Chronology of misrepresentations and smears in the atheist movement by PZ Myers and others

by Michael Nugent on November 4, 2014

In September 2014, I wrote a review challenging a pattern of misrepresentations and smears in the atheist movement that had started to leak into mainstream media. One of the main culprits, PZ Myers, responded by alleging that I defend, provide a haven for, and support rapists, and he has repeatedly refused to apologise for this defamatory smear.

I will continue to address both of these issues – the wider misrepresentations and smears, and the specific smear against me. As I do that, I will regularly update this page as a resource, with context and links to a chronology of some of the actual work done within the atheist movement and the harm and injustice caused by PZ and some of his associates.

I am confident that we will move beyond these smears. The first step is to stand up to them and correct them. I hope that some of PZ’s associates (and maybe even PZ) will read what I have actually written here, and will not rely on the misrepresented versions reported elsewhere.

Contents

Note: for an overview, all you need to read is Sections 1 and 2, Key Posts and Recent Posts.

1. Key posts
2. Recent posts
3. The World Atheist Convention in Dublin
4. Promoting atheism, reason and science
5. Promoting inclusivity and ethical atheism
6. Promoting social justice through secularism
7. Misrepresentations of the atheist movement
8. Recent misrepresentations in mainstream media
9. Ophelia Benson misrepresents my review
10. Adam Lee’s misleading Guardian article
11. The smears start to be directed against me
12. PZ Myers concocts the smear that I defend rapists
13. Some associates of PZ join in with his smears
14. Demythologising the rifts
15. General observations
16. My emails to FreeThought Blogs about PZ Myers
17. Atheist Ireland dissociates itself from PZ Myers
18. Defenders of PZ respond to Atheist Ireland dissociation
19. PZ Myers starts to criticise his own commenters

1. Key posts

2. Recent posts


You have now read enough to have an overview of the issues. If you want further background context and details, feel free to read the remainder of the post.


3. The World Atheist Convention in Dublin

The World Atheist Convention in Dublin in June 2011, hosted by Atheist Ireland, adopted the Dublin Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life.

The World Atheist Convention also formalised the restructuring and relaunch of Atheist Alliance International, as a truly international advocacy group for atheism and secularism.

Atheist Alliance was founded in America in 1991. It gradually added new affiliates, including groups from other countries, and in 2001 changed its name to Atheist Alliance International. In 2011 it agreed to split into two separate organisations.

  • One would be named Atheist Alliance of America, and would consist of the America-based affiliate groups of the previous AAI.
  • The other would retain the name Atheist Alliance International, and would consist of all of the groups from every country, including America, all involved as equals.

Atheist Alliance International now has UN consultative status, and does a great deal of patient, hard, sometimes dangerous work to protect atheists and promote secularism in the developing world, with its often overt theocracies, and to protect and advance secularism in the developed world, which is typically more democratic.

4. Promoting atheism, reason and science

While many of the examples of work here refer to work done by Atheist Ireland, please see that as reflective of similar work done by many local, national and international atheist groups and advocates around the world, some in considerably harder circumstances than we face in Ireland.

5. Promoting inclusivity and ethical atheism

Again, while many of the examples of work here refer to work done by Atheist Ireland, please see that as reflective of similar work done by many local, national and international atheist groups and advocates around the world, some in considerably harder circumstances than we face in Ireland.

6. Promoting social justice through secularism

Again, while many of the examples of work here refer to work done by Atheist Ireland, please see that as reflective of similar work done by many local, national and international atheist groups and advocates around the world, some in considerably harder circumstances than we face in Ireland.

7. Misrepresentations of the atheist movement

8. Recent misrepresentations in mainstream media

9. Ophelia Benson misrepresents my review

10. Adam Lee’s misleading Guardian article

11. Personal smears start to be directed against me

12. PZ Myers concocts and intensifies the smear that I defend rapists

13. Some associates of PZ join in with his smears

14. Demythologising the rifts

15. General observations

16. My emails to FreeThought Blogs about PZ Myers

17. Atheist Ireland dissociates itself from PZ Myers

18. Defenders of PZ respond to Atheist Ireland dissociation

19. PZ Myers starts to criticise his own commenters

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linda November 4, 2014 at 11:23 pm

This a great resource.
Thank you.
The people trying to smear you were hoping you would be like others they smeared. That you would just let it be because it would take time and resources to fight against a large group of bloggers.

2 piero November 4, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Phew! That’s quite an effort on your part, and I thank you for it.

Since Ophelia Benson will very probably read your post, I can save her the trouble of actually understanding it by summarising the part she will be most interested in: it’s 2,039 words long.

3 Pogsurf November 5, 2014 at 12:02 am

I’ve been smeared by Myers as ‘dangerously obsessive’ and by Benson as ‘sick’ and a ‘stalker’. Yet when I met you face-to-face in Dublin you trusted me.

Thank you Michael, for this, and for all your hard work which stands out like a beacon.

4 Crackity Jones November 5, 2014 at 12:04 am

Michael. PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, and Adam Lee are really going to hate you for providing all these facts and citations to back your argument!

In fact, I can already hear Adam Lee crying and sobbing, while the others are sharpening their knives.

5 milesnagopaleen November 5, 2014 at 12:22 am

Q.E.D.

6 Jan Steen November 5, 2014 at 12:35 am

I look forward to part 2 of Demythologising the rifts.

7 Zenspace November 5, 2014 at 12:56 am

Michael,

A truly impressive effort and one that was badly needed.

Really well done. My hat is off to you, sir!

8 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 1:49 am

Shows how fast things are moving: I’d almost forgotten about Adam Lee.

I’m sure I can do that again.

It would be nice to think some of the other prime movers in this cult might soon be forgotten – but the Satanic abuse hoax didn’t stop Beatrix Campbell’s political career.

Joining the Green Party did that.

9 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 2:01 am

One of the interesting recent developments is that FTB bloggers have recently ditched a cornerstone of feminism: that rape is rape and any attempt to grade it is utterly unacceptable.

Yet in defence of one of their regulars they’ve started to accept mitigating factors and promises not to do it again, while brushing aside trifling details about the victim’s suffering, which is something entirely separate from the feelings of the perpetrator.

It would be nice to think they’re burning bridges with the genuine feminist movement as well as atheism and skepticism.

10 GerardO November 5, 2014 at 7:05 am

A commenter called “theophantes” at Pharyngula’s Thunderdome is claiming that their comments are being blocked at this site. Redact names if you have to but don’t fall into the habit of using the same tactics that FtBloggers do.

11 James November 5, 2014 at 8:16 am

Excellent Resource. Thanks for taking this on Michael.

12 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 8:31 am

A commenter called “theophantes” at Pharyngula’s Thunderdome is claiming that their comments are being blocked at this site. Redact names if you have to but don’t fall into the habit of using the same tactics that FtBloggers do.

Theophantes needs to remember that Irish libel laws are more stringent than in the USA.

This is a typical FTB tactic: accusing those complying with local laws of providing a haven for rapists and rape apologists.

America isn’t the world.

13 Sandra Duffy November 5, 2014 at 10:05 am

You need to go back years further to really do justice to Myers ranting attacks on other atheists. The list of his victims is so long I lost track well before so called elevatorgate. I’ve always felt that in bending over backwards to be ‘tolerant’ to all points of view we allowed poison to spread in our midst. He should have been banned from the convention circuit many years ago.

14 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 11:19 am

I think the bar was set too low when we were welcoming anyone who could slap down creationists.

It was like calling someone a ‘skeptic’ just because they didn’t believe the Loch Ness Monster came from outer space.

A rejection of creationism is a minimum requirement for atheism, not a shortcut to leadership.

And the stuff with the crackers was pathetic attention seeking. If that had happened in the UK nobody would have given a shit.

15 Jack Rawlinson November 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

I’ll admit I used to be a bit of a fan of Myers. He did actually write some very good pieces ( many of which, of course, were recycled and used to make up “The Happy Atheist”). I didn’t even mind Crackergate that much because I agreed with the point: to show that nothing ought to be sacred (I think people forget that he trashed pages from the Koran and The God Delusion as well as the cracker.) It was around the time of his slam of “dictionary atheists” that he started to lose me. I have a big problem with people who try to bend clearly defined words and language to their own ends, no matter which side of the political spectrum they are.

After that he just got worse and worse, and there seemed to come a point where he decided that the low-level infamy he could glean by slamming and slurring fellow atheists was his best shot at getting attention, since it was becoming really clear that he wasn’t going to make it as any sort of “fifth horseman”. His poor old nag fell at the first fence.

16 Blueshift Rhino November 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

@GerardO and Shatterface –

Did theophantes provide anything like evidence for the claim that FTBer’s comments are being blocked here, such as a screen-cap of the comment awaiting moderation (as is often done at The ‘Pit)?

17 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Did theophantes provide anything like evidence for the claim that FTBer’s comments are being blocked here, such as a screen-cap of the comment awaiting moderation (as is often done at The ‘Pit)?

I’m guessing witnesses will come forward in the fullness of time.

18 Jan Steen November 5, 2014 at 1:23 pm

@GerardO,

A commenter called “theophantes” at Pharyngula’s Thunderdome is claiming that their comments are being blocked at this site. Redact names if you have to but don’t fall into the habit of using the same tactics that FtBloggers do.

Don’t ask Michael to redact libelous comments, ask libelers not to libel.

19 Patrick November 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Blueshift Rhino @16,

Did theophantes provide anything like evidence for the claim that FTBer’s comments are being blocked here

One comment that he claims was blocked here is #424 on this thread:
http://web.archive.org/web/20141103203954/http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/10/06/thunderdome-55/comment-page-1/

I suspect that our host blocked it because of the unsubstantiated, libelous slurs against named individuals.

20 lvlln November 5, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Mr. Nugent, let me join the chorus of voices in lauding you for this substantial effort you have taken to document the unethical actions some in the US atheist community have taken on others in the name of what they perceive to be social justice. The right way to respond to bullies is to stand up to them, and that’s exactly what you are doing. Too many in the A/S communities have decided to acquiesce or to ignore and hope it goes away, and it would have been so easy for you to do the same. I hope that other big names in the A/S communities see what you are doing and lend helping hands.

21 Crackity Jones November 5, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Does anybody know whether Stephanie Zvan of anybody from FreeThoughtBlogs answers my question?

In light of Zvan’s article distinguishing one rape (Ogvorbis’ self-confessed rape of children) to another alleged rape, is she saying there are GRADATIONS of rape

Again, it my contention that her article makes it clear that she thinks there is, but I have not seen any criticism or pushback in the same way Dawkins was blasted for saying that legally, there are gradations.

22 Crackity Jones November 5, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Re: Theophantes

I have tried to post comments at various FTB blogs and they don’t make it through “moderation”. NEVER.

Michael’s forum is far more honest and open that the cesspit that is FreeThoughtBlogs.

23 Jack Rawlinson November 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Anyone who really can’t see that there are gradations of rape, just as there are gradations of any other form of assault, is being really, really obtuse. They also seem to be so obdurately dim that they see pointing this plain fact out as somehow saying that some forms of rape are okay, which is not the case at all. Myers made the same fat-headed error when Dawkins described the relative “mildness” of the abuse he experienced at school.

It’s the absolutist mindset in action. Like fundamentalists, these people find shades of gray too difficult to deal with so they repaint reality in black and white. Which makes them both stupid and dangerous.

24 piero November 5, 2014 at 4:53 pm

@Patrick:

I suspect that our host blocked it because of the unsubstantiated, libelous slurs against named individuals.

I get the same impression. As well as being terminally obtuse, as expected from teophontes, the comment did contain as yet unproven accusations against at least two named persons, plus a reiteration of the familiar slurs against Michael’s blog. In any case, it can be found at the link you provided (trigger warning: festering idiocy).

25 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 5:08 pm

In case you are missing it, Michael, someone is running a parody Twitter account under the name MickTheSealion.

For those who don’t recognise the term, Sealion is a term of abuse for any man who insists on pursuing an argument politely. No, really, that’s a thing now: attacking someone for being calm and rational. Politeness is the New Rape.

I don’t know whether the account holder is aware of the racist connotations of contracting the name Michael to ‘Mick’ when addressing an Irish man they don’t know though.

26 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Anyone who really can’t see that there are gradations of rape, just as there are gradations of any other form of assault, is being really, really obtuse.

It’s an article of faith on FTB that all rapes are equally bad and anyone who suggests otherwise is a rape apologist. Zvan is now arguing otherwise.

Whether you accept her argument or not, this is precisely the line of argument they’d burn Dawkins at the stake for.

27 Michael C November 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Michael

Thanks for this. I am sure you’d far rather spend your time fighting the good fight and leaving this nonsense behind, but in the end I think your efforts here will pay off. Like many here I once liked Pharyngula and a number of other FTB bloggers and read Dr. Myers’ blog daily. Dr. Myers is an excellent writer and can be hilarious and insightful when he wishes. Like you, I’ve met him in person and he was (and I suspect really is) kind, pleasant, open and just a nice fellow. But something happened along the way. A few years ago I got fed up with the biliousness of Pharyngula and the way it strayed from where Dr. Myers is strongest – in his critiques of religion and his excellent essays on biology. I think he and others in the Horde (as I think they call themselves) got full of themselves and came to see their way of thinking as the only acceptable way. That is always a bad thing but it is especially bad when the self-righteousness turns to the ugliness of demonization of those who disagree. That relentless, pervasive ugliness drove me off reading blogs, discussion boards, attending conferences (when I could), etc.

So I’ve dropped out of atheist/skeptic scene and focused on other things I’m interested in. I popped in recently only to see the same old ugly…but noticed some push back from Dawkins, Harris and others. That got me to pay closer attention. It was through looking closer that I found your blog and have read up on the campaign against you. It is gratifying to see so many standing up to them, at last.

Your efforts though tedious and which come, I am sure, with personal pain are not going unnoticed and I think will help tremendously.

Thanks

28 Blueshift Rhino November 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm

@Patrick –

Copying and pasting what you claim to have posted elsewhere is *consistent* with the post being under moderation, but doesn’t come close to the same level of evidence as a screen-cap. Granted, a screen-cap can be faked, but the skill and effort involved does wonders for weeding out untrue claims by the lazy.

With that said, if the post in question were actually attempted here, I would not be surprised if it never made it out of moderation, as it includes repetitions of the all-too-familiar smears with zero added content.

29 Aneris ✻ November 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Shatterface wrote: I don’t know whether the account holder is aware of the racist connotations of contracting the name Michael to ‘Mick’ when addressing an Irish man they don’t know though.

I briefly thought this was either a slur, or a diminutive, but Michael Nugent uses that himself as his Twitter handle, and he’s addressed as “Mick” in the the interview he linked to recently. Maybe he can settle that somewhere, but I’m going with the assumption its not only a non-issue but a nickname he uses himself.

30 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Dr. Myers is an excellent writer and can be hilarious and insightful when he wishes.

I think it’s easy to give the impression you are hilarious and insightful when you are going after the ‘right’ people and your audience shares exactly the same prejudices.

Genuine humour springs from humility and a sense of ones own absurdity, not spotting the outsider and setting the dogs on him.

31 Jack Rawlinson November 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm

@Shatterface 28: Pretty sure Michael C is not referring to Myers’ attack posts but rather the more restrained and thoughtful pieces he occasionally used to write. They do exist, and I was fairly impressed with them too.

32 Gerhard November 5, 2014 at 9:31 pm

Anyone who really can’t see that there are gradations of rape, just as there are gradations of any other form of assault, is being really, really obtuse. They also seem to be so obdurately dim that they see pointing this plain fact out as somehow saying that some forms of rape are okay, which is not the case at all. Myers made the same fat-headed error when Dawkins described the relative “mildness” of the abuse he experienced at school.

I’m going to assume that the FTB “leaders” are not just being dishonest and propose an explanation. I get the impression that they have no trust in the decency of people who do not share their exact beliefs, and further, that much of that distrust is based on projection of their personal failings. It seems that they have so little trust they fear that allowing Joe/Josephine Public the luxury of nuance legitimises rape in his/her mind, or sets things off down the slippery slope. This can be seen in the concept of splash damage where it is assumed that, irrespective of the intent of the speaker, gendered slurs are somehow going to give support to misogynists within earshot. This is a ridiculously jaundiced view of humanity most of whom, at least in my experience, understand that genitalia-based insults are simply using the fact that genitalia are not something you’d eat your dinner off. But the SJWs can abstract sexism out of anything.

33 Gerhard November 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Regarding my previous post. The problem the SJWs have with “rape grading” is also based on the principle that the seriousness of the crime is dependent on the subjective experience of the victim. That view may be slightly more understandable, but follow it to it’s conclusion and you end up in crazyland for all sorts of reasons.

34 Phil Giordana FCD November 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm

Gerhard: Projection is one of the first things that come to mind when I read SJW diatribes. They tend to put into their enemies thoughts that would probably never ever be entertained by said enemies.

It is quite disturbing.

35 Gerhard November 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Shatterface:

For those who don’t recognise the term, Sealion is a term of abuse for any man who insists on pursuing an argument politely. No, really, that’s a thing now: attacking someone for being calm and rational. Politeness is the New Rape.

It’s just JAQing off in marine mammal form. If they don’t feel confident the audience will buy the “but I’ve been threatened and harassed” dodge the SJW falls back on claiming that the questioner is a misogynist with ulterior motives. If you think that is an uncharitable take, visit the comments section of any article by Amanda Marcotte or any “feminist” with similar leanings.

36 Shatterface November 5, 2014 at 11:29 pm

If you think that is an uncharitable take, visit the comments section of any article by Amanda Marcotte or any “feminist” with similar leanings.

Trying to reason with any of them is like trying to talk down Begbie from Trainspotting when you’ve just spilled his pint.

37 Michael Nugent November 6, 2014 at 12:35 am

For clarity, I have put two of Theophontes’ comments in moderation.

The first comment not only named names, but put the names in bold and added in brackets “(to name names)”, so I assume he or she knew it would not be published, and the follow-up comment doesn’t make sense without the first comment.

I will have a look at them when I get time, and see how best to enable the substantive points to be published here consistently with my commenting policy.

38 Michael Nugent November 6, 2014 at 12:38 am

I’ve no problem being called Michael or Mick.

I’m sometimes called Mick in the media by people who knew me as Mick from my college days, or (as in the recent BBC radio interview) when there is more than one Michael on the panel.

I can’t remember whether I used the twitter name @micknugent because @michaelnugent was already used or because I wanted a shorter twitter name, but either way it’s not an issue with me.

39 piero November 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

@Michael:

The first comment not only named names, but put the names in bold and added in brackets “(to name names)”, so I assume he or she knew it would not be published

The lengths some people will go to in order to score points never ceases to baffle me. I can almos hear theophontes thinking: “I’ll make a comment naming names, so that it doesn’t get through moderation and I can accuse Michael of censoring dissenters.” What a petty, small-minded attitude.

40 JT Eberhard December 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Thank you for this.

41 Michael Nager December 6, 2014 at 9:40 am

I am an atheist. I do not believe in a god or gods. That’s it, everything else I may do or think is outside of atheism.

It is bad enough being mischaracterized as an atheist by religious groups, without the likes of PZ Meyers and consortium going around and ascribing to me, as an atheist, all kinds of vile motivations.

When listening to PZ Meyers and the rest of the SJWs it reminds me of the story of Moses. There they are walking about for 4o years in the desert, they get to the bottom of a mountain, and Moses goes up and brings back ten commandments.

Seven of them are thought crimes, but is anyone going to try to tell me that they walked around for 40 odd years thinking that to lie, steal and murder was OK? They had to have a tablet with that written on it before they realized that was wrong? How was anyone left to reach the mountain if they thought all that time that there was nothing at all reprehensible about lying, stealing and murdering?

My own ethics are centred around what is known as “The Golden Rule” which had been articulated long before there were any Judeo-Christian texts. I don’t need any Meyers to tell me right from wrong, I had a family that taught me about that when I was growing up.

I am not saying that there are things which I have said or done which I have not regretted. Those things were however the exception and not the rule.

There is evidence to suggest that there are lot lower percentage of atheists in jail than believers. I could think of two reasons; atheists are on the whole smarter and don’t get caught as much, or that atheists have a sense of ethics which are internal and thus are more likely to abide by them.

If I go to an atheist conference I want to hear discussions about atheist issues. I don’t want to hear about feminist, LGBT, vegan or animal rights issues. Why should I care? I have enough issues as an atheist living in an otherwise overwhelmingly religious environment. If you want to talk about any other issues then create your own conference and I will decide whether or not I would like to attend.

Why should someone like PZ be allowed to speak at an atheist convention when all he is going to do is piss on my back and tell me it’s raining?

As far as I can see PZ is trying to drag atheism and me down into a quagmire of doctrinal religiosity.

If PZ and the SJW crowd are wanting to make it a case of being for them or against them then I am against them. They are well poisoners.

42 Simon September 26, 2016 at 1:19 pm

That’s a lot of complaints. Usually that many complaints would get you a court appearance. Are you sure you’re not just whining? Perspective makes most things small and irrelevant

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