21 Oct – How Does Truth Emerge At Pharyngula?

Apologies in advance to those Pharyngula readers who came here looking for an actual answer to the question we pose in the title of this post – we don’t really have one.

We do have a good idea how the “approved wisdom” emerges, however, which is a much different thing. The truth has boundaries. It may be hard sometimes to distinguish truth from lies, but there is a mechanism for going about it – one that we follow here at PZWatch. But “approved wisdom” is much more amorphous. It emerges, seemingly out of nowhere, like fog on a cool autumn’s morning, and is just as impossible to displace.

We see this effect – in microcosm – in the case of Tulsi Gabbard. A relatively new politician on the national scene, she has had the fortune – or misfortune – of being mentioned on Pharyngula only thrice. In the first mention, in February of this year, PZ says this:

I shall consider each candidate, be they Bernie, Kamala, Amy, Kirsten, Pete, Cory, Julian, Elizabeth, yea, even Tulsi, on the merits of their policies as presented in the primary campaign,

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/02/19/be-it-resolved/

In the second mention, PZ defends Tulsi, saying this:

The final article is about how Tulsi Gabbard is bad because she wants is to reduce military aid to to Israel and withdraw from Middle East hotspots, and that under it all she’s just another far left Democrat like Bernie Sanders. [SATIRE!] He almost convinces me to support her!

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/10/07/a-new-edition-of-morriss-own-north-star/

(We’ll ignore, for the moment, the fact that PZ and crew actually want more US involvement in the Middle East now that Trump has decided to pull back trooops.)

In the third and final mention, PZ lies about her:

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

She was never a serious challenger, she’s got a bizarre homophobic/racist background, she only seems to be supported by right-wingers, and yes, recently she had a freaky meltdown about being indirectly accused of being a Russian agent. Don’t care. She’s done. She was never going to get the Democratic nomination. All the attention being paid to this irrelevant distraction is meaningless, except as a tool to get you to ignore the slimeball-in-chief.
In every election, there is always an assortment of fringe kooks who make noise for a while, get the backing of some other fringies with money, and then melt away as the campaigning gets serious. She’s one of them. Move on.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/10/21/could-everyone-just-stop-about-tulsi-gabbard/

Facts:

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Tulsi has a background as a racist and homophobe. Are there any facts to support this charge?

Not at Pharyngula, and PZ provides no links to support his claim that Gabbard has this type of background. A little internet searching leads us to this Huffington Post piece:

[Gabbard’s past] returned in the form of homophobic remarks the congresswoman made over a decade ago. At least twice the Hawaii Democrat publicly called the LGBTQ community and supporters of same-sex marriage “homosexual extremists.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/tulsi-gabbard-homophobic-remarks_n_5c3a6030e4b01c93e00a5952?ri18n=true

Gabbard was testifying, as a 22-year-old state representative, against a bill that would legalize same-sex civil unions.

Or, in other words, she held a similar position on gay marriage to Barack Obama at the same time in 2004. It’s not exactly “woke,” but it would be a lie to call it homophobic.

As for the racist charge – your guess is as good as ours. We don’t have a clue. The closest thing we could find is this Washington Examiner article basically wondering the same thing.

The final claim PZ makes is perhaps the most interesting. He claims Gabbard had a meltdown after being “indirectly accused of being a Russian agent.”

If you haven’t seen this news, get ready for a shock. Gabbard wasn’t indirectly accused of anything – Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic nominee for President, directly claimed Gabbard and Jill Stein are “Russian assets.”

That makes three different lies in this single snippet. But, giving PZ the benefit of the doubt, we’re only going to count it as one.

Analysis:

Pay careful attention to the language PZ uses. Gabbard is “bizzare.” She had a “freaky” meltdown. He’s “othering” her, signalling to the lemmings in the comments section that she can no longer be considered an acceptable alternative to Trump. Not for any policy reasons – not even when he explicitly said he would consider her policy positions – but because someone had spoken. It may have been Hillary, it may have been someone else. At this point it doesn’t matter. Like the fog that rolled in while you were asleep, there’s no use questioning how it got there in the first place. It just is.

And so it goes in PZ Myers’s world. Things just are. No explanation needed. No facts necessary. No truth required. Your agreement with this new accepted wisdom, however is mandatory.

PZ Myers Lie #2 [in bold]:

I did quickly discover that the author was a “nutty” science denialist who rejects the evidence for climate change and misrepresents the positions of those lobbying government to address climate concerns. OK, way to put your credibility worst foot forward, guy.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/10/21/thats-quite-the-hatchet-job-on-emily-grossmanshe-should-be-proud/

Facts:

This lie is about a freelance journalist who writes under the pen name Lance Welton for the website vdare.com. Welton wrote a piece titled “Extinction Rebellion’s Emily Grossman Is A Type—As Nutty As You Would Expect.” Immediately after the lie above, PZ quotes Welton saying this:

These “rebels”—motto: “Rebel for Life,” because, they claim, based on falsified climate science data, that a “mass extinction” will begin in twelve years—have vowed to continue their insurrection until their demands are met.

https://vdare.com/articles/extinction-rebellion-s-emily-grossman-is-a-type-as-nutty-as-you-would-expect

PZ claims this is a misrepresentation of the group’s position. Is that true?

If we’re asking, you already know the answer. Welton is right and PZ is lying. This is from the Extinction Rebellion’s own website:

Extinction Rebellion is a movement made up of people from all walks of life. It started in response to the IPCC report that we only have 12 years to stop catastrophic climate change and our understanding that we have entered the 6th mass extinction event. 

https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/faqs/

If anything Welton understates the position of Extinction Rebellion, who say we’ve already entered the 6th mass extinction. Welton quotes them as saying we have 12 years.

Also, there’s no support for PZ’s claim that Welton is a “science denialist who rejects the evidence for climate change.” The only thing Welton rejects is the idea that a mass extinction event either will occur or is occurring.

Analysis:

This is a weird one. We would think a biologist, under normal circumstances, would be all over the claim that the earth is presently experiencing a mass extinction event. What are the claims? What are the facts? Where does PZ fall on this debate? We don’t know, because he simply ignores the claim altogether. That leads us to believe the Extinction Rebellion doesn’t really have all the facts on their side, because if they did, PZ would do a thousand words on it.

PZ Myers Lie #3 [in bold]:

I guess he hasn’t considered yet that many people choose their partners on the basis of love, and kindness, and mutual interests, rather than the grasping calculus of capitalism. But that wouldn’t fit with his thesis, that rich Jews are acting to destroy society.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/10/21/thats-quite-the-hatchet-job-on-emily-grossmanshe-should-be-proud/

Facts:

There’s not much to say about this. It is plainly not Welton’s thesis that rich Jews are acting to destroy society. This is simply an unsubstantiated smear by PZ.

Analysis:

One of the benefits of having a well-cultivated, adoring readership is never having to answer questions about a smear like this. Like the received wisdom of the day about Tulsi Gabbard, Welton is an anti-semite because PZ Myers says he is.

No evidence required.

Final Tally:

Today: 0 science-related posts, 3 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 121 science-related posts, 499 non-science posts.

20% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

Today: 3 PZ Myers Lies

Since 30 May 19: 156 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

13 Sep – Two Unfortunate Lies

This is one of those days when it sucks to be a fact-checker.

We agree with much of the thrust of PZ Myers’s criticism of Ken Ham today. But he was angry, and angry people sometimes say things that aren’t true.

We can’t chalk all 119 of his lies up to anger, of course. His reasons for lying are varied and complex. Being mad at Ken Ham is a sentiment with which we can sympathize, but it’s our (volunteer, unpaid) job to sniff out the falsehoods.

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

Ken Ham is a man who lies to children about the simplest concepts in science, and he was handed hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stupid fake boat in the middle of Kentucky. He’s a liar and a con artist, and he is economically rewarded to a degree most of you are not (definitely more than I am).

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/09/13/ken-ham-and-the-spiders/

Facts:

The city of Williamstown, Kentucky did issue bonds to subsidize the building of the Noah’s Ark park, but only in the amount of $62 million. Even assuming the most generous interpretation of all government actions taken in relation to the park – including highway improvements which may or may not have been done otherwise – the number still comes in at well below $100 million, and is nowhere close to the multiple hundreds of millions of dollars PZ claims.

Analysis:

His heart was in the right place, but he got the magnitude of the subsidies wrong. If PZ had any humility whatsoever, he could make a simple correction and move on. But he won’t.

It’s also interesting to note the tinge of envy here. This has become a common theme with PZ – he will reliably take note of, and compare himself to, people with either more notoriety or more money. Almost every mention of Jeffrey Epstein contains a reference to how PZ Myers doesn’t get donations from billionaires. Almost every mention of Sam Harris notes how much more popular Sam is.

This is another reason we think PZ will never publicly acknowledge either our existence or our critique of his writing – we’re nobody, with almost no scholarly credentials and a small, but growing, audience. We have no power, in other words. It doesn’t matter whether or not what we’re saying is true. Truth has no currency for PZ Myers unless it can be used in furtherance of his evangelical political preferences.

PZ Myers Lie #2 [in bold]:

After stumbling through some transparently stupid evolution denial, he moves on to equally stupid arguments against climate change…”Some scientists” and “sunspots.”Goddamn you to hell, Ken Ham. You’re a liar for Christ, you contemptible, shallow little man.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/09/13/ken-ham-and-the-spiders/

Facts:

Someone unfamiliar with the PZ Myers Method of Lying might skip over these two sentences and never click on the link he provides. But, we are very familiar with him, so we did.

We’re going to compare what PZ quotes Ken Ham as saying with what the Scientific American article PZ cites as evidence says.

First, Ken Ham:

Are these storms (such as Hurricane Dorian, the storm that devastated the Bahamas and parts of the United States in recent weeks) really the result of man-made climate change? Well, climates do change—that is observational science. But the cause of climate change isn’t straightforward. Some scientists have suggested that it may be dependent on the sun and cycles of the sun (such as sunspots), with humans only playing a very minor role.

https://answersingenesis.org/environmental-science/climate-change/angry-spiders-climate-change/

And here is a snippet from the article PZ cites:

Many climate scientists agree that sunspots and solar wind could be playing a role in climate change, but the vast majority view it as very minimal and attribute Earth’s warming primarily to emissions from industrial activity—and they have thousands of peer-reviewed studies available to back up that claim.
Peter Foukal of the Massachusetts-based firm Heliophysics, Inc., who has tracked sunspot intensities from different spots around the globe dating back four centuries, also concludes that such solar disturbances have little or no impact on global warming. Nevertheless, he adds, most up-to-date climate models—including those used by the United Nations’ prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—incorporate the effects of the sun’s variable degree of brightness in their overall calculations.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sun-spots-and-climate-change/

Two things make this another PZ Myers lie: Ham is not arguing against climate change. He explicitly says climates do change. He is suggesting the effect of human activity on climate change may be relatively minor. And what Ham says about solar activity turns out to be correct. The Scientific American article PZ cites says almost the same thing word for word. Ham isn’t lying, as PZ claims, according to the very evidence he uses to back up that claim.

Analysis:

PZ could have made a scientifically accurate, nuanced argument outlining why solar activity likely plays an overall minor role in climate change, but he was angry with Ham and decided to lash out instead.

We do think it’s interesting that PZ called Ham a liar multiple times throughout the post – it shows he does care, at least superficially, about the truth. If he cares about it that means he can – perhaps! – be shamed into actually telling the truth himself.

We’d like to live to see that day.

Final Tally:

Today: 0 science-related posts, 4 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 103 science-related posts, 347 non-science posts.

23% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

Today: 2 PZ Myers Lies

Since 30 May 19: 119 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

6 Sep – One Lie, Dammit

We really wanted a day off. It’s a beautiful night, we’re full of hope and optimism, and the last thing we wanted to do is wade into yet another thing PZ Myers gets wrong on the reg. But, here we are.

It is our (volunteer, unpaid) job, but that doesn’t mean we always like coming in to work.

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

One other thing: I’ve already seen people complaining about the title of the Mother Jones article. Why can’t we do both? We can plant trees and explore Mars, but I think it’s a dig at the billionaires who are aspiring to escape Earth’s problems and build imaginary colonies on Mars. That’s not going to work, and it’s an excuse to shirk responsibilities to this planet.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/09/06/plant-trees/

Facts:

In a post about the benefits of planting trees to combat climate change, PZ rips off this little ditty near the end. His claim is simple: billionaires are planning colonies on Mars to “escape Earth’s problems” and “shirk responsibilities on this planet.” Is it true?

No.

Elon Musk, one of the billionaires investing money in this area, laid out his reasoning fairly simply when he announced the project three years ago.

I really think there are two fundamental paths [for humans]: One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out….I don’t have a doomsday prophesy…But history suggests some doomsday event will happen…The alternative is, become a spacefaring and multi-planetary species.”

https://www.wired.com/2016/09/elon-musk-colonize-mars/

We’ve heard Musk talk about this before, the Wired article was just the first one we found on the internet. The underlying logic is simple: at some point in the future, humans will be at risk of becoming extinct if we choose to remain only on planet earth. An asteroid could do it quickly, climate change could do it slowly, or something else we haven’t thought about could happen. If it does, that’s it. There is no backup plan for the human race if we’re all wiped out on this planet. So Musk wants to invest his own – and his investor’s – money to try to create that backup plan. He’s not trying to shirk whatever responsibilities PZ Myers thinks he has, he’s trying to fulfill them.

Analysis:

The juxtaposition of Musk and Myers’s words serve to illustrate how small PZ’s thinking really is. Musk is talking about big ideas, and PZ’s criticisms seem inconsequential in comparison.

All, while it’s impossible for a prediction to lie, for some reason Myers is convinced the idea of a Mars colony won’t work. Once again, he suggests that a biology professor at a small college in the Minnesota state system knows more about the feasibility and economics of space travel than one of the few people on the planet actually doing it.

We wonder if Elon Musk is reading PZ’s post and rethinking his life choices.

Probably not.

Final Tally:

Today: 1 science-related post, 5 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 100 science-related posts, 322 non-science posts.

24% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

Today: 1 PZ Myers Lie

Since 30 May 19: 113 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.

27 Aug – Lie #100!

Jam packed day here at PZWatch. PZ Myers gave us reason to celebrate by writing his one-hundredth lie since we began this website, and that’s really the main event of the day, so we’ll blow through this lie about David Koch and get right to it.

PZ Myers Lie [in bold]:

I would also add that even their good donations were tainted by an agenda. They funded a major exhibit on human evolution at the Smithsonian, but one of their goals was to play up how climate change affected human evolution. Why, we wouldn’t be here if not for climate change! Therefore, it’s all good for you.

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/08/27/rich-people-using-charities-as-a-way-to-whitewash-their-crimes/

Facts:

The link PZ uses to substantiate this claim goes to a Pharyngula post from 2010, which goes into more detail about this lie. It’s not our (volunteer, unpaid) job to retroactively fact-check PZ Myers’s blog posts – if it was, we’d never leave the house – but, in this case we can do both at once, since he essentially repeats the same lie in both places.

I suppose it wouldn’t leap out at an evolutionary biologist because it is true: there have been temperature fluctuations and long term changes that have hit our species hard, and nobody is denying it. However, it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that we should therefore look forward to melting icecaps and flooding seaboards and intensified storms. 

https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/07/so-thats-why-koch-funded-a-maj/

Now, having set the stage with PZ Myers’s claims, let’s see what the exhibit has to say:

This exhibition is based on decades of cutting-edge research by Smithsonian scientists, and is the result of an international collaboration with over 60 research and educational organizations and over 100 researchers from around the world. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins offers visitors an immersive, interactive journey through 6 million years of scientific evidence for human origins and the stories of survival and extinction in our family tree during times of dramatic climate instability…Explore actual archaeological field sites at interactive snapshots in time, examine over 75 cast reproductions of real skulls from around the world, engage with an interactive family tree showcasing 6 million years of evolutionary evidence from around the world, and address pressing questions and issues surrounding climate change and humans’ impact on the Earth in the “One Species Living Worldwide” theatre and the “Changing the World” gallery.

http://humanorigins.si.edu/exhibit

We haven’t been to the Smithsonian since this exhibit opened, so we have no first-hand knowledge of what it does or doesn’t say, but then again, neither does PZ Myers. He gives no indication of having visited the exhibit, relying instead on evidence from ThinkProgress – a decidedly biased source of information.

However, based on what we read above, exhibit appears to address the issue of human-caused climate change head on, and not in a way that suggests it will be “good for you” it something to “look forward to.” It is highly unlikely that anyone would walk away from this exhibit thinking that we should look forward to melting icecaps and flooding seaboards. In fact, it’s hard for us to conceive of a world in which the Smithsonian, in conjunction with 100 researchers around the world, produces an exhibit claiming catastrophic climate change is “good for you.” That claim is, most decidedly, a lie.

Analysis:

PZ Myers gets a lot of mileage out of taking conservative Christians to task – rightly so – for their creationist beliefs. Here, he excoriates a conservative for funding and exhibition at one of the most prestigious museums in the world focusing on the science of evolution! PZ’s original post on this amounts to hand-wringing that, while the science was right, it suggests a conclusion he doesn’t like.

And that’s the real issue. It suggests PZ doesn’t really care about science that doesn’t support his evangelical political positions. It suggests he doesn’t care about truth unless it somehow supports his agenda. It is, in other words, the opposite of what a rational, science-based person should do.

Which may explain all the lies…

Final Tally:

Today: 1 science-related post, 4 posts on other stuff

Since 30 May 19: 90 science-related posts, 290 non-science posts.

24% of the posts on a “science blog” are about science. 

Today: 1 PZ Myers Lie

Since 30 May 19: 100 PZ Myers Lies

Over to you, PZ. Until tomorrow.