist threats of violence against people who do, how could Virginia Heffernan, a writer, snarkily call PZ Myers’s courageous public solidarity with South Park’s creators a “stunt”? Surely she must value freedom of expression every bit as much as PZ Myers, right?
In this context, what Virginia Heffernan wrote about PZ Myers is far, far more grotesque than anything PZ Myers might have put in his Mohammad sketch.
If PZ Myers and ScienceBlogs lack class, Virginia Heffernan lacks spine.
Here’s how Virginia Heffernan concludes her article:
Under cover of intellectual rigor, the science bloggers — or many of the most visible ones, anyway — prosecute agendas so charged with bigotry that it doesn’t take a pun-happy French critic or a rapier-witted Cambridge atheist to call this whole ScienceBlogs enterprise what it is, or has become: class-war claptrap.
Oh, so that’s what it is. Class-war claptrap. That’s an emotionally manipulative thing to throw into an argument, isn’t it? Nobody likes to be called a snob, but apparently all is fair in shutting up atheists. If you want to talk about bigotry, that’s bigotry: try to shame people away from being out about who they are and what they think; discourage their directness.
But there’s a lesson in Virginia Heffernan’s little essay. The next time someone in the public eye speaks his or her mind about religion—you know, really says what he or she thinks about it—Virginia Heffernan can be expected to be there, on cue, ready to shame them, and side with the enemies of free speech, giving aid and comfort to those enemies, and declaring the anti-free speech religious agitators (who are sometimes violent) to be the true representatives of the people.
To loosely echo the gay rights slogan:
Atheists are here. They’re clear. Get used to it.
I’m an agnostic myself. And no, I won’t be going back in the closet for Virginia Heffernan, nor will I be gauging my rhetoric to her sense of vulgarity, propriety, and good taste. Needless to say, I assume that PZ Myers, the creators of South Park, and those at ScienceBlogs won’t either.
UPDATE: I wonder what Virginia Heffernan will say about the murdering in Paris of twelve people at the satricial magazine Charlie Hebdo–apparently because of this:
And lest it be said that Charlie Hebdo singles out Muhammad for cartoon parody, here are some of the magazine’s other covers: