Irrational Skepticism?
March 1, 2010 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Richard Dawkins has been tweeting on the controversy over the apparent closing down of the RichardDawkins.net Forum.

A former moderator of the forum tells his side of the story (includes strong criticism of Josh Timonen who runs RichardDawkins.net and is a personal friend of Dawkins).

Other former forum members were less measured in their criticism of Timonen, prompting Dawkins himself to respond

Later, Dawkins apologises for 'the handling of the situation'.
posted by jonnyploy (86 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ahh Dawkins and Twitter. Two great tastes that taste great together.
posted by Mister_A at 11:59 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I see at most one tweet from Dawkins about the controversy -- am I just missing something?
posted by cider at 12:04 PM on March 1, 2010


see at most one tweet from Dawkins about the controversy -- am I just missing something?

The last two tweets are related (the last indirectly admittedly).
posted by jonnyploy at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2010


It seems they are doing the right thing now. So that's nice!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2010


Suppose you found yourself described as an “utter twat” a “suppurating rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum. A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.”

And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:09 PM on March 1, 2010 [38 favorites]


I didn't know this forum existed, so thanks for the tip.
posted by DU at 12:10 PM on March 1, 2010


is it just me, or does it sound like they intended to make the new RichardDawkins.net more like metafilter?
posted by shmegegge at 12:12 PM on March 1, 2010


Ahh Dawkins and Twitter. Two great tastes that taste great together.

You forgot to mention the discussion is about (the closing of) a forum. That's the chewey nougat at the center of this chocolatey, nutty meta-confection.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:13 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, so this is what people mean when they talk about how MetaFilter is moderated so much better and has a better sense of community than most online forums, even those run by intelligent, passionate people who care about the community they are trying to build.

I'd never seen it so I didn't believe it existed.

"wankery of the most fulminating order", indeed.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:13 PM on March 1, 2010


It's an evolving story. Stay tuned.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:14 PM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


by the way, I was referring to this:
The new discussion area will not be a new forum. It will be different. We will be using a system of tags to categorize items, instead of sub-forums. Discussions can have multiple tags, such as "Education", "Children", and "Critical Thinking". Starting a new discussion will require approval, so we ask that you only submit new discussions that are truly relevant to reason and science. Subsequent responses on the thread will not need approval—however anything off topic or violating the new terms of service will be removed. The approval process will be there to ensure the quality of posts on the site. This is purely an editorial exercise to help new visitors find quality content quickly. We hope this discussion area will reflect the foundation's goals and values.
which sounds to me like metafilter with approval queues for fpps.
posted by shmegegge at 12:15 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


People sure do seem to expect a lot from websites offering lots of free content, and a free place to gather and post hundreds of thousands of comments filled with text and pictures (which isn't free).

I don't see anything by Dawkins or his staff that could justify the furious outrage alluded to here. I read through the whole deal. So they're closing one site, moving to another and instituting moderation on discussion topics (just like Metafilter). So what? Dawkin' first post (the "Outrage" post) was spot-on and he should have stuck by it. And what's with the apology, where he says he never meant to insinuate that the hate mail was coming from forum members? Who the hell else would be sending him that stuff? How bizarre.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 12:15 PM on March 1, 2010


Well, the twitter link you have in the first link, I don't think is actually Dawkins...the one listed on his site is this one: http://twitter.com/richarddawkins...without the underscore between the two names.

Secondly, while I think the forum closing was handled particularly poorly, and without consideration of how valuable archives of communities can be to members of that community, I would also posit that since it is RD's name attached, that he has the right to determine what should appear under his masthead.

I think the moderator's story, while probably factually correct, is still tinged with that level of emotion we've all felt when we've been laid off through no fault of our own, when it hasn't been explained and we can find no logical reason for the decision.

I hope that the new forum is not as draconian as former members believe it will be, and that it will still be a good community...but I think that Dawkins has probably lost a lot of supporters by his initial "fuck you people" response.
posted by dejah420 at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So both Twitter and WordPress blogs are blocked at my office. Could someone give me a brief rundown of what is the what?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2010


It's an evolving story.

Not a created outrage, you mean?
posted by Skeptic at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Here, I think, is the meat of the story, such as it is:
In response to the unanimous criticisms, Josh started playing with the settings in the forum. First he deactivated private messaging. This caused a major problem, as members were starting to share personal details so that they can keep in touch with good friends if the forum really did end up closing. Members also filled their signatures with details and where to find members after the forum had closed. Josh went on to lock viewable access to the forum. For a while, nobody could do anything. With the forum all to themselves, Josh and Andrew deleted any posts that criticised the decision. Next, they removed signatures so that other forums and meeting places could not be advertised. When all of this was done, Josh and Andrew reopened the forum in a read-only state. Nobody could post anymore, and the complaints thread had been completely deleted.
posted by echo target at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


So the big deal is that admins have to approve new threads (but not new comments) before they go live.
posted by Mister_A at 12:20 PM on March 1, 2010


Eventually, they approached us with a vague plan. We would have a new forum created for us using completely different software that would make all our technical headaches vanish. They also said that all the content from current forum could be transferred to the new system.

Speaking as a software developer, you should know that any time a developer tells you anything like the information above, they are lying.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2010 [21 favorites]


Thanks, echo target. What were the criticisms that started off the whole thing?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2010


Seeing something like this reminds me to give mathowie a big hug next time I see him, because most places really are not run as sanely and fairly as MeFi.
posted by idiopath at 12:23 PM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is like my very own violet blue disaster to watch unfold! I will be referencing this in future threads for years to come.
posted by Think_Long at 12:24 PM on March 1, 2010


I think the disconnect can be found pretty clearly in two phrases. The ex-mod's post mentioned "community" repeatedly. Dawkins' rebuttal dismissed "frivolous gossip" as something worth getting rid of, which indeed the proposed new system sounds like it would do quite admirably. This is like cats. Cat people love cats because of their dignity and independence. Non-cat people hate cats because they're standoffish and don't respond to commands well. Same thing, different eyes.

Kind of sad, really. I've taken part in a forum implosion from the staff side before. It wasn't a lot of fun. Not nearly so bad as this, though.
posted by Scattercat at 12:25 PM on March 1, 2010


"I would like to start by apologising for our handling of this situation. We have not communicated well with our forum volunteers and users (for example in my insensitive 'Outrage' post, which was written in the heat of the moment). In the process we have caused unintended hurt and offence, and I am very sorry about that. In a classic case of a vicious circle, some of the responses to our announcement also caused considerable hurt and distress to us, and in the atmosphere of heightened emotion that followed, some of our subsequent actions went too far."
When whipped-up emotionally while online it's best to step away from your computer and not go with a first impulse to lash out.
posted by ericb at 12:26 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish I could bronze this paragraph.

"Yesterday, I was celebrating. The House of Commons advised that the government should stop NHS funding of homeopathy. I was on a high all day, what a result! But by the end of the day, I was brought back down to Earth as I discovered that the world’s busiest atheist forum was being closed down, and that the disgusting evening was to be filled with lies, censorship and cowardice."

posted by octobersurprise at 12:27 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


shmegegge: "which sounds to me like metafilter with approval queues for fpps."

Actually, it sounds a bit more like AskMe, with all the 'everything must stay on topic' talk. And, the approval queue.

Man sure sounds like a fun forum!
posted by graventy at 12:29 PM on March 1, 2010


Yeah, what idiopath just said is pretty much what I meant earlier, I just tried to make a (slightly lame) joke about not taking the existence in other intelligent online communities on faith as some sort of (slightly lame) attempt at an atheism joke.

And as for me agreeing with the Wordpress blog's use of the tag ""wankery of the most fulminating order" -- I still agree with that assessment, even though, on further thought, I'm also pretty sure I now have an idea what a MetaTalk discussion about posting/comment policy would look like to me if I didn't care so much about the MetaFilter community.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:30 PM on March 1, 2010


Scattercat: " Cat people love cats because of their dignity and independence."

They don't seem very dignified when drinking out of the toilet. And they don't seem very independent when they start meowing to be fed at 6:00 AM.

I love them because they're small and furry and make buzzing sounds when they curl up on your chest.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:31 PM on March 1, 2010 [9 favorites]


Every real-life or virtual atheism-themed community I've encountered or been a part of has been composed half of interesting, thoughtful people, and half of barely-coherent, melodramatic nutjobs. And for the most part, it's the nutjobs who stick around longest.

Enacting a huge change to a community of these types of people requires delicacy. Instead, it looks like this was handled by someone with absolutely no idea what was likely to happen. I hope the RDF doesn't lose too much support.
posted by gurple at 12:32 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eventually, they approached us with a vague plan. We would have a new forum created for us using completely different software that would make all our technical headaches vanish. They also said that all the content from current forum could be transferred to the new system.

jenkinsEar:
Speaking as a software developer, you should know that any time a developer tells you anything like the information above, they are lying.


Yep, this is the technical equivalent of "pics or it didn't happen" -- "sign-off on a requirements document or it WON'T happen."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:33 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminded me to check on these guys and see if they're still at it. They are. I had assumed they would have died out long ago. Then again, they aren't exactly the most active blog...
posted by charred husk at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2010


The forum isn't closed down, it's just evolving into something more useful.
posted by davejay at 12:39 PM on March 1, 2010


Dammit, Blazecock already made the joke. That's what I get for loading the thread a while before I read it.
posted by davejay at 12:41 PM on March 1, 2010


They don't seem very dignified when drinking out of the toilet.

They look especially undignified if they fall in. A few years back, one of my cats was pushed into the toilet by her big brother as she decided to take a drink. The ensuing violence was like something out of a deranged Tarantino film.
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


But don't you see? The (false) aura of dignity is precisely why it's so funny when the cat is pushed into the toilet.
posted by Scattercat at 12:44 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the disconnect can be found pretty clearly in two phrases. The ex-mod's post mentioned "community" repeatedly. Dawkins' rebuttal dismissed "frivolous gossip" as something worth getting rid of, which indeed the proposed new system sounds like it would do quite admirably.

Yes, I think that't the crux of it. The mods/admins and forum members saw the site as a community, first and foremost. Certainly one with a specific aim and focus, but with all the frivolity that comes with a community - making friends, off-topic conversations, etc.

Dawkins' letter pretty clearly lays out a vision of the site as being more like an academic conference: formal education, invited articles and focused discussion on pre-selected topics. If that's what he wants then, hey, it's his website, but I'm surprised that he didn't seem to understand the root of the community's feelings.

I've seen a few similar reactions to (proposed) changes in forums before, and always been surprised by the strength of feelings of entitlement among the members, that the person who owns and pays for the forum has no right to change things, or owes it to the community to keep things stable. Certainly it's good manners not to disrupt the community too much, but I tend to think that anyone who doesn't like a free forum is perfectly entitled to leave, ask for their £00.00 joining fee to be returned in full, and start running their own free, stable service for all comers.

Or does providing a service in the first place imply a promise to keep things the same that a forum/site owner should feel obligated to keep?
posted by metaBugs at 12:44 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


which sounds to me like metafilter with approval queues for fpps.

Yeah, particularly: "Subsequent responses on the thread will not need approval—however anything off topic or violating the new terms of service will be removed."

The new TOS!
posted by fixedgear at 12:45 PM on March 1, 2010


[A few comments removed. Please don't jump into threads early to declare them doomed, etc.]
posted by cortex at 12:50 PM on March 1, 2010


"A suppurating rat’s rectum inside a dead skunk that’s been shoved up a week-old dead rhino’s twat.”

Turducken from Hell.
posted by applemeat at 12:55 PM on March 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


Or does providing a service in the first place imply a promise to keep things the same that a forum/site owner should feel obligated to keep?

No, but any forum/site owner has to understand that the value of a user-submitted site like a forum lies in the users, not the site itself. I've seen this a hundred times -- the admins decide that they don't like the "troublemakers" and the "dumb gossip", but end up causing much, much more trouble in getting rid of them. Because, lo and behold, the users like the gossip and trouble; otherwise they wouldn't have stayed. C'mon, we're gregarious primates; community always trumps "directed discussion" or what-have-you.

Forums are delicate. Very delicate. They exist as a two-way unspoken contract between users and owners. So no, providing a service doesn't imply a promise to keep things the same, but it does imply that people may leave in rabid-lemming droves if you fail to do so. And the "locking PMs and deleting people's contact info posts" thing is just beyond the pale -- that really does break the implied promise of providing PMs and posting rights.

There is absolutely no reason, short of legal action, to do what this Timonen fellow did to a popular forum. In doing so, he only hurt himself, because it was guaranteed to start a massive kerfuffle (and the omg-angry-atheists thing is a huge red herring -- if someone did the same thing to Mom's Recipe Forum, for instance, the same thing would surely have happened). If he didn't like the forum, he'd have been much better off giving it to the moderation staff to run, dropping the link to the forum off the front of the site, and starting his Fancy New Moderated Discussion Group in parallel.
posted by vorfeed at 1:04 PM on March 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


am confused. why doesnt he have control of RichardDawkins. net? he's announcing a new forum at RationalSkepticism. i don't get it :P
posted by liza at 1:08 PM on March 1, 2010


Twitter allows Dawkins to be douchey in real time, instead of having to wait for him to be douchey at his next public forum.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 1:18 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


To me it appears that it's his Twitter feed that he's lost control of. I can't imagine that he would have made this tweet himself -- it doesn't agree in tone at all with the other posts linked above.
posted by gurple at 1:29 PM on March 1, 2010


So... this "atheism" -- it results in better, kinder, less judgmental people then?
posted by eustacescrubb at 1:32 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I've seen a few similar reactions to (proposed) changes in forums before, and always been surprised by the strength of feelings of entitlement among the members, that the person who owns and pays for the forum has no right to change things, or owes it to the community to keep things stable. Certainly it's good manners not to disrupt the community too much, but I tend to think that anyone who doesn't like a free forum is perfectly entitled to leave, ask for their £00.00 joining fee to be returned in full, and start running their own free, stable service for all comers.

Or does providing a service in the first place imply a promise to keep things the same that a forum/site owner should feel obligated to keep?
"

I don't know whether the regular members of the forums necessarily have the right to expect the site owner to maintain the forum indefinitely if said owner doesn't feel like it. However, if the moderators were actually providing several hours of unpaid volunteer work per day working on those forums for the sake of the community, then I do feel the owner has some sort of significant moral obligation towards those moderators. If the account by Peter Harrison is accurate, then that obligation was not met in the slightest.
posted by tdismukes at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey eustace this isn't a thread about atheism, it's a thread about a policy change at an atheist message board! Stay on topic!
posted by Mister_A at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


They don't seem very dignified when drinking out of the toilet. And they don't seem very independent when they start meowing to be fed at 6:00 AM.

1) keep your toilet lids down and put out plenty of clean water for your cats, changed daily

2) put out dry food in bowls and keep it filled

Our cats only ever bug us to go outside, and even then we have a system of leads and lines which don't allow them to roam free. But the water and food situation -- they never bug us for either of those things.
posted by hippybear at 1:38 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, hardline atheists. Bless.

Sounds like a few people have been behaving none too Brightly, if you catch my meaning...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:48 PM on March 1, 2010


and the omg-angry-atheists thing is a huge red herring -- if someone did the same thing to Mom's Recipe Forum, for instance, the same thing would surely have happened

I'm often quite ready to argue this point and state that there seems to be an exacerbating disharmonic factor amongst some stripes of atheists (not all), and suspect that once someone believes in being above some class of error (in this particular case, an epistemological class), it tends to heighten a general human problem with introspection and respect for competing arguments.

But if Timonen really handled things the way that Harrison stated, that's forum management that would not only piss off most people but would probably send mild-mannered bhudda-balanced centered types ruefully heading for the door.
posted by weston at 1:57 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


In response to the unanimous criticisms, Josh started playing with the settings in the forum. First he deactivated private messaging. This caused a major problem, as members were starting to share personal details so that they can keep in touch with good friends if the forum really did end up closing. Members also filled their signatures with details and where to find members after the forum had closed. Josh went on to lock viewable access to the forum. For a while, nobody could do anything. With the forum all to themselves, Josh and Andrew deleted any posts that criticised the decision. Next, they removed signatures so that other forums and meeting places could not be advertised. When all of this was done, Josh and Andrew reopened the forum in a read-only state. Nobody could post anymore, and the complaints thread had been completely deleted.
Repeating for significance. If you want to open a more formal venue for discussion, that's fine. But if you're going to take steps to prevent people from migrating away -- if you're going to treat your users like property, to be managed and *owned* by extraordinary means -- well, don't be surprised at all if they rebel.

What should have happened, is that Dawkins should have opened up a second discussion forum, with the new communication semantics. He then could have put up notice that the existing forum was going to close at some point in time, and people should either migrate to the new one or "go elsewhere". And then if people wanted to set up their own space, sure. Go right ahead. But don't block them talking about where that new space would be.

To censor discussion like this, is the equivalent of a rowdy bar saying one day, "Guess what, we're firing the bartenders and serving only wine. You don't have to stay, but if you leave, don't think we'll let you agree on a new bar to hang out at."
posted by effugas at 2:02 PM on March 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


This issue illustrates a weird internal contradiction in Dawkin's thinking and personality.

He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority. This a has profound and irreducible resemblance to creationism and Intelligent Design, where the order that we see comes from the a creator who also tells us what we should do.

But he claims to believe that all the wonderful things we are and see around us are the result of an extremely messy and bottom up process in which everything good comes from making almost every possible mistake all the time and building upon the tiny fraction that turn out to be useful in some way ('we are the product not of authorship, but of editing', to paraphrase another English biologist I think Dawkins could profit from closer study of), which is simply not congruent with dismissing those forum posts as "frivolous gossip."
posted by jamjam at 2:09 PM on March 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


jamjam: "He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority."

I think it's kind of like the authorities that are behind Intelligent Design etc. aren't legitimate. They just kind of made up a story and stuck with it. Frivolous gossip is the same kind of obsessing over made-up nonsense that he apparently doesn't like.
posted by amethysts at 2:23 PM on March 1, 2010


Weston: I'm often quite ready to argue this point and state that there seems to be an exacerbating disharmonic factor amongst some stripes of atheists (not all), and suspect that once someone believes in being above some class of error

Oh trust me, you get a parallel if not identical problem amongst the religious, where You Would Agree With Me If You Were Devout Enough.

Effugas: Repeating for significance. If you want to open a more formal venue for discussion, that's fine. But if you're going to take steps to prevent people from migrating away -- if you're going to treat your users like property, to be managed and *owned* by extraordinary means -- well, don't be surprised at all if they rebel.

I belong to, of all things, a fertility and pregnancy tracking and support website that tried to do exactly this with its forums, with the absolute identical results. People went to almost unbelievable levels to clandestinely communicate the location of the new forums, including having their kids hold up signs in signature pictures, linking to Flickr photo sets in which one of the pictures was the URL of the new site, etcetera.

And then they all dropped their paid subscriptions, because the most useful non-social part of the site is available for free. Yeah, that worked out real well for the original board.
posted by KathrynT at 2:24 PM on March 1, 2010


Jamjam, I haven't read enough of Dawkins to know how he spins things, but there's a big difference between:

1. The messy process of evolution is how everything ought to be done, and we should model our social interactions on it.

or

2. The messy process of evolution is just the facts of what happened, whether we imitate it or not in our social interactions is a big, difficult, complicated question.

Dawkins is only a hypocrite in this case if he's in the habit of saying #1. And if he's in the habit of saying #1, he's not just a hypocrite, but a fool.
posted by straight at 2:43 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


But he claims to believe that all the wonderful things we are and see around us are the result of an extremely messy and bottom up process in which everything good comes from making almost every possible mistake all the time and building upon the tiny fraction that turn out to be useful in some way ('we are the product not of authorship, but of editing', to paraphrase another English biologist I think Dawkins could profit from closer study of), which is simply not congruent with dismissing those forum posts as "frivolous gossip."

Well, the claim that Dawkins made in his second post was that some forum posts were "potentially harmful to the website's (and therefore the Foundation's) reputation". That seems quite compatible with what he "claims to believe", as genes which harm evolutionary fitness (as opposed to useful or even useless-but-not-harmful ones) don't tend to stick around.

Not that it matters, because holding Dawkins to some bizarre standard of natural selection on his web forum is ridiculous. Come on. It is more than possible for Dawkins to believe in natural selection without also believing that it is the single best way to solve every single problem in every sphere of life (see also: your policy example).

Do you think he pays his mechanic to expose all the little car parts to unfettered competition, too?
posted by vorfeed at 2:44 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


So... this "atheism" -- it results in better, kinder, less judgmental people then?

On the contrary, atheism is the exact opposite of a system designed to control people to be a certain way.
posted by DU at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untravelled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best. -- Heinlein

"Frivolous gossip" falls into the same category. Humans need "gossip" to work well together for longer than a week. You don't make friends by focusing exclusively on the Important Task, and if you don't make friends you burn out pretty quickly.
posted by JDHarper at 2:49 PM on March 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty SELFISH, Dawkins. Good of you to have EXTENDED your apologies, but you would have needed to be BLIND to have not seen something like this coming. This isn't EDEN we all live in and now you're really going to have to CLIMB the piles of criticism in order to UNWEAVE this knotted cluster of bile. Still, years from now you'll have a TALE to tell and don't think I'm under the DELUSION that any of these people are making much sense. Something something greatest show on Earth.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:59 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


A clear-thinking oasis! A lifeboat for the rational mind!
posted by millions at 3:09 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


> But if Timonen really handled things the way that Harrison stated, that's forum
> management that would not only piss off most people but would probably send
> mild-mannered bhudda-balanced centered types ruefully heading for the door.
> posted by weston at 4:57 PM on March 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

after turning them into a newt.
posted by jfuller at 3:11 PM on March 1, 2010


I belong to, of all things, a fertility and pregnancy tracking and support website that tried to do exactly this with its forums, with the absolute identical results.

I am nearly positive I know which one you're talking about.
posted by zarq at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2010


and the omg-angry-atheists thing is a huge red herring -- if someone did the same thing to Mom's Recipe Forum, for instance, the same thing would surely have happened

Yeah, I was going to snark about atheists as is my wont, but then I remembered that in my own convert Buddhist community, which is represented in magazines and books as a group of thoughtful, peace-seeking introverts, was dominated until recently by two realms of Hell. Out of sympathy for Dawkins' dilemma, here's the lowdown:

Buddhist discussion on the Internet began with alt.religion.buddhism, which was a troll haven almost as soon as it got off the ground. Since 2003, literally the only people left on that forum are trolls. It was supplanted by a forum named E-Sangha, whose moderators attempted to suppress intersectarian arguments by simply banning anyone who objected to their interpretations. Posts from newbies would frequently be ridiculed for their lack of understanding. In an act of cosmic mercy, E-Sangha's database was hacked and deleted in late 2009. It has now been replaced with a group of newbie-friendly forums divided by sect, notably Dhamma Wheel for Theravada. But it took about 20 years to reach this happy stage. The atheist movement, run by Dawkins and the former IIDB, probably has 5 more years to go...

I think this sort of problem is endemic to getting a bunch of intellectuals together on the Internet, and is not necessarily determined by what they believe.
posted by shii at 3:26 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


vorfeed: “... and the omg-angry-atheists thing is a huge red herring -- if someone did the same thing to Mom's Recipe Forum, for instance, the same thing would surely have happened...”

Well, yeah, of course. But that shouldn't stop anybody funnin' - no bitterness, just intraforum humor is all. If it was Mom's Recipe Forum, I'd be talking about how if the heat was so bad I would've gotten out of the kitchen, too.

And anyway, I'm pretty sure what happened over at the Dawkins forum was just a minor disagreement over the moderators' new hellban option and whether it actually existed or not.
posted by koeselitz at 3:45 PM on March 1, 2010


Oh trust me, you get a parallel if not identical problem amongst the religious, where You Would Agree With Me If You Were Devout Enough.

I wouldn't argue otherwise, in fact, I suspect a similar dynamic, again involving people who believe they've transcended a certain class of error, albeit a different one.
posted by weston at 3:48 PM on March 1, 2010


after turning them into a newt.

But they'd get better...
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:47 PM on March 1, 2010


Every real-life or virtual atheism-themed community I've encountered or been a part of has been composed half of interesting, thoughtful people, and half of barely-coherent, melodramatic nutjobs. And for the most part, it's the nutjobs who stick around longest.

Fixed that for you.
posted by verb at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2010


He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority. This a has profound and irreducible resemblance to creationism and Intelligent Design, where the order that we see comes from the a creator who also tells us what we should do.
Not to pile on or anything, jamjam, but this is just bizarre. "Intelligent Design" is a perfect description of how forum software is designed, configured, and managed.

Dawkins, as far as I know, has never claimed that nothing has ever been designed, anywhere, or that things that are designed are inferior to things that evolved. He has claimed that "Design" is not an accurate description of the natural world we live in and study.
posted by verb at 5:08 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority.

Citation needed, where "I don't like him" is not a citation.
posted by DU at 5:23 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a fan of Richard Dawkins and an open atheist, Dawkins' reaction doesn't surprise me one bit. Although he's been positioned as an heir to Carl Sagan -- and he certainly explains scientific concepts with the same clarity and sense of wonder -- bless his heart, the man hectors. He can't pass a dead horse without beating it. This comes to mind as I'm re-reading The Greatest Show on Earth, in which he approvingly quotes P.Z. Myers as saying, "Once again, Richard Lenski [herein] has responded to the goons and fools over at Conservapedia, and boy, does he ever outclass them."

Which was quite true, as far as it went. But that's a blog post. Pure snipe. And it ain't exactly Dorothy Parker. It's not what you put in a book, to sit between cloth covers and gather dust next to Cosmos and A Brief History of Time. But Dawkins couldn't pass it up. And here it is, another fight he spoiled for.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:27 PM on March 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority. This a has profound and irreducible resemblance to creationism and Intelligent Design, where the order that we see comes from the a creator who also tells us what we should do.

No, the two bear little if any resemblance to each other.

Dawkins rightfully believes that if one is going to make sweeping claims about the world we live in, then those claims should be evidence-based, reasoned, reproducible and (hopefully) verifiable. As far as I have read, and I have read him extensively, he also does not claim that *anything* in science is an absolute truth. This is an important distinction. Discovery through Intelligent Design and Creationism eventually reduces to hand-wavy, faith-based "G-d willed it to be so" answers which are perhaps satisfactory for (lazy) faith, but not for scientific inquiry.

I have never seen him claim that social order or interactions should be based on either authoritarian models, or quasi-evolutionary ones. If you have, then please provide a cite.
posted by zarq at 6:05 PM on March 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm bummed. I was really looking forward to engaging in frivolous gossip on the Dawkins site.

The same thing pretty much happened to the now-defunct "Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted" site. In all seriousness, I just discovered the Dawkins site and was hoping it would meet a similar need. Guess not!
posted by xenophile at 7:29 PM on March 1, 2010


He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority. This a has profound and irreducible resemblance to creationism and Intelligent Design, where the order that we see comes from the a creator who also tells us what we should do.

No fan of Dawkins here, but having read a fair few of his books, he doesn't seem to give out many prescriptions about how society (online or off) should be run, and certainly doesn't seem to be an authoritarian in any meaningful sense of the word.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:37 PM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmph. zarq said it better. Carry on.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:37 PM on March 1, 2010


Aw. Poor Dawkins. Somebody actually called him an "utter twat"? How will he ever heal the psychic wounds?

Jebus. If you can't handle middle-school name calling, you should really just stay off the Series of Tubes.
posted by steambadger at 11:00 PM on March 1, 2010


Thank you, zarq and AdamCSnider.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:47 PM on March 1, 2010


I am nearly positive I know which one you're talking about.

Does it rhyme with Mertility Mriend?
posted by KathrynT at 12:15 AM on March 2, 2010


Does it rhyme with Mertility Mriend?

Yep, it does. What a complete mess that place was. "Stormy" in fact. :P

I see that twoweekwait is still around. Good for them. I hope they're thriving.
posted by zarq at 1:06 AM on March 2, 2010


BP, np
posted by zarq at 1:12 AM on March 2, 2010


He is essentially an elitist and an authoritarian who believes that truth comes from experts and that policy should be set by legitimate and certified authority.

And this statement proves you are essentially an ignoramus. He says things you don't like in a tone you don't find polite and that makes him a Bad Person. Then any kerfuffle involving him that ensues you take as a cue to jump in and point fingers to "prove" your "point".

Tsk.
posted by grubi at 5:28 AM on March 2, 2010


Aw. Poor Dawkins. Somebody actually called him an "utter twat"? How will he ever heal the psychic wounds?

Jebus. If you can't handle middle-school name calling, you should really just stay off the Series of Tubes.


Actually I think he was angry on behalf of a friend being called those names. It doesn't hurt more when it's a friend, especially if it's done in your name in some way.
posted by Summer at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2010


Yep, it does. What a complete mess that place was. "Stormy" in fact. :P

I see that twoweekwait is still around. Good for them. I hope they're thriving.


Yeah. I still use FF's charting software -- I have the lifetime account which they no longer offer -- but all my social stuff is at the cringingly named MommyGossip.com now.

Anyway, derail over! That's hilarious that you're familiar with them too.
posted by KathrynT at 10:29 AM on March 2, 2010


As a secularist, I feel that in-group bonding and the resulting "church splits" among secularists is as embarrassing as sex scandals among Christians. Both groups like to think they have conquered their nature and are above such things. However, neither in-group bonding, nor sex, is wrong. The true scandal is living in denial about your own human nature. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it will ever go away. It's all in how you provide healthy outlets for them.
posted by matt_arnold at 10:39 AM on March 2, 2010


...but all my social stuff is at the cringingly named MommyGossip.com now.

I haven't ever been there, but from what I understand they're a great community. Huge, too. :)

Anyway, derail over! That's hilarious that you're familiar with them too.

Their massive implosion was noted by at least a few of the (in)fertility professionals I used to work with, who might have previously recommend FF to their patients. I was a lurker there when it all went down. It made the blowups listed over at FandomWank look tame.
posted by zarq at 11:25 AM on March 2, 2010


As a secularist, I feel that in-group bonding and the resulting "church splits" among secularists is as embarrassing as sex scandals among Christians. Both groups like to think they have conquered their nature and are above such things. However, neither in-group bonding, nor sex, is wrong. The true scandal is living in denial about your own human nature. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it will ever go away. It's all in how you provide healthy outlets for them.
Where are you getting the idea that secularists generally don't like in-group bonding or consider themselves to be above it?
posted by peacheater at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2010


The true scandal is living in denial about your own human nature.

What? Is that what atheists do?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2010


What? Is that what atheists do?"

That's what most people do, really.
posted by psyche7 at 3:37 PM on March 3, 2010


peacheater, there is not space here to link to hundreds or thousands of examples. Nor do I have the time. However, here is just one example of pointing to tribalism as the source of false beliefs, considering it as a bad thing.
posted by matt_arnold at 3:43 PM on March 15, 2010


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