The Sciences

PZ Myers vs. Unscientific America: Summary

The IntersectionBy The IntersectionJul 13, 2009 2:23 PM


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We've thoroughly read, and now plan to respond in detail to PZ Myers' review of our book. But first, some throat clearing. It may seem odd for authors to respond so extensively to their critics. In the olden days, such exchanges happened very slowly, if at all, through letters to the editor, and usually they weren't very long. But this is the Internet age, and there are very different circumstances here: The People Want It. Hordes of commenters are demanding that we respond to PZ. PZ Asked For It. Myers did not write a balanced review, an indifferent review, or even a negative review. Rather, he misrepresented our book, got its arguments wrong, assaulted its authors ("their hypocritical and ignorant paean to mealy-mouthedness"), and finally ended by concluding that our labor of over a year is "utterly useless." We may not be capable of objectivity judging our own work. But we're also receiving many supportive emails from people who like the book, are seeing it spark constructive dialogue about solutions on places like Chad Orzel's blog or, and are witnessing the careful weighing of its arguments' strengths and weaknesses at places like Neurotopia. How could a book that is prompting thought and dialogue be "utterly useless"? Myers may disagree with our book in many respects, but debate itself is useful, is it not? We Wrote a Contempt-Free Book. Myers' charges come from someone who is directly criticized in the book, and who admits that his opinion "is colored by the palpable contempt [its authors] hold for me." But there's no "contempt" here--just entirely fair criticism of Myers based on his freely chosen actions. But we'll get to that. In answering Myers, we will proceed in 10 points, spread across 3 posts to control their length. We will first summarize them here, and then elaborate in the next three posts until we're done:

1. Getting Personal? Myers claims that our book contains "very direct and personal attacks on me and on Pharyngula, atheists in general, and anyone who fails to offer religion its proper modicum of respect." We do not agree that we have launched any personal attacks. 2. Pluto. Myers doesn't appear to understand our argument here, as we will show. 3. What the Book Actually Says. Starting with Chapter 1, Myers gives little if any sense of the book's real contents and argument. 4. Carl Sagan. This is virtually the only thing Myers seems to agree with us on. But he doesn't grasp the nature of Sagan's uniqueness, or why Richard Dawkins is no Carl Sagan. 5. American Anti-Science. Myers claims the book "entirely neglects the anti-scientific forces." This is false. 6. Root Causes. Myers claims the book "demands we avoid addressing the structural roots" of the problem of science in society. That's false. 7. Science in the Entertainment Industry. By taking a single sentence about Richard Dawkins vastly out of context, Myers misrepresents our chapter on this subject. 8. Solutions. Myers claims our book "offers no new solutions." This is false. 9. Bigotry. Myers flings this baseless, inflammatory charge at us. 10. The Problem with PZ Myers. Curiously, Myers doesn't even address our criticisms of...him. But they're serious and fair, and we will end by elaborating upon why, in the wake of the communion wafer desecration, we decided we had to speak out about them.

That's how we'll proceed, and we'll begin with the first post in a few hours. The entirety of what we've written will carry over into tomorrow--but never fear, it is already drafted, and you will see it all soon enough. While we welcome comment here, we ask that you do not pre-judge our rebuttals on the points above until they have actually been posted.

The first post is now up and can be found here.

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