20 Aug – What Is a Lie? PZ Myers Provides the Answer

We were asked yesterday on Twitter what our definition of ‘lie’ is. Partially due to the character constraints of the medium, we gave a short answer: an intentional untruth.

We realize a ‘lie’ is something separate and distinct from an ‘error’ or a ‘falsehood’ given in good faith and with the intention of being fair and evenhanded to your subject. An example of this is our contention that PZ Myers did not denounce Jeffrey Epstein by name in 2011, as he has claimed. We did our research before making that contention but we don’t pretend to have omniscience knowledge on the subject, so if it ever turns out that PZ did denounce Epstein by name in 2011, we will have written a falsehood, not a lie.

That’s not what PZ Myers does. He knows – or should know – the claims he makes are untrue. A good percentage of the time, his lies are exposed by the very source material he cites. He almost never truthfully describes a conservative or libertarian political position and, since he is a learned man, it’s hard to chalk those cases up to ignorance or lack of research.

Polifact awards their annual “lie of the year” to people, usually politicians, who say things they either know or should know to be false. We use the same principles – in fact ours mirror those of the fact checkers at the Washington Post – but we award our lies on a more regular basis, in part because PZ Myers is so prolific.

Today’s lie is a great example of this distinction between an untruth and an intentional untruth. PZ has a distinct dislike for Daniel Povey, a recently fired Johns Hopkins professor, so he lies about why he was fired.


PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

Daniel Povey, the Johns Hopkins professor who was fired for an assault with boltcutters against protesting students, was moving to Seattle to work at Facebook. His plans have changed.



PZ has written about this story before, most recently just over a week ago. Here’s how he described it then:

Daniel Povey gathered a group of like-minded conservative thinkers who weren’t affiliated with the university, grabbed some big ol’ boltcutters, and assaulted the protesters late one night. Punches were thrown. Povey and his friends were thrown back. 


We considered calling this a lie at the time, but PZ’s description was just ambiguous enough. “Punches were thrown” is written in passive voice, specifically because PZ knows Daniel Povey and his group did not throw any punches, but had to endure a violent assault from the students occupying the university building, which resulted in the group being thrown back. PZ doesn’t want to admit the students weren’t entirely peaceful, but he stopped just short of lying about it.

Until today.

Today, PZ drops the “punches were thrown” disguise and morphs the entire event into an “assault with boltcutters,” making Daniel Povey sound like a monster, swinging a heavy metal object around a room full of peaceful, docile, students. The reality is almost exactly the opposite, and PZ knows it.


Another reason we use “lie” instead of another, anodyne word is because PZ Myers is a self-professed skeptical, rational humanist. We think people who describe themselves as such should be held to higher standards than normal. PZ is supposed to have the skills to deeply research claims and come to conclusions based on evidence, not ideology. When he doesn’t, which is all the time when he writes about politics, it degrades skepticism, and atheism, and humanism for that matter. If the vast majority of what he writes (and he only writes about science 25% of the time) is ideologically driven and not fact-based at all, why should anyone believe anything he writes?

Final Tally:

Today: 0 science-related posts, 5 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 88 science-related posts, 262 non-science posts.

25% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

Today: 1 PZ Myers Lie

Since 30 May 19: 93 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

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