More Kerfuffling

Let us not kerfuffle endlessly, especially during winter break, when all good academics get vast amounts of work done (right?).  But I can't resist noting that Jerry Coyne weighs in here on the topic du jour.  If I'm reading between the lines correctly (I'm not betting large sums on that), he thinks Rebecca Watson is too rough on evolutionary psychology.* I'm prepared to believe what he says on that score, but it would have been nice for him to also say two other things--(1) Her main goal was to talk about how bad science is picked up and propagated by the media and thus puts women under stereotype threat (that's what I said here and she says here). So while she did excoriate EP quite generally, her main contentions were about other matters.  And they were supported by some great examples. (2) The kind of thing she was doing--feminist science criticism--has been supported by Coyne in the past. So he is not in the camp that dismisses all feminist inspired responses to science.  There are a bunch of people with that anti-feminist stance making a lot of noise these days in skeptic/atheist circles, so it seems worth pointing out that he isn't one of them. 

* Update: He says over there that he never even saw her talk and so his post is not about it at all.


Craig Urias said...

I've avoided mentioning this until now. I stopped paying attention to Watson ever since "Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!" A confluence of other factors contributed, but that was the straw the broke the camel's back. She missed the opportunity to engage meaningfully. The wholly unconstructive negativity she introduced is still a source of division. I'm not a hater of any sort, I just think she's immature and unserious, and garners too much attention in a community that is supposed to value education, achievement, and penetrating thought. The skeptical community is brimming with women in that category; I just don't think Watson is one of them.

Jean Kazez said...

Once upon a time I thought the atheist world was full of people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, etc. etc.--academics and writers of the highest caliber. Then I got wind of the whole fun world of blogs, podcasts, videos, and skeptical conferences. It seems like lots and lots of these people are "new media" communicators, not experts, not journalists. Now, what's the quality like there? How well do people do at philosophy and science (the subject of many of their videos, podcasts, etc.) when they don't have an expert's credentials? Are they of the highest caliber? Do they get their huge followings by being colorful and outrageous, and not always dealing with the subtleties of their subject? There's this endless, endless focus on one in particular--Rebecca Watson--and I'm not sure it's because she's really so different from the rest except in one respect: she's a "mouthy feminist"--in other words, a feminist prepared to make accusations. That's why we've got Watson under a microscope here, and not other people. So I don't know...I'm not prepared to find fault with her just because the anti-feminists succeeded in putting her under a microscope. I will say, generally speaking, the end of the skeptical community that interests me most is not the end with all the amusing blogs and "cons" but the academic end (e.g. Jerry Coyne's blog). Then again, I understand why the rest of it exists, and understand the needs of the atheist/skeptical community cannot be met by academics (and the like) alone.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, can you at least agree that "Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!" was exactly the wrong path to take? What is worse, it plays into negative stereotypes of women because instead of reasonable discussion we have this Kardashian-level emotionally-laden pablum. It poisons all wells that come in contact with it. Ultimately works against feminism, I think.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, I tend to forget who knows what about past things I've written/said. I did criticize her at the time--


But I never saw her in the extremely negative way some people did and still do.

Craig Urias said...

I wouldn't say my view is extremely negative; a lot of it is just disappointment.

Here is an inappropriate analogy. After 9/11 the U.S. garnered sympathy and support from the entire world, including the Arab world. America promptly squandered all of it with the ridiculous and tragic invasion of Iraq. Support turned into opposition.

Watson had a chance to make a righteous rebuttal, but instead she squandered the opportunity, and made enemies in the process.

It's a completely overblown and inappropriate analogy, but it's a bit like how I see it. The George Bush of feminism.

Jean Kazez said...

She certainly didn't come up with the best, most clever and incisive come-back. Opportunity squandered? Yeah, maybe.

Craig Urias said...

Jean, I don't know if that is sarcasm or not. I think you've misunderstood my point. Watson could have responded with maturity and moral clarity, the very opposite of clever and incisive come-backs. Such a response would have garnered near universal support. Instead she made it personal, lashing out with demonization and shame, completely burying her moral upper hand and producing long-lasting animosity.

I've wondered a bit about the analogy with religious schisms. Why do religions divide? In terms of personal psychology, one factor has got to be self-righteousness. A Religious group usually contains a fair number of self-righteous individuals, particularly in leadership. They don't play well with each other since they tend to justify their self-righteousness in relation to others, and everyone can't be equally righteous. Some have to be more righteous than others. However one can create a new sect, whereupon space is opened for self-righteous individuals to fill. The newly created top-tier righteousness slots are especially coveted. In addition, all members of the new sect increase their righteousness since the old sect is obviously not as righteous.

Watson actually had the moral advantage, but instead of uplifting all minds by communicating a new vision, she turned it into the all-too-familiar game of self-righteousness. Others followed in kind. It almost certainly didn't have to be that way.

Nowadays I am somewhat of a misanthrope with regard to the online skeptical community. I mostly limit myself to Jerry Coyne's site, Pigliucci's stuff, and here. There are many sites that I previously visited which now seem mind-numbingly tribal and, frankly, weird.

julian said...

"Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!"


That's a lot of people with very worthwhile interesting points and observations about our society you've kinda just tuned out.

I understand the frustration but people are going to be people and we should allow for emotional outbursts and anger. It's foolish to demand perfectly articulated rebuttals all of the time. What about the women who responded to the "back in my day we didn't have birth control. A girl just squeezed an aspirin between their knees." with "But how will I be able to kick Friess in the crotch like that?"

Should that have invalidated the outrage? Was it wrong to stand by those women and call out Santorum's supporters? No, on both counts. It's unconscionable (spelled right on first try! w00t!) to base our actions, our support and our commitment to opposing ideas that perpetuate discrimination on how "good" the target is.

Of course that cuts both ways. The things Watson myself and others have said/done should be rebuked.

Jean Kazez said...

Craig, No sarcasm. I meant it literally--I agree with you ... I think. I suppose we could try to distinguish what she said from how she said it. She was trying to say Dawkins has the benefit of "privilege", so was dismissing her because he's not in the class of people who have the problems she's pointing out. That might be true. But she said it in a way that sounded bigotted. So...yeah. Not good. Best not to express outrage that way, though I agree with Julian that outrage shouldn't be suppressed all the time.

Tribalism--that's for sure. I find it both fascinating and repellant. It would probably be good if I trimmed my internet reading list a bit and stopped paying so much attention to it. I like those atheist blogs too (Coyne, Pigliucci) and should probably pay much less attention to the ones where tribalism is especially rampant.

Craig Urias said...

Julian, I would be better off spending even less time online, not more. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many years of my life. Do I fill them reading books, or do I snack on blog junkfood? Some online stuff is quite good, but most of it is the equivalent of Kardashian fare. I think the out-of-control tribalism we see is caused in part by people spending too much time online.

I never said or suggested that I "demand perfectly articulated rebuttals". I wouldn't mind "Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!" if it were made good-naturedly and accompanied by a mature response. But in fact the response was serious, vindictive, self-righteous, and not mature.

I resent that you've morphed what I said into "base our actions, our support and our commitment to opposing ideas that perpetuate discrimination on how 'good' the target is." That's ridiculous. Criticizing Watson cannot be equated with not opposing discrimination.

Your response as a whole contains the kind of distortions which indicate our conversation will not be fruitful.

julian said...

Craig, I'm sorry I oversimplified your position (and maybe strawmanned it at parts) but when you say "But in fact the response was serious, vindictive, self-righteous, and not mature." it's hard, for me at least, not to see that in a ngeative light. It's exactly what I was complaining about. You need to allow for vindictiveness, self-righteousness and even immaturity.

All I'm trying to communicate is that we have to willing to stand up for and beside people who aren't always palatable.

I do recognize you're right in some of your criticism of Watson. She doesn't have the best grasp on a lot of complicated topics and she's often immature. People are right to criticize her short comings.