Comment o’ the Week & Housekeeping

Greetings and happy Friday, everyone! Before we get to Comment o’ the Week, a few announcements:

Tomorrow is Pi Day and we’re celebrating in Boston with a Pi(e) Fight! More info here.

Monday is the next Skeptics in the Pub, with author William Lobdell. I’m excited and you should be, too. Info here.

I banned TrueSkeptic because he’s long used Skepchick as a platform from which to deliver blustery, egotistical diatribes about 9/11 conspiracy theories and I just couldn’t take it anymore when he directly insulted my intelligence. Once more, the Commenter Code of Conduct is found here, and everyone is reminded that while we allow heated discussion and the occasional insult, if said insult is unfunny and directed at the girl with her finger on the big red button, that’s a bannin’. Goodbye, TrueSkeptic, you will be hazily recollected from time to time thanks to your ridiculous argument ad familia.

Okay, on to the Comment! O! The! Week!

Let’s face it, one guy pretty much had this week wrapped up. Congratulations to Expatria for this gem, offered in response to news that Iceland inhabitants love their elves:

ExpatriaNo Gravatar // Mar 13, 2009 at 11:50 am

What this elf article fails to note: The three percent of Icelanders who have seen an elf perfectly overlaps with the three percent of Icelanders who are Bjork

The only thing that might have improved that comment would have been an accompanying Venn diagram.

Expatria! Send me your Afternoon Inquisition suggestion, which will appear magically in this space on Wednesday.

The rest of you! Nominate your favorite comments by quoting them and writing “COTW!” in your reply.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. I’m (hopefully not) hazed and confused…I thought only wednesday’s AI was the entry where COTW’s were determined for the next weeks AI. Have I missed some????

    I would like to point out any misunderstanding would be on my part, and not that of our lovely Rebecca….will you take your finger of the big, red, shiny, candy-like button…..ok, need to stop thinking about it or I’ll push it.

  2. @infinitemonkey: Your compliments please me and thus I shall spare you. COTW can come from the comments on any post on the site within the past week, so nominate away! The winner is announced each Friday, and the prize is the ability to determine the midweek AI.

  3. I could never get through any of trueskeptic’s posts. I think it was the fact that his user name was a No True Scotsman fallacy and that just colored everything else within. He never seemed to make a point worth noting, never listened to the evidence or claimed it as part of the conspiracy, tended to believe he was smarter than everyone else, etc., etc. So, so glad he is gone.

  4. As a person in the pay of both the US Government AND Big Pharma, I’d just like to take this opportunity to, first, laugh at all of you and, second, to say that Rebecca is most assuredly on both payrolls with me.

    She even had me pick up her 9/11 Conspiracy check for her once when she was too busy rocking hard to get it.

  5. This reminds me:

    “The most inspirational people in my life have been scientists or geeks,” [Björk] says. “I love Carl Sagan. He would go and discover strange galaxies, which encouraged me to search for that certain song no one’s ever heard before.”


    Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You’d be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavours.

  6. Good riddance to TrueSkeptic. As killyosaur42 writes, just the name was a big red flag.

    Now, can anyone recommend a good psychiatrist? I have aquired a very unhealthy urge to write skepchick slash fiction. The only thing keeping me back at the moment is deciding whether to start with “Rebecca with her finger on the big, red, shiny, candy-like button” or “Rebecca in bed with the US government”.

    Oh, and I just started to wonder. Is there a sneaky, much ignored variant of Gaudere’s Law I might have unwittingly invoked with this post? Like “AnyOnce in a blue moon a post applauding the banning of a fellow poster will include a bannable offence.”?

  7. Ah, the slippery slope of censorship. It starts with “I’m just bending this principle for the common good” and ends with you stuffing wet rags into a blindfolded eighty year old pensioner’s mouth before pouring a bucket of water down their throat.

    If free speech means anything, it is the right to say things other people don’t want to hear.

    However, I think Rebecca et al are just swell. Especially as they know my personal details

  8. Totally off topic and a long way from Iceland? It’s been pouring rain here for the last half hour and my 11 year old wants to know if the car will be OK parked outside! He hasn’t seen a downpour like this before, (or a clean car) because of the drought! Next up for him hopefully will be a green front lawn (I live in hope)!

  9. Yay! Thanks muchly! Every time I saw that screen name I thought “Yeah, ’cause the rest of us are just wannabes”.

    I used to avoid the term “douchebag,” because of its gendered nature. But, as someone recently pointed out to me, it’s really quite appropriate on occasion. Douching is unnecessary at best, and at worst, quite harmful. Ergo, the device for such a procedure is pointless, rather passe, and possibly harmful.

    So I’m always happy to see a douchebag go.

  10. I assume his comments will still be available in the archives? I mean, I like to get riled up in the mornings…helps me wake up and get on the old exercise bike.

  11. @russellsugden: Actually, Free Speech has a rather specific meaning, at least in a legal sense. It’s related to the whole congress shall blah, blah, blah, blah establishment clause thingie-ma-bob.

    That doesn’t mean our dearly departed “friend” doesn’t have the right to make a douchebag of himself somewhere else.

    But in this community, you wants to talks, you gots to play by the rules they set out.

    Not censorship by my book, at least not here.

  12. JP: I think that you are confusing the first amendment to the United States Constitution with censorship. The first amendment does *not* really guarantee the right of free speech. It says that the congress (legislative branch of the the U.S. Gov’t) shall make no law restricting the exercise of free speech. Censorship refers to regulating the content of speech (and, for our sake, writing also), but does not require that any government entity be the one doing the regulating. Skepchick can and may censor writing (speech) that the U.S. Government could not touch with a ten foot pole.

    Warning: *Not* a constitutional law scholar.

  13. You’re gonna smash pies?

    Why not just cut my heart out and STEP ON IT????

    Just kidding, wish I could joint you.

    You’d have no trouble hitting me, if you compensate for the limp.


  14. Actually, I was just (attempting to) sort out exactly the point you’re making with regard the original post.

    Skepchick can censor away, it’s their right and they should do exactly that.

    The government, not so much. At least in principle.

    But hey, we’re pretty much in agreement, if only in our confusion.

  15. Actually, I think that both russelsugden and JP are both partially wrong. Skepchick, being a private entity, has a wider latitude than the U.S. Government in what it allows. The usual meaning of invoking, “free speech” is the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution (and, in my opinion is often over-used; as in, “I should not be criticized for what I say because I have a right to free speech.” Whereas the intent, as far as I can tell, is, “go ahead and speak your piece, *then* we’ll rip you a new one if you are full of s**t.”).

    If the folks that run Skepchick decide that some content is not consistent with the aim of their site (e.g., if all of my posts consisted of, “poop, poop, poop” etc. -a matter of personal opinion) then they are relatively free to restrict it. I think that technically this *does* meet a certain definition of censorship. However, is all censorship in all cases uniformly bad? I would like to censor the horoscopes completely out of daily news papers. Does that make me an anti-free-speech goon??

  16. @Finn McR: Hey, partially wrong is partially right.

    Now I need the part of me that’s right to become the part of me that posts on message boards. Then I shall be an unstoppable force for sanctimoniousness.

    I’m thinking this will involve alcohol.

  17. By the way, for those who were not subjected to Latin (or without the appropriate Google translator phrases), “Mea Culpa” essentially means, “My Bad!”

  18. It would be one thing if Rebecca ran an Internet service provider, and took away his access. Then he would be cut off from the Internet.

    But he’s not cut off from the Internet. In fact, he could start his own blog and have access to a much larger audience then if he remained a commenter.

    We can debate whether he should have been removed, but Rebecca, as the owner of this site, does have the right to remove him.

  19. @JP:, @Finn McR: I’m a Brit so I live in a country with no guarenteed freedom of speech whatsoever. The government can, and does, ban anything it dislikes on a whim. Usually anything critical of the government, royalty, religion or secret service.

    I myself own two illegal books that were smuggled into the UK from the US by my cousin, “Spycatcher” (a memoir by a former MI5 spycatcher about the GITMO-esq stuff they did in the ’80s) and “Stalker” (a memoir by John Stalker, former Chief Constable of Manchester about high level Police Corruption)

    We also don’t have the right to free assembly (believe it or not, 3 people talking in the street without prior written permission constitutes an illegal assembly-it’s on the books so they can arrest you for more or less any reason they care to mention) or protest. Generally demos and marches are allowed, but more often than not it’s because the alternative would have been a widespread civil disorder.

    But I digress. Currently in the UK you can be arrested and serve time for standing outside a mosque (or church) holding up a banner saying “Islam treats men and women unequally”, the general rule is you can say anything as long as it’s nice.

    And today a government minister said he wants to extend this to cover the armed forces. If he gets it through then you wouldn’t be able to hold a banner saying “Stop the War” or “Give our troops proper equipment”.

    I’m sure that HMG is only doing what they think is best, what started out as tackling racist abuse and hate speech has, as a lot of people including myself said at the time, led to the inability to be critical about anything but especially the government. I fully expect it to be a crime to mention how bad the economy is doing sometime in the next few months as saying as much would have a negative effect on the economy.

    So you can’t really call yourself a liberal if you believe in censoring, not pictures of criminal acts, but anything that insults you or you think might cast you in a bad light.

    oh and if you want to censor horoscopes you are a anti-free press goon. People should have the right to read whatever fiction they choose

  20. @russellsugden:

    Think of it this way, you can’t walk into someone’s house in the US and sit on their couch and start talking to that person about ANYTHING without that person being able to ask you to leave. Even if all you want to do is discuss the weather. Even if their front door is wide open. Even if they are having a party that is open to the public.

    If you come in and start spouting off shit they don’t want to hear or even just being ugly or smelling bad, you can be asked to leave. If you do not leave, you can be removed by the police.

    Instead of censorship, think of it as we’ve asked him to leave. And we locked the doors and changed the locks so he doesn’t come back.

    We’re not censoring him in any way. He is completely free to say and do whatever he wants, where ever he wants, as long as he’s not standing on Rebecca’s lawn.

  21. absit omen

    Issues of censorship and freedom of speech are sticky wicket items at the best of times, and wormy ol’ cans otherwise.

    I suppose I should state up front that I do not explicitly disagree with the banning of No True Skeptic. He was something of a knob of toads unto himself. Nonetheless, it does somehow make me a little uncomfortable knowing that a disagreement of ideas, however lengthy and windy, might get one disbarred from a supposedly open minded site of intellectual pursuit.

    That being said … of course it is Rebecca’s, and the other operant Skepchicks’s, right to ban, or remove any poster they deem unfit for the community. After all, it is their blog, or site, or whatever we want to call it.

    However, having that right, and exercising it are, because of the tacit claim to open mindedness that is the nature of this community, open to interpretation and examination on all sides. To whatever purpose to be determined ab intra I suppose. But I think it’s good for those of us in the public domain to point out, as has @russellsugden, the dark side of, er, um, such editorial pruneage.

    To paraphrase the About section of the site, Skepchick is a group of folks who write about science, skepticism, and pseudoscience with intelligence, curiosity, and occasional snark. It includes the community of public participants (like myself) who contribute to an ongoing discussion with funny, or supportive, or thought-provoking comments.

    It seems to me that if, to perform the function of the expression of ideas (and funny, or supportive, or thought-provoking comments) that this site represents also entails an unspoken knowledge that certain arbitrarily selected presentations are disallowed without clearly stated pleas and/or warnings in situ, then the function of the site is rendered rather less meaningful. Perhaps.

    Skeptical though, critical thinking, determining the potential right and wrong of certain modes of thought and philosophy, i.e. theism versus atheism, must be open to criticism, divisive discussion, conflict, and other uncomfortable confrontations or it is ultimately meaningless and sinks into little more than something ugly like Pharyngula, which is little more than a rather pompous, sometimes disingenuous boor dropping frequently unsupportable angry epithets for a seething slither of sycophantic snakes; Meyers’s clownship of idolators.

    Also, I must say that to compare this site, and the activities herein, to a person’s private dwelling, as did @Elyse, strikes me as quite false. The comparison to a bar/bar tender, as done by @Eliza, is perhaps closer, but still misses the wicket. It seems to me that, in terms of actual versus theoretical use, and completely aside from any on-paper legalities, online sites like this one that encourage public participation are therefore effectively and in practice public property. In function, or action, they are not private property with open door policies, they are public property with user restrictions set by the “owners” of the site.

    Now, of course it must be said that all of the above represents only my thoughts on this issue of censorship, fair use, and online behaviour, and all these thoughts of mine are, in a sense, rendered moot, dumb, and irrlevant by the quite fair claim of intention as stated in the Code of Conduct, to wit:

    If you insist on behaving rudely, we will ban you without warning or apology. Most likely, this will be a temporary ban of a week. However, we will not hesitate to ban commenters permanently if they piss us off sufficiently.


    All that being said, I must state the reason behind my long blather is that I feel Skepchick represents one of the most, if not the single most open minded, calm, and free-spoken intellectual and skeptical sites on the Internet, and I would be loathe, loathe I say, to see it fall into some kind of pharyngulitis due to an overabundance of close-minded, dogmatic sycophantcy guiding the ship through the murky waters of difficult discourse.

    Huzzah again.

  22. @Steve:
    Two out of three could be true for fellow Icelanderidians Sigur Ros. Unless I am mistaken and they DO own swan dresses. It could be a cultural thing. *shrug*

  23. @SicPreFix: Thank you for this post – I agree with you. I have not posted here since Rebecca’s last housekeeping effort which, in my opinion, similarly disrespected some of the readership and disrespected some of the ideals of critical thinking.

    I see no parallel with the home/bar scenarios – in those real-world scenarios you may not be able to avoid the “unwanted guest” while in this virtual world, you may just skip entries by certain commenters effortlessly.

    There are many instances from the past where many of us would agree that a person/group with specific power to act should have exercised restraint and not acted.

    It is interesting to me that the Skepchicks assert ownership of this community. Certainly they deserve appropriate kudos for their vision and investment, but after a time the community that develops is not owned. I would liken the relationship of the Skepchicks as stewards/custondians/guardians of the community and not owners.

    Anyway, I was just passing by this site on Pi Day and thought I would acknowledge another thoughtful comment by SicPreFix.


  24. @weatherwax: Thing is, if you start thinking they aren’t doing what they are doing for the right reasons, then you head down the road of conspiricy theories. Evil conspiricy or bureaucratic cock up? I think its a bureaucratic cock up.

    @Elyse: I think it depend on weather you view blogs like this one as a Salon or a Forum. A Salon is a private gathering of friends in someone’s house where the normal rules of polite social interaction apply whereas a Forum is an open, public debate in the marketplace of ideas.

    I think the fact that the Skeptic Hivemind know one another socially makes it more likely that the hivemind would view it as a Salon, a meeting of friends. Whereas anyone else comming from outside the hivemind would see it as a Forum where a less polite, more agressive style is considered acceptable.

    While group self-censorship is the norm in a social setting, in the forum it is unacceptable.

  25. It’s true – we could ignore him, he probably should be allowed to way what he wants, and free speech is important. But TrueSkeptic was an asshat and I will not miss him. Conflicting, but I’m not perfect…

  26. @Eliza:

    Chew – I think he was a troll who disrespected the values of the site and the Skepchicks who frequent it.

    Rebecca – I admire your kindness, tolerance and restraint for not hitting the big red button sooner. Did it really take this long for him to piss you off sufficiently? I would have had him out as soon as he started flinging the misogynistic crap.

    I think he can be likened to the kid who intentionally pisses in the pool so everyone who doesn’t want to swim in it has to get out.

    While some community members obviously got a buzz out of interacting with this guy, his type of behaviour can shut down the contributions of others (e.g. those who think life is TFS to be flamed on the basis of our chromosomes) and who come to the site for fun, support and thought-provocation.

    Good riddance!!

  27. I can’t get the @ thing to work, but following on SicPreFix and russell sugden, actually I think Rebecca was well justified in this ban of No True Skeptic.

    Even though he made the same rather obvious point as I did, namely that not all rapists are Catholics (well duh), he extended the argument into offensive territory by bringing in the Jews (almost as provocative as the H word) and was damn rude to Rebecca personally.

    In any case, the main thrust of her post was against the official cover up, and in this perhaps the Catholic Church is exceptional.

    As Rebecca said, she can’t attack everybody in a single post!

    Mind you, a lot of what she said applies equally to the Anglican Church in Australia.

    I agree wholeheartedly with SicPreFix’s final paragraph above in which he praises Skepchick for open minded, rational and calm discussion.

    It must be hard to take a minority view whilst covering your arse and yet remain readable. Good on you all for doing that.

    I have been reading and enjoying this blog for many hours each night (including the archives) for some 3 months now.

    I have grown to know (a bit anyway) and like (a lot) most of you regulars (Skepchicks and commenters) and you seem like kindred spirits in many ways.

    Skepchick is like a breath of fresh air compared to the Murdoch crap papers we have here. What is more, it gets better and more sophisticated all the time.

    But, yeah, rude and arrogant trolls – good riddance.

    Keep up the good work, Rebecca!

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