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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

PZ Myers Gives Panda's Thumb an F- for Response to Mirecki Situation


There was an interesting (in an unpleasant way) social dynamic going on. Instead of coordinating our responses, the email backchannel paralyzed them: a few timid reactionaries could throw up a fog of unfounded hypotheticals and completely lock up any action. These same people are now patting themselves on the back for not making any "mistakes" and not saying anything that might require retraction or modification in the future. Of course, they've accomplished this mighty feat of perfect performance by not doing anything. That trivial point seems to have escaped their notice.

Gary might be a loose cannon, but the Panda's Thumb has a whole grand gundeck of cannons neatly stowed and plugged, never loaded and never fired out of fear of missing the target*. I have more respect for those willing to take an isolated shot then a whole broadside that will never, ever be ordered. The whole group is rendered rather ineffectual by its reluctance to employ the diverse talents signed up there, unfortunately. It's clear to me that while the Panda's Thumb is great for following events in the evolution-creation wars, it has abdicated any pretense of leadership.

Another lesson I've learned, that might be reassuring to some, is that the group as a whole is far more religion-friendly than you might think from reading creationist sites. Criticizing "fundies" is a bad, bad thing, and will cost you the support of many of the Panda's Thumb gang. Mirecki should be grateful that he isn't an atheist; I definitely got the feeling that there'd have been anti-Mirecki diatribes publicly washing our hands of him if that had been the case. At least, I don't feel particularly welcome there, and definitely perceive that I'm a third-class citizen in the hierarchy (heck, I didn't even know there was a hierarchy until recently). I don't feel bad enough about it to start going to church to win the prize of being a valued theistic evolutionist, though.

I'm still involved with the group, but I've resolved to mostly ignore the email communications from them, and I plan to be more of a critic. I may also play the loose cannon now and then, but hey, one of us ought to be limbered up and loaded—just remember, I am an individual actor and not representative of the whole of the Panda's Thumb crew. While I'm a flaming liberal atheist, most of the people there are not, and they're actually a diverse bunch; it's too bad there's less interest in seeing that diversity expressed than in maintaining a bland front of tepid inoffensiveness.

The Panda's Thumb is a great resource for science and focused critiques of creationism, and everyone should keep reading it, but we should also be clear on what it is not. It is not ever going to address the root causes of creationism in our country: the virulent, pathological brands of fundamentalism that are growing in our midst. That would be . . . rude.

Several Panda's Thumb contributors - and Gary Hurd, the author (who just left PT) who wrote the controversial post about Mirecki are commenting on PZ's article.

Ed Brayton, a Panda's Thumb contributor who claims he is "skeptical" of Mirecki's account has commented here and here.