Skeptic group publicly shuns PZ Myers for ‘harmful and hateful rhetoric’

“That shepherd of Internet trolls.” — Sam Harris on PZ Myers


I haven’t read PZ Myers for years because his scorched-earth brand of criticism, whereby he abuses the wide influence he has at Free Thought Blogs — particularly among an easily led college demographic — by dismissing everyone he disagrees with as cretins, goons and halfwits, belies the honest conversation we should be having in the freethought community about civil rights, social justice, secularism and the influence of religion in public life.

But one skeptic organization, Atheist Ireland, seems to have had enough in a rare, public rebuke of another high profile “spokesman” in the community, and Atheist Northern Ireland recently followed suit.

In a post titled, “Atheist Ireland publicly dissociates itself from the harmful and hateful rhetoric of PZ Myers,” the organization laid bare its evidence against Myers, and Michael Nugent, chairman of that organization, has kept a running log of what he calls Myers’ various “misrepresentations and smears.” Alex Gabriel, FTB blogger, provided a link to all the claims in the AI post about Myers, noting that he did so “for the sake of ethical conduct.” Gabriel prefaced his post with the statement, “Michael Nugent doesn’t much like PZ Myers,” but I think it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual. Presumably, if you like someone, you don’t call them a “demented fuckwit,” as Myers did in a comment on Nov. 18, 2014.

Here are AI’s ending thoughts:

These are only some examples of his harmful rhetoric. He also regularly accuses others of sexism without applying the same judgment to his own behaviour over the years, and he has accused a named person of committing a serious crime without employing the journalistic ethics expected in reporting on such an allegation.

It might be possible to interpret any one example of this behaviour charitably, if he was normally charitable himself and was misinformed or writing in anger, or if there was a particular context, or if he was willing to change his behaviour. However, the relentlessness of his abuse and hatred and smears across so many contexts, and his reluctance to even consider changing his behaviour, create the extra problem of the cumulative impact of his behaviour as a pattern.

Ironically, the sheer quantity of his harmful rhetoric can seem to minimise the harm of each example, as each example can hide behind a wall of other examples. It is easy for us to become desensitised to the harm caused by this gradual undermining of reasonable discourse. We can disagree robustly about ideas and behaviour, including using strong language that some may be uncomfortable with, but without unjustly attacking the people we disagree with.

Many within the atheist movement have been concerned about his behaviour for years. Some have responded by publicly ignoring it, either to avoid giving him the credibility of a response, or to avoid becoming his next target. Some have responded by attacking him back using similar rhetoric, thus adding to the problem and enabling him to deflect attention away from his own behaviour. Some, including Atheist Ireland, mistakenly believed that privately asking him to change his behaviour might eventually be productive.

So Atheist Ireland is now publicly dissociating ourselves from his hurtful and dehumanising, hateful and violent, unjust and defamatory rhetoric. We are asking all ethical organisations and individuals to consider how you can help to reverse the harmful impact of his behaviour. We look forward to continuing to work with others to promote an ethical secularism based on robust inquiry, empathy, compassion, fairness, justice and integrity.

Many in the community have long-since concluded, not only that Myers “does not speak for us” and that he is ill-fit to lead this community in any capacity, but that his approach is counterproductive to the goals set forth by AI and other skeptic organizations in the United States.

That he would rather be polarizing and launch hack campaigns against everyone from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris and most recently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, than help move secularism in a positive direction where we might actually be able to have civil conversations with dissenting voices without resorting to name-calling and arrogant, hyperbolic rhetoric, is a real shame. That the “leaders” over at the FTB network seem to be enabling and even appearing to be passively apathetic toward repeated concerns about behavior of this kind is doubly shameful.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

1 Comment on "Skeptic group publicly shuns PZ Myers for ‘harmful and hateful rhetoric’"

  1. What struck me most is the wordage Atheist Ireland issued in their statement, it seems well written and extreme measure taken to get a very clear message across.

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