The curious case of the You’re Not Helping blog

Late Preface: Since this post first appeared, it has come to light that I was dealing with several sock puppets of the YNH author, who admitted this after the evidence came out. For the short answer, scroll to the updates at the end. For the shorter answer, look at the screenshots.

If you really wish to read this, keep in mind that it shows much naivety on my part. Based on three threads at YNH–two on promoting evolution and one favorable of Richard Dawkins–I had drawn the wrong conclusions about YNH. I had been unaware of the YNH history outside of those three threads.

I held out the possibility that YNH had some misunderstanding of me, caused in part by what appeared to be some groupthink. In the end the explanation turned out to be much simpler: I was dealing with just one person obsessed with an agenda.

Since the You’re Not Helping site disappeared soon after the confession was posted, the original YNH links now point to an archive of the site graciously hosted by Josh.

Last month I stumbled upon a blog discussion about how to improve science education in the Bible Belt. Since I think about this issue from time to time, I kept reading.

I was initially impressed by the blog for a number of reasons. Firstly, the blog’s title, “You’re Not Helping”, appeared to at least partially refer to the negativity which stereotypically comes from the Pharyngula crowd. [Late edit: By this I mean the comment section of the blog which is often highly negative.] So a premise to which I was highly sympathetic was right there in the title. Brilliant.

Secondly, the blog appeared to match my own outlook of being a “non-accommodationist” atheist while also being averse to the Pharyngula crowd. Check.

Thirdly, the author(s) appeared to be mature and with a constructive mindset, even going so far as to apologize for breaking ground rules which they set for themselves. That is a rare bird.

And fourthly, the commenters appeared to be thoughtful and knowledgeable, with a similarly constructive mindset.

At this point I was convinced it was a worthwhile blog. I had wanted to get a few thoughts off my chest anyway, so I figured I might as well do it there. To get a sense of where I was coming from, here is what I posted. The post outlines some constructive ways to improve education in the Bible Belt. [I just noticed that direct-linking to comments there fails, presumably due to the collapsible comment section.]

After writing that, I had a sense of time investment with respect to the blog. I had considered and re-considered a variety of bullet-points while composing it, plus I am a slow writer (I am never satisfied with my phrasing). In my own small way, I was trying to do some good (“helping”) by taking the time to convey my own thoughts on the matter.

I was astonished by what happened next. A new post appeared whose purpose was to villify a person I had never heard of. It was covered with all sorts of random invective. WTF? Was it a self-referential joke to demonstrate what “Not Helping” looks like? Furthermore, the commenters appeared to simultaneously undergo a personality transplant, chiming in with “Yeah, you tell ’em!” kind of stuff. From my viewpoint, the thread was surreal.

Being baffled by the situation, I could not help but show some sarcasm in my response,

To You’re Not Helping: Would you please explain why you believe this post is helping? Be specific. Thanks.

Meanwhile I have the feeling of arriving at a party, moderately well-dressed, only to find some attendees in Pokemon costumes. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the theme of the party was “You’re Not Pokemon.”

Sure, drama games can be fun, but if you want to help then you’ll have to give them up.

I have no regrets about this, and I still believe my point was solid and delivered adequately.

What followed, however, was an outpouring of straw men proffered by the natives which culminated in the conviction (in both senses of the word) that I was a “troll in an innocent-bystander disguise.” I was banned. Amazing. I’ve since noticed that many posts there are tagged with “Tribalism”. Wow.

I am not obliged to withhold criticism of the blog because I had previously made positive comments on it. That really would be tribalism. The simple explanation is that I had observed some absurd behavior and criticized it. The unlikely explanation entails a nefarious plot: that I was allied with the opposition (whoever that is), that I went undercover to infiltrate the blog, that I was waiting for the opportunity to strike, and that I had struck. The latter explanation can be attractive when tribalistic emotions are flowing.

Here I come to the purpose of this post. I still want to be helpful. The reason why so much of dialogue is not helpful is exemplified by this incident, namely, this crazy mix of vendettas and tribalism in people’s minds. It’s nutty. Yes, I know this post itself is even part of it! We’re all nutty.

This case fascinates me because it’s a perfect psychological experiment. It shows that these emotions can manifest even when they are explicitly and consciously resisted (and even when such resistance is reflected in the tribe’s title!). This problem is our problem. It’s a part of our humanity that we must bring to full awareness. We must to learn to recognize when it is happening to ourselves and how to ease off it. It is why the blogosphere in particular is the forlorn pit of incomprehension that it is.

This is where you can genuinely help, You’re Not Helping. You can serve as a concrete example: you can overcome it. Be the epitome of helpfulness and throw off this tribalism. I am not being sarcastic.

I am not seeking revenge, You’re Not Helping. I just think that you are making some big mistakes which sabotage your own values and your own reputation, not only in this case but in others.

I’ve mentioned the book Mistakes were made a couple times (in the linked comment above and elsewhere) because it addresses the issue so directly. We have a strong urge to avoid admitting mistakes. For whatever reason it is even more prevalent in American society. We have the fallacious belief that admitting a mistake shows us to be stupid or incompetent. But exactly the opposite is the case: admitting a mistake actually demonstrates competence, both in reality and in the perception of others.

Now, You’re Not Helping, you’ve made some serious accusations against me here and here,

…a peek into OM’s [Oedipus Maximus’] IP addy and posting history elsewhere proves him to be not a true innocent bystander that’s new to the blogosphere but a poe with rather defined “tribal” allegiances.

…posting as multiple sock puppets, using different names and emails but the same IP, to espouse opposing opinions in an attempt to sabotage threads.

None of that is true. In fact these claims are bizarre. Incidentally one of the many straw men appears above: in that thread I said I was a “newcomer to YNH”, not “new to the blogosphere”.

I see three options for you:

  1. Admit that your accusations were a mistake. You can tell the story of how you were mislead by the evidence, or not. If you made up the evidence, we’ll never the know. All is forgiven, and the YNH blog gains prestige by admitting a mistake, a difficult move which shows strength of character.
  2. Remain skeptical yet still be open to the possibility that you are mistaken. Send the evidence to me at oedipus.maximus@gmail.com.
  3. Continue withholding the evidence. Continue mining what I’ve said to manufacture contradictions, straw men, etc. Continue with accusations, ad hominems, etc. None of it will be true, however. Remember, with conspiracy all connections are possible.

Of course a typical blogger would be expected to choose #3. I hold out cautious optimism that you are not a typical blogger.

I recently noticed your message to Greg Laden,

It’s put up or shut up time, Greg. Either show us whatever evidence you’ve got to highlight that we just make up all of our agreeing comments and commenters (and furthermore take them to other blogs on the internet where our commenters frequent), or you’re outta here. We assume you must have something to clutch this claim so dearly. If you can’t substantiate yourself, you’re gone. We’re not in the business of hosting irrelevant trolls on our comment boards who throw around empty accusations.

If you duck my request for evidence, leaving your allegations empty, then your reputation will diminish as the self-referential irony of your blog increases.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t give in to tribalism, You’re Not Helping. I suspect right now your thoughts are something like: “He’s just whining. He’s just trying to get back at us. He’s lying. He has his allegiances.” None of that is true. Don’t let those emotions control you. If you have evidence then show it to me, then I’ll show you why you are mistaken.

We all have tribal emotions. I am tribal, you are tribal. We are the same, along with everyone else. That’s why the blogosphere is so unhelpful. Let’s try to help.

The Buddha is not serious. That is, the Buddha does not engage in solemn finger-pointing; instead, he laughs at the absurdity of it all. So let us cast aside this craziness and have a good laugh together, You’re Not Helping.

Update: The You’re Not Helping blog has chosen option #3 as described above, fulfilling it like a blueprint. No evidence has been forthcoming. Case closed.

Second Update: The YNH author has been positively identified as Milton C., the commenter who said “troll in an innocent-bystander disguise” and pursued that angle. The evidence is as follows:

  • A brief comparison between this and this alone is sufficient to conclude that Milton C. and the YNH author are the same person based on matches in form, content, tone, and even the habit of three exclamations inside parentheses.
  • In the YNH response to this post, the YNH author had accused me of “spamming several other blogs with a science-religion focus.” That is the same accusation made earlier by Milton C. alone: “That’s like the third different blog I’ve seen him whining on.”
  • Milton C. could destroy my credibility by providing links showing the claimed whining, but he has passed on this opportunity.
  • The eagerness of Milton C. to denounce commenters who criticize YNH–in this case his “troll in an innocent-bystander disguise” assertion–is consonant with him being the YNH author.

Third Update: By further abstaining from providing evidence for their claims, YNH continues to pass up the opportunity to destroy my credibility. For example if the so-called warnings to me were through email, then the full message headers would be sufficient. Like Milton C., YNH has failed to give any links showing “spamming several other blogs with a science-religion focus.” I have received nothing through email.

To date there are many instances of other problems with YNH, including the likely existence of additional sock puppets of the YNH author besides Milton C. See the comments below and at Greg Laden’s blog.

This post remains as an historical footnote to YNH. If others have clear evidence like in the case of Milton C. above, I am willing to add a summary here.

Fourth Update: During a dispute with a remarkably patient commenter named Hitch, the YNH author appears to have made some more revealing mistakes:

Later in the same thread,

And then later in the thread,

Notice that Brandon and Polly-O! here have the same identicons which they have always had. I leave it to YNH to explain this discrepancy.

An informational note: at wordpress.com an identicon is based upon the email address only; it is independent of the name and IP address.

Fifth Update: YNH has confessed. [Note: Be skeptical of it. He does not confess to being Milton C., the first sock puppet to be caught red-handed as shown in the second update above. Greg Laden responds. Also note that many comments are missing from this cached version.]

Sixth Update: The YNH site is now protected.

Archive of the entire YNH site (grabbed just before the confession).

If you happened to have saved the YNH confession post with comments, please send it to me. I will post the latest-saved one I receive.

Seventh Update: I’ve shamefully neglected to thank everyone below who contributed to this effort. Well done–we did it!

Eighth Update: Gather ’round and listen to the Saga of the You’re Not Helping Blog.

Ninth Update: The YNH author issues a contrite apology below, admitting to Milton C. and other sock puppets. Welcome to the Light Side of the Force, William!

Tenth Update: Thanks to further investigation by commenters below, the YNH author has admitted to having sock puppets at The Intersection as well, including the pseudonymous biologist Tom Johnson who was twice lauded by Chris Mooney.

Eleventh Update: It happens that author and editor Ophelia Benson, the person vilified by YNH as mentioned above, wrote about the widespread suspicions regarding Tom Johnson last year. Several months prior to that post she was banned from The Intersection, and the ban remains in effect today.

Twelfth Update: Chris Mooney’s response: A B C D. (Note that his links to the Tom Johnson pages are mistaken; see the correct ones above.)

Thirteenth Update: After much effort I am still unable to understand Mooney’s posts. If someone writes up a clear, consonant explanation of events—preferably endorsed by Mooney himself—then I will link to it.

Fourteenth Update: Mooney says that he privately gave evidence which clarifies his story to two individuals (TB and Jean Kazez). He will not share this evidence with others, stating that it exposes the real “Tom.” Since I already know who “Tom” is, I contacted Mooney asking if he wished to corroborate the story with me. I have not received a response. At present we know of no others who are privy to this information.

Fifteenth Update: Mooney has disabled commenting on the Tom Johnson thread at The Intersection, saying in part, “A large number comments were also deleted for lacking substance, making allegations without merit or evidence, etc.”

Sixteenth Update: Mooney has directly attacked Ophelia Benson with an Intersection post dedicated to her, attempting to capitalize on an inconsequential mix-up between TB and “Tom”. Mooney omits the essential information that TB, another commenter in the thread in question, called Benson a liar.

Seventeenth Update: While Mooney said “there’s no reason to trust the story” given by “Tom”, he also maintained that “it might still be accurate.” Jean and TB, Mooney’s allies entrusted with the secret information mentioned above, also hinted that the story might be true. Jerry Coyne, who knows the identity of “Tom”, has done a careful investigation, concluding that the story “is not only false, but doesn’t even contain a kernel of truth.”

873 Responses

  1. […] June 20, 2010 by oedipusmaximus This is another iteration of my take on science education as mentioned in the previous post. […]

  2. on June 21, 2010 at 12:45 am | Reply NewEnglandBob

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for a reasonable response, oedipusmaximus. YNH is an out of control blog almost from the start. It is one of the nastiest places I visited that is still atheistic.

    I no longer go there and no longer care what nonsense they spew. They can just stew in their own hatred and vitriolic acid. I suggest you also just move on from that bad experience.

  3. I never bothered posting on YNH for this reason. It was linked somewhere, it looked very promising. They present themselves as rationalists looking to improve science education. They expressed sympathy with the atheist viewpoint while being very critical of the so called New Atheist movement*. Yet I read a few posts and the comments threads and it was more insular, irrational, and fact-averse than any of the bloggers they were so highly critical of. Waste of time.

    *I dispute that there’s really any such organized movement and that the views expressed by the so called New Atheists are notably different in form or content from what non-believers have been saying for centuries.

  4. on June 21, 2010 at 1:39 am | Reply Michael Kingsford Gray

    I find that, as rule of thumb, anyone who professes an antipathy to so-called the ‘new atheist movement’ are not worth the time of day.
    For they are combating the only movement against religious hegemony that has ever made any real impact on the world.
    They seem to wish to continue with tactics that have been proven, over millennia, to abysmally fail. It matters not to me what their reason is for this strange ability to not learn from past efforts.

  5. Perhaps it is a minor issue and even a bit off topic but I am personally put off by bloggers who constantly bragging about having “peeked” at IP addresses and the like … It’s kind like of a privacy issue to me.

    • Ah, yes, the IP address. This seems to be a favorite tool amongst many bloggers who try to “weed out” their trolls. The only problem is that its utility rests on the faulty premise that there is a unique IP address for every computer on the internet, and it is assigned to that computer for all eternity.

      If you subscribe to a large ISP (or work/live at a university), for example, they may tuck you in a pool of IPs. I think I remember something about some non-US ISPs putting their subscribers behind a NAT wall so that they can better utilize all the IPs they have (I don’t have a reference for that, unfortunately). That would mean that there may be more than one computer or even household for any particular IP.

    • Or, I might add, log in at the same WiFi hot spot. I seriously doubt that many more than one IP address are used at a coffee shop.

      To respond to what you said though: yeah, it’s a little creepy that they comb over every connection detail.

      Love the avatar.

    • An IP address isn’t private. It’s broadcast to the entire internet with every packet you send, and it has to be as it’s the core way the internet works. Every website you’ve every been to or ever will go to records your IP address. how long they keep that information or whether or not they make it public is a decision made by each site owner individually.

      Bloggers bragging about how they ‘have your IP address’ is certainly meant to have a chilling effect, but to anyone even moderately technically knowledgeable it’s actually the opposite in that it demonstrates that they have just barely enough understanding to realize that they can get the IP address* but not enough to realize it’s largely worthless for the reasons John Moeller notes.

      I will say it’s not 100% useless in clearly identifying a person but it’s awfully close to it. If the person is commenting from a business large enough to have it’s own reserved IP block and you can get their HR/IT admin to cooperate than you can (and I have in the past), but for residential users or small businesses forget it. The best you can do with IP address is narrow down the source of the comment to the city they are in and what ISP they use (e.g. Charter, ATT, Comcast, AOL, etc)

      *depending on the hosting service of course. Free blog hosting generally does not include access to logs. There are free services including google which will track traffic for you and include the first three blocks of the IP address (displays as 111.111.111., for example) but I take their reports with a large dose of salt as I’ve done compares to raw logs and found they miss a lot.

      • And then there’s always Tor. A determined and technically savvy troll could theoretically never be stopped. There’s a guy whose been terrorizing women in the Debian community for years and he will never be exposed. He uses Tor.


      • BTW, given the sheer number of trolls on the internet, I’m surprised that the guy I just mentioned is the only notable case (that I know of) of a troll using an anonymous proxy service. I guess we’re just lucky that the vast majority of trolls are simply too stupid and ignorant to know about something like that.

  6. My first encounter with YNH led me immediately to echo your sentiment: “WTF? Was it a self-referential joke to demonstrate what “Not Helping” looks like? ” And then I worked out it wasn’t, and never went back.

  7. =^skeptic cat^=, I don’t think it is a minor issue. There’s an implied threat in bragging about the IP address. At the very least it says, we know who you are and we can expose you. At the very worst it says, we know who you are and we know how to find you.

  8. I think you have nailed the YNH group. They were never interested in a dialog, they have always been about shaming.

  9. One of the YNH commenters was probably referring to you, oedipusmaximus, when she told me that I could end up banned if I didn’t provide evidence to support their poor caricature of my argument, just like happened to another commenter (she said).

    All because I pointed out the quite-obvious tribalism going on over there.

  10. You’d never heard of me?! It’s an outrage!


    Sorry, shouldn’t joke. But I can’t quite share your seriousness or your optimism. I don’t think YNH was ever serious – I think it put on a show of seriousness at first to lure people in, then bam, out came the vitriol.

  11. But that’s what was so surreal about that thread – an innocent stumbled in, admitted he didn’t know the background and was tarred and feathered as a conspirator. All you have to do is look at the archive – not even exhaustively – to see that he doesn’t deserve the benefit of any doubt. This will go away when all concerned realise it’s troublemaking for its own sake and ignore it – as PZ has been doing all along, I think.

    • Yes, I was nearsighted in only looking at the three-post front page view of YNH.

      The first thread in which I commented at YNH is really an excellent thread, with a variety of interesting contributions. It was a continuation of the previous thread.

      The thread before that was “Props to Richard Dawkins” which referred to Dawkins’ “Clarity” video from the Adelaide festival, something I also liked.

      So three good posts on the YNH front page.

      Had I gone back one more post, I would have discovered some of the characteristic YNH negativity, and perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered with the blog.

      But having already read around 100 great comments from the two threads on evolution (the Dawkins thread gathered little attention), I had thought my homework was done.

      Thus it was a confluence of coincidences which lead to my demise. Hmm. A similar thing happened to the Oedipus in the classic Greek play. Dun dun dunnnnnn.

  12. Interesting. The first time I went to YNH, I called them “cowards”. Not banned yet, but it doesn’t matter since I’m not going back there.

    I, too, made a mistake. I thought they were intelligent. I was wrong.

    [From Oedipus: fixed html]

  13. Sorry. Broke the html with an unclosed link. Hopefully fixed it here!

  14. Good to see your blog, Oedipus. I suspect I disagree with some opinions, and that’s cool. I love the title of your blog as well, that’s excellent.

    Sometimes I’m tempted just to post, “tribalism! conflation! position pinning! overton window! mindsluttery!” in the YNH comments just so I’m speaking the same language. A lot of the commenters there grab hold of a term and shake the life out of it.

    I think there was one thread where Dave W. was the only person who understood what the Overton Window actually meant in context.

    I lost most of my respect for them when they replied to me that they never said they would live up to their own rules about commentary:
    “Glendon, the problem is that we don’t claim to be “the best” at anything, nor do we pretend to always abide by the standards we promote. Those are your claims about us, not our claims about ourselves.”

    [From Oedipus: fixed html]

  15. Oops, sorry about the bad attempt at linkage.

  16. I hadn’t realized this site has no preview or edit feature for comments. That’s unfortunate, as I often bungle html myself.

    There appears to be no way to get either feature on a free wordpress.com blog like this one without paying for an upgrade. If someone knows of other options, I’m all ears.

  17. I too was ignoring it – until it went up a notch by starting a second blog and, two days after that, started commenting at B&W in the guise of the second blogger.

  18. Thanks for the edit! I’ll try not to do that again.

  19. Well, I see YNH has responded. Given the options I enumerated above, YNH could have saved time by just saying, “I’ll take #3, please.”

    At present I have received no evidence from YNH, nor has any been given in their response. Instead we have the same bizarre accusations, with new ones added. None of it is true, old or new. YNH could immediately resolve the issue by providing evidence for a single thing they’ve claimed.

    Incidentally, YNH has revealed an interesting connection to Milton C. YNH claims I had been “spamming several other blogs with a science-religion focus.” That’s the same lie which Milton C. proffered here: “That’s like the third different blog I’ve seen him whining on.”

    Which blogs are these? Surely, providing links to these blogs is not a difficult task. Why don’t you tell us? (And I apologize for calling you Shirley.)

  20. There isn’t any doubt that both blogs are the same guy, is there? I mean, I just noticed that the “Christian” one has something in the latest post about throwing out the bible with the bathwater, which same phrase appears in a comment in the latest anti-Ophelia piece on the “atheist” one. Maybe there were more real commenters a little while back, before all the real people had twigged that this was just a one-troll blog. Now it seems both are updated and get their first comments in about the same time-frame and then there’s silence till the same one guy is back at his computer, churning out another post (for both blogs) and more sock-puppet comments (for both blogs). Assuming it’s no accident and they are one guy trying to be both sides in an accomodationist inter-blog dialogue, I’m impressed at how the “Christian” one keeps his Tourette’s under control, which probably means all the excreta coming from the “atheist’s” keyboard is very calculated. When somebody gets the dirt on who they really are, let us know, ok?

  21. Greg Laden said he and “colleagues” were close to finding out…but I’m afraid that may have been a joke.

  22. I think those with computer skills better than my own can find out a lot, if they put their minds to it. I can completely understand, say, an atheist blogger stuck somewhere where exposure could mean ruin or worse, not letting on who she/he really is. That’s not the case here and I have no sympathy when it comes to the deserved exposure of someone who merely gets his jollies from vomiting on people who don’t know who he is.

  23. Here is the pingbacks panel from the admin page of this post.

    Notice there are multiple pingbacks for the same address, the only difference being the presence or absence of #comment-1234.

    In the post I gave a side-note saying that direct-linking to comments there fails, presumably due to the collapsible comment section. Figuring this out was not difficult but not trivial. I finally noticed that there was a redirect from #comment-1234 to #comments in the URL, while the same does not happen for non-collapsible comment sections. While debugging this I’m sure that I changed the number in #comment-1234 several times to see if it mattered (it doesn’t).

    WordPress enables pingbacks by default, and at the time of writing I had no idea what pingbacks were, much less that they were being sent to the YNH blog.

    Could this be what YNH is talking about regarding the pingbacks? I can’t imagine that there were 15 of them, but that’s not really the issue. I completely acknowledge my incompetence here and apologize for the inconvenience.

    The proposition that–by default!–comments are sent to other blogs without my knowledge still amazes me.

  24. Vomiting on and, to be very clear, telling falsehoods about. Make no mistake: it says things that are not true, and it does it often. A couple of people have even commented there that it posts apparently illustrative links to posts of mine – links that are clearly supposed to be examples of whatever bad behavior it is rebuking – which when you follow them turn out to be not illustrative at all. It would not astonish me to learn that it does that to everyone.

    It has zero right to anonymity. It uses its anonymity to tell falsehoods – as Oedipus says it did about him. There is not so much as a shadow of legitimacy to that.

  25. (Sorry about cross-post! Didn’t mean to interrupt.)

  26. Interestingly, someone at YNH has edited my comments without my consent in order to portray me as psychotic or at least self-contradictory, and it’s given Polly-O! reason to call me a “garden-variety troll, willing to shift opinions to fit the argument of the moment.”

    If I’d known that sort of deceit was even a possibility, I never would have commented at YNH at all.

    • And then they closed comments on that particular topic before I could send any sort of rebuttal.

      It was this one:


      Two people managed to get comments in which assumed I was going to make “some crazy-ass excuse for how you’ve oh-so-badly misrepresented those stupidly contradictory remarks” or another “conspiracy theory” before comments were closed.

      I’d gladly post the response I was _planning_ on making to Polly-O!’s accusations here, with permission, but it won’t do any good. The YNH folks will deny it and/or edit my comments over there some more.

      This is insane.

  27. What Dave is now telling us does not, I regret to say, surprise me in the least. This is exactly the kind of thing I meant when I cautioned Ophelia on the B&W thread that even when she knows that someone on YNH is real, the comments ought not to be taken at face value without consulting them personally. I was thinking, I admit, more of simple impersonation, but since what was done to Dave is even sneakier it must have appealed still more to the sicko who writes both blogs and almost all of their comments. My gut instinct on first seeing YNH is, I’m sorry to say, being proven righter by the day and I strongly suspect that anything perceived as serious at the beginning was never intended as anything but a lure in order to get people on board who were sufficiently serious to maximise the joy of hurting them.

  28. I took another look at that thread and I would say of the 30 comments, only yours (which you have already confirmed were edited to make you look hypocritical) and Glendon Mellow’s seem to have emanated from non-sock-puppets. Leaving… er… 22 comments. You and others may have learned from experience that nothing productive can come of commenting there, but others who don’t know yet will probably drop by often enough to keep the troll busy. Sometimes a lie has to be big enough in order to be believed. A first-time visitor might see an exchange in which three people are talking about not being sock-puppets and take it at face value when the others confirm that one sent proof of being a real person. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

  29. You’re right Stewart, I’m not a sock puppet. I am of course, a Muppet.

  30. If only more of the socks were like Muppets, it might be more bearable and entertaining. I couldn’t repress a little flash going through my head just now of which actual Muppet one might match each sock with…

  31. Elsewhere there seems to be a misunderstanding about the outcome here.

    YNH provided no evidence. They will not even give a single link to support their claim that I was “spamming several other blogs with a science-religion focus.”

    Doesn’t that put the matter to rest?

  32. Dave W: exactly. That’s why I stopped commenting there (that among other reasons) almost as soon as I started (which was back when it still hung onto a veneer of reasonability). It cheats and falsifies in every way possible. Don’t take Polly-O at face value, by the way – “she” has every appearance of being one of the sock puppets.

  33. on June 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Reply Kirth Gersen

    OM — Great blog so far! I felt sort of bad not forwarding your message to YNH, but the outcome — you starting your own, and YNH acting pretty much in accordance with how I expected they would in any event — makes me feel that maybe I made the correct decision.

    • Thanks Kirth, and no problem about the message. They had picked it up immediately anyway.

      Actually I feel rather embarrassed about the whole thing, being so naive and shortsighted. At the time I left that message at WEIT, I still had not looked into the YNH history. Based on that evolution thread, I was convinced it was a good blog whose author(s) happened to misunderstand something about my IP address.

      In the above post I tried to place the issue in a broader context, though I wonder how many people got that impression. The main issue for me was examining why the blogosphere sucks. Whether or not YNH would change their behavior was a side-issue, though it would have been interesting if they did.

      My final remarks on YNH are left as an implication of the raccoon post. Using terminology from there, I had greatly misjudged YNH: I thought they could have been near the top of the pyramid, but it turns out they were far, far below.

  34. Once I noticed that the YNHers (which, when you look at it, can only be pronounced ‘whiners’) referred to themselves as ‘we’ – i.e. the majestic plural – I came to the conclusion that the likelihood of it being a haven for rational discussion was very low indeed.

    It seems to be a home for those who considered The Intersection to be too intellectually honest in its attacks on Dawkins, Ophelia, Jerry Coyne, PZ (and with those attacks too few and far between) for their tastes and wanted somewhere they could really build some strawmen to impotently gum in a frenzy of militant appeasement and obsequious fawning over the preciousness of religious believers.

  35. Tuscaloosa, huh, Glendon? I know where that is because of Groucho’s African lecture in “Animal Crackers.” Have you noticed the sock comments about the illegality of looking into IPs? You’re a brave man – I mean Muppet – to make a comment there; who knows what they’ll have you saying by tomorrow.

  36. Stewart, I kind of hope it’s “manna manna – do dooo do do do”.

    Hey cool, there’s Wowbagger. I always enjoy your comments around the blogs.

  37. Glendon Mellow wrote:Hey cool, there’s Wowbagger. I always enjoy your comments around the blogs.

    Cheers. Don’t expect to see any of them at YNH, though – while I might show up at The Intersection if I’m feeling peevish and spy an opportunity to point out some especially egregious dimwittery on the part of one or more of the loose-minded fawners there, I refuse to get involved in any kind of dialogue on a site where the mods freely change the content of posts of commenters they disagree with.

  38. Geez folks, if you were actually blogging right, there wouldn’t be any problem. I mean come on Dave W – it is actually kind of nice of them to edit your comments to fit the argument “they” are having – beats them erasing it or pretending it doesn’t exist…Right?

    It seems to be a home for those who considered The Intersection to be too intellectually honest in its attacks on Dawkins, Ophelia, Jerry Coyne, PZ (and with those attacks too few and far between) for their tastes and wanted somewhere they could really build some strawmen to impotently gum in a frenzy of militant appeasement and obsequious fawning over the preciousness of religious believers.

    Oh come on Wowbagger, isn’t it obvious that they actually support the more “militant” atheists and keep attacking them, while apologizing to their critics – for their own good? I mean come on – they say quite clearly that they are of the more militant mindset, right about the time they take a solid swipe at one of those other militant types who are doing it wrong…By being so “militant.”

  39. Well yeah – you see, what happened is, one of them (who is a mother) used to tell her son that people who believe in God are stupid, but then her son got in a squabble at school by saying that, and she Saw The Light and Repented.

    It’s funny how that not very credible story about atheists reminds me of another not very credible story about atheists, told by another anonymous Someone at the Intersection – the self-described Scientist at a Major University, who reported that atheist colleagues of his would go to meetings of environmental groups convened by theists and shout at them that their beliefs were stupid, laugh in their faces, etc etc etc.

    Gee. The two stories are so oddly similar. The atheists in them sound like no one on sea or land, and the tellers are Unknown Someones. Isn’t life strange.

  40. DuWayne wrote, “I mean come on Dave W – it is actually kind of nice of them to edit your comments to fit the argument “they” are having – beats them erasing it or pretending it doesn’t exist…Right?”

    Absolutely, which only leaves the question of why they aren’t outright faking comments from the people they criticize who don’t show up to actually comment on YNH itself.

    It’s a pretty small step from editing a comment to have it read opposite to its author’s intent, to inventing entire comments. It would be pretty awesome for them to create a comment from, say, PZ Myers, full of rage and foul language. YNH could have a field day with that sort of thing, and any denials from the people they impersonate could be swept under the rug as more “New Atheist” lying scumbaggery.

    I mean, I already know how hard it is to prove that I didn’t write a small part of a comment that I did write. How much harder would it be to prove that you never wrote any of a comment posted in your name and style? Seems like it would be win-win for them, especially since they’ve got the moral compass of a narcissistic sociopath.

    Of course, I suppose it’s possible that they’ve already done that, and whatever real people are around are simply ignoring the fakery to avoid feeding the troll(s).

    Bizarrely, they’ve left in place, and not commented on, the disavowal I left to one of the comments of mine that they modified.

  41. It would be pretty awesome for them to create a comment from, say, PZ Myers, full of rage and foul language.

    It would only serve to dig themselves even deeper in the mire of dishonesty because one thing PZ is known for is his openness about his approach and his methods – so if he had gone there and sworn at them, why would be bother to deny it afterwards? He never denies vocally attacking anyone else, and he’s definitely never held back on expressing his scorn for those who demand that atheists should express their lack of belief by partaking in obsequious grovelling at the feet of the religious for not sharing their delusion.

    But I spent some time trying to explain that logic on a post on a similar topic (fabricated examples of PZ’s dishonesty) on The Intersection a while back, only to have it go way over the heads of the carping mewlers hellbent on continuing their lame bleatfest no matter how disingenuous and illogical it was.

    He – very sensibly – has so far ignored them completely. I wish I’d had his sense of self-restraint and never so much as glanced at their lame, hypocritical orgy of smug self-congratulation.

  42. I am very big on giving people benefit of the doubt. And it only takes one clear example to get rid of such doubt. And we’ve had more than one. Reading the sock blog carefully and checking whether people are quoted accurately and in context and whether links back up what they’re being used for – if you do all that there’s simply no room left in which to believe there’s any honesty or sincerity there. Then one starts to read it as if it were all lies and socks and it suddenly makes sense in a way it didn’t when the benefit of the doubt was still being given.

  43. The YNH posts following their response to this one have become increasingly erratic, along with their behavior. That is explainable through cognitive dissonance–of trying to compensate after being caught red-handed for lying.

    Incidentally it is interesting that no YNH defenders have commented here. Milton C., where are those links you mentioned? All you have to do is tell us and my credibility is gone. How could you pass that up?

  44. “which only leaves the question of why they aren’t outright faking comments from the people they criticize who don’t show up to actually comment on YNH itself.”

    I think they have done something similar. When Greg Laden laughed at them last week, and urged people to flood them with comments, suddenly there was a little flurry of comments full of sexual threats – the kind of thing the dopiest of Pharyngula commenters say, that The Intersection then attributes to PZ as if he and all his commenters were One Mind. I think those were more sock puppetry, intended to make Greg and all non-fans of YNH look bad.

    • I hope you’re not saying that my comment that Mooney lifted and attributed to PZ was dopy. Surely you don’t let a bit of rude language detract from what was discussed?

  45. As if there were any doubt remaining that Milton C. is the YNH author or one of them, compare this with this. It took only a minute of googling to find that example.

    This is particularly embarrassing to the YNH blog because Milton was the first one to vilify with “troll in an innocent-bystander disguise,” and in general Milton is concerned with policing other commenters.

  46. oedipusmaximus – good post. I don’t agree with your stance on PZ, but that is perfectly fine. We can’t all agree on everything.

    He[PZ] – very sensibly – has so far ignored them completely. I wish I’d had his sense of self-restraint and never so much as glanced at their lame, hypocritical orgy of smug self-congratulation.

    Wowbagger, judging from what he said last weekend when the subject of YNH came up, he is going to continue to ignore them. He didn’t even care enough to talk about the blog, when it was mentioned. But then, neither did the rest of us really. YNH is a waste of time, and few people bother going there.

    • Thanks. You’ve alerted me to the unclearness of my statement about the “Pharyngula crowd”. I was mostly referring to the comments at PZ’s blog, not PZ himself. I’ve added a note to the post.

      • The Pharyngula crowd is a diverse group, so I think you condemnation is overly broad. I don’t, however, blame you for that – the tone there can be rather rough at times. There is a reason why PZ introduced a 3-strikes rule after all (new commenters have to be give 3 initial comments before people start tearing into them)

  47. A waste of time?! But there’s a kind of morbid fascination in…

    Still, if it’s just Milton C…well yes, it’s a waste of time. Never mind.

  48. Yes, I think this thing is past its height and I’ll probably stop monitoring them soon. The vast majority of those who are targets or whose identities could be misused by the site know by now that it is to be avoided for any serious purpose. Last (or close to last) thoughts: I think among the most telling comments were those that related to the sock-puppetry issue. Not one of them rung true to me as a real person reacting to a charge that they were somebody else just using a different persona. The other thing I’m still pondering is the relationship between the atheist and Christian sock-blogs. I’m fairly convinced they’re the same person (who else would tag a post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer with “Ophelia Benson” when the post doesn’t mention her?), but the Christian one has very few comments. I’m tempted to say our man is actually fanatically religious and very wounded by the openness of the atheists, is being truer to himself at the Christian blog and letting the rage hang out at the “atheist” one. If he were doing it openly and not playing a double game, I might be able to scrape up some respect for it, but pulling this kind of manipulative and dishonest stunt without letting anyone know who you are has me pretty certain that a mental aberration of a non-trivial kind is manifesting itself.

  49. Kristjan, that’s funny. I was just thinking while doing the previous comment (and decided to omit it) that that’s what happened to me with Uncommon Descent. A certain point came when I realised nothing even vaguely new or interesting was being said anymore and I had read their entire repertoire. So I stopped and very rarely bother taking a peek now (and every time I do, I wonder why I bothered…).

  50. Apology: the Bonhoeffer post does squeeze in an Ophelia post.

  51. Well see I haven’t even begun to explore Uncommon Descent – a whole new world of time-wasting awaits me.

    I’ll tell you who doesn’t know YNH is to be avoided though! Science & Religion – that Templeton blog. I’m a bit surprised at that. It links mostly to stuff that is Wrong, but it doesn’t usually get into the gutter.

    The Christian one is truly funny – pretending to be entirely ignorant of YNH until just a few days ago – yet every bit as obsessed with me as YNH is. Wouldn’t you think it would realize this is a bit of a red flag?!

    But, sigh, the thought that it’s just MiltonC does indeed drain it of even morbid fascination. There’s nothing fascinating about MiltonC.

    • Ophelia, are you referring to this sock comment?

      “Oooh, S and R Today has picked you up. So the religious community is starting to make you more visible? Not good for the New Atheists, who want a world of nonbelief united under hate.

      This is sure to only engender more accusations of conspiracy, and flush them further down the toilet.”

      When you already know it’s mainly a monologue under assorted monikers, it’s pretty funny.

      Ophelia, you do some things I consider valuable with your time. Please promise us you won’t waste any more of it than your curiosity necessitates at Uncommon Descent.

  52. I wonder what MiltonC’s real name is. SpenserD? ColeridgeB? ShelleyF? HopkinsQ?

  53. Perhaps it’s beating a dead horse at this point, but this is too hilarious to pass up. Milton C.:

    Regarding the “meat” of this post, I agree (oh no! sock puppet/conspiracy/victim/tribalism/ahhhh!!!).

    That’s the same three exclamation points inside parentheses also found in the links I previously mentioned, here and here. What a wild case of self-reference.

    YNH/Milton. You. Are. So. Busted.

    • They have everyone doing the multiple exclamation mark shtick: the blogger, Brandon, Milton C., Polly-O!, Jacque, Olaf Olaffsson, Patricia, Julie, hell, they even have Greg Laden doing it!!! (Look, they just made me do it!!!) Sure, he has them pretend to disagree, but their emotional timbre is always a single one. Wonder if I can make him waste his time counting up all these things to prove me wrong… he could write a little thesis on the use of multiple exclamation marks in accomodationist blogging, while I laugh my head off that he bothered. What I’d actually appreciate seeing is a photo of the team, if anyone could get far enough away to get them all in the shot…

  54. Maybe at last he’ll get busy writing Paradise Misunderstood.

  55. Wowbagger wrote:

    But I spent some time trying to explain that logic on a post on a similar topic…

    Same here, on the YNH topic where they claimed (without evidence, of course) that “people like” Jerry Coyne were claiming that they never insulted people, and then YNH posted examples of Coyne insulting people and calling him a liar.

    Even after I commented that PZ Myers wouldn’t deny insulting people, Polly-O! seemed to feel compelled to comment that PZ Myers has insulted people. Well, duh.

    But anyway, I was talking about the sort of supremely hateful stuff that PZ Myers would not say, even jokingly. Racial or anti-gay epithets, or something actually advocating child rape. While yes, falsifying such horrendous comments would dig YNH’s hole even deeper, they don’t seem to care, and the “scandal” thus manufactured would gain them more attention (at least temporarily).

    Heck, all of YNH seems like one big piece of bait, now, so it may be that the only reason it exists as an attention-getting device.

  56. Ophelia Benson wrote,

    I think they have done something similar. When Greg Laden laughed at them last week, and urged people to flood them with comments, suddenly there was a little flurry of comments full of sexual threats – the kind of thing the dopiest of Pharyngula commenters say, that The Intersection then attributes to PZ as if he and all his commenters were One Mind. I think those were more sock puppetry, intended to make Greg and all non-fans of YNH look bad.

    Yeah, but what I’m asking is: why isn’t YNH simply faking comments from Greg Laden himself? If they’re going to sock-puppet, why not do it big? At this point, do they actually have anything to lose?

  57. I like this one. Someone who has gotten some of the background about the really underhanded stuff, but doesn’t need to call on it to make them look like idiots. All he does is compare statements from two adjacent posts and point out what the obvious conclusions are:


    • Many thanks for the reference, Stewart. I had heard about the YNHers by way of Greg Laden’s blog, and had only looked at it a few times. I was prompted to comment a few times on their “About” page, but not about anything relevant to their regular posts.

      When I saw the dichotomy of the statements in adjoining posts on their own front page, I simply couldn’t resist a dig at them. There was also the added bonus that I got to use a Samuel L. Jackson video clip.

  58. I’m astonished that you were attracted to YNH by its name! Could there be any clearer indication that “Here be whiners”, than for the name of the blog to be a whine?

    • Yes, the naivety I show in the original post is embarrassing. Two good threads on evolution plus a “Props to Richard Dawkins” thread gave me the wrong impression of YNH, as I mention in previous comments.

  59. ” what I’m asking is: why isn’t YNH simply faking comments from Greg Laden himself? If they’re going to sock-puppet, why not do it big? At this point, do they actually have anything to lose?”

    I think that’s just because the blogger is stupid enough to think that generic-name fake comments won’t be spotted as fake whereas known-name comments will.

  60. Hmmm. I think I’m liking bilbo for the role of main YNH, with Milton demoted to loyal lieutenant (unless they’re the same person, which wouldn’t surprise me). I always did think ‘maybe bilbo,’ without bothering to go to the Intersection to check; I always thought that because I remembered him as the most poisonous of the intersectionists.

    I did look at an old Intersection thread just now, by way of googling for accusations of lying. Looka this.



    218. bilbo Says:
    January 23rd, 2010 at 11:27 am
    Paul in post 214:



    Sound familiar?

    And look at post 214 to see how well bilbo caught Paul’s tone.

    The frenzy and the accuracy-fail sound awfully YNHlike. And look at all them there exclamation points!

    • on June 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      The catch with the multiple exclamation points is that it’s a pretty common Internet idiom. ERV even uses them on her own blog. As for the frenzy and failure of accuracy? That’s pretty rampant in the blogosphere. The resemblance between one of Milton C.’s posts and one of YNH’s posts that Oedipus cited is a lot more probative.

      I’m at least glad to see you guys actually naming the people you think are sock puppets and citing evidence instead of vague hand waving — something I wish you had done earlier.

      • A small correction: I said three exclamation points inside parentheses. Given their use in the context of those two posts, my observation was just another nail in the coffin, though a needless one. Do you think it detracts from the message?

  61. Oh gawd. That whole thread is absolutely packed with YNHisms. Word for word. I always thought it must be Intersection commenters, of course, but (as mentioned) I hadn’t bothered to do any textual comparing before. It really is funny.

    “I’ve been trolling, Chloride? Where, exactly? Have I even commented on this thread until today? Hell, I even admitted that it was mostly worthless! I’ll gladly admit to trolling on this thread if you can find a decent example…”

    Mmphh! Right down to the “Hell, I mostly agree with you” trope. Not to mention the sock puppetry.

    What I wonder is whether Mooney is in on it. I doubt that he’s doing it, but I wonder if he knows about it.

  62. I’d been having such thoughts before you posted. It also seems unlikely that anyone with as much to lose as Mooney has would risk being exposed that way. Still, wasn’t there a case where Dembski was caught sock-puppeting to plug a book while attacking someone else’s? I fear Mooney probably knows more than he would like to admit, because he seems to be the idol of the guy fabricating the sock blog and, if that’s the case, wouldn’t the fan want the idol somehow to know what a service was being done for him? Just running scenarios through my head…

  63. Ok, case closed and more than one person has screen captures of it. Mr. Sock Master got confused and had Polly-O! say that she agreed with Polly-O! He must have thought he was doing Brandon at the time (or Milton… or any of them).

  64. Oh, and then Polly-O! (only after unmasking by Hitch) claims she hasn’t commented for 8 hours and none of the comments bearing her name since then are hers. So YNH steps in and investigates, claims he’s discovered Brandon and Polly-O! are the same because they have the same IP and bans both of them. Funny how the master troll-unmasker never twigged that his two most stalwart supporters (for months now) were socks until an outsider caught them red-handed. Farce at its purest. I will be impressed (but only by his bravado), if Mr. Sock-Puppet-Master has the gall not to close the whole site down after this. There’s an episode of Fawlty Towers where Basil is pretending to be fighting (with the cook? was it the Waldorf Salad episode?) with someone and also a Charley Chase comedy where he’s pretending to be two people and fighting with himself (until he also screws up). Anyway, both kept coming to mind. There’s something dreadfully childish about it all. Nobody has any excuse to give YNH the benefit of the doubt anymore.

    • Tell that to Josh Rosenau, who linked to it *just yesterday* saying it was on a roll with its posts on the evil New atheists vs that nice Deepak Chopra fella. Like J J Ramsey, Rosenau is not too fastidious when it comes to allies in the new-atheist-hating project.

      • on June 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

        “Like J J Ramsey, Rosenau is not too fastidious when it comes to allies in the new-atheist-hating project.”

        Ahem. See my comment on this thread: http://yourenothelping.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/susan-jacoby-that-oil-spill-all-religions-fault-and-everyone-elses-but-dont-forget-religion-ok/#comments

        Heck, look at the comments I made on the post that Oedipus thought was similar to Milton C.’s.

        The catch is that YNH has gotten as far as it has because it’s been partly right. For example, we have had posts writing as if the prayer over the oil spill was a substitute for actual action, regardless of whether those doing the praying were either already working on the oil spill or not in a position to do so. YNH, whether it’s a stopped clock or not, has rightfully pointed out the problem with that. And that’s not the only genuine problem that YNH has spotted. Like it or not, you’ve been giving YNH material to work with, and that’s your fault, not YNH’s.

        I would like to see the screenshots of what Stewart was talking about, in any case.

        • on June 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

          “I would like to see the screenshots of what Stewart was talking about, in any case.”

          Never mind. I found the blog post you were talking about: http://yourenothelping.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/sins-of-omission-and-begging-the-conspiracy-question/#comments

          I archived the web page and made a PDF printout of it. You want a copy, Oedipus?

        • Who’s “we”? I don’t know what “we” have had, but I haven’t done “posts writing as if the prayer over the oil spill was a substitute for actual action.” My two posts on the subject have been about claims about what prayer does or would do. That’s independent from the question of whether the pray-ers are doing anything else – and in fact I should think it would be obvious that I don’t think talking about prayer is all Obama is doing! My point in the post about Obama on prayer was that I don’t accept that it’s comforting to think that God won’t help but nevertheless is there, on the grounds that the presence of someone who could help but won’t is not comforting in dire emergencies. That doesn’t in the least imply that Obama is not doing anything else.

          In the post on the Chopra and co. festival, my point was that they made explicit claims that the festival would do things. I quoted those claims.

          “Explore how our collective intention, our voice and our commitment can impact the cleanup of the oil spill.”

          “Our collective prayers and thoughts have the power to cause a profound shift on the planet. Pray with some of the most powerful spiritual thought leaders – Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith, Joan Borysenko, James O’Dea and more. Together we discover that we have the power to change the world.”

          I didn’t say anything about what else they might be doing, or imply that they weren’t doing anything else.

          You seem to treat “new atheists” as a bloc, as if what one does, all do, and all have to justify or explain or withdraw or apologize for. I don’t know if other “new atheists” have been doing what you cite, but I haven’t, but this stopped clock called me a liar six times in one post for supposedly doing what you suggest – “writing as if the prayer over the oil spill was a substitute for actual action.” So if that’s what you mean by “you’ve been giving YNH material to work with, and that’s your fault,” I say that’s bullshit.

          • on June 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

            “I didn’t say anything about what else they might be doing, or imply that they weren’t doing anything else.”

            Are you kidding me? You wrote this:

            “So at about 6:30 p.m. my time on Tuesday July 6th (frankly I don’t care what time it is where you are) all the oil in and around the Gulf will suddenly crinkle up like tissue paper and then kind of dry out like an old orange peel and then it will just evaporate, in a non-toxic way, and that will be the end of that. All everybody has to do is re-stock the fish and other fauna, and everything is made whole. Just by all praying together at the same time.”

            The above is a summary of what you apparently think Chopra and company expect to accomplish through prayer, and it’s pretty clear that in your sarcastic scenario, prayer is all that is needed, no donations, no need for, as you put it, “trying to engineer a way to seal off the oil, and trying to mop up millions of barrels of the fucking stuff.”

            And you do avoid mentioning what Chopra and company are doing besides praying, such as gathering donations. If someone read only your summary and not the page that you were summarizing, one would come to the conclusion that all Chopra and pals were doing was praying, rather than doing anything that might support the actual cleanup.

  65. I didn’t think it could get any funnier, but Polly-O!, Brandon (both officially declared banned) and Milton C. have offered the first three comments on the latest thread. No, YNH, ignoring it won’t make it go away.

    • on June 27, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      I think the banning was supposed to apply to the alleged duplicates of Polly-O and Brandon, not the originals.

  66. Thanks for the tip, Stewart. Does anyone know how to contact Hitch? Tell him to email me at oedipus.maximus@gmail.com. At the end of this blog post I could add links to his screenshots of the puppets getting caught.

    Hitch appears to have made the same mistake I did, which is to believe that focused, straightforward reasoning will eventually prevail. But that’s not how YNH operates. Like me he found out the long way, saying, “I’m done with this blog. Dishonest, shameful smear agents basically.”

    At least the outcome was that YNH made a mistake and got exposed, which is what happened in my case as well.

  67. No idea. I’ve never seen or heard of Hitch before. except of course that’s Christopher Hitchens’s name to his friends. (No, I’m not suggesting that this Hitch is Hitchens!)

  68. Note the last comment by “Hitch” – after YNH said it was banning him/her – saying Hitch will take YNH’s word for it that sock PollyO is sock Brandon and both (surely YNH shouldn’t have called them both when they’re the same!) are banned. Yeah right; Hitch was obviously very willing to take YNH’s word for something at that point, and stupid enough to believe that ridiculous charade.

    Funny stuff.

  69. I keep on thinking it’s been the last word, and then…

    I had to leave just after I saw that this morning and spent the day chuckling and smiling.

    It is possible that those three comments on the newest thread were in before it all imploded on the earlier one. It doesn’t change much.

    I had been wondering why Hitch was bothering, but am glad he kept it up. He gave them the opportunity to use him as a punching bag and they got so into it, they forgot to separate identities. I don’t know what YNH looks like, but I’m trying to imagine his face when he realised what he’d done.

    Oedipus, I gather you already have whatever captures you need, correct? So far, the incriminating stuff hasn’t been taken down anyway. I have no idea who Hitch is or how to contact him, though I believe him to be a non-sock and see that he’s commented over at Greg Laden’s blog.

    I only saw YNH for the first time a few days ago and instantly realised it was both infested by socks and engaged in dishonest warfare against a select few, including some I have every reason to think are scrupulously honest. I am frankly suspicious of the integrity or intelligence of anyone who has looked at it properly and not come to the same conclusions. J.J. Ramsey seems to be seeking to differentiate between real and sock Brandon and Polly-O! I see no reason to believe either ever existed in non-sock form. The fact that a blog doing anything it can, including fabrication, to make a group of bloggers look bad might sometimes accidentally have a small point is no reason to take it seriously. On the contrary, once I know that they’re basically lying for a living, I have to be super-careful to make sure I’m not sucked into swallowing something erroneous just because I noticed there was something they said that was true.

    Among the atheists considered by misinformed outsiders to be extreme, a number, including Dawkins, have said they can see how two approaches could complement each other, i.e. they’re not trying to forbid anyone to be soft with believers, even if they don’t see the point in trying to stop confrontations with hard truths. On the other hand, what we’re hearing from accomodationists is not a similar acceptance of pluralism in the voice of atheism. No, we’re hearing from them exactly what we’re hearing from the religious: shut up! This is the simplest reason I will have no truck with accomodationism: we’re not trying to shut them up, but they want us to. If accomodationists want “other” atheists to keep quiet, there is nothing further to discuss, nor any reason to read blogs espousing such a point of view. If anyone wants dialogue about anything, the very least they can do is to accept the other side’s right to speak freely. If that is not the case, any claims that they want dialogue and the other side is at fault for it not happening are simply rubbish and need not, therefore, be the subject of any analysis, let alone of the lengthy kind.

    P.S. Just saw your fourth update and I think the bit where Polly-O! says she agrees with Polly-O! is even more damning than what you used. Should it even matter anymore? We all know what’s going on now, even if only some of us did at first.

    • on June 27, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      “J.J. Ramsey seems to be seeking to differentiate between real and sock Brandon and Polly-O!”

      Well, we at least have one “Polly-O” claiming not to have made comments done by the other “Polly-O,” so YNH has the excuse that there are supposedly two Polly-Os around, and so they only have to ban one of them. Whether that excuse is the truth is another matter, which is why I refer to “alleged duplicates” in an earlier post of mine.

    • Oops, the Polly-O self-agreement is in there now. Thanks.

  70. Thanks, Ophelia. You left your comment at almost the same time as I left my almost identical P.S.

  71. OK I’ve added a fourth update.

    Is it YNH’s story that a mischievous poster who knew Polly-O’s email address would insert himself into the conversation and then proceed to act exactly like Polly-O? I cannot imagine.

    There’s likely to be inconsistencies in Polly-O’s comment about 8 hours, though I have not pursued it.

    Is there any more plain evidence that I should add to the post?

  72. J.J. Ramsey, I’m assuming that means you want to reassure us you didn’t fall for it. Fine, I should hope nobody would under those circumstances.

    • on June 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      Well, I’m not too quick to cry “sock puppet,” and it didn’t help that the people who were crying sock puppet were (1) not exactly people with the most spotless histories with regard to being reasoned and fair, and (2) were coy about putting forth the evidence for their claims. It was hard to tell if they were doing more than just flinging mud. Once the evidence came out, well, then I changed my mind.

      • I’m not suggesting one should do it on a hair-trigger, but there was something too convenient about these “people,” including the things that were put in to make them seem more real. Commenters at B&W have been accused of being Ophelia’s cheering squad or her yes-men and it’s true that most are in general agreement with her ideas, but there’s never the uniformity one found among the socks at YNH. If they weren’t the same person, they had to at least be sitting around the same table somewhere, taking turns according to an agreed game plan.

      • ” the people who were crying sock puppet were (1) not exactly people with the most spotless histories with regard to being reasoned and fair”

        I want to utter an obscenity, but this is Oedipus’s blog, and that would be uncivil. But please take yourself to have been so answered.

      • it didn’t help that the people who were crying sock puppet were (1) not exactly people with the most spotless histories with regard to being reasoned and fair

        Interesting, I didn’t know that J. J. Ramsey had made any claims about sock puppets.

  73. on June 27, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

    Stewart: “If they weren’t the same person, they had to at least be sitting around the same table somewhere, taking turns according to an agreed game plan.”

    I remember reading Ms. Benson saying something similar, but since she didn’t bother giving examples as to what she meant, it was hard to tell if she was credible or not.

  74. I don’t think she had proof then, but having read her for years and having found her reliable in the extreme, anyone making an attack of that nature loses a lot of credibility in my eyes to start with it. You’ll grant, I trust, that it was a lot more vicious and deeply personal than just a little correction or disagreement?

    • on June 27, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      “Reliable in the extreme?” We’re talking about someone who objects to Mooney and Kirshenbaum speaking of New Atheists “attacking” or “blasting” opposing views as being metaphors of violence, while calling M&K’s own views fascism and even likening them to the Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung. We’re talking about someone who turns DeDora’s hypothetical science teacher’s remarks about pointing out that what’s on the test is what’s covered in class and not the church into a claim that DeDora is “treating science as just a BoxO’Facts rather than a way of finding things out.”

      • Note the date on that link. It’s mid-August 2009. That’s about the fifth time I’ve seen J J Ramsey quote that, and I’m sure I haven’t seen all the times he’s done so. OH MY GOD I once engaged in a bit of hyperbole, and it’s J J Ramsey’s mission in life to bore everyone to death by repeating it whenever he encounters me.

        He also loves to recycle the claim by one of the YNH socks that I am a useless putrid twat. Gee, I wonder why he just can’t stop repeating that.

  75. I am ROTFLMAO.

    A few comments:

    Ophelia said “Greg Laden said he and “colleagues” were close to finding out…but I’m afraid that may have been a joke.”

    From a number of sources that shall remain nameless, YNH writers made visits to low-hit blogs and left traces that could be easily seen linking them to the University of Alabama.

    The sock puppet (I assume) that bothered me on my site for a while was a Bell South IP.

    Then, there’s this:


    Leslie Rissler is a U of A biologist who is cited on a UA facebook atheist group as having provided a student with a YNH link about evol. in alabama.

    Those last bits are, of course, very weak, but given the overall strength of the argument being presented here, they become … interesting.

    “I think they have done something similar. When Greg Laden laughed at them last week, and urged people to flood them with comments, suddenly there was a little flurry of comments full of sexual threats – the kind of thing the dopiest of Pharyngula commenters say, that The Intersection then attributes to PZ as if he and all his commenters were One Mind. I think those were more sock puppetry, intended to make Greg and all non-fans of YNH look bad.”

    I agree completely. Those comments were not by “my people” … no way.

    Dave W:

    “Yeah, but what I’m asking is: why isn’t YNH simply faking comments from Greg Laden himself? If they’re going to sock-puppet, why not do it big? At this point, do they actually have anything to lose?”

    Hey, don’t give them any ideas!

    • Greg Laden wrote: ‘Hey, don’t give them any ideas!

      It’s probably already covered in the book they’re getting the rest of their ideas from, Hypocritical Vapid Pissant Blogging for Dummies.

  76. YNH has fessed up.

    You. You YNH. You cottage cheese dripping pussy.* Where is my apology for the constant stream of lies you’ve said about me?

    [*] Phrase copyright (c) 2007 by ERV.

    • I just read that myself and was coming here to post the link.

      He did have his fans, though – other than the sock-puppets, I mean. So I won’t be surprised if one or more similar blogs get started by those who need to demonstrate how completely they miss the point of outspoken atheism.

    • “Where is my apology for the constant stream of lies you’ve said about me?”

      I suspect you’ll get it around the time OB and crew apologize to me.

      • Sorry, bub, I have no reason so far to apologize to you. “Will” is an admitted serial liar, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I don’t take everything he said in his final post to be true. Your blog often bears a strong resemblance to YNH, and you’re anonymous. You’ve been heaping opprobrium on me in much the same way YNH did. I have no reason to accept YNH’s claim that your blog is nothing to do with YNH.

        In any case you’re anonymous, so I can’t do any harm to the real you – the most I can do is put people off your two-week-old blog, while you’re free to dump crap on me in my real name. So no; no apologies to “you” unless and until I have good reason to believe that you’re nothing to do with YNH.

        • “Sorry, bub, I have no reason so far to apologize to you.”

          Making disparaging statements without any justification ought to be reason enough for any honest person.

          “‘Will’ is an admitted serial liar, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I don’t take everything he said in his final post to be true.”

          You don’t need to. All you need to do is consider the utter lack of evidence to support your contentions.

          “Your blog often bears a strong resemblance to YNH….”

          I’m a Christian and think the anti-accomodationist position is ridiculous. The alleged “strong resemblance” is limited to my having criticized the so-called New Atheists in general and some of them — including you — in particular.

          “I have no reason to accept YNH’s claim that your blog is nothing to do with YNH.”

          A honest person wouldn’t need anything like that. An honest person would simply evaluate the (non-existent) evidence and do the right thing. Is that too much to ask?

          “So no; no apologies to ‘you’ unless and until I have good reason to believe that you’re nothing to do with YNH.”

          So I’m guilty unless and until you have decided that I am proven innocent. So much for evidence-based thinking. Your credibility is no better than that of “Will.”

          • There’s a lot of evidence. I am “an honest person” and I am accountable, too. You have given me zero reason to take your word for anything. You have also vehemently trashed me on your blog for saying that YNH is full of sock puppets. Now YNH admits it, but here you still are, ragging on me.

            You have no room to be indignant; your blog is two weeks old and you are anonymous. Nothing has happened to you! At worst your blog is suspect, at the age of two weeks.

            • “There’s a lot of evidence.”

              Name it.

              “I am ‘an honest person’ and I am accountable, too.”

              If that were so, you’s quit the charade of lumping me with “Will” without evidence or substantiation.

              “You have given me zero reason to take your word for anything. You have also vehemently trashed me on your blog for saying that YNH is full of sock puppets.”

              I trashed you for wrongly accusing me of being a sock puppet, of being a misogynist, and for deceptively eliminating posts.

              “[H]ere you still are, ragging on me.”

              I’m not ragging, I’m responding. During the course of piling on “Will” (who deserves it), you continue to make false claims about me.

              • I’ve told you several times in several places what the evidence is. Your sudden appearance at my place right after your new blog started; that blog’s similarities to YNH; your focus on me; your approving links to YNH; some of your linguistic habits; etc.

                Your blog does not look like the blog of someone with no pre-existing hostility to me. It looks like a blog with a pre-existing hostility to me pretending to have a new hostility to me. It looks like a blog that is much too convenient for YNH to be unrelated to it.

                And I’m not making false claims about you. I’m not saying you are YNH, or that I know you are YNH. I’m saying there are very good reasons not to take you at face value. That is true.

                • “I’ve told you several times in several places what the evidence is.”

                  And it’s totally bogus.

                  “And I’m not making false claims about you.”

                  In your most recent B&W post you say “that of course does not mean that the blogger is not still blogging somewhere else, and in fact I think it is.” Thus your carefully crafted “denial” (“I’m not saying you are YNH, or that I know you are YNH”) is in fact a non-denial.

                  Disgusting and deceptive.

                  But no surprise.

                  • You do know the difference between “I think” and “I know” don’t you?

                    And then, saying I think YNH is blogging somewhere else is hardly the same thing as saying I think you are YNH, is it.

                    The more you call me names, the more like YNH you look.

                    • You simply cannot imagine that you might be wrong and that I might take offense at your false charges. And you’re shocked — shocked! — that I might take offense at something like “I think you’re an axe-murderer” because you didn’t say “I know you are an axe-murderer.” Amazing, really. Oh, and the martyr front is nonsense too. You aren’t being persecuted. You might consider that for so long as you refrained from repeating the false charges, I was quiet about them too. The record and your lack of evidence was clear for all to see. But since you insist on regurgitating the silly charges over and over, why wouldn’t I respond to them?

                    • on June 29, 2010 at 4:09 pm Kirth Gersen

                      “The more you call me names, the more like YNH you look.”

                      … and the more similar the language, style, and tone get as well. TSitN, on the off-chance you’re not YNH, you’re nonetheless doing a passable impersonation — intentional or not — which of course isn’t helping your case here.

                    • “The more you call me names, the more like YNH you look.”

                      From someone who accused me of misogyny and of being a sock puppet without evidence, the irony in this statement is rich indeed.

                      “… and the more similar the language, style, and tone get as well. TSitN, on the off-chance you’re not YNH, you’re nonetheless doing a passable impersonation — intentional or not — which of course isn’t helping your case here.”

                      The confirmation bias is strong in this one. The location of the sock IP addresses is apparently dispositive when it supports your preconceived notions and irrelevant when it doesn’t.

      • I don’t think I’m wrong that this marked your first entry into this thread. Why, if, as you insist, there’s no connection between yourself and “Will,” did you jump into the fray after Oedipus asked when YNH would apologise to him with the riposte that it would be when Ophelia “and crew” (who are they, by the way?) apologised to you? By doing so, the one making it look even more like there is a connection was no one but yourself.

        • “Why, if, as you insist, there’s no connection between yourself and ‘Will,’ did you jump into the fray after Oedipus asked when YNH would apologise to him with the riposte that it would be when Ophelia ‘and crew’ (who are they, by the way?) apologised to you?”

          Since I see no defense for YNH (and have written as much), I didn’t perceive that I was jumping into any fray. As for why I commented at that point, it was based upon my connecting YNH to OB — I don’t expect an apology from either one, no matter how deserved.

          “By doing so, the one making it look even more like there is a connection was no one but yourself.”

          Despite her obvious extreme interest in the topic and multiple posts about it, when I challenged OB about actually *testing* her hypothesis about me (via IP), she denied knowing anything and quickly disappeared from the thread. To this point, she hasn’t returned.

          You’ll note that, below, Josh verifies my general location, and it’s a long way from Alabama. At this point, the best you can say about OB in this situation is that she remained willfully ignorant and unwilling to test her hypothesis as to me despite several mentions of doing so and of someone having done so and advising her of it with respect to YNH. Shame on her if that’s so. It should now be clear, based upon Josh’s post, that OB has been repeatedly wrong and should admit as much (not that I expect it).

          However, it is also plausible that she checked up on me when she checked up on YNH and has known all along that she was wrong about me. She could have then kept quiet about it and tried to retain plausible deniability simply because she wanted to try to discredit me.

          Either way, it is now clear that she is wrong and demonstrably so.

          • We’ve all been speculating and we’ve had good reason to. An insulting, lying blog popped up, claiming atheist authorship, was praised by those whose agenda it suited, and, perhaps egged on, became more and more extreme. After a couple of months of this, another blog pops up, this one claiming Christian authorship, same layout, same concerns, same obsessions, similar style with less sewer language, starts linking to and praising the first blog. Both are anonymous and at least one is obviously infested with sock-puppets. Speculation does indeed become rife and one of the blogs, whether quite believably or not, seems to come clean after making some stupid mistakes and confirms almost all of the previous speculation. What you seem to be expecting is that, after 50% of what looked like two halves of the same conspiracy turns out to be just that, everybody says “well, now that we know we were right about the first half, I guess we must all be completely mistaken about the other part.” Is that what you would have done?

            May I remind you, before you go on complaining, that you’re about the only person in any way connected to this whole story whose name has not been dragged through the mud? Whose name has not even been mentioned? Because you’ve made sure that nobody knows what it is. It takes real cast-iron chutzpah to demand apologies when you are the only person in this whole stinking spiel whose real name and identity has remained completely untarnished by the efforts of any party on either side.

            I just wonder, when you say believers tend to think themselves morally superior, is it “present company excepted?”

            • “Is that what you would have done?”

              No. You disagree with positions I have taken. You have not shown where I am wrong or deceptive as to facts. Indeed, if I am, I will make changes as necessary and appropriate. That distinguishes me from YNH. So does my faith, my primary positions, and the other subjects I have blogged about. In that context, I would have required evidence rather than speculation.

              Based upon her last post, it appears that OB has shifted the goalposts yet again — since I’m demonstrably not YNH, she now thinks that I am YNH’s “assistant” (whatever that means). It’s just more nonsense and a ruse to try to avoid admitting the obvious — she was and is wrong.

              Since you concede that you base your opinions about me upon speculation (rather than evidence), you might ask yourself what evidence *could* make you change your mind. If the answer is “nothing,” then your belief is obviously irrational — you should admit it and we should all move on. If there *is* some evidence that would change your mind, I’ll try to provide it. Fair enough?

              • Maybe you’d care to sum up the evidence you’ve offered so far.

                • I don’t really have a dog in this fight, despite my technical connections to B&W. I’m pro-anonymity/pseudonymity, and I don’t particularly care who has sock puppets, as long as they aren’t holding themselves up as paragons of truth and honesty, or calling out other bloggers for having sock puppets. YNH was clearly in the wrong here, but the mobbing of thesignalinthenoise strikes me as, at the very least, unseemly.

                  I mean, you’re asking him to prove a negative. I think “what evidence could make you change your mind” is a pretty good question. “What evidence do you have?” isn’t a particularly good answer to that question.

                  The evidence I’ve seen in favor of thesignalinthenoise being somehow related to YNH is pretty thin. Really, the site design? It’s a nice theme, one that in fact I’d looked at when doing the B&W redesign. Good thing I didn’t choose it, in retrospect. There are a finite number of decent themes, and a seemingly infinite number of blogs. The odds of two blogs with similar areas of interest using the same theme are pretty high. Especially if the creator of the second blog has ever read the first one, as would almost certainly have been the case here. (I think someone here referred to signal claiming ignorance of YNH. I haven’t seen that, but even if it’s true it wouldn’t surprise me. DePo Masthead is currently the 42nd most popular theme out of 99 available to wordpress.com bloggers.)

                  Same concerns and obsessions? Well, there are a limited number of high-profile players in this space. If someone’s first non-meta post is tagged “Christianity & Atheism”, it’s a pretty good bet that at some point they’re going to mention and interact with some of the same people everyone else in that circle talks about and with. And if their first interactions with some of those people get fighty and loud, it’s not hard to imagine that they might write some more posts about that before moving on. (Or, instead of moving on, deciding that this will be what they blog about.)

                  I just … it’s frustrating to see people who I know can think clearly spinning up conspiracies and assistants and “connected to”s when the simplest explanation is that there’s more than one person in the world who is interested in talking about “new atheism”, has a certain design sensibility, and writes in a certain style. Surely you’ve noticed that a lot of Libertarian bloggers have similar writing styles, for example. They can’t all be each others’ sock puppets, can they?

                  And, you know, even if signal is somehow connected to YNH, so what? The only reason I might care is that he’s said he isn’t. But the only reason he’s had to say that, as far as I can tell, is that a few folks here have claimed or intimated that he is.

                  I dunno. The whole thing is a mess, and I don’t really see any of the participants (myself included) coming out of it looking good.

                  • I think you have some valid points.

                    My own stance on the whole thing is quite simple.

                    It doesn’t matter to me that YHN used sock puppets. It matters to me that he mischaracterized other people routinely.

                    To me there are many resolutions to this. One is that he stops the mischaracterizations but stays critical. Another is that he stops altogether.

                    We kind of got one of the two now.

                    I’m also not concerned if he/she/them come back.

                    Because the right defense against is of course always to vigorously and fairly stand for something, and defend it if it is smeared.

                    That’s all it takes.

                    Trolls will not go away, sock puppets won’t, people who claim to be X but really are Y etc.

                    It’s irrelevant. Build a strong case for what you believe in and stand for, using as much honesty and fairness and evidence as there is.

                    If something is a strong argument, fair and honest, it has a very good chance to stand on its feet. It’s easy to argue for and defend.

                    YNH really wanted to ban me. It was very hard for him, given that I was factual, fair, evidence-driven, non-accusatory except on points where I had solid evidence.

                    I would encourage that strategy.

                    I don’t know thesignalinthenoise. It’s irrelevant to me if he is related/connected to anybody. If he argues unfairly there is ways to argue against it. If he has a point it will stand if properly defended.

                    So to me this discussion is not important. Perhaps I’ll have issues with his blog and comment on it. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ll get banned there. But it all really doesn’t matter.

                    But I agree there is such a thing as seeing too much pattern and we should be careful to question people’s intentions without actually having some rather solid evidence that things do indeed not mesh.

                  • Just a couple of reactions to that. What I meant was more along the lines of the fact that he seems to be in California. There’s not a damn thing we know about him other than that. If you’re a real person who isn’t somebody else, how hard should it be to offer some evidence of it? If he cares what we think, let him offer something that will convince us (he doesn’t have to care). I don’t think I’m asking him to prove a negative; how about something positive and affirmative regarding his own existence (a god he would like us to believe in? – start by convincing us of the existence of a blogger who believes in god). I asked him what he’d offered, because he writes as if he’s proved everything he claims and we’re ignoring it. Which rings a bell.

                    And by obsessions, I didn’t mean religion and atheism. I agree there are plenty like that. But how many are there obsessed enough with Ophelia Benson to do posts associating her with Looney Tunes? She’s tagged as a subject in six posts since he began blogging 18 days ago. If I blogged against someone on average every 3 days, wouldn’t you suggest I speak to someone who might be able to help me?

                    Can you really blame people for speculating when they’re being sniped at by someone whose shield is his anonymity? Why is this speculation by people with real names and faces and reputations perceived by some as so much more unfair and below-the-belt than the anonymous attacks on them?

                    • Noone knows a darn thing about me either and I really like that. I think I’m a good person but being good doesn’t mean as much as it should in our job market.

                      But I think you are good to criticize someone who too frequently goes after another person. It is a concern if people obsess too much. Certainly YNH fell into that trap big time.

                      But who that someone is and where that someone sits, to me is really irrelevant.

                      Sniping/smearing is a problem, but let’s just call it out. And if a case can be made that people are dishonest, over time I’m sure one can make that case.

                      There is no question that there is a whole wave of anti-“new atheism” going on. It’s not just one or two blogs. It’s wide spread. You can open a book chapter by Greg Epstein or Stephen Prothero and get a swipe. Or you can read whole book shelf full of backlash.

                      Right thing is to critique that reaction and reinforce what one really says and stands for, not to overdue the pattern-seeking and veil-lifting.

                    • If you’re a real person who isn’t somebody else, how hard should it be to offer some evidence of it?

                      Given that we also don’t know anything about the somebody else in question, I’m going to go with “pretty hard”. I’m no philosopher, and I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean that this way, but that seems like some pretty heavy ontological stuff, there.

                      There’s not a damn thing we know about him other than that.

                      Well, we know what he’s said. As far as I’m concerned, what he says is who he is. If he started a new blog with a new pseudonym and a completely opposite worldview tomorrow, the person posting there would be a new person.

                      And by obsessions, I didn’t mean religion and atheism.

                      Nor did I. What I meant, and I guess I didn’t say it very clearly, was that if you’re going to be blogging about atheism, you’re probably going to wind up talking about one of the current Names in atheism eventually. And Ophelia’s one of those Names, if only because she’s a woman in a field that’s notably male-dominated. (I don’t think that’s the only reason, of course, but it’s probably a reason.) And I don’t think I have to tell you that being a woman makes her extra likely to be targeted by guys who have problems seeing women in any kind of vocal role, of which there sure seem to be a lot. Certainly enough for there to be more than one who’ll call her looney tunes.

                      Why is this speculation by people with real names and faces and reputations perceived by some as so much more unfair and below-the-belt than the anonymous attacks on them?

                      It’s not unfair, it’s just (at least in this case) unfounded. I can’t believe I’m even defending signal, because I’ve read some of the posts on his blog, and I have no illusions that he’s one of the good guys. But if you’re going to use one post every three days as a sign that someone’s got an unhealthy obsession, I think we’re going to have to stage an intervention for Ophelia regarding the Vatican.

                      I guess it just boils down to the difference between people who have a problem with online pseudonymity and people who think that, online, everyone is pseudonymous. I’m one of the latter, clearly. And, try as I might, I just can’t wrap my head around the position of the former.

                    • Hah, that’ll teach me to log into wordpress.com to check the number of available themes. As the gravatar indicates, that last comment was from me. Who is also known in some circles as “RJL20″ (a pseudonym that’s easily traced to my “real” identity, for what that’s worth).

                    • Now I think we are allowed to obsess about figures and institutions of power and leaders of governments. Vatican? I don’t personally care to obsess about it, but sure, there are whole catholic blogs devoted to obsession about the place!

                    • Stewart — I don’t care what you think, but I *do* care when I have been lied about.

                      Would you like to come to California and go to church with me this Sunday and make sure they know me? Ask my children (one of whom is now a pastor) what I taught them as kids? Pray with me? Ask me to recite Scripture? Comment upon the Institutes, the vsarious theories of the atonement or Barth’s view of natural theology?

                      You have made a dreadful error in judgment without evidence. Tell me the evidence that will convince you you’re wrong (even though the burden of persuasion has never been on me) and I’ll try to provide it.

                    • Josh,

                      I really don’t care about pseudonymity as such – but I do object to it when it’s used the way YNH did. Maybe in this case the pseudonymity of YNH contaminated that of Signal.

                      It was a combination of things that made me wary at the beginning – none of them clinchers, but in combination…well, they made me wary.

                      And Signal (if Signal is not connected to YNH) was indignant in the way a real person would be if a stranger said she was suspicious of him/her. (Signal hasn’t challenged the male pronoun anywhere, so I’ll use it too now.) But I wasn’t saying I was suspicious of a real person, I was saying I was suspicious of a signifier attached to a brand new blog. I take that to be a very different kind of thing from expressing suspicion of a person. If it were an established blog, with a reputation, then something real would be at stake, but a blog that’s two days old? Not so much.

                      Signal seems to feel personally insulted, in other words, but that’s odd in a new signifier who has a new blog. To the world at large “Signal” is so far just some words.

                • “Maybe you’d care to sum up the evidence you’ve offered so far.”

                  As noted elsewhere, you’re asking me to prove a negative. That’s hard, but I’ll rely the story as I recall it.

                  I started the blog in question on 6/14 to write about stuff I am interested in and to save writing, thoughts and ideas I’ve had from other contexts. I’m particularly interested in the accomodation wars, so I write about it. I also see significant similarities between fundamentalists and what I call “fundamatheists” and write about that too.

                  After earlier posts about Sam Harris and A.C. Grayling, I saw a post on B&W claiming (paraphrasing) that atheists can’t be seen as fundamentalists in any sense. I wrote about it and posted a few comments at B&W (as I recall, about accomodationism, but the full story is relayed on my blog). I was very quickly banned, accused of being a sock, had posts deleted, called a misogynist, and an actor in a some conspiracy against OB (again, I’m paraphrasing — the precise details are checkable). That struck me as bizarre in the extreme because I hadn’t done anything remotely “bannable” (and had never, to that point, seen YNH — I saw it for the first time when Evolving Thoughts linked it). That bizarre behavior struck me as obviously bloggable, particularly when OB claims to favor free expression. If she hadn’t banned me for no good reason and, in my view, tried to cover it up (again — read the full details), I doubt I would have had nearly so much reason to write about OB.

                  Had I seen YNH, OB’s behavior might not have seemed *quite* so bizarre to me, but it wouldn’t have seemed rational either. The alleged YNH connection never made sense to me (even beyond the obvious — I know definitively that it’s false) because I am a Christian, write about other stuff too, and think anti-accomodatrionism is wrong and clearly so. I don’t know how you can read my blog and the comments there (limited though they are) and think I’m related to YNH in any way. I have a very different point of view other than the fact that we both criticize the so-called New Atheists. Obviously (I hope), if I *were* in cahoots with YNH, I wouldn’t have been dumb enough to use the same blog format.

                  Oh, and I’m in California, not Alabama.

                  • The whole accommodationist war is misleading to say the least. And there is no such thing as the so-called “New Atheists”. But I think one can have a sensible discussion about that.

                    We are all accommodationists in some way and fundamentalists in another.

                    I regret that labels are thrown around and invented. We don’t need yet another label such as fundamatheists, but I’ll be happy to bring that discussion to your blog.

                    We have WAY too much negative stereotyping against atheists. There are more negative labels invented about atheists than any other group out there?

                    Why? Because a handful people don’t mince words and go on a rant occasionally?

                    Rather whacked out in my view.

                    Yet we don’t call people who bully atheist school students fundamentacristians. Or people who bully lesbians who want to go to proms etc. No, one has to go out and show how just one group is fundamental (or “just as bad”).

                    Yes it does tick me off.

                  • Signal, thank you for going to the trouble of telling the story. I will grant that it is possible to read the evidence left out there more than one way. I don’t think I have anywhere made any statement claiming to know who you are or to be certain that you and YNH are the same person. I freely admit to having indulged in speculation, in participating in a joint effort to explain what looked like too many coincidences, even though they may well have been coincidences. Of course, under these circumstances, you can’t really prove much; my coming to California to check you out is not a realistic possibility. Let’s assume that you’ve told no lies about yourself. Are you capable of understanding why Ophelia had a right to be careful, even, in your view, excessively so? Certain stylistic similarities may be purely coincidental, but neither Ophelia nor I were the only ones to notice them. Does that make you unlucky, or Ophelia guilty?

                    I will reiterate that you may be completely on the level, in order that you not think I’m pointing a finger at you when I quote what follows. Five days after you were banned from B&W, YNH did his “oozing conspiracy” post against Ophelia (in response to her finally saying something on B&W). The first comment was from Milton C., and if you doubt that he was a sock, you would seem to be the last one left:

                    “Isn’t trivializing gender differences in order to use misogyny as a victim card when none exists a form of sexism in itself?

                    I think one could call that ‘whoring out’ your gender for the sake of cheap argument. It makes me (and especially my wife, a former victim of sexual abuse) cringe as much as real misogyny does.”

                    Almost immediately, the third comment, from Polly-O!, chimed in with:

                    “(And yes, Milton. As a female, Ophelia’s “misogyny is everywhere!!!!” attitude is rather embarrassing to those who recognize and know real misogyny.)”

                    Now that we know that both of these people were “Will,” meaning there’s neither an abused wife nor a female to understand all this better, it becomes truly sickening, doesn’t it? It was a guy pretending to be both a woman and a man with an abused wife in order to heap abuse on a real woman who does a lot to publicise the mistreatment of women, especially through the agency of religion. Then ask yourself whether your published reactions to YNH up to the time of the “confession” (a few days later) were positive or negative. You can say you had no idea about all that and it might be true. Let’s assume that to be the case. If you had to weigh up who was most responsible for this unpleasant situation, would you say Ophelia or “Will?” And is the way you’re writing now reflective of the way you’d answer that question? Maybe it is.

                    I know there is more to be related to than this, but I also have a life and must ration these responses a bit.

                    • ” Are you capable of understanding why Ophelia had a right to be careful, even, in your view, excessively so?”

                      In retrospect — sure. We are all extremely subject to confirmation bias (I actually think the key feature of empiricism isn’t that it tells us what’s true, but that it helps us place our defaults for when the inevitable confirmation bias hits — but that’s another topic). If she were to say something like “Here’s why I did what I did and you unfortunately got caught up in the crossfire — sorry,” I’d be fine with it. We all make mistakes and all jump to false conclusions. I’m much more interested in writing about her ideas than her behavior. But I don’t think anything like that is likely, do you?

                      “If you had to weigh up who was most responsible for this unpleasant situation, would you say Ophelia or ‘Will?’”

                      As between them, surely “Will.” There is no defending YNH (as I have written). But that *doesn’t* mean that there is a scrap of substantive evidence that I’m connected to YNH in any way. I have never even communicated with YNH beyond two (I think it’s two) short comments on the blog — neither of which (as I recall) received a response. OB overreached pretty badly, even if you think understandably so. I also note (gently, I hope) that you still haven’t suggested a piece of evidence that could change your mind. What does that tell you about your position?

                    • Signal –

                      Ok – you’ve seen (via Stewart – thanks, Stewart) why I had the suspicions I did. If I was wrong about them, I am indeed sorry. If/when I am convinced I was wrong about them, I will give a more energetic apology.

                      But look. You’ve seen the reasons, or some of them, for my suspicions. What you don’t seem to take in is that I didn’t and still don’t think those suspicions were damaging to the person behind your blog, because that person is an unknown. The most I could do was dent the reputation of your brand new blog. You’re still talking about it as if I had said terrible things about a real person – but a two-week-old blog is not a real person.

                      I am a real person. The trash that people like YNH talk about me sticks to a real person. Perhaps it causes editors to decide not to ask me to write things (or perhaps it does the opposite).

                      I wasn’t Loony Tunes about YNH – yet you haven’t bothered to apologize to me for calling me that.

                      I can see why you would be pissed off about my suspicions if you really are nothing to do with YNH – but then why not email me instead of publicly sniping at me over and over again?

                      The initial reason for my suspicion was the combination of the appearance of your new blog (though I did try to correct for the bias created by its mere appearance) combined with your almost immediate appearance at B&W. Given that YNH was hounding me more and more by that time, it looked to me as if YNH had always planned to hound me most of all and had done much of its preliminary work in order to obscure that. It just did look to me as if you could well be a branch of that (bizarre) enterprise.

                      Again – if I was wrong, I am sorry. I’m not yet convinced I was wrong, so that’s why it’s conditional. (I hate conditional apologies in general – “if you were insulted that I called you a shit, I’m sorry” – that kind.)

                      But my sorryness is a little bit limited by the fact that the real you is entirely unscathed. Given that, frankly, I think your indignation is somewhat out of proportion. The real me has been on the line here all along; the real you never has. I have a lot more at stake than you do. If you really aren’t YNH, I think you ought to be able to see that.

                    • Oh and one more thing. You (Signal) said

                      “I don’t know how you can read my blog and the comments there (limited though they are) and think I’m related to YNH in any way.”

                      That’s easy to explain – YNH has been using masks all along. It’s good at it at times (and then at other times it’s weirdly bad at it). A lot of people thought it was reasonable at first. I thought the different style was another mask (and I still think it could be – I just don’t know). On the other hand, I also thought it was surprisingly sustained and skilled, and well-read – so that was a mark for you as not-YNH.

                      That’s the kind of evidence that works to make me doubt that you’re YNH, by the way. The mentions of the usual suspects works the other way. Mentions of me REALLY work the other way. I’m just not in the same league as Dawkins and Coyne and Myers, so I’m very suspicious of another blog dwelling on me in just the way that YNH does. On the other hand I suspected you at the beginning, so that could be why. On the other hand again, if you were YNH or connected to it, that could be exactly what you intended.

                      See? There are reasons. Not slam dunks – but reasons.

                    • “Ok – you’ve seen (via Stewart – thanks, Stewart) why I had the suspicions I did. If I was wrong about them, I am indeed sorry. If/when I am convinced I was wrong about them, I will give a more energetic apology.”

                      Half a loaf is better than none. What evidence might convince you sufficiently that I am unconnected with YNH?

                      “What you don’t seem to take in is that I didn’t and still don’t think those suspicions were damaging to the person behind your blog, because that person is an unknown.”

                      I see your point, but think you undervalue the value of a “‘net personna.” Moreover, I don’t see why your error (even were I to concede that it was entirely justified) requires that I start over.

                      “I am a real person.”

                      I am as well, and would prefer not to be anonymous. However, I have good reasons for remaining so.

                      “I wasn’t Loony Tunes about YNH – yet you haven’t bothered to apologize to me for calling me that.”

                      You were right about YNH in large measure, but utterly wrong about me. You play hardball. You shouldn’t be surprised that hardball is played in return. That said, I *have* updated the post to which you object as a gesture of goodwill.

                      “I can see why you would be pissed off about my suspicions if you really are nothing to do with YNH – but then why not email me instead of publicly sniping at me over and over again?”

                      In retrospect, that would have made sense (and you might have e-mailed me too). It actually never occurred to me, unfortunately.

                      “Mentions of me REALLY work the other way. I’m just not in the same league as Dawkins and Coyne and Myers, so I’m very suspicious of another blog dwelling on me in just the way that YNH does.”

                      The fact that you banned me, deleted posts, accused me of being a sock and of misogyny made you a *bit* more prominent on my radar.

                    • http://thesignalinthenoise.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/ophelia-benson-looney-tunes/

                      In the light of recent development this is basically a smear post. It would be advisable to remove.

                      If it’s not removed and there is a way to bring defamation charges, I’d support that.

                      It’s time that people realize what we should have learned from YNH. Personal vendettas that end in vitriol and character assassinations are beyond not OK. They are immoral.

                      Are you are christian? What happened to love thy neighbor?

                      “The fact that you banned me, deleted posts, accused me of being a sock and of misogyny made you a *bit* more prominent on my radar.”

                      Indeed, vendetta justified. Well done. You should be ashamed of yourself Signal.

                      I’m sorry Ophelia has the right to moderate her blog. She was evidentally under a real smear campaign by YNH.

                      Yes she may have overreacted, but frankly noone has any right to any blogs comment section so stop that vendetta psychosis. Thanks.

                    • Oh I see there is a correction. I think it’s regrettable how this correction was made. anybody who reads the beginning and the end to get the gist will not notice that anything has been corrected.

                      The naive reader will still see this as the conclusion of the post:

                      “Ophelia Benson’s connection to reality isn’t even tenuous at this point. But we can laugh about it (and at her) just the same.”

                      I personally would advise to make clearer what you think and not let things stand in misunderstandable ways.

                      As said Ophelia’s character is at stake, and even unwitting mischaracterizations can damage a person. You sould make posts that reflect what you think not that give mixed messages.

                    • Signal

                      I don’t undervalue a net persona at all – but the value increases over time. One that’s only two weeks old really doesn’t have a huge amount of value.

                      Yes, I can see why your reception would have caused you to focus on me. I still don’t know why you made a beeline for me in the first place though. A brand-new, hostile commenter, who appears right at the same time that YNH is steadily ramping up its mendacious campaign against me – funny coincidence. I get critics of course, but not usually quite like that.

                      And check out what Hitch says. That post of yours is very nasty, and its based on entirely false assumptions – that I was dead wrong and loony about YNH. It’s been sitting there for a long time – yet you expect me to take you at face value? Come on.

                      Even Ben Nelson, who is VERY level-headed and patient, and was and is cross with me for not reading you charitably at first – even Ben said you sounded like YNH in that post.

                      So yes, my apology is still qualified. IF I’m wrong about you, I am sorry. But only if.

                      (I could say I’m sorry for not having enough evidence to be suspicious of you. That’s what Josh thinks, and I certainly trust Josh’s judgment. But on the other hand, I have reasons to have been paying close attention to this, ego-based reasons, that Josh doesn’t have. That could mean confirmation bias, as you’ve pointed out, but it could also mean just sharper attention. Or both. So I’m not sure I don’t have enough evidence. I’m also not sure I do.)

                    • Oh and one more thing –

                      Me: I am a real person.

                      You: I am as well, and would prefer not to be anonymous. However, I have good reasons for remaining so.

                      Yes but that’s not the point; the point is that your anonymity makes you immune to any harm to your real-life reputation. The worst I can do to you is to mar the repuation of your very young blog. You are immune to real harm; I am not. This is a major, major difference.

                      Another, related difference is that your blog is brand-new; my website is nearly 8 years old.

                    • I really have to emphasize the difference between anonymous blogging and real-name blogging.

                      A real name blogger is fully accountable for their views.

                      If someone dislikes a view they may not be hired, may not get speaking engagements, may lose friends or spouses.

                      If someone dislikes a view on an anonymous blogs it does at best one thing, tarnish that anonymous label.

                      The worst cost is to restart a new blog with a new anonymous label and some lost time.

                      There is no long-term consequences. There is no secondary consequences. There is no monetary consequences beyond invested time/site money.

                      These things are not comparable.

                      A named blogger cannot get a restart. Even if it was just financial damage, a bancrupcy does reset financial setups (after quite some time) but we do not have a way to reset our reputations.

                      In fact intentionally smearing a persons reputation, using falsehoods is not something innocent, it is indeed unlawful. We should not take this lightly.

                      It’s exactly unlawful because the law has recognized that people unfairly taking damage to their reputation is a problem and there should be some legal recourse. In the US that recourse is rather weak, but we should at least recognize the moral backdrop.

                      Don’t mischaracterize people, don’t assasinate their character, don’t lie about them or call them things they are not. That is the flaw of YNH and we should not repeat that.

                      The sock puppetry is only a problem because it was used as part of that. Fun and friendly sock puppets don’t do harm.

                      For example much as been made of PZ going after the 18 year old. I disliked it too, but it’s a completely different story. Each side has legal recourse at least. If any of the two feels they have been libeled they can try their case. I don’t think that’s a great way to engage, but it’s much better than an anonymous blogger going after a real person. In that case only one side has recourse, and the other does not really.

                      So I think we have to be less flippant about the weight anonymous bloggers have compared to the risk real individuals take in the marketplace of ideas.

                      There is literally no contest.

                    • Hitch – quite.

                      And having looked at Signal’s site again…I see a good many reasons to continue to think it resembles YNH. I’ve listed the most obvious ones at the end of the thread.

                    • I have made some additional edits that extend beyond while I believe is my ethical obligation in a good faith effort to respond to the criticisms here.

                      P.S. While posting this, my BlackBerry buzzed with another post from OB apparently saying that she isn’t convinced, so I doubt this will do any good. To reiterate — if there is no evidence that would convince you of my lack of connection to YNH, you might ask yourself how rationally based your opinion actually is.

                    • Signal, I can easily think of such evidence. You could sound and look consistently different from YNH. You could have obsessions different from those of YNH. You could feel and express shock-horror at having joined in YNH’s mobbing.

                      Other than that – the problem with evidence is of your creation, not mine. You are anonymous. That’s your doing, not mine. You don’t get to make yourself uncheckable, proceed to trash me repeatedly, then blame me because you are uncheckable.

                    • Before I could get back to you, as you have probably seen, William has gotten back to us with an apology everyone so far (including Oedipus, Greg Laden and Hitch) has accepted as genuine and sincere and including a specific exoneration of you, Signal, along with advice what not to do to avoid going down the path he so regrets. It would be nice if this could also close whatever is still open between you and Ophelia. I do agree with Hitch that the way you made the first changes could be misread and that seems to have improved. There are plenty of people who disagree with Ophelia without her suspecting them of anything as bad as sock-puppeting blogs against her. “Caught in the crossfire” might be one way to put it, but the YNH saga was also one of those cases where the main person calling her paranoid had also created most of her real-seeming enemies, if you get my drift.

                      The evidence in your favour may now be there, but I agree it’s not something you could have produced on demand in your defence. I do not have a good answer for your question and it was knowing this that caused me to write what I did. I mean, what could you really have done, short of the unrealistic visit-to-California scenario? And what would be the point of keeping your anonymity online if you’re prepared to dispense with it in person? You see the problem. However, there was something else going through my head when I wrote that. The nature of the problem at hand reminded me of believer/non-believer arguments. The non-believers can easily say they’d need far clearer and less disputable evidence for the existence of a deity in order to believe in one, and even then they probably would not be inclined to exempt it from being a materially measurable phenomenon (what acceptable evidence could be conceived of that would not belong to that category?). The question you were asking me was more like the question one could ask a believer, without ever getting an answer: what would it take to stop you believing? You’ve described yourself as a Christian; I don’t know whether you’d consider yourself as being one more than, say, a theist. Could one of those come before the other? Can you think of anything that could destroy your belief and, if not, is there even any point in thinking about the evidence one way or another?

  77. I don’t get why I’m taking all the blame/credit on this one. Can anyone explain that to me????

    And no, in the above comment of mine, I did not state or imply that the named individuals had anything to do with this blog.

    (I wonder what really happened in Alabama over the last 24 hours…)

  78. Thanks for posting on this lunacy, and warning others ahead of time about YNH. I do a bit of wandering the blogosphere sometimes, and now I know that there is one stop I will not waste my time visiting. I’ll be checking this blog out more often though, and I’ll link to it on my own site. Good job!

  79. The YNH site is protected.

    Hey YNH, I am way ahead of you. I archived the whole site, including your confession.

  80. Shoot, I only archived through comment 2028. I know there were more, but my life doesn’t revolve around YNH.

    And why the heck does my WordPress log-in only work for Uncommon Descent? Shouldn’t it work for any WP blog? I can’t even log in to WP’s homepage with it. I guess I’ll have to talk to WP about that.

  81. Dr. Rissler has absolutely nothing to do with that blog.

  82. […] You can get choice examples of his rather pathetic sock-puppetry at Pharyngula and the Oedipus Maximus deserves a ton of credit for his investigative work which exposed the fraud. Here is the other best investigator against the site, Greg Laden’s account of what […]

  83. Ugh, the YNH pages on my hard drive appear OK in Safari/Firefox, but when I print to PDF they’ve lost all images and formatting.

    Does anyone know the best way to upload this directory tree of the YNH site to WordPress?

  84. Wowbagger wrote:

    …I refuse to get involved in any kind of dialogue on a site where the mods freely change the content of posts of commenters they disagree with.

    I saw your comment at PZ’s about the comment you were going to leave at YNH. Looks like William saved you from yourself by protecting his blog.

    • Maybe I thought it’d go unnoticed by him (but not by anyone else) amongst all the other critical posts showing up there. If he was going to pull that stunt on what was appearing before it folded he’d have his work cut out for him – to describe it as an avalanche of scorn and derision would be an understatement.

  85. I added screenshots of the confession. (Two pages because print-to-PDF fails.)

  86. I have typed up a transcript of the screenshots for your archive of his dishonesty, as well:


    Dunno how long it’ll last there, so you may wish to copy it locally.

    Thanks for your hard work putting all this together.

  87. Added a zip file of the YNH site.

  88. on June 28, 2010 at 8:06 am | Reply Mine's a Newt

    Going over to have a look at this trainwreck, all I see is a sign saying the content is “protected”, but I could read the wonders hidden therein if I were to register.

    So it’s all over, I guess.

  89. on June 28, 2010 at 8:22 am | Reply Janet Holmes

    I linked here via Pharyngula, which apparently and for unexplained reasons you detest. I wonder why? You say you like PZ but not the commenters. I find the commenters over there to be some of the most thoughtful and interesting I have found anywhere on the net. They don’t suffer fools gladly I’ll admit, and when I write a comment I’m always careful that what I say is sensible otherwise I’ll get shredded but that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t hurt to think a little about what you’re saying first.

    Love the duck, they’re evil little buggers but it’s a great photo!

  90. […] that supposedly also wrote on the blog but merely exist in his head. The big lie were exposed here at “The Buddah is Not Serious”, and eventually the blogger admitted to them as […]

  91. Well gee, I am away from the interweb for a coupla days (G20 is in town and protesters have been running amok near my workplace) and the YNHers just melt down. Or YHNer.

    And where do they get off blaming only Greg Laden? Lots of us commented on their conflations and insults. I was one of those who saw the Alabama login at my site, and said so only after they commented on it. I was prepared to believe one

    And I’m shocked that Julie (who gave me the “mindslut” comment) isn’t YNH.

    Thanks to those who archived and yourself, Oedipus. I know another person’s blog I’ve commented on doesn’t belong to me, but I was a bit put off that they locked up the joint.

  92. Ooops, they dangling sentence above should have read, “I was prepared to believe one of the YNHers was away on a trip, as I’ve blogged while being away before.”

  93. And another thing. In a nutshell (probably pistachio), this whole blog was an excellent example of what happens to outspoken atheists, and how we fight back. (I’m including myself in this one though my blogging on it is intermittent).

    After repeatedly conflating things that Greg Laden, Ophelia Benson, Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers said into larger extremes, they (sorry, he) got called on it, usually by the same outspoken atheists or their friends and fans.

    He got called on it with words.

    Yet, Mr.YNH is claiming his life has been ruined, and he was victimized. He received what he dealt. He also lied to do it. I don’t care much that a blogger is anonymous, but (I prefer pseudonymous where there’ s still accountability) but the sock-puppetry is likely worse for atheism than anything any New Atheist said.

    Creating false consensus to shout down the ones doing the heavy lifting. Wasn’t helping.

  94. Of course, he did not admit to the lies and deceptions in his posts themselves. He seems to have missed one tiny realization in his confession: if his position was so solid, why did he need to resort to sockpuppetry (admitted) and misrepresentation (not admitted)? He would find the crudest things ever posted by commentators at Pharyngula and attribute it to PZ, adding extra details when he found it convenient. In the post on the panels, he lumped together all New Atheists (Benson, Coyne, and Myers in particular) and assigned them all blame for a dirty comment made on Pharyngula. He had put up “Vandalism of Church Property” as the description of crackergate. Ugh, I had typed up an extremely long rebuttal, but my comments were not making it through (I have suspicions, but it could have been my sketchy internet), so eventually, I gave up.

    And I have SERIOUS doubts he confessed because he was motivated by concern for those falsely accused. False accusations are his raison d’être.

    Kudos to Oedipus, Laden, and other commentators (Hitch) who brought this out.

  95. TL;DR.

    Your concern with your phrasing doesn’t seem to include being concise and to the point.

  96. Well, I shall have to buy my gut instinct some champage to thank it. I had a chance to see the confession and the first 45 comments on it just before the wall came down. I see PZ couldn’t resist breaking his (I felt admirable) silence and noted Russell B.’s understandable anger. And I saw all the comments that were still trying to find mitigating circumstances and see Will as a victim. I think it is no coincidence that such sentiments can emerge from a pro-accomodationist camp: if you can think that religious feelings need protection from scientific truth, then it’s probably not so hard to claim that there may have been something of merit in fictitious characters who falsified to make real people look bad.

    As I confessed above, I do have a tendency to extend the benefit of the doubt wherever it might apply. If Will had seen there was no choice but to come clean, he ought to be encouraged in his honesty. I haven’t changed my mind on this, but am not encouraged by the locking of the blog and the clear signs in the confession that the wrong lessons have been learned. I will assume that Will is reading all comments on this thread and hope he reads and understands the lines that follow. He claims to have decided to end the charade because he could see real people were falling under suspicion and were liable to get hurt. Well, Will, are PZ, Ophelia, Jerry and Greg not real people? Or are you actually unaware that you overstepped any reasonable criticism into ad hominem demonisation? Maybe some of this needs spelling out. You apologise for the dishonesty in the comments. Do you understand that those who fell for your little charade, and many apparently did, were brought to believe that at least 400% more people found the 4 of them disgusting enough to comment on it in writing than was actually the case? When that happens, you’re getting into more than just peer pressure, you’re whipping up a fake mob with torches to burn the monster. Others have already asked, but I’ll chime in: could your case not stand up with only the truth on your side? How dare you interpret a refusal to be sniped at by someone who won’t reveal himself as shutting you up? What, you can only express your opinions if you’re protected by a cloak of anonymity? None of your targets were doing that and their views are far from popular in some quarters. Can you give a good reason why sniper fire should not be returned? And if a child, or a 23-year-old, turns out to have been holding the rifle when the dust clears, does that mean fire should not have been returned?

    And, last word this time round, if you really did weather a childhood of being marginalised by those with faith, then by all means, indulge yourself, speak self-effacingly to believers on your own account, but how can you possibly live with your conscience helping those trying to hush the voice of forthright non-belief?

    • Unfortunately, the blog became protected while I was reading the final posting but judging from some of the comments it appears to have been locked due to more revelations of dishonesty by Will including modifying comments and creating dummy comments from users which were then attributed to readers of Greg’s blog.

      I’m hoping to find the final round of comments in Oedipus’ download because the list of accusations is apaulling, to say the least.

  97. “At the very least it says, we know who you are and we can expose you. At the very worst it says, we know who you are and we know how to find you.”

    Except for the pesky “getting a warrant” part. The IP belongs to your provider, not you. If your ISP is turning over personal identities to people making random phone calls then you have more problems than a guanophrenic puppeteer.

    This PSA for anyone who gets squicked by the idea that IPs are public.

    • Of course that was way back before all of the nastiness took hold but my point was more that Will’s lack of discretion in broadcasting his access to private information raised a “red-flag” in regards to the character of the man, giving me the impression that Oedipus was more likely to be telling the truth than Will.

      I attempted to explain this to Will in as polite a terms as I possibly could but, as usual, he pigheadedly misconstrued my criticism as being directed at the manner in which said IP addresses were acquired.

      It was the constant bragging about having that access being used as a means to deflect criticism that raised the red-flag for me.

      And of course, my suspicions were correct as Will’s accusations against Oedipus were undoubtedly fabricated …

  98. What did it say?! Is there a link to the confession anywhere? I can’t see the site itself, obviously.

  99. This was very enlightening. I had not heard of the site YNH until it strongly criticized an article I had written in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled The New War Between Science and Religion.

    I found the critique somewhat confused and did not respond to it, figuring that readers would sort out for themselves the merits of the claims.

  100. on June 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Reply Kirth Gersen


    You’ve frequently expressed regret over initially thinking the blog was something (a lot) better than it turned out to be, but in a large sense I think you have very little reason to be embarrassed. At first, you, me, and any number of others all thought YNH might have something useful to contribute, despite their lapses into absurdity. Ophelia caught on to the truth almost immediately when the author unwisely started what would eventually become a series of unprovoked attacks on her. I thought maybe there was some sort of bipolar issue and/or skipping of meds occurring, but then caught on when I criticized their criticism — and suddenly found that other “helpful posters” like “Patricia” immediately started hostilely jumping all over anything I posted there (regardless of merit or lack thereof). You and Greg Laden of course got the same treatment as Ophelia did.

    Overall, rather than an annoyance, this has been an interesting example to me of how the possession of an evidence-based worldview can lead multiple people to the same conclusion — one which proves in the end to be in accordance with objective reality (granted, after a while it was a really obvious example, but no one thought so at first). As an added bonus, it has also prompted you to start this blog, which promises to be an interesting one — please keep the new stuff coming.

  101. Isn’t it libel to knowingly falsely attribute statements to somebody with malicious intent? I can’t see how it’s not.

    I am a big fan of respecting pseudonymity, but not when somebody abuses it at the level of forging or altering comments to put embarrassing things in people’s mouths, to damage their reputations. (Even if it’s a pseudonymous reputation.)

    I think that YNH richly deserves to be outed for this, and I’m wondering what the legalities are of suing she/he/it for libel. (And getting a subpoena to have the blogger’s/socks’ info revealed by the blog hoster, if necessary.)

  102. Kirth Girsen, can I propose “helpful poster” as a permanent euphemism for sockpuppet? :p

    I think we can count on more lies from “Will.” I saw a comment on Laden’s blog by Oedipus, who was concerned that people were taking the claims of the confessional post seriously.

    I think it’s safe to assume that “Will” feels no genuine regret outside of being caught, false martyrdom besides. (I particularly enjoy the false martyrdom element, as his “The New Martyrs” post, which was a case study in conflation and slander, gives it that nice ironic feel to complement the helpfulness.)

    As this post has now been thoroughly linked all over the blogosphere, it might help to add a cautionary update concerning the validity of any information as posted by “Will.”

    For now, I’ll do my part by keeping “Will” in quotes.

  103. Added a note beside the confession pointing out that Milton C. is also a sock puppet, which went unmentioned in the confession. Gave a link to Laden’s response.

  104. I might as well add what I said at Laden’s blog:

    In skimming through the fallout of this, I am surprised that people generally seem to be taking the YNH confession at face value. There is no reason to believe anything in it which we did not already know.

    YNH wrote a whopping post about me, densely packed with outrageous lies. Really I’ve never seen such a spectacle in my life. We are talking about a true basket case here.

    The first sock puppet that was caught red-handed was Milton C., which is not even mentioned in YNH’s confession. The evidence linking YNH to Milton C. is incontrovertible.

    Don’t believe what he claims are the non-socks, don’t believe any of it.

  105. […] perfectly understandably, amidst the noise of controversy and deceit.  The story is available here; the crowing by its opposition is going on here, here and […]

    • Signal,

      Looking at your previous response to this post (against Ophelia) and taking a look at your blog, in which you cited my quotation from Russell Blackford’s blog, I want to add a note for you:

      Your blog constantly linked to YNH. Constantly (as much as can be constantly done in two weeks). You endorsed a swath of personal attacks against Ophelia (and others). Your own posts also emphasize character assaults over substance.

      Perhaps I should have said “a moral” instead of “the moral,” because you missed another big one which was discussed in Blackford’s post: anonymity can be abused and carries additional responsibilities. If you remain anonymous and launch rhetorical assaults against the character of flesh and blood people, you’re still missing something.

      Look at your “Surrebuttal to the Courtier’s Reply” post:

      Indeed, Alister McGrath maintains that Dawkins is “ignorant” of Christianity and therefore unable to engage religion and faith intelligently. Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing. p. 81 (2006). In reply, Dawkins asks “do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?” Ever anxious to be seen sucking up and racing to the defense of Professor Dawkins, my favorite sycophant P.Z. Myers…

      Look at your post “Ophelia Benson: Looney Tunes”

      Update (6/20/19, 11:25pm PT): Benson seems to have gone completely over the edge. Her latest — utterly false — conspiracy theories are described here and commented upon by YNH here. Benson continues to ignore Abraham Lincoln’s sage advice to her extreme embarrassment: Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.

      Oh and there’s much more. Note that in that post you mock her belief that you were up to sockpuppetry as a VAST conspiracy. You realize she might have been reacting to genuine sockpuppets now, even if you weren’t one of them?

      I hate seeing myself quoted by the likes of you in any other way expect spite. You owe Benson an apology, for one, and for many, you should consider starting over. It’s only been two weeks, so it’s not much of a loss.

      • “You endorsed a swath of personal attacks against Ophelia (and others).”

        I did not. I criticized her and continue to criticize her for making utterly false accusations and for deceptively deleting posts.

        “If you remain anonymous and launch rhetorical assaults against the character of flesh and blood people, you’re still missing something.”

        In your example I criticized PZ in a style he uses *all the time* and much more harshly than I did.

        “Note that in that post you mock her belief that you were up to sockpuppetry as a VAST conspiracy. You realize she might have been reacting to genuine sockpuppets now, even if you weren’t one of them?”

        That she was correct with respect to “Will” doesn’t give her a pass for making false claims about me.

        “You owe Benson an apology, for one….”

        I owe nothing of the sort.

        • My point is made. If what you’ve posted doesn’t count as personal attacks to you, there’s really nothing to discuss with you.

          The rest can be safely ignored.

  106. Added a screenshot for the Milton C. evidence (for convenience–it’s already in the zip file).

  107. Oedipus – heh – I’m not. See my reply to Signal above (somewhere, way above, in all the tangle…).

  108. Oh and speaking of Signal – well, there it is; treat it with caution. In short I suspect that it is “Will” or connected to it. My reason is that it is weirdly interested in/angry at me. I’m not so conceited that I think everyone in the world is interested in me, so I think that one person with a hostile interest in me is much more likely than two such people.

    • In response to what he said earlier, I took a look at his blog.

      Everybody interested should look at this “Ophelia Benson: Looney Tunes” post.

      I have my suspicions as well.

    • Oh, and just double-checking, Signal is “Kees,” right?


      • If Will really is 23, the “Kees” idea seems unlikely. People that age have other stuff to do – he wouldn’t have sustained a morbid interest for more than two years.

        I dunno. It’s just that I get these weirdly obsessed guys; so weird that it seems implausible that there are several. I do think there are at least a couple (because one is not anonymous), but four, five? I’m not that important.

        Plus there were stylistic similarities. But nothing conclusive. I suspected but I wasn’t sure. I think it’s less likely now.

        I do think “bilbo” at the Intersection is a VERY likely candidate though.

        • I saw a “bilbo” comment at a recent Intersection post. Urgh. I’ve never posted there for several reasons…

          It’s a shame you have gotten yourself a creeper, but hey, that’s the internet. Russell has DM. When I was on Youtube, I managed to attract a couple of dedicated crazies even though I never got past 300 subs.

        • And I wouldn’t even dare speculate on the number of crazies PZ has obsessed with him.

    • “I’m not so conceited that I think everyone in the world is interested in me, so I think that one person with a hostile interest in me is much more likely than two such people.”

      You’re so conceited as to think that only one person could find grounds upon which to disagree with you.

      • You’re not disagreeing; you’re consistently harassing.

        She knows of lots of people who disagree with her, thanks, and she doesn’t make a habit of blocking them or of accusations of sockpuppetry.

        Read my previous response to you, please. You’re firmly in the “Option 3″ camp here.

      • You know, Signal, there’s something you’re not taking on board that Will, if he’s a separate person, didn’t take on board either. Whatever you may happen to think netiquette is, in the real world, like it or not, if you set yourself up to take no-holds-barred potshots at real people (things like accusing them of raging hypocrisy) without deigning to let anyone know who you are, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to happen. They, or others, are going to make it their business to find out who you are, and, failing that in the short term, will engage in speculation as to your identity that is every bit as no-holds-barred as your criticism. Now, you may not live in the real world, but it might be good to understand that when you do what you have been doing, these are the kinds of reactions you’ve signed on for, whether you realise it or not.

        • “…it might be good to understand that when you do what you have been doing, these are the kinds of reactions you’ve signed on for, whether you realise it or not.”

          I do so understand. But also I (naively) expected that people who claim to rely upon reason and evidence upon which to base claims and allegations would in fact actually do so. I didn’t expect them to be made up from whole cloth.

          My bad.

          • It is, of course, no proof, but nothing has suggested your being identical to the YNH blogger and his socks as strongly as your style in dealing with the commenters here. Especially striking (to me) was “You don’t need to. All you need to do is consider the utter lack of evidence to support your contentions.” That rang a very loud stylistic bell.

            I don’t know whether you yourself have realised how similar the things you’re writing are to what “Will” wrote shortly before what has become known as his “confession.” The tenor of the denials and rebuttals hits just the same note. It could absolutely be a coincidence. It’s just that you seem to be oblivious to it, while it’s positively screaming at me; I can’t speak for any of the others.

            There’s also this business of trying to tell atheists what they’re supposed to be like. We’re supposed to rely on reason and evidence. An atheist is never allowed to have a hunch worth checking out? At least you’re claiming to be a Christian, so maybe it makes some strange sense that you perceive atheists as some weird kind of “other” who can only act according to rigid rules of evidence (that’s why no atheists have ever fallen in love – with someone who was no good for them, yet – or ever written or enjoyed poetry or music). The funny thing is that that’s the feeling I got from “Will” and his socks, who were claiming to be atheists. Well, let me you: we don’t believe in the supernatural, but that doesn’t mean our instincts are dead and I say that as someone who had a strong gut feeling YNH was a bunch of socks the first time I looked at it.

            • “I don’t know whether you yourself have realised how similar the things you’re writing are to what ‘Will’ wrote shortly before what has become known as his ‘confession.'”

              I don’t see it, but I recognize that my knowing definitively that I have no connection to YNH may color my viewpoint.

              “The tenor of the denials and rebuttals hits just the same note. It could absolutely be a coincidence. It’s just that you seem to be oblivious to it, while it’s positively screaming at me; I can’t speak for any of the others.”

              All it screams to me is “confirmation bias.”

              “An atheist is never allowed to have a hunch worth checking out?”

              Of course not. Hunches are fine and sometimes even valuable. The problem I have is with the “checking out” part. Hunches are not evidence.

              “At least you’re claiming to be a Christian, so maybe it makes some strange sense that you perceive atheists as some weird kind of ‘other’ who can only act according to rigid rules of evidence.”

              Quite the contrary. In general, I find atheists and believers remarkably similar. In my experience, believers tend to think themselves morally superior, but typically aren’t. Similarly, atheists tend to think themselves superior in the use of reason, but typically aren’t. My view is essentially that the similarities between non-believers and believers are understated and differences overstated.

  109. Yes, I feel the same way: it’s not just the layout, it’s the tone and subject matter. I suspect Will from Alabama didn’t just create a couple of built-in commenters with suspiciously identical views, but created a little blog farm to jack up his google rank, as well as give an impression of popular unity.

    • My more detailed speculation on that is above (just search for Tourette’s). There are certainly some things that are easier to explain if there is a common parentage. He’s already done some pretty stupid things and his “confession” may be just a more elaborate ruse than banning Brandon and Polly-O! was, but he must realise certain eyes will be keeping tabs on the other blog and looking for more telltale signs.

  110. […] Now it can be told – the blog in question was called You’re Not Helping, and it has now flamed out – though that of course does not mean that the blogger is not still blogging somewhere else, […]

  111. “Signal” is funny – “the crowing by its opposition is going on here”

    Gee why would we be crowing? Well in my case it’s because “Will” repeatedly called me a liar because he disagreed with my interpretations of things, when he by his own admission is a genuine and energetic liar himself. That’s why!

    • But it really does make everything easier, doesn’t it? I mean, look at all the contortions (and lying) he had to go through to try to make you out to be a liar (“but the date stamp proves she knew before you shifted the goalposts…”). Whereas, we have his simple verbatim admission that he is a liar and can spend our time more productively.

  112. Well, that level of identification, despite all the denials, is one of the big suspicious question marks.

  113. I linked here from Pharyngula. Good post.
    I just hope for those people who still support YNH (which I’ve only just heard about today), his exposed dishonesty will give them pause over other things he says. Because really, (as many others have said) why do you need to engage in sock-puppetry if your arguments can stand on their own?

  114. Hi, I’m the Hitch who had the discussion that lead to the Polly-O!, Brandon slip.

    I wanted to add one piece of information about that thread. When I recognized that Polly-O! was a sock-puppet and the moderator YNH came out with the story that he was going to check IPs I actually got scared.

    I posted a message to the effect of that obfuscation is on the way. I will post the precise information (I think I have a screenshot).

    YNH ended up deleting this post and claiming that Polly-O! and Brandon had the same IP.

    I was suspicious but frankly I just wanted that thread to end at that point. It was rather clear to me that something dishonest is going on and you never know how far dishonest people go (they had my IP after all).

    To me at this point it was at least sensible to assume that most commenters were the same person. They all pursued and reinforced the same line of argument.

    Planting questions and when I answered them calling my out as shifting goalposts.

    They called each others comments correct even if I had refuted them and so forth.

    Frankly I had no intention to reveal anything. I didn’t know. What I did know was that he was basically out to paint certain people in a bad light and he was starting to cross a line of outright lying about what people say. My goal was to get him to confess that. Never happened.

    My argument was always fair hence he had a hard time banning me as a troll though ultimately he did construct a case to claim to ban me, something that as best I can tell never really happened because I could post after he claimed I was banned.

    In any case, I’m glad it’s over. We should never lie, and if we lie we should admit it. I would say there is at least a partial admission and I’ll take it. I hope I’m done with this story. If not I have plenty of screenshots to make a case if I need to make one.

  115. P.s. I’m not Christopher Hitchens of course. I use this handle in honor of his vigorous and entertaining, yet I think very fair and clear arguing style.

  116. Out of curiosity I went back to revisit the YNH thread in which I was banned. If you’ve extracted the zip file it’s at:


    I daresay nearly all the comments there are socks. This one is funny, from a first-time commenter named “Harumph”,

    This blog has balls and doesn’t take bullshit. I like it.

    Does that sound like a sock? It gets better. Since I have the whole site on my hard drive, I searched for “Harumph”. He never showed up again to YNH — I guess he didn’t like the blog after all. But guess what turned up?

    Harumph. I got yelled at the other day on another blog…

    That comment was by Milton C., the proven but unconfessed sock. Does it surprise you that it’s the first comment of the thread, made soon after the post appeared? It shouldn’t. In the extracted zip, see:


  117. Hitch – out of curiosity – did you make that last comment? The one about taking their word for it and hoping they would go on to do a better job of critiquing or some such nonsense? It looked fake as hell to me, but maybe you were trying to calm them as one might try to calm a lion!

  118. Oedipus – nearly all of it sounded like a sock!

    :- )

  119. Yes I did. As said he pursued to delete some other things I had posted about obfuscating and things getting scary that you guys haven’t even seen.

    The last line you see was not the only stuff I posted after he said that he was checking into things. He deleted things at that point. I’m at the wrong computer now. I can see if I have a screenie, I started taking frequent screenies when it escalated.

    To me the picture that was painted is that I very likely revealed him and he was deciding to either come out or try more to cover (perhaps go after me). All evidence was pointing at a cover up so the whole setup wasn’t feeling safe at all to me. I tried to de-escalate the situation hence that post. Just me for what it’s worth. I feel pretty good about how I handled the whole ordeal.

    I just wanted out of that hell-hole at that point.

    I had extensive discussions with another commenter on there who defended YNH in spirit though not necessarily fully on content.

    I pretty much wasted too much time on this as it is, but I think the right thing has come out of it so I’m happy having spend that time.

    I’m glad he confessed, that’s a good solution.

  120. Just adding my kudos to Oedipus for bearing through this whole fiasco. I went on for a while in the “New Martyrs” thread but remained agnostic on the sock-puppetry questions. I didn’t look into the claims and never assumed they/he would lie as blatantly as was apparently the case for Oedipus. In hindsight, one of the clear signals should have been the exactly equal vapidity of Brandon, Patricia, and Polly-O. I expect there are people who agree with the nominal theme of the blog but I was getting red-herring non-sequiturs in response to substantive posts from multiple commenters.

    I also recall a supposed atheist in one of the threads (whose screen name I can’t remember) that struck me as a too convenient caricature, bragging about how no one should ever dare question us or they’ll get what coming, etc. Not impossible that that was an actual atheist out trolling, but I suspect it was more shenanigans from William now.

  121. I have screenshot of one of two messages that he deleted. I also have an HTML snapshot of this first instance, not the second. It went fast when he started deleting.

    If I find a way to upload originals I will. Here is the one I have a shot/html for:

    This was right after Polly-O! claimed that she wasn’t she.

    “Fake commenters, Polly-O! commenting on Polly-O!. Clearly forgot to switch identities. Well I have evidence now.

    As for me calling names. People used the word sock puppet multiple times before I used it. And I used it when I had evidence. Hmm… Yes, not a credible site.
    Hitch 27 June 2010 at 1am

    Basically I was reacting to the ban post and Polly-O! had the distraction posts posted while I typed this.

    Then I posted another one about obfuscation when the moderator claimed to look into IP. Next time I refreshed, these two posts were deleted and the moderator had claimed that both IPs belonged to Benson and Polly-O!

    I don’t think it’s particularly revelent at this point because these really don’t add anything to the sock puppetry and he came out admitting that he too was connected to them.

    I do want to add this remark though. Some commenters on there definitely had the feel of christians attacking atheists. It’s the easy and carelessness with which people defend Templeton and attack generic “New Atheists”.

    The guy must have done this as full time activity/job given the frequency of blog posts, or it was more than one person. Just way too high a volume to do on the side, after all he did research how to build cases etc.

    • I did have a funny little flash of Hitch out there with the socks and thinking, if this were an Indiana Jones-style situation the hero would be fighting with someone and then realise there are lots of them. Here it was reversed, with Hitch trying to parry lots of opponents and the penny suddenly dropping that there was only one of them after all.

      On a more serious note, I’m intrigued by your feeling that these were Christians attacking atheists. Way up there somewhere, much nearer the beginning of this long thread, I speculated that if the two bloggers were the same, he was a Christian being himself on the Signal blog and faking being an atheist on YNH. That would put what he said about his atheist childhood in his confession in a new light. He implies that as an atheist he’s under pressure to keep on spitting hatred at believers, which may well be what a theist imagines the atheist life to be like. I am not up to trawling through the whole archive, but maybe there’s some more in there that makes more sense as a Christian’s idea of an atheist than as someone who just doesn’t believe. Also, he has himself growing up in an atheist family, which might be the only way he thinks someone could get like that.

    • He claimed the IP belonged to me…………….

      [takes firm grip on self]

      Well everybody said he would do that kind of thing next.

      The fucking lying piece of dung.

      Oops, grip slipped.

  122. Well, heck. If (in the best case scenario) plagiarism and stylistic copying (three exclamation points inside parens) are “incontrovertible” evidence that Milton C. is also YNH, then I may as well post my evidence that my posts were modified. Especially since other people now have made independent archival copies of YNH’s blog (I was going to wait on this until archive.org picked up the relevant pages, so there’d be an unbiased copy that YNH couldn’t change).

    Here’s the deal. I learned to type in the early 1980s, and was taught to always put two spaces after a full stop. The nifty thing about HTML is that you can’t see the two spaces, because browsers trim any number of spaces, tabs (etc.) down to a single space, but if you look at the HTML source directly, you’ll see them.

    Every time YNH added whole stupid sentences to one of my comments (two out of the four I believe he changed), he only used a single space after his periods. Oepidus (I’m sure) could verify my two-space habit in the comments here, and anyone who’s an SFN member can go do reply-with-quote to any of my old (pre-YNH) or newer posts and see the two spaces all over the place there.

    So, YNH’s neglect of stylistic issues meant he’d left solid evidence of his dishonesty on a couple different comments of mine even before the whole Polly-responded-to-Polly thing.

    Huh. I see a couple of edits occurred in other YNH posts and comments after I started keeping track. I’ll post about them, later.

    • Oh no not the exclamation points again. I already addressed that here. The exclamation points don’t matter at all for the case.

      • Well, the exclamation points weren’t really my point.

        • Wow, if I actually log in via WordPress, I lose all connection from my posts to the outside world. How dumb.

        • Sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it looks. I was just trying to stop that meme again. It might have infected some individuals reading this.

          YNH had purposefully mischaracterized the case against Milton C. as being solely based on the exclamation points. But as is outlined above, there are multiple independent lines of evidence converging on Milton. (1) The Intersection post; (2) the lie told only by Milton and then repeated by YNH; (3) that neither YNH nor Milton had a free 45 seconds to post the evidence and ruin my credibility; (4) that Milton was the first to take a policing/vilifying role in my case and others.

          • Milton C. was really the most obvious. I was amazed “Will” didn’t ‘fess up to him. As Oedipus says (in other words), he was the ringleader.

            • Just been skipping between Greg and here and it struck me why “Will” might not have admitted to Milton C., even if he was, apparently to all of us, the most obvious. If he’d been at the Intersection since last year, he had the best alibi. When “Will” sacrificed Brandon and Polly-O! he was in the middle of a hectic thread (which is probably why he slipped up), but he had time to think (a bit, at least) before releasing the confession. Perhaps he thinks the deniability is good enough for Milton that he could continue to have some kind of life and admitting to him in the confession would kill that.

  123. Some comic relief

    in case anybody plans for sock puppets in the future.

  124. I agree Milton C. has been around a while; I’d actually consider that the most likely to be ‘Will’s’ orginal online persona, and everyone else since (including YNH itself) to be an offshoot.

  125. […] against the tribalism claim, and I can well understand why, what with the You’re Not Helping debacle and all: accusations of tribalism are loaded with emotion. But let’s be serious; those who […]

  126. Another thing about Milton. I know someone who has his IP address, and someone who ran a reverse search on it, and guess where he is. Go on, guess. I bet you can’t possibly guess.

    Why you’re right –


    • Then you surely know that mine is not and that I’m far from Alabama — but you forgot to menton that, right?

    • For what it’s worth, I’ve seen IP addresses for both Milton C. and thesignalinthenoise, and Milton appears to be posting from the Atlanta area while thesignalinthenoise appears to be posting from somewhere [Edited by Oedipus: in California]. Unless it’s someone covering his tracks a lot better than usual, I don’t think one’s a sockpuppet of the other.

      I have no idea where YNH was posting from.

      [From Oedipus: Sorry, I am uncomfortable with having specific towns/cities being mentioned here.]

      • Oh, wait, yes I do. If Patricia was one of YNH’s sockpuppets, and the Patricia whose IP I’ve seen is, as she claims, the same one who posted at YNH (despite using a different email address) then YNH was posting from somewhere around Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

  127. So were (are) Milton and bilbo at the Intersection the same person? bilbo sounds a HELL of a lot like YNH. More like YNH than YNH does, if you get my drift. Like YNH when YNH has worked itself up into a rage while typing. bilbo loves himself some exclamation points!!!!!!!!!

  128. I don’t know why you folks are so perturbed by YNH. It’s just a WordPress blog, apparently run by a nutcase who loves to use sockpuppets to abuse people.

    That’s NOTHING. Grade-school level highjinks.

    You wanna see some REAL abuse, lying, manipulation, sockpuppetry, and perma-banning? On a staggering, epic scale? On a site that people all over the world use millions of times every day, without ever knowing it is full of crap and run by crazy people?

    I have one word for you:


    Don’t believe me?
    Log into this forum and ask the regulars.

  129. Okay, rock-solid evidence that Milton C. was YNH or so close and friendly with YNH that YNH was willing to hide Milton’s comments:

    On 18 May 2010 at 7pm, a reply was written to “whs” under this post:

    Open Thread: who’s to blame for the evolution-shaped hole in Dixie?

    The comment itself was:

    Good for you, whs. Glad to see someone taking charge and doing something rather than talking about people needing to do something.

    If you’re still lurking, one question: do you have any knowledge of whether or not you’re “turning” people to accepting evolution when you get in a discussion?

    Sometime between 2010/06/24 at 23:40:54 and 2010/06/27 at 23:00:47, YNH edited just the author so that the name is now “Michael L. Thomas.” Before that June 24 date, though, that particular comment was authored by “Milton C.”

    Really. As far as I can tell, that comment was signed “Milton C.” for over five weeks. The only reason I can see that YNH changed it is that the “whs” comment he replied to was in the YNH-isn’t-helping category, and Milton’s reply wasn’t nearly sufficiently abusive or snarky in response. Maybe. I don’t know.

    The comment by “whs” that Milton was replying to was also edited in the same time frame. But really silly edits. The phrase “a rather poor job” had the word “rather” removed from it, and “Forgive me for being snide” was changed to “Sorry for being snide.” Go figure that stuff.

    • Dave, sorry I don’t understand this. You seem to be referring to cached versions of the page in question. Where are they? I thought it might be archive.org, but it looks like that does not store YNH.

      • Oedipus, I had something running which was doing periodic caching of YNH, and then running comparisons over time. Anyone with an archive of YNH prior to June 24th at 11:40pm should see that the comment in question was signed by Milton C. Anyone looking at an archive of YNH made after June 27th at 11:00 pm should see that the comment is signed by “Michael L. Thomas.”

        Unfortunately, a bug in my script prevents me from having better time resolution for that particular post. I wish I’d had more than a week to debug it.

        • Ugh. I was going to try to stay out of this for a while, but here are two links to compare:

          http://www.elsewhere.org/tmp/ynh/michael-l-thomas.html#comment-911 (my copy of the google cache of the page Dave W. is talking about, dated June 9, with the comment attributed to Milton C. The actual google cache is here, but you have to view source to get the comments.)

          http://www.elsewhere.org/tmp/ynh//2010/05/18/open-thread-whos-to-blame-for-the-evolution-shaped-hole-in-dixie/#comment-911 (the same page, extracted from Oedipus’s archive, date unknown by me but probably later than June 9)

          That would seem to back Dave W up, and make Milton C, Michael L Thomas and Karen likely sockpuppets of YNH.

          • I archived the YNH site around June 27.

            Two independent sources is good enough for me. Milton C. was already confirmed in my mind, so this is just another nail in the coffin.

          • Doing an analysis like this may potentially lead to “Will”‘s identity. There’s no way to stop it since the data is out there, but I kindly ask that we not pursue it here. Confirming the sock puppets is the only thing I’m concerned with here.

          • Wow. I was so focused on the changes that I didn’t even realize that “Michael L. Thomas” had commented elsewhere in that same thread.

            Whether Mr. Thomas is another sock seems like an open question to me. The first scenario I thought of was that YNH just swiped an already-existing user name to hide his own Milton reply.

            Still don’t know why it needed hiding, though. And something in later thread suggested to me that “whs” is yet another sock (aside from the silliness of the edits made to its comment). I don’t have my data with me, but could it have been another UA connection?

  130. Confession post with comments: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/tmp/ynh_closet.html#comments

    The comments are in google’s cache, but hidden, and clicking on the “10 Responses” link doesn’t reveal them. For some reason, saving the google cache locally does make the link to reveal them work.

    • When I saw it, it had 45 comments and I think some of the best weren’t among those first 10 anyway.

  131. And here’s a site hosting the extracted zip file from update 6: http://maxcdn.elsewhere.org/tmp/ynh/

    • Oh, and I’ve taken the liberty of adding some javascript (at the extracted site above) to highlight comments from posters the YNH author has admitted to being his sockpuppets.

      • Excellent, Josh. That will be much appreciated by many, I’m sure. I adjusted the YNH links and added a note to the preface.

        I have ambivalent feelings about the highlighting, however. I am inclined to prefer the pristine source; any tampering, however harmless it may be, does send the wrong message.

        The other reason is that the highlighting implicitly suggests (especially to someone not familiar with the situation) that the confessed socks are the only socks. Just take a look at this thread which I mentioned here. I was surrounded by socks!

        My opinion is influenced by my disappointment that many seem to take the confession at face value, which in hindsight is understandable because reading the whole case against YNH requires patience and is rather uninteresting after all. So by not highlighting Milton C. along with the others, we are doing exactly what YNH (I don’t believe his name is Will) wanted. The solution is to leave none highlighted.

        But I am not too attached to these opinions. If you ultimately want to keep the highlighting, I’ll still go along with it.

        • I’m not too attached to the highlighting, and I can see your point about not knowing the full extent of the sockpuppetry. I’ve swapped out the javascript which highlighted the comments from known sockpuppets and replaced it with some that simply un-hides the comments, so you don’t have to click on the link to view them.

  132. I hate to squelch the speculation about “bilbo”, but the “bilbo” who left comments on my blog a while back had an ip that traced back to the UK.

    Of course, there may be a lot of hobbits out there.

  133. Great detective work, Josh.

    Signal is in California, Milton is in the Atlanta area, Patricia may be in Alabama, one bilbo was/is in the UK, one bilbo is/was in Georgia. All names should be assumed to have scare quotes.

  134. one bilbo is/was in Georgia

    According to? I missed that in this thread, if it was here. For what it’s worth, bilbo at the Intersection matched rather well with bilbo at Pharyngula (which makes sense, since the population of the former is mostly the trolly-reject population from the latter).

  135. Josh, when were those Milton C. comments made, the ones with the Atlanta address? This looks like a disconfirming piece of information, but it could just be that he lives in Atlanta and goes to school in Alabama, a 3 hr 37 min drive according to Google. Given the preponderance of evidence implicating Milton, I expect there is some explanation for it.

  136. Oh right – I was thinking I’d said that yesterday (it was late afternoon here where I am, but early today on this site) – that I’ve been told bilbo’s IP is in Georgia. But I didn’t say it yesterday. Sorry to confuse.

  137. Another explanation:

    When I’m at home, my ISP shows Toronto Ontario Canada. Sometimes, it instead shows Brampton, a small suburb outside Toronto for some reason.
    When I’m at my day job and checking emails while on break, it shows a Montreal, Quebec ISP since things are routed through there.

    Could be possible some socks or same-name identities are using a terminal with routed through another server in a different city/state.

  138. […] pretended to be multiple bloggers and commenters) was outed and issued a confession, which the blog The Buddha Is Not Serious has posted. It reads, in part: We are not a ‘we.’ We is I. My name is William (friends call me Will—and […]

  139. […] Sycophantic sock puppets hastily darned Cheering onward the crowd that was Will But his echo chamber became too crowded Their stumbling round the blog did kill […]

  140. Frankly I’m not interested where Will lives and who he really is. But I just wanted to point out that he himself has stated in his confession post that he goes the the University of Alabama and lives west of Atlanta in his confession.

  141. Hitch, yes, but as several people have pointed out, there’s no reason to take Will’s word for anything except what “he” was forced to admit because it was already obvious. “Will” could have one or more assistants.

  142. I’d take his word as evidence. If Milton C. posted from Atlanta, and Will admits to being from near Atlanta, that’s evidence. It’s not nothing, but it’s also no proof.

    Just because we don’t know if his statements are true, that doesn’t automatically mean they are false either. I think we can take them as fuzzy logic, just like IP traces are fuzzy.

    But it’s no worse than recognizing someone posted from Alabama. That too may still be another person altogether.

  143. […] You’re Not Helping imploded before our very eyes this past weekend; effectively verifying accusations made by a couple of bloggers, most notably oedipusmaximus of The Buddha Is Not Serious. […]

  144. That’s a great cached version of the confession. I would still like to see the later comments, though, to see if something in there was the final straw.

    Also, note that the whole event has been immortalized as an epic poem, written by somebody:


    • My theory (which I advance because it’s fun to do so) is that Russel Blackford broke the camel’s back. His response was among the last before the site went dark, though I didn’t see it. Homologous Legs linked to it saying, “Russell Blackford brings the smackdown. Ouch.” Did anyone read it?

      • Since it hasn’t yet come to light again, what I remember from my brief skim (it was early morning and that was all I could manage in the daily craziness of getting my son ready for kindergarten) was real anger, from the very first line. It felt as if he were writing in the first blaze of rage at discovering that all the conclusions he hadn’t wanted to jump to were true. It may be just be me, but I could imagine he hadn’t even had time to wonder whether the bit about being 23 had to be true, since so little else had been, and was telling off a kid who didn’t quite know yet what a stupid, irresponsible and dangerous thing he’d done. I hope he, or somebody else, finds it.

  145. The copy of the confession page that I last grabbed has 36 comments, but I didn’t save originals, so the html I have is missing the header, footer, the ad section and the “possibly related posts” section.

  146. I think that’d be great to see. Is there a link or download somewhere?

  147. Added a link to the Saga.

    The Saga contains a “meta” joke I won’t divulge. The previous sentence contains a meta joke I won’t divulge.

  148. […] blogger Oedipus Maximus whom Will lied about offensively.  Maximus set about investigating Will, exposed his fraudulence and in the process went from obscure blogger to the stuff of internet legend in a matter of days. […]

  149. […] YNH is now no more.  I, apparently, have been caught in the crossfire.  Details are available here.  Since I have now received a (partial, qualified) apology from Ms. Benson, I have changed the […]

  150. Uh huh.

    I’ve just had another look at your blog, Signal – reading it as by someone with no connection to YNH.

    The effort broke down surprisingly quickly. It wavered at “Laughably Typical” – that familiare sneery tone and the familiar cast of demons – Coyne, Myers and me. It broke down at the next one south, Surrebuttal to The Courtier’s Reply. Peezy throughout. Peezy? That doesn’t go with the thoughtful tone of the posts farther up. That looks like YNH-style mask-wobbling, and YNH-style sneering. (There are different styles in sneering.)

    Then farther down, the post on Hitchens – using that grotesque picture to illustrate. That doesn’t fit your assumed persona either. That looks more like YNH than like Signal-in-serious-mode. A LOT more.

    And then – major red flag – as it was at the time – ““We’re Superior to You,” he whined…” That’s the title of a long post on a *comment* by Eric MacDonald at my place. Characterizing everything as “whining” was a great favorite of YNH and its sock puppets – between them they put me off the word for life.

    Nope. Sorry. Given all that, and all the circumstantial stuff, and the impossibility of checking you, given your anonymity, and how little you have at stake compared with how much I have, and how much you have trashed me at your new blog…Nope. I think I have a good deal more reason to suspect you than I do to trust you.

    And another thing. If you are totally separate from YNH, then you’re just a self-important jackass with no sense of proportion. If you were a normal person who was not YNH, you should have looked again (after the meltdown) at what YNH had been doing to me, and been horrified that you had joined in. You should have seen that what they did to me was A LOT WORSE than anything I did to you (“you” being a mere anonymous word, after all, so that I couldn’t do you any real harm), and just apologized for all that.

  151. The thing is, “Will” – obviously you’re reading all this – you’re kind of stuck. You want to have a blog on which you trash Dawkins and Coyne and Myers and Laden and me…but you’ve made it very hard for yourself to do that without being suspected of being another instantiation of “Will.”

    You could try hard to develop a different, and consistent, style – and you might be able to, but you certainly seemed to lose control of it at YNH, so there is some doubt. But even if you do manage to do that, the fact remains that if you obsessively post about those five people – and do it as rudely and savagely as you want to – you just will look like YNH.

    There are of course people who are critical of all those people…but they’re critical of other people too, and they’re interested in other things, and some of them have careers and books, and so on. They’re different. They don’t sound like YNH. Your problem seems to be that you can’t help sounding – sooner or later – like YNH.

    But who knows, maybe you can manage it somehow. Good luck!

  152. Signal, that pingback makes you look bad, not Ophelia.

    If you want to critique one of her views, you should compose an intellectual argument; you should ruminate over it, revise it, weed out false assumptions, until you have a polished result which is as bulletproof as you can make it. Then revise it some more.

    If your argument is thoughtful enough, insightful enough, then it may generate some interest. You may even be able to influence Ophelia.

    The content of your post is the opposite of what I’ve just described in every respect. It is ad hominem, brutish, petty, narrow-minded, lacking focus, lacking cohesion, lacking all possible qualities which could influence anyone.

    My initial impression was that you were very immature, or that you had some inexplicable obsession, or that you were just another nut on the interwebs lacking all sense of proportion.

    I had been entirely ignoring this conversation until I saw that pingback. Now I feel as though my site has been linking to porn this whole time. Whether or not you are YNH is completely irrelevant from what I see. Have you heard of the phrase “Same shit different day”?

    Please reconsider your approach.

  153. Dear Oedipus, Ophelia, Greg, Dave W., etc.:

    I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you all as deeply and profoundly as I possibly can for what I have done with YNH. If there are doubts to my identity, Oedipus should have my IP address to verify. I have spent the last several days agonizing over how to proceed, especially after reading how many of you I impacted with the blog. I never meant for the blog to originally be a smear campaign against any group of people or individuals. Where I went wrong – and where the blog went wrong – was in letting my emotions get the best of me, not thinking clearly (actually not thinking at all), posting reactively instead of thinking before responding, and reading out of your words and commentary and blog posts only what I wanted to hear, and not what you actually meant to say. The commentary that many of you have had over the last few days proves that I was horribly, horribly wrong in how I characterized you, and I would like to apologize again as deeply and as profoundly as I can, which I understand may not seem like much after how I’ve spoken on the blog and the distrust I have brought to each of you and everyone that read YNH. My previous “apology” in the last post on YNH wasn’t an apology at all and was more of a panicked attempt to stop myself from looking more foolish than I already had, at which point it was already too late, and had been from the start. You were all justified in pointing out what I had done in commenting, and I was not and am in no way a victim of any of you. That was perhaps the stupidest thing I said over the past few months of very stupid and childish posts. I feel sorry for that too; it, like the rest of the blog, was a gigantic mistake. I acted like a self-important prick, and I am horribly embarrassed and sorry for my actions there. I’ve deleted the blog from WordPress permanently, it’s never coming back online, and the only traces of it that remain are the archives that Oedipus and others have posted here and on their sites. For what little trust (if any) I have left to offer each of you, I promise I won’t be blogging or even commenting again under any name whatsoever. Anywhere. I have learned a lesson here that I should have already known before I ever wrote a single word.

    I also apologize for the fabrication of commenters. I honestly have no rationalization or explanation for this, outside of again getting caught in the moment, letting emotions reign over thought (something that I hypocritically often talked about being important), and generally being stupid. For this I also apologize, especially to anyone and everyone who commented on the blog and was misrepresented or guided into thinking you were fighting consensus where there was none, as has been talked about at length here. If the discussion that has taken place the last few days shows anything, it’s that all I or YNH succeeded in doing was making myself look like an idiot and an embarrassment, something that has only served to validate the many points from each of you that I attempted to criticize. I acted like a fool, an immature fool at that, and I apologize, which I understand may not be much due to the just anger that many of you feel towards me. I never should have started YNH to begin with. It was all foolish and misguided and wrong.

    For what it’s worth, I would also like to reiterate that I am not “Signal,” nor am I affiliated with him/her in any way. YNH was my doing alone (again even more stupid due to the many sock puppets), and it was also the only blog that I created. The first time I learned of Signal was when it linked to YNH. If “Signal” is still reading, I urge him or her to not follow my lead and instead do what Oedipus has said in his last comment: if you’re going to blog at all, think before you speak and don’t let your emotions decide what you want to say. Be mature. Learn from my own stupidity if you want to continue. Essentially, don’t do anything I did. Don’t hold grudges. I may be the last person you’d ever want to take advice from, but my failures should speak volumes to you about how not to blog. PZ Myers was correct when he said that I did was “not how to run a blog.” It wasn’t, not even close. It was a massive mistake. Don’t do as I did.

    So lastly, I again apologize to each and every one of you. This is the best way I can think of to apologize since the blog has already been deleted and all of those directly impacted seem to be following this single thread. Please accept what you can, if any, of my apology. I was a fool, I was misguided, and I was wrong about each of you. A better person would have stopped blogging sooner, or not started at all.

    • Oedipus, does this check out on the technical, i.e. IP level? That part is not my forte. I don’t see anything content-wise that could prevent it emanating from the “real” YNH, but, as the person in question will understand, nobody is going to be so quick to take anything at face value after what we experienced.

    • It’s a Comcast IP address from Tuscaloosa AL, which matches what Josh said above.

      • So, how do we take it from here? What can he do now, if he is sincere, that will actually help? Are there legal issues that can’t be avoided? If (and I can’t let go of that word for the time being) it has really sunk in how aggravatedly bad and wrong these actions were, he has probably suffered a lot in the past few days, but I don’t think it’s up to me to bring a word like “enough” into play here. I repeat, from my other comment, I think probably the key word here, however it is interpreted, ought to be “closure,” because the absence of that helps nobody on either side. Agreement/disagreement?

  154. I’m thinking (while all of you in the States are out to lunch or afternoon tea, or whatever) if the above is genuine this time around, the person in question could do something to help clear up the mess by answering some practical questions, tie up some loose ends. If the apology is genuine and unreserved, ought it not to include an attempt to repair at least some damage? Perhaps Oedipus, in his capacity as landlord here, could prepare a list to avoid duplications and counterproductive bombardment by the many who have questions. I’m thinking of questions like: what is the lowdown on Milton C., why was he omitted from the first confession and how long does he go back? Also, how many of the allegations about dirt dug up and made public about Andrew R. were simply invented? It’s not more dirt-digging to ask such questions (apart from the fact that some answers will enable us to see how much honesty is on offer); it’s closure.

    But I’m way ahead of myself; I still don’t have even the technical answer to whether this is probably or almost certainly our man.

  155. William, first of all I am relieved that you chose the Light Side of the Force. Since your first apology was so provisional, my fear was that you would fall to the Dark Side, forever letting it dominate your destiny. That happens to most people once they start down the Dark path, but not to you. That is rare, and you should be extremely proud of that. (I am being metaphorical but not sarcastic.)

    But there is still a provisional aspect of your last post. As Stewart mentioned, you haven’t come out about Milton C. yet, or any of the other socks. If you wish to make amends, perhaps you could just come out with it. Perhaps we could start there?

  156. I didn’t take much of any hits so I think it’s for others to say more. All I can say is that all most people care about ultimately is a base position of honesty and integrity. Everybody is welcome to participate and so are you William. I know you feel bad and I’d be happy to think your apology is sincere. It’s never fun to realize that one was cruising down a dark alley with auto-pilot on.

    I think you have some good insights about blogging, also commenting. We should blog when we are ready. A good blog has a message, a solid opinion (or three), yet is fair minded, open minded and seeks to promote understanding rather than winning or finger pointing.

    And yes, the submit button to a blog should read “Are you sure? This goes public!” warning window every time.

    Don’t beat yourself up too much, rather focus on what is to be learned. It will help you no matter what you do. Anything done with sincerity and integrity will be better and stronger than done otherwise.

  157. William, not blogging at all is your choice. I’m always open for comments on my art, and different opinions are welcome.

    Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still ticked at the way the sockpuppets argued with me as much as the fact that it was socks. I wouldn’t automatically delete anything said by Will from Alabama.

  158. William, here is a quote you might like. It’s about an employee of Tom Watson, the founder of IBM.

    A promising junior executive of IBM was involved in a risky venture for the company and managed to lose over $10 million in the gamble. It was a disaster. When Watson called the nervous executive into his office, the young man blurted out, “I guess you want my resignation?” Watson said, “You can’t be serious. We’ve just spent $10 million educating you!”

  159. Thank you Greg, Oedipus, Glendon and Hitch. I promise (again for what little amount it’s worth at this point) that I’m sincere. I haven’t slept much the past three nights, have had a stomach in knots the entire time, and have barely been able to eat. I mean that, it’s not an exaggeration. I’ve been deeply, deeply embarrassed, and I’m again sorry, not just to these four but to all of you. Despite what else you’ve said, I probably won’t blog again. If I do at least, it will be years before I ever consider it.

    “Milton C.,” like many other commenters, was a puppet. This is the part of my blog that I really have no rationalization for. I guess I did it out of knee-jerk reactions to posts or comments about me, or to make it look like people were agreeing with me or to give balance. That part of the blog was me being rather childish and stupid. Some of the most angry, negative comments were from me trying to provide “balance.” Other angry ones were honestly not me and were, from all I know, real people. So were many others – I wasn’t responsible for every comment on the blog by any means, despite the many that I did post. I made up a lot of comments and honestly don’t remember every single handle used, again an example of just how stupid and worthless the blog was.

  160. Good quote Oedipus.

    William – Maybe I’m a “snark troll” or whatever, but I can’t stand to be too encouraging toward you. And maybe it’s not for me to say, but I think an apology directly to Ophelia Benson for lying about your gender to tell her off when she called you out for sexism is in order.

    Even now I’m wondering if this apology is sincere or just more baiting. It’s gonna be a long way to getting any street cred on these issues.

  161. A few addenda:

    1) It’s clear that Signal is not the author of YNH, so I withdraw my suspicions.

    2) Signal has edited and qualified his previous post on Ophelia, so I’m willing to give credit for the consideration and revisions.

    3) Will’s apology in this thread seems far more sincere. Though I would still like clarification concerning other suspected names (i.e. Milton C.), I’m glad he’s done it.

    4) I’ll join Greg and others in asking that Will not ban himself from the blogosphere. Like many of the commentators here, I don’t think that Will got everything wrong. Far from it.

  162. Well, getting everything rong is hardly relevant as to someone’s persistence on the blogosphere! Anyway, Will’s turnaround is almost unheard of and quite notable.

  163. Glendon, Ophelia deserves an apology more than anyone (and I hope she’s still following along here). I’m honest when I say that there was and is no sexism or misogyny involved in my disagreements with her. I mean that – really – and I would take that to my grave. I really believe her when she says, as she did on her blog at one point, that she’s more tuned into how different comments can be perceived than other individuals, and I apologize if I seemed to play into that any by being ignorant to those interpretations. I was commenting and posting like a jerk, but coming off as sexist wasn’t my intent whatsoever. The female thing was profoundly stupid but was made to try and deflect those comments, as were many other comments on other topics – made to deflect. Regarding her post on Chopra that Hitch (I believe) commented on, I really interpreted her omission of information on the donations in that post (which now appears unintentional) as done to paint the event negatively. Also, when I posted the first post on the Chopra event that Hitch commented on, there really was only one comment to it and not PZ’s or Ophelia’s yet, I promise. I have no idea what happened with the timestamps; YNH wasn’t set to my real timezone so the actual hour wasn’t accurate. I should have clarified after Hitch pointed it out, but out of stubbornness I did not. I assumed the omission was purposeful, but now it appears, from what she and others have said, that it wasn’t her intent at all and she was simply arguing about the act of prayer. It was terrible assumption on my part. I completely take back what I said on that topic and others in light of all this, and I apologize. She seemed to be one of the first people to notice that I wasn’t worth wasting time over, and perhaps this is why I continued to poke her with posts. Regardless, it was wrong.

    • William, it is not for you to judge whether what you did was sexist. You can protest that you don’t think of yourself as a sexist and don’t explicitly promote sexism, but what you did was objectively sexist and revealed objective misogyny. It’s not just perception.

      To belittle a woman and then claim you are one to avoid the responsibility shows contempt that is at least partially revealing something about your attitude towards women.

      I don’t say this to beat you up, I recommend forgiveness and reconciliation wherever possible in life, including here. But you’re going to have to take a long look at yourself before you vouch for your own attitudes being pure about anything after what’s just gone down the last two months

      I wish you the best though and look forward to seeing you on Oprah with your comeback sometime late next fall.

  164. I want to echo what Greg said on his blog–that there’s danger of people demanding this and that out of William in order to make everything perfect, making an endless task out of it. At this point I think we should not withhold acceptance of his apology based on some necessary further action. It’s enough for me, anyway.

  165. Well…that’s quite an apology, William. Thanks.

    I tell you what. As you may have noticed, “useless putrid twat” stuck in my mind a good deal! As did the chorus that cheered and jeered it. Perhaps you could say a few words specifically about the misogyny? No need to grovel, but I’d like to know…do you now see that your emotions ran away with you in particular in the case of the one woman you went after? And that that kind of thing is bad for women in general? That it discourages them from sticking their necks out? It doesn’t discourage me, because I have a hide like a rhinoceros…

    But actually, it probably would have if I didn’t already have an established website etc. I would have recoiled and thought “Jeezis, is this what it’s like? The hell with it, I’ll do something else.”

    Other than that…go in peace.

    That’s my other voice! Hahaha.

    • on July 1, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      “As you may have noticed, ‘useless putrid twat’ stuck in my mind a good deal! As did the chorus that cheered and jeered it.”

      What chorus? There was one commenter who actually called you a “twat” (twice). The only other mentions of it were quotes, and they were part of a response explaining where your exaggerated claim that YNH “lapses into scatology and abuse-by-female-genitalia” came from and pointing out that your claim that I was okay with this supposed abuse was unjustified. That was it. Go and “grep -i twat */*/*/*/index.html” on the archive of YNH to see. Heck, if you hadn’t made the false claims that you did, I wouldn’t have even had the occasion to quote the insult in question. Unless a chorus is three or so people — or less, if you take the sock puppetry into account — the chorus is a product of your imagination.

      • Seriously, drop it.

        9 posters did not disagree with the twat poster. One said “Suck it up. What a p*ssy.”. People riff of explicatives on Jerry who in the tw*t post is called a “bosom buddy” of Ophelia. “f*ckwit” and “coetard”. YNH predicts that Ophelia will call them “sexist jerks” using quotes throughout. And drops this line “Ophelia must love hte taste of herring” and “Now, we (excuse us, I) must go to denigrate and demean women….” Gurbur falsely insinuates that Ophelia used “sexist abuse herself” when in fact the blog posts discuss how Ophelia opposed sexism and discusses how she moderates mentions of female body parts on her blog.

        Kirth Gersen ends the thread calling it “groupspeak”.

        Now statistics: 3 different posters make reference to female body parts. 2 posters riff off explicatives, 9 posters all agree with the tw*t post in spirit.

        Patricia, a sock puppet qualifies the tw*t post.

        Here is how this reads:
        “Not sexist, Julie, just way over the top and rather vile. Not helpful…

        … although, you’re right: [..]”

        So Patricia qualified the “tw*t” post. It’s not sexist and over the top. Note that this is a smoke screen by a sock puppet. He tried to have his cake and eat it too. Calling her vile names and appearing as if calling it out. And later posters don’t ever disagree with the tw*t post at all.

        Some posters use no explicatives but reinforce the puppet chain.

        As for your claim that “if you take the sock puppetry into account” well at this point we don’t know which ones are puppets. So this is stupid. But regardless, taking puppets out. There are TWO other posters mentioning female body parts. And one falsely accusing Ophelia of using sexual abuse language.

        Now for you mister. In a second thread you resurrect the tw*t theme. By defending yourself against Ophelia’s criticism that you didn’t defend her against the tw*t charge.

        You partially quote Patricia, giving the impression that this was all that happened in the thread, giving the impression that Patricia properly defended Ophelia, and giving the impression that hence you did your duty to defend Ophelia.

        Frankly, I think you should find it in yourself to apologize and come clean too. Or if you cannot do that, at least drop mischaracterizing things that we can check.

        And thanks for wasting my time again for checking your facts. Geez.

        Final word, STOP MICRODISSECTING WORDS. People’s perception can be different than yours. What you do not perceive as cheers someone else can. And if you do at least present the facts right and properly. You didn’t.

        Can I have the hour back I spend on this?

        • on July 2, 2010 at 11:19 am | Reply J. J. Ramsey

          Hitch: “9 posters did not disagree with the twat poster.”

          Argument from silence.

          Hitch: “People riff of explicatives on Jerry who in the tw*t post is called a ‘bosom buddy’ of Ophelia.”

          “Bosom buddy” is an idiom meaning “close friend.” A little more on this below.

          Hitch: “And drops this line “Ophelia must love hte taste of herring”

          Oh, brother. “Herring is in reference to “red herring’,” which is dead obvious since that comment that you quoted mentions “red herring” outright in its standard idiomatic usage, not as a novel reference to female genitalia.

          Hitch: “YNH predicts that Ophelia will call them ‘sexist jerks’ using quotes throughout.”

          They use quotes throughout because they are quoting Benson, who called them “sexist jerks” because they had mistakenly referred to her as being “flustered” by Boobquake. Now was that a bit of unconscious sexism on YNH’s part? Probably. Was it enough to justify calling them “sexist jerks”? Not on its own, and at the time, that was all she really had on them. Basically, in quoting her calling them “”sexist jerks,” YNH is making fun of Benson jumping to conclusions.

          The two sole references to “pussy” (not including the references to “pussyfooting”) are from one commenter.

          Patricia, a sock puppet qualifies the tw*t post.

          Here is how this reads:
          “Not sexist, Julie, just way over the top and rather vile. Not helpful…

          … although, you’re right: [..]”

          Good grief! That’s a straight-up quote mine. Here’s a fuller quote:

          ….although, you’re right: you don’t give a “right” up by choosing not to name yourself. It’s not a right to free speech*, with the ‘*’ meaning “only if you identify yourself using your real, official name.” Give me a break. That’s a pathetic argument from Ophelia. She’s better than that, and I suspect she’s just taking the tribal position here since she and Jerry are bosom buddies.

          The “you’re right” is in reference to Julie being right about Benson’s bad arguments about anonymity, not about her being a “twat.” Note, too, that “bosom buddies” is used in the usual idiomatic sense, which isn’t even vulgar.

          Hitch: “And thanks for wasting my time again for checking your facts. Geez.”

          You call an argument from silence, misreadings of common idioms, and a quote mine checking facts?

          • on July 2, 2010 at 11:23 am | Reply J. J. Ramsey

            “since that comment that you quoted mentions ‘red herring’ outright in its standard idiomatic usage, not as a novel reference to female genitalia.”

            Excuse me, what I meant was that the comment was in a blog post thread where the post uses “red herring” in its standard idiomatic usage.

            • I’m sad to say you have obviously learned nothing form the whole ordeal. It’s worse, you scrape open healed wounds over word mining.

              Shame, shame, shame.

              You go on to microdissect words to find some defense for your position.

              “The two sole references to “pussy” (not including the references to “pussyfooting”) are from one commenter.”

              Same for the herring.

              Same for Patricia in response to Julie.

              You know what quotation marks mean when put around short phrases and you instead provide a lame deflection like this: “Basically, in quoting her calling them “”sexist jerks,” YNH is making fun of Benson jumping to conclusions.”

              As if that apologizes anything. So first he sets it up, then he gives a smoke screen defense, then he mocks her for taking it _as it was actually meant_.

              And we are supposed to take this seriously?

              You fail at perspective taking. Let me repeat: You fail at perspective taking, hard. And you fail at having any heart.

              It does not matter if you can find a neutral interpretation. It matters how Ophelia felt when she read those things and if one can understand how, while under attack she can have that feeling.

              Do you have the heart to understand how it is to read those comments? Do you?

              I shudder to predict your response to this because you don’t have a heart. You only have an ego to defend.

              Look Ramsey you have the absolute right to tendentiously read anything. You can choose to see the best possible interpretation in something so that your world view remains intact. But don’t expect that people will agree with your descriptions. And even less, if it’s on a tasteless subject like this, don’t expect that people respect you for doing so.

              Let me quote what I intentionally put in BOLD because that is and was the POINT.

              Let me add emphasis:

              “Final word, STOP MICRODISSECTING WORDS. _People’s perception can be different than yours_. What you do not perceive as cheers someone else can. And if you do at least present the facts right and properly. You didn’t.”

              Got that? People’s perceptions can be different than yours. Ophelia’s perception is not unjustified. It makes sense in the context. You are not the judge that decides for all of us how to read stuff. AND you hide intent and argue unfairly.

              You said: “if you take the sock puppetry into account”. Hmm. If I used that phrase on your response on YNH in regards to the tw*t word, you indeed never had any grounds for your own non-defense of Ophelia being faced with sexist labeling.

              But as your statement was unfair, this statement would be unfair. But you have no sense what is a fair argument. Just protection your petty ego.

              Destroying a perfectly sensible conclusion of this whole thing because you have your own little petty quibblings still lingering. Shameful.

              One more post on this and you lost all respect from me Ramsey, but you may not care.

              I actually think you should read hard what you wrote and think about it and come back and issue an honest apology to Ophelia. Because one is in order.

              The way this reads now you will never do that. Because your little petty ego is so much more important than being fair to others. Shame on you.

              But I for one find what you are doing right now extremely tasteless and I’m not going to participate anymore in reopening wounds.

              If you keep this up, I would suggest that blog maintainers block your IP. We shouldn’t give a platform to apologists of sexual abuse bullying.

            • I cannot believe you are not letting go of this, Ramsey. How can you want to make excuses for any of this after the main person responsible has come clean? The hallmark of the people who ended up pushing this thing to the point of exposure has been decency in the face of considerable abuse and it does not seem to be the case for those who just happily ran with it.

              • on July 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

                Stewart: “How can you want to make excuses for any of this after the main person responsible has come clean?”

                I’m not making excuses for what YNH or “William” or “Milton C.” or whatever you want to call him has actually done. But some of the claims being made about YNH don’t fit the facts. One comment on one thread where Benson is called a “twat” and another comment on the same thread where Coyne is called a pussy do not add up to “sexual bullying.” And saying that her bits on anonymity were red herrings is certainly not “sexual bullying.” Certainly it’s nowhere near the “f*ck sideways with a rusty knife” bit that was aimed at the Intersection a while back.

                Hitch: “One more post on this and you lost all respect from me Ramsey, but you may not care.”

                You lost some respect from me when you quote-mined, so no, I don’t particularly care.

                • The bottom line is that my language on all threads was reprehensible and unneeded, regardless of who it was focused at or what it was referring to. I was very ignorant of how my comments might be perceived by others, no matter how I meant them. That ignorance was a major problem. The comments were on par with anything else seen in the blogosphere, and that’s why it was such a problem. It was all worthless, the whole thing, and it’s better off gone without rehashing who might be worse or which ones were worse than others. It was all bad.

                • We have to bow to your judgment clearly. You can keep smearing Ophelia because of YOUR reading of the two threads in question.

                  You get to decide what qualifies as “sexual bullying”?

                  No you don’t. You are a disgraceful apologist of sexual bullying by making shameless comparisons of which is worse.

                  Comparative misery is the most despicable of arguing tactics.

                  Let me make this clear. Either Ramsey gets banned around here or I am gone. I’m not going to hang around a blog that allows disgraceful stuff like this to be propagated.

                  And Ramsey, grats for bringing the smear merchantry back. We had about 2 days off. Better than nothing but alas.

  166. Oh – I cross-posted. I missed William’s latest. Never mind, William – you answered my question while I was asking it. Consider 167 withdrawn.

  167. […] “William” has posted a real apology: I never meant for the blog to originally be a smear campaign against any group of people or individuals. Where I went wrong – and where the blog went wrong – was in letting my emotions get the best of me, not thinking clearly (actually not thinking at all), posting reactively instead of thinking before responding, and reading out of your words and commentary and blog posts only what I wanted to hear, and not what you actually meant to say. The commentary that many of you have had over the last few days proves that I was horribly, horribly wrong in how I characterized you, and I would like to apologize again as deeply and as profoundly as I can, which I understand may not seem like much after how I’ve spoken on the blog and the distrust I have brought to each of you and everyone that read YNH. My previous “apology” in the last post on YNH wasn’t an apology at all and was more of a panicked attempt to stop myself from looking more foolish than I already had, at which point it was already too late, and had been from the start. You were all justified in pointing out what I had done in commenting, and I was not and am in no way a victim of any of you. That was perhaps the stupidest thing I said over the past few months of very stupid and childish posts. I feel sorry for that too; it, like the rest of the blog, was a gigantic mistake. I acted like a self-important prick, and I am horribly embarrassed and sorry for my actions there. I’ve deleted the blog from WordPress permanently, it’s never coming back online, and the only traces of it that remain are the archives that Oedipus and others have posted here and on their sites. For what little trust (if any) I have left to offer each of you, I promise I won’t be blogging or even commenting again under any name whatsoever. Anywhere. I have learned a lesson here that I should have already known before I ever wrote a single word. […]

  168. Thank you, Ophelia. Like I said a couple of comments above, I did let my emotions run away with me, not just with the worst comments but with all of my posts on you. That’s perhaps the one thing I’m most upset about (which is hard to do because I’m upset over the whole ordeal), because of the specific direction it went in. What I said above about the anxiety is really not an exaggeration.

    As for having an established website, I can’t imagine how hard that must be. I tried for three months and couldn’t keep my emotions in check over criticism for a week, which is pathetic. It really is.

  169. For what it’s worth – I believe William is William now. He knows what he posted from the inside, and discusses it that way. Nobody else is interested enough to do that. It’s hard to fake that. So I think he’s telling the truth.

    Quite right, William – I didn’t ignore the fundraising part on purpose – except in the sense of not including everything in the post, for the sake of brevity (and lack of time). My point was about what the statement said about the efficacy of prayer, that’s all.

  170. :- )

    I know what that’s like, that’s the funny thing! I could see you doing what I do – getting more furious as you wrote. I do that often – when writing about the pope for instance. I’m very mean to the pope! But I’m afraid I think he’s just going to have to put up with it.

    Whew. I’m glad it’s turned out this way. It’s much better than all that fuming. Much much much better.

  171. And given what you’ve said, I have to apologize to Signal. Sorry, Signal.

  172. I agree that if we are accepting an apology offered unconditionally (I’m not one of those to whom such is directly owed) that our acceptance should be likewise and not conditional on all kinds of clarifications. There are issues that ought to be cleared up, where claims were made that either did or did not have a basis in fact, to avoid any untruths accidentally going further. They don’t necessarily have to be cleared up here and now, today.

    William is doubtless abundantly familiar with the contents of this thread and therefore probably knows that one of the things I doubted was YNH’s atheism. If I was wrong, the implications are interesting. He is now seeing how many villified individuals can behave with a charity that must bowl him over, once they feel that what they are getting from him is honest. I don’t want to join the questioning chorus against which I myself warned a few posts back and I am not “owed” anything by William, but my curiosity is piqued more by one general attitude than by the specifics of any particular incident: where did the idea even originate that these particular people merited the kind of treatment for which they were singled out? I don’t insist on an answer and if you insist on answering, do it in your own good time – it’s way past my time zone’s bedtime anyway.

  173. This is the first I’ve seen Signal—I can’t believe YNH has a copycat (or satirist?)

  174. William, you may have noticed earlier on this thread where I preemptively asked that people not pursue your identity here. Your identity wasn’t important and I didn’t care.

    But now I do want know your identity, but only because if I’m ever in the area I could find you and shake your hand.

  175. I don’t know where the attitude came from, Stewart. What I said to and about people wasn’t merited by anything, and that’s the problem with what I did. It’s something I could try to rationalize for a month and likely never find the source of. I think Ophelia got the closest to anything I can put a finger on right now when it comes to motivations when she talked about how one’s emotions can run away as you’re typing and thinking about what others have just said of you, however slight. I suppose I have a hair trigger to this kind of thing, and that’s one of many things I’ve learned about myself as a result. I took criticism too personally and didn’t think about the substance, posting reactively. I didn’t notice that was happening even until looking back after the fact. That’s what partly makes it so embarrassing to me from a personal perspective.

    Several people have pointed out how the blog started off OK as a commentary and then death-spiralled into something worse. I guess that matches to the emotions running away from me. I say that not to try to excuse anything but to try and explain for you why I might have said what I did. If I was acting rationally (which I was very much not) I might have a better explanation. As I said earlier, the blog didn’t start as an attack and smear blog necessarily but went wrong shortly after it started, probably due to my own emotional immaturity. A lot of the things I said about others turned out to be true of myself when I look back.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you seem to be discovering the liberating qualities of simply telling the truth. Keep it up – it never disappoints.

    • We very much become what we do. It’s hard to set yourself up as a critic and stop yourself from becoming reflexively and unrestrainedly negative every time you don’t like something.

      Which is also a lesson for all those of us who criticize religion (or anything) on a daily basis. Since you set yourself up as the critic of people the habit of negativity got personal way faster than you could deal with, apparently.

      Blogging is uniquely problematic in that it’s really live journaling and invites less cautious, less tempered responses to things. It’s amazingly vital and exciting. But for it to remain that way people need to appreciate that when bloggers go over the top in a way not normally accepted in the realm of public politeness, that it’s because they’re having the guts and the openness to invite you into their thought process.

      If bloggers are made to pay for their daily honesty when on occasion it goes too far for normal public space expectations, then a really welcome and reinvigorating and democratizing dimension of the current media will suffer.

      Bloggers need slack, as long as they are on the whole valuable contributors. Because otherwise we’ll all just get fired from our day jobs and the internet will be just one more hive of insincerity in a world filled with too many of them.

      And so, I understand how you lost control, understand why it would be good for you to come back anyway, and think you understand now how the people you criticized came to be so imperfect. And I’m confident you also understand how much they offer in spite of that.

  176. To William –
    I had my usual walk through parks on the way home. Cooled down a tad.

    If you ever have any interest in emailing me, feel free. I can think of some atheist blogs that have very effective tones and it could be fun to share. Some art clients have used only pseudonyms, and I don’t reveal email content to the public.

    Easy to find my email: it’s on my portfolio.

  177. “how the people you criticized came to be so imperfect.”

    Who are you calling imperfect?!

    :- )

  178. William, I think you should seriously consider taking Greg’s offer of making a guest post on Quiche Moraine. I’m certain you’ll find the process of writing your story very therapeutic, even if you never post it online. Take your time with it. If you do decide to post it, it will be a fascinating story with lessons for us all. And by all I mean the entire blogosphere.

    Down the road, you may have even accidentally carved yourself a niche. Who wouldn’t want to read the next post by The Blogger Who Turned?

  179. We’ll see, Oedipus. I think I need some down time from even thinking about blogs…..

  180. Good thinking. Get some fresh air in your brain, then either blog or don’t blog. No one is required to blog! It can be hard to remember that not everyone does blog, but strangely enough, it’s true – not everyone blogs.

  181. William, unless you’re already on vacation I have one last question if you don’t mind.

    I suspected all along that things started with a just few harmless shenanigans but, imperceptibly, grew until eventually snowballing out of control.

    I wondered if you read my raccoon attack post and noticed the unspoken reference to your situation. I was trying to reach out by saying: look, here are two very smart, very respectable scientists. They just got caught in the same kind of thing. If it can happen to them then it can happen to anyone. In fact it happens to everyone in various ways, major and minor.

    Did you happen to read it, and if so did it help? (Or maybe I just made things worse?)

  182. Yes Oedipus, I think that describes my situation well. It was nothing but a rolling snowball of steps in the wrong direction that grew too big to control and didn’t resemble anything that I meant it to by the end. That was a great post by you that I did in fact read at first and appreciate more now. I really hope you keep up blogging. I’ve liked what you’ve had to say so far, and your Buddha blog may be the only positive thing that came out of YNH.

    And yes, I think it is about time for a self-imposed blog vacation, not just for my own sake but for everyone else’s.

  183. You’re an impressive guy, William. Lots of people take vacations but few actually earn them as you have. It’s been fun and I wish you the best.

  184. I, too, will accept this latest apology from William unconditionally.

    And I’ll admit that this whole thing stuck in my craw a little more than it should have. My spare time could have been better spent on my own web sites than on writing software to analyze the last week of YNH posts and comments. Of course, in hindsight, the time I spent commenting on YNH could also have been better spent. ;)

    However, I really have put quite a few hours into this project, already. One of my latest (right before I read William’s latest apology) and surprising findings: I wrote more comments than any other non-sockpuppet on YNH. Five more than either J.J. Ramsey or Hitch, and seven more than Greg Laden’s 50 (but Hitch wrote nearly 3,000 more words than I). I honestly didn’t think I’d been that prolific! Of course, William had us all beat with YNH, Milton, Brandon, Polly-O! and Patricia combined having written over 162,500 words across 650 posts and comments. That’s an average of over 2,000 words per day, which is up there with the NaNoWriMo people.

    But I digress. William’s first notpology provided extra motivation for me to do this analysis stuff. I wanted to catch the twerp red-handed with nefarious editing some more. But the above, much-better apology has really deflated that ambition. But I’d still kinda like to finish it, anyway, if it could be turned into an opportunity for “closure,” or something along those lines.

    I’ll drop it all for now, unless someone can think up something constructive to do with it. If anyone wants any of their comments back which were deleted after the 23rd or so, let me know. I can do that much.

  185. LOL, there’s a film in this; a pretty dull one admittedly, but art house worthy.

    Dave W.’s stats would roll before the closing credits. Casting tba.

  186. And the internet is warm and fuzzy again! :D

  187. Frankly, I’m still wary. I wasn’t treated as badly as some others, especially Ophelia, but it does still rankle that I was called dishonest – and the irony of that hasn’t escaped me. Still, I’ll back off saying anything more about this whole business on my own blog. Enough is enough. Also, I can well imagine how bad William must feel if all the above that we’ve been hearing from him really is sincere. I don’t want to be cruel, and there are bigger issues in the world for us to worry about. Peace.

  188. […] story partly told in Flaming Out was concluded yesterday.  The “Will” who did a truculent notpology on Sunday evening, and then spent the next […]

  189. So it turns out that a blog titled “You’re not helping” wasn’t helping in a cosmicly significant way. The irony…

  190. […] Fun with the Ontological Argument. The comments are good, too… Via andrewducker.(tags: funny philosophy ontological anselm religion)The curious case of the You’re Not Helping blog « The Buddha Is Not Serious […]

  191. on July 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Reply Paul W., OM


    What names have you posted under over at The Intersection?

    It’s not just Milton C, is it?

  192. Paul W.:

    Thanks for pointing this out, I should have been clearer when I first mentioned Milton C. Yes, several of the ‘usual suspect’ commenters from YNH (the ones with the common first names as handles) got their start at the Intersection. It’s something, like YNH, that I deeply regret. I owe you and everyone else there an apology for the chorus of sniping. It was immature, stupid, and selfish. I’ve learned over the past couple of days to really consider what others say and what they might mean, not to just blurt out a reaction to the interpretation I want, which was my problem there as well as with YNH. Consider anything from “milton” and the other common first-name puppets from YNH anywhere in the blogosphere to be what they are: worthless. I wasn’t responsible for every commenter that agreed with Mooney, though, and there were some commenters that agreed with my first-name puppets that weren’t me either. Those, from all I’m aware of, were just other people sniping, of which there are many on the Intersection. I haven’t commented there in a while (especially after the creation of YNH), even though I’m sure the sniping has continued there as it existed long before I ever first commented. I sincerely apologize to you for my part in the sniping and for posting under different names, though, and you can rest assured that I won’t be responsible if anyone snipes at you there again or elsewhere, under any name. I won’t be commenting or blogging anywhere for a very long time, if at all.

  193. I think it’s quite a revelation that The Intersection had permitted sock puppets, even if only through incompetence.

    I’m sure some folks will have a field day with that!

    • on July 3, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      Given the volume of comments that they get, I can’t say it’s too surprising that they didn’t catch them.

      • The volume of comments alone is not a sufficient explanation. Any admin for a large site like that one should have software to detect socks or have written a short script to do it (not difficult!). Failing that, socks are immediately apparent when sorted by IP address. And failing that, it is inexplicable that they should go unnoticed for so long even with a cursory browsing of the comments with their IP addresses visible.

        I am not making an indictment, but at best it is goofy incompetence which enabled behavior that should have been stopped in its tracks.

        • on July 3, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

          Scripting really isn’t part of a blogger’s expected skill set. Maybe you expect the people who handle the mechanics of the blogging and commenting software on behalf of Mooney & Kirshenbaum (and the other Discover bloggers) to have written the script, but then that would hardly be M&K’s fault.

          Also, if one is looking for matching IP addresses, then viewing the comments with the addresses visible may be of use, but long numbers such as IP addresses all look kind of alike if you are not actively reading them and are paying more attention to, say, the content of the comments, especially if there are a lot of comments to skim.

          This is probably a case where hindsight is 20/20.

        • J.J., I meant the admin for the whole Discover site should have software in place to counter the most common and most easily detectable problem facing blogs, which is sock-puppeteering. And that was only mentioned as the ideal (but should be considered necessary), as you can see in the cascade of “failing that”s.

          The next “failing that” was sorting IP addresses. There is nothing hard about that, and noticing two adjacent identical IP addresses in a list is monkey-mind easy.

          The next “failing that” was simply having a look. It is just not true, J.J., that socks are difficult to notice. IP addresses do not look alike. Looking at the first octet is sufficient. They don’t look alike. It’s not confusing. It’s not a case of 20/20 hindsight.

          We are not talking about an isolated incident; the socks appeared regularly. The Intersection is not so flooded with comments as to require any special consideration in this regard.

          I can’t believe you are going to try to counter this again, but I know it’s coming.

          • on July 4, 2010 at 12:28 am | Reply J. J. Ramsey

            “There is nothing hard about that, and noticing two adjacent identical IP addresses in a list is monkey-mind easy.”

            The “monkey-mind” can’t even see a woman in a gorilla suit walking across a basketball court when it’s focused on counting the passes from the basketball players. If one is viewing a list of comments with the IP addresses, and paying most of one’s attention to the content of the comments, the addresses themselves are bound to be overlooked, especially since they are far less conspicuous than a gorilla.

            Yes, of course, if you read the IP addresses, the differences and similarities will be obvious, but if they are just treated as incidental detail filtered out when one is focusing elsewhere, they might as well be blurry images in the corner of one’s eye. I suppose that you might suggest that M&K actively look through the IP addresses of their comments to look for anomalies, but they might not have the time to do so.

          • J.J., your gorilla analogy is absurd, of course, because looking at IP addresses is the whole point.

            Would you please stop trying to float these concrete ducks in front of us, J.J. It is at best a sign of irresponsibility that socks persisted on a site like that one, and there’s no other way to look at it.

            Again this is not a grand indictment of M&K or anyone else, but it does point to a problem that should be corrected.

            • on July 6, 2010 at 11:13 am | Reply J. J. Ramsey

              Oedipus, we obviously differ in how much attention is needed to notice differences in IP addresses. You wrote, “it is inexplicable that they should go unnoticed for so long even with a cursory browsing of the comments with their IP addresses visible.” In other words, glancing at the IP addresses should be good enough.

              If you think that someone who is doing a cursory browsing of comments, even with IP addresses visible, is going to be paying enough attention to small, twelve-digit numbers to distinguish them when the easier-to-read content of comments is a ready distraction, I can’t help you.

            • J.J., you already tried to float that concrete duck. As was previously pointed out, studying all digits of the IP address is unnecessary and nobody does it; the first octet is sufficient (and people use it without even realizing).

              You’ve also added a new non-floater: the IP address is now “small.”

              Other sites have no problem with noticing socks, but apparently some exception exists for The Intersection.

              Would you please let go of this quixotic mission to deflect responsibility from whomever, J.J.

              • I dunno, Oedipus. I often have a different opinion than JJ Ramsey (and other different quibbles with opinions at The Intersection) about some things, but I agree with him here about identifying the IP addresses.

                I use the free version of Statcounter, and I have the option of labelling IP addresses. Sometimes I do, especially if the person commented and I know where they live from Facebook or whereever.

                Unless The Intersection has some sort of fancy-schmancy software for checking IP’s more easily, with their volume of comments and level of interest in even checking their stats, I think it’s perfectly reasonable they’d miss some sock puppets.

              • I appreciate that, Glendon. However there is a context here. Paul W. says he was often attacked by several Intersection posters at once, which are now known to be socks. Mooney himself interceded at times.

                In any case I have no interest in The Intersection. I was only responding to the strange defense mounted by J.J. I just hope the conversation ends.

    • I’m sure they probably exist one way or another on most heavy-traffic sites with a lot of commenters, regardless of that site’s focus. How easy it is to catch them probably depends on the blog platform’s admin setup, too. I say all that not to excuse anyone or to excuse sock puppeting but just to point out that it’s most likely not a site-specific phenomenon if the truth were known. In my case, it was me and me alone using different names to post by, and so it was my fault and something I personally feel bad for (and something that I promise to never do again). Like I said, I haven’t been to the Intersection to comment regularly for quite some time, and there may still be puppets there from other people even with me gone, especially among the science denialist set that appears over there sometimes. PZ probably does things the best way by making commenters sign up and log in, since that keeps a lot of potential puppets out. I don’t know if that was his intent in starting the signup thing, but it was probably a good consequence, anyway.

      OK, I’m going to do what I originally promised I’d do and only read blogs and think about them, and stop the commentary and posting. I apologize again to everyone one last time to avoid sounding repetitive, and thanks again for your understanding. I’ve learned a lot in the last few days.

  194. Good on you for coming clean, William – you’ve shown more honesty and character in the aftermath of the collapse of the blog than many of the non-sockpuppet commenters who appeared there are likely to show in a lifetime.

  195. William,

    Thanks for the info. Please don’t stop commenting just yet.

    Which of the posters over at The Intersection were your sock puppets?

  196. You might not want to dig too deep into who William was on The Intersection. The newly found peace might be hard to maintain. Milton was a distinct bastard on more than one occasion, and I can’t imagine the other sockpuppets were much better. Although I’ll admit, I came across the Value of Science Blogs thread (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/03/01/the-value-of-science-blogs/) in my browser history recently and couldn’t help wondering who may have been a Milton/William sockpuppet. Petra? Bilbo? The posts are mostly short and devoid of content enough (like most Intersection comments when it comes to atheism or atheists…) that it’s hard to eke out stylistic cues.

    • The Petra appearances on YNH look like socks to me. Bilbo shows up too, but only makes three short comments.

      • If you notice, at #172 of that thread “bilbo” openly suggests checking out IP addresses (in the context of particular comments on Pharyngula–specifically, seeking to substantiate the assertion that (s)he and another commenter named “Bilbo” are different people).

        If bilbo is/was a sockpuppet, that was a daring ploy.

        • Oops. Should have refreshed once more before posting.

          From William’s comment downthread, it appears that the suggestion I cited was indeed a daring ploy.

          • Actually, you were on to something. There are two bilbo’s. #173 would seem to be right about that. PZ Myers noted one was based in the UK (I assume this is the godbot one). So while Will admitted to being bilbo there, at least some of the bilbo posts on Pharyngula were a different bilbo. It was somewhat daring, though, suggesting IP checking…but that was only on Pharyngula, whereas Mooney isn’t too interested in moderation unless he’s being picked on or getting really bad press, like when he wasn’t doing anything about sexist insults and borderline stalking in his comment section (coincidentally involving Ophelia Benson, who was a big part of the recent kerfuffle).

            • Oh, indeed.

              It’s just that my comment treated “Is bilbo William?” as an open question–when William, downthread, had just owned up to being bilbo. Thus my “oops.”

              My defense is that while William was posting his admission, I was busy reading that interminable Intersection thread!

              Continuing in that vein, PZ’s comment #381 has a certain dark-comedy ring to it, in hindsight:

              But then, that’s par for the course here. I’ve rarely encountered so much dishonest argument in one place as I’m seeing here, from Seminatrix and Vyspyr and Bilbo and Milton C and Philip Jr.

              Hee hee.

              • I only posted maybe 3 times on YNH in fits of SIWOTI, so I am not familiar with who commented there regularly. A very quick (I’m just kind of poking at this stuff when I need a brief distraction) look at the YNH archives shows Vyspyr was there at least a couple times, as well, so that would seem to be another of the sockpuppets. Hee hee indeed.

      • Ditto. Wrongly or not, I assumed Petra to be a sock the moment I read her.

  197. Before this gets into the stage of pointing fingers, let me clarify since I’m done playing games and hiding like I was on YNH. I was Milton C., as well as “seminatrix” and “bilbo.” However, as PZ pointed out in this thread, there is at least one more bilbo out there from the UK that has nothing to do with me. I believe I also posted under the YNH name Patricia there, and Polly-O appeared once I think, too.

    Paul is right. I acted like a “distinct bastard.” I really did. Most of my comments there were similar to YNH: out of context “othering” and sniping and trying to make agreement when I had been called out. There’s no excuse for it, and I would expect to be banned if I ever returned there. In fact, that may be the best resolution to the whole issue.

    As I mentioned earlier, I quit commenting regularly there months ago, some time after the “value of science blogs” blowup. I feel like shit for the whole thing, and I’m still frankly beating myself up over it. My last week has been a living hell as I’ve grown up and realized that I was acting like an immature prick and since I’ve started considering that the people I’m talking to aren’t just names on a screen. I apologize for all of it, I really do, and I really wish it had never happened. I honestly, truly do.

  198. Mano Singham’s post about this.

  199. Sorry, Glendon, but that’s not quite right. It wouldn’t be easy for me to detect a sporadic sock puppet infestation, because they’d be lost in the crazy mad swirl of comments at my site. At the Intersection, at the height of the feeding frenzy when the same handful of pseudonyms were howling about Pharyngula, it would have been trivial, even obvious. When I spot a sudden surge in activity featuring a small number of posters, I check for sockpuppetry as a matter of course.

    Either Mooney and Kirshenbaum put zero effort into comment maintenance (which seems unlikely, especially since they were manually approving comments for publication), or they noticed the odd similarities and didn’t care, since it served their agenda.

    I’m really, really familiar with the moveabletype comment management screens. This stuff is extremely easy to check if there is a series of sockpuppet comments in a row.

    • Thanks PZ, good to know. Volume would certainly make a difference in detecting sockpuppets – my Statcounter doesn’t make it easy, but then, I don’t get comments like yourself.

      Good point that they were moderating too. That’s a horse of a different colour.

    • Oh hey! I just found in my Statcounter I can also check by ISP. Damn, there it all is.

      Oedipus, PZ: my mistake. If it’s easy with the freebie widget, then yeah I join in calling shenanigans.

      JJ; have you looked at a meter, counter or analytic before? I usually just check the usual couple pieces of info I’m curious about.

      • That gives me an idea for a Twilight Zone episode.

        Glendon looks at Statcounter. He inhales suddenly, in freight. The camera shakily zooms in on the screen. Screeching, pulsating violins.

        Every comment at the Flying Trilobite comes from one IP address!! Sock puppets, every one!

        Shaking, almost paralyzed with fear, Glendon looks at the status page of his wireless router. It has been hacked! The name of the offending computer is BRENDALOVESGLENDON.

      • on July 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

        “JJ; have you looked at a meter, counter or analytic before?”

        Nope. When Oedipus described “a cursory browsing of the comments with their IP addresses visible,” I had this image of skimming through a comment thread–possibly one with hundreds of comments–with IP addresses near the commenter’s handles.

  200. Kirshenbaum has responded to the recent revelation of sockpuppeting:

    I’m curious as to why this was never noticed, especially since this blog is heavily moderated.

    Interesting and good to know. It’s actually quite difficult to figure out when someone is sock puppeting. Multiple users can share the same IP, depending on where they are posting from.

  201. Above I said The Intersection was at best irresponsible to allow socks, just on the principle of it. Their whole shtick is effective communication!

    But I had not looked through the “Value of Science Blogs” post until now. That is really an eye-opener. It looks like a moment in the genesis of YNH. Wow.

    But now, now we get this response from Sheril which appears to have been crafted by a Discovery Institute lawyer. She avoided Paul’s question while throwing up dust. What she said is technically true but incredibly misleading and inappropriately applied here. I don’t even care about M&K, but Sheril’s response offends my sensibilities.

    Is there a regular there who has some cred? Ask her politely to answer Paul’s question again [Edit: nevermind, already asked],

    It has become clear that at least a few of the posters in this thread were all sock puppets of the same person. (”Milton C” has admitted as much.)

    Chris/Sheril, could you look at the IP’s and tell us which ones appear to be the same person as “Milton C”?

    It would also be interesting to know if anybody else was sock puppeting this thread, or others around that time.

    • It was too long for me to go all the way through (“Value of Science Blogs”), but I noticed Petra’s self-contradiction early on when she says “I’ve been kindly asked to go kill myself (after violating myself with various kinds inanimate objects) at Pharyngula simply for expressing an opinion” and less than three hours later writes “I’m not a “Pharyngula exile.” I’ve never even posted over there.”

      Ah, Paul picks up on a different contradiction of hers in comment 198. Her reaction is the kind we later came to expect at YNH.

      Ok, enough. I now see exactly what Oedipus means. Point very much taken. William had already mastered the system by then. Fascinating to see which non-socks sided with the clearly lying and self-contradictory socks. Let’s not even get into why.

    • I suppose I’m a regular, but I am starting to regret wasting time at that place. If the owners of The Intersection ever address us lowly common folk in the comments section, it’s to either agree, to give a high-five to a fellow blogger when they stop by, or tell us to act more civilly.

  202. William, bilbo, milton C. We’ve clashed many times over at The Intersection and you’ve used your sock-douchebaggery to gang up on me and anyone else whom you disagreed with. What frustrates me is that I was arguing with a dishonest and deranged twit and not an intellectual peer.

    What brings a smile to my face now was the time both of your selves (bilbo and Milton C.) were groveling for forgiveness from Mooney for threatening to out a government employee in the same thread!

    That’s hilarious considering you’re the same person! And the fact that Mooney publicly accepted both your apologies makes me wonder how he sleeps at night as well.

    Tell me something. Were you also Tom Johnson, because that guy was too perfect a caricature to have been real.

    • Don’t think everyone who disagrees with you at the Intersection is a sock-puppet, gilt. You exhibit a lot of troll-like qualities yourself.

      • And yet, William’s sockpuppetry was so widespread, can you really blame people for being paranoid now?

        If you don’t like the fact that every single pro-accomodationist commenter at The Intersection has been tainted — at no fault of their own — then you should be mad at William, not at gilt or anyone else.

        • TB now claims that Mooney shared the information identifying Tom Johnson with him, and he says there’s “more to it“.

          He seems to be trolling. Of course, I’ve seen him troll anyone disagreeing with Mooney at The Intersection before. Not sure what stake he feels he has when it comes to Mooney’s credibility (and that of his comments section).

  203. TB: “Don’t think everyone who disagrees with you at the Intersection is a sock-puppet, gilt. You exhibit a lot of troll-like qualities yourself.”

    Considering that MiltonC and bilbo were half the people who vehemently disagreed with me (you and McCarthy being the other half), I think I’m allowed some leeway in speculating.

    Besides, I’m not the only one who suspected Tom Johnson–“evolutionary scientist at a major research university” with an admittedly overblown and probably made-up story about how his New Atheist colleagues quoting Dawkins and Myers screamed at religious people during a conference–was a complete fabrication.

    • Ah, I had forgotten about that. I recall thinking that Exhibit A was silly unsubstantiated rumor that Mooney was all too happy to parade on the frontpage. He did have the same Coyne/Myers vendetta (but that’s common with at Mooney’s site) and bilbo was rather pimping him in that comment thread.

      • I’m reading that ‘Exhibit’ thread you linked to now – and found a comment from ‘Tom Johnson’ that uses a particular, very familiar expression: ‘(P.S. You’re not helping your cause by personifying the actions that I discussed in my original comment.)


        • A five point list using the notation “N.)” which protests suspicions? Has to be a coincidence.

          (After the last link redirects you to #comments, replace it with #comment-1439 or manually copy the URL. It’s Brandon protesting, one of the known socks.)

          • Yeah, that’s pretty telling.

            It’s also telling how many times people asked ‘is this guy for real, and what did you do to check?’ and were jumped on by the Intersuction regulars – including, not coincidentally, oft-demonstrated anti-science liars, intellectually dishonest scumbags, anti-atheists and not-so-subtle religious apologists, Bilbo and Anthony McCarthy. They recognised one of their own and fell over themselves to defend him in order to bash vocal, non-obsequious atheists everywhere.

            That must be the ‘high road’ the accomodationists and faitheists are always banging on about.

            • I read over the comments on the “Exhibit A” post and Mooney’s followup post “Thank you Tom” and am growing convinced Tom is bilbo is MiltonC. Bilbo snipes at the skeptics and defends everything Tom says, as does to a lesser extent McCarthy and TB. But when Tom is forced to back off of his story it’s only bilbo suggesting everyone just move along and forget it.

              • Do you think we’ll ever see a retraction from M&K? Or a similar show of character from the fawning horde of their followers, indicating they recognise and admit they were played for suckers by an out-and-out liar?

                I don’t believe we will. Bilbo and McCarthy in particular have been shown to be demonstrably wrong dozens of times but neither has ever had the courage to acknowledge it.

              • Except that he didn’t back off his story at all: “As I just discussed with Chris via email, I think this “situation” is deserving of some clarification, especially so since it seems to be getting blown out of proportion by some commenters. ”

                Typical gilt misrepresentations. Do you have any evidence that Tom Johnson was a sock puppet? I’ll need William to not only admit to it but provide some proof – like the email address he would have given to Mooney.

                Now you and GM being the same person, that’s an interesting possibility.

                • TB: “Do you have any evidence that Tom Johnson was a sock puppet?”

                  Yeah, I have a lot of circumstantial evidence that turned out to be exactly correct. And yes Tom did back away from his story before never being heard from again.

                  Why aren’t you embarrassed that you got suckered into believing Tom Johnson’s lie?

        • This is my first time reading about the Tom Johnson affair. There is something familiar about the comment which Mooney lauds (“Exactly.”). Compare it with this:

          I very much would like to agree with you, OM. But when you have colleagues in academia who start to echo and directly quote-mine people like PZ and Jerry in order to call out their colleagues on the basis that they aren’t being “hostile” enough to religion and therefore aren’t **truly** promoting science unless they are, there’s really no case for saying that the blogosphere has no impact.

          The second lauding of Tom Johnson seems bizarre from my perspective. Russell Blackford left this comment,

          lol, Chris. You really are gullible if you believe a story like this from the pseudonymous “Tom Johnson” who could be making it all up for all you know. Even if he’s telling you how he genuinely interprets some incident that happened around him, I’d give zero credibility to someone who so comprehensively misunderstands/misrepresents what PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne say.

          Oh well, there’s one born every minute.

          • And compare MiltonC. saying he taught evolution at the university level for 15 years with Tom Johnson’s claim to be an evolutionary biologist at a major research university. What are the chances that two evolutionary biologists had the exact same work-related experience involving self-identified New Atheists colleagues and students screaming and yelling at religious people and saying Dawkins and Myers put them up to it.

            Since The Intersection was a real refuge for bilbo and miltonC and perhaps Tom Johnson, it would be nice for the outted sock-puppeteer to step forward once more and clear Sheril and Chris of any involvement.

        • Having read my share of YNH, I would also add my subjective assessment that Tom Johnson “sounds” like the YNH author.

          There is also the crazy self-reference which pervades the YNH material (examples above). Like this from Tom Johnson: “That’s the problem with the blogosphere – you can say all the extreme, controversial things you want without consequences.”

          Again, that is just subjective. What we’ve found already is substantial in itself. At this point we’re waiting for Sheril to respond.

  204. I looked back over the ‘Value of Science Blogs’ post on The Intersection and saw just how many times I was being responded to by William under different names.

    That, in and of itself is sad; that, despite all of the time and effort he was putting in to maintaining the façade, he still couldn’t manage to find a substantive point to support his/their position is even sadder.

  205. As someone who was peripherally involved in the “Value of Science Blogs” thread as well as its successor, I can’t help but recall that the second thread was instigated by someone very deliberately trawling Pharyngula for “quotable quotes” that could be sent to M&K to inflame the situation.

    As the first thread involved clearly demonstrable cases of cherry-picking, is it too much to expect anyone to admit to have gone looking for quotes that could be unfairly used in this way, devoid of any context or qualification? Or, to admit to compiling the incendiary email that was sent to Chris and Sheril to deliberately paint the situation as being worse than it actually was?

    Regards, Philip (aka Pope Maledict DCLXVI @ PZ’s blog)

    • I’m starting to think isn’t a thread on that particular site that retains any integrity (what little it might have had) after the YNH/William revelation.

      There are a number of people who claimed to have been Pharyngula regulars but who were coming over to voice their support of Chris and Sheril and the whole anti-atheist, pro-accomodationist movement.

      Smells very sock-fishy in hindsight.

  206. William,

    I second the question of whether you were “Tom Johnson.”

    I never believed that “Tom Johnson” was “a scientist” in the obvious sense—maybe a student, but not a professor, postdoc or research scientist—and thought that the story was pitched in a way to make it sound like much more than it was. (Maybe a few students being impolitic, but not professors going way over the top and whose “superior”—a chair? a dean?—supported them in it.)

    Tom Johnson just didn’t sound like a scientist to me. (E.g., professors don’t generally refer to their dept. chair as their “superior,” but RA’s and TA’s might refer to professors that way.)

    I asked M&K whether “Tom Johnson” was a student or postdoc or professor or what, and unsurprisingly didn’t get an answer.

  207. Another question, William:

    Have you had contact with Mooney and/or Kirshenbaum outside the comments on their blog? Have you met or corresponded with them?

  208. I posted the following at the Intersection, but it’s stuck in moderation at the moment. (Dunno if it will ever come out; something posted later seems to have been moderated but let through.)


    It’s actually quite difficult to figure out when someone is sock puppeting. Multiple users can share the same IP, depending on where they are posting from.

    It’s often very easy, as it would have been in this case. AFAIK, most major bloggers check IP’s as a matter of course when there’s an apparet chorus of agreement in a vituperative thread. (As there very often has been here when “bilbo” and his alter egos posted.)

    IP addresses alone may not tell you with certainty that somebody is sock-puppeting, but they can easily give you some really, really good indicators.

    Sure, several people may post from the same IP, e.g., the same computer network at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and the same poster may post from several IP’s. (E.g., from home, from the library, from MacDonald’s…)

    But still. When you have a character like “bilbo” and a chorus of agreers, you should be a little bit suspicious, and have a look at the first couple of octets of the IP addresses. If several people’s match, you should be very suspicious, especially if they’ve never given any indication that they know each other IRL, work together, belong to the same organization, or whatever.

    At that point, you do a little more digging. If don’t feel like working at it, just ask them if they are the same person.

    That’s how “bilbo” (“William” from Alabama) was caught sock puppeting his own blog and others. People noticed his puppets having similar IP’s when posting on their blogs, then checked for other indicators—oddly similar details of punctuation like triple exclamation points, etc.—and then just confronted him. He fessed up.

    That could have happened here a long, long time ago and saved a lot of people a lot of hassle from a dishonest, vindictive douchebag.

    I, for one, assumed that if those “commenters” were sock puppets—and I certainly did wonder—the sock puppeter was doing something cleverer and harder to detect. (E.g., posting from several remote logins.) Otherwise, I assumed, you would have caught him long ago and made him stop.

    Can we rely on you to check for such things in the future, and stop that sort of very easily-detected sock puppeting?

  209. That post did get through moderation at The Intersection.

  210. All,

    Oedipus has emailed me asking to make things right, and I want to. I’m ready to have this all behind me and get things as back to normal as possible. What I’m posting below is the truth.

    As mentioned earlier, I posted most often as “milton c.” and “bilbo.” I also appeared as “seminatrix” and “philip jr.,” and I believe I posted as “petra” on the value of science blogs thread. My posting under multiple names on the intersection was much like YNH: out-of-context sniping and trying to make a chorus of agreement when I was challenged. It all happened, I guess, because I let my emotions get the best of me, like on YNH. I honestly don’t think Chris and Sheril ever noticed the similarities in IP address, since I never heard from them other than what they posted in comments.

    “Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false. When Chris contacted me, I made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from because I didn’t want the Tom character to get exposed as false. As Paul W. said above, some of the stuff I said as Tom and how I said it should make it glaringly obvious in hindsight that I have no experience with anything in the professional world, and that the story and “Tom” character are both caricatures. That’s probably why no one took the story seriously anyway when I said it months ago. I’ve never had any contact with Chris or Sheril or anyone else in the blogosphere outside of that instance, and that’s the truth.

    I don’t know how to make things right, but I want to. I don’t expect forgiveness from anyone because, as I said with YNH, I acted like an immature, self-interested jerk. There’s no excuse for it. Perhaps the best thing in light of all this is a permanent ban from the Intersection or discoverblogs in general. That’s something I would accept, even though I promise not to blog or comment again anywhere. Period. I’m not going to take the advice of others from earlier and blog again in the future. I don’t deserve to. I did everyone at the intersection wrong, including Chris and Sheril, and I apologize.

    • William: “That’s probably why no one took the story seriously anyway when I said it months ago.”

      Bullshit. TB took it seriously and still does. As did McCarthy and other Intersection regulars. In fact a lot of people took it seriously, which is why we wanted it confirmed. Chris Mooney appears to be the only one who clearly didn’t take it seriously enough.

    • William,

      thank you for continuing to admit to your deceptions, but may I reiterate the appeal from others for you to fully describe them without further prompting, rather than admitting to them only when they are revealed, as though they were so many successive layers of an onion shell being peeled back?

      Since this Intersection thread was instigated by multiple e-mails sent to Chris and Sheril, would you please inform us whether you sent them:

      a) zero, one, or more than one e-mail on that subject; and

      b) if you did send more than one e-mail, how many different sockpuppets did you use to send those e-mails?

      The reason being that even if the “quotes” were inflammatory (as it is not uncommon for some sites to permit, or some posters to employ, strong language and invective), elsewhere your sockpuppets employed a staggeringly dishonest approach to misquoting out of context and cherry-picking.

      Thanks, Philip

    • William,
      Are you also the same Bilbo who comments frequently for ID at Steve Matheson’s blog and at Telic Thoughts?

  211. I’m not saying you’re not an immature, psychologically-maladjusted, apparently insecure and self-hating pathetic turd, William, because you are, but I still don’t understand what the motive for the sockpuppeting in the first place was. You impersonated a GRADUATE student? You constructed false stories about who you were? You SOCKPUPPETED (what, do you like talking to yourself?)? (I mean, shit, I’m 22 and I’ve never felt a need to do this nor seen the logic behind doing it. Then again, people in general confuse me.)

    And is it just my perception, or are a certain percentage of Internet users really people who are too immature and insecure to act their age instead of their shoe size?

  212. Katharine, I can’t find a way to rationalize what I said. I’ve learned over the past few days that I have zero emotional intelligence, and I tried to make situations seem better for me whenever they didn’t go my way. That’s something that I need to work on, and will.

  213. For any newcomers here, please see William’s first and subsequent apologies. Trying to extract more regret out of him is really unnecessary.

    • Though I do half-wonder if evidence comes out linking him to yet another person we’ll get an admission that he was behind that, too. But until that happens I’ll assume this is the end of it.

  214. Oedipus, I promise that this is as far as the sock-puppeting and aliases go. The ones I’ve mentioned today and the ones from YNH are all the ones to my knowledge that are out there, and the worst incidents involving the puppets have all been brought up.

    I know I’m in no position to ask for anything, but how can this move to closure? I feel like a permanent ban from the intersection or discoverblogs might be for the best. That way, my multiple names are out and people can continue to post there under the assurance that it’s not possible that I come back whatsoever.

  215. I am shocked by this, and appalled. William/”Tom Johnson” directed me the website of specific person, a Ph.D. candidate at a reputable university.

    I will be looking into this further.

    I had never checked IP addresses or for sock puppets before, but I certainly will be doing it now.

    • Too little too late Chris.

      I think it shows what low standards Chris has for some of the commenters on his own blog, commenters who raised pretty obvious and legitimate questions about Tom and his story early and repeatedly. Did Chris make any attempt to find out who Tom was or whether his story checked out before exuberantly agreeing with it in the Exhibit A post?

      And it makes little sense why Chris, a journalist, would write a follow-up post defending Tom against the “Atheist Noise Machine,” by which he meant people like myself giving Tom’s story a healthy dose of skepticism.

      Will you post a retraction of your Tom related posts?

  216. William, I’ve already asked Sheril to provide a less evasive answer to Paul’s question about the puppeting, and Paul has followed up asking for more diligence on The Intersection‘s part. It’s in their hands now, however they wish to handle it.

    I don’t see any outstanding puzzles to solve now, so I can accept your statement that there’s nothing more. Go have a milkshake.

  217. And don’t forget, Chris — you owe the whole damned New Atheist Hate Machine an apology. Make it loud, with much groveling, and maybe I’ll even accept it.

  218. I am shocked by this, and appalled.

    So what else is new? You’ve made being ‘shocked and appalled’ into a career, Chris Mooney.

  219. @Chris Mooney
    Here, let me fix that for you:

    “I had never checked IP addresses of people who wrote what I wanted to hear before.”

    The modding over at Intersection’s comments forum is so heavy, including outright bans of notable bloggers like Ophelia Benson, that it has turned into a moat of trolls who protect you from critical opinion. Your resistance to well argued criticism is near legendary. The problem was not a lack of IP checks but an insular attitude and a pathognomonic penchant for confirmation bias that seems a fatal handicap for a science writer who purports to favor the methods of sound science and objective scientific discourse..

  220. Wow.

    I hadn’t checked this thread in days, figuring it was all over…boy was that a mistake. A helpful commenter at my place just told me I should check it again.

    I said “Tom” sounded like a fake at the time. I said it at my place, and I would have said it at the Intersection too, but of course I have been banned from there ever since last summer (July was it?).

    Look here, Chris – you can see where your refusal to pay attention to critics has landed you. If you hadn’t banned me, I could have warned you and Sheril on your own blog – and I would have been right, dammit. Maybe my judgment really isn’t as bad as you think? Maybe I’m not just a big meanie who deserves banning? Maybe you should take the ban OFF now?

    I said a comment at YNH sounded suspiciously like that “Tom” comment at the Intersection – I said that two weeks ago. I’m apparently the only person in the universe who spotted that.

    Dude, you owe me an apology.

  221. For any newcomers here, please see William’s first and subsequent apologies. Trying to extract more regret out of him is really unnecessary.

    I agree. And trying to get some sympathy out of the targets of his smear campaign is also unnecessary and futile.

  222. Mmph. I was typing at the same time as Scote. I didn’t echo her/him on purpose; I hadn’t seen the comment.

    • @Ophelia Benson:

      I’m probably just your sock puppet, agreeing with you ;-)

      Er, or, more likely, sometimes the data is so clear that it leads people independently to the same conclusions.

  223. No Oedipus – he doesn’t get off the hooik that easily.

    Just for the shit you posted as bilbo (US version) earns you all the scorn and loathing I can muster. I’ve never wished harm on another human but you may have just merited that dishonor from me. You want to apologize as an easy out and your “I’ll never blog again” has brought out the forgive and forget apologists but you’re a well documented liar. If you feel remorse it’s because you were exposed – not because you want to do the right thing for its own sake. Your blatant dishonesty should earn you contempt from everyone you lied to, regardless. Let me be the first to congratulate you on all the continuing shit storms that come your way – you created them, you deserve them.
    Along with PZ and the others you defamed, slandered and libeled, you owe Nerd of Redhead a personal apology too.

  224. Hmmm. “New Atheist Hate Machine” might be an even better band name than “New Atheist Noise Machine”.

  225. William – sorry, but I think it’s too soon for closure. That’s because we need to know some things, and it could still be that you can tell us more. (Not because you’re hiding things, necessarily, but because new questions could come up and elicit information you hadn’t thought to provide.)

    Obviously we can’t force you to go on answering, but I for one am not in any hurry to stop asking questions. I thought all this was over days ago, but now…well obviously not.

    It’s not that I want to beat you up forever, it’s that I want to know what there is to know.

    Mooney and Kirshenbaum owe a lot of people a major apology.

  226. Ow! That’s gotta sting!

    Once again we see the usefulness of evidence. But, as my editor told me during my brief dalliance with journalism, fact-checking can ruin a perfectly good story.

  227. Where did Sheril comment on this?

    • The only thing I’ve seen from Kirshenbaum(if you’re referring to her response to the William thing) was here, saying it’s hard to recognize sockpuppets.

  228. on July 7, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Reply emote_control

    /me munches popcorn and waits to see if Mooney keeps digging, now that he has found himself in a hole.

    Very entertaining, folks.

  229. Yeah, I always wanted to play Shylock and demand a pound of flesh. Who am I kidding? I don’t have the stomach or the endurance to maintain it. This will all blow over and William will indulge his little puppet fetish on other blogs in the future after he’s shed several CCs of Crocoduck tears, but he’ll be really careful when he references his new multiple personae. Oh, he’ll laugh and laugh about how he manipulates everyone while using only one hand to type – the other to manipulate – well, you get the picture.
    Mooney has no excuse though, but he’ll suckle at the teat of Templeton who practice their own brand of deceit with one eye closed and the other in a perpetual knowing wink claiming innocence and carrying on the noble fight of Nisbettian Framing.

  230. Mooney and Kirshenbaum owe a lot of people a major apology.

    I look forward to their next book, in which they devote a chapter to how Dawkins’ and Myers’ unchecked meanness drove poor William to such lengths.

    I’m sure it’ll be chock-full of the kind of top-notch journalistic rigour Chris has displayed up to now. Why, nothing promotes confidence in science among the public like admitting you couldn’t be bothered to check your sources.

  231. Let’s not be too eager to blame Chris.

    Unless, of course, people know of many other instances where he has busted sockpuppets, and those sockpuppets were saying things he disagreed with.

    Until then, the worst we can say of Chris is that he moderately very poorly.

    In the meantime, I trust he’ll make the necessary historical corrections.

  232. I’m sorry William, or whoever you are, but I for one don’t buy the apology. Such an abrupt and abject volte face looks suspicious to me. There was a troll at AtBC once called Ghost of Paley who spent a year trolling the site claiming to be a geocentrist creationist. This clown then outed himself, apologised and then started spouting racist propaganda. I’ll say to you what I said to him: Get into therapy, your behaviour is pure narcissicism. The (relative) anonymity of the net allows you to behave as you have, but you should be questioning whether you should behave that way. Sure doing something for the LULZ is fine for a while, but continuous contrarian crap speaks to a deeper issue on your part. Sort it out.

    I hate to say it, having been a fan of Chris Mooney’s “The Republican War on Science” (but little else I confess), but I think the classy thing for M and K to do is to apologise for treating this guy (and site) uncritically and to reiterate their arguments in a clear, concise fashion and then ENGAGE people on them. As opposed to silencing, banning etc all criticism from their sites/eyes.

    Just my 2p’s worth.


  233. One of the back-stories of this episode was that I wrote this with an implicit wink to YNH before it was exposed. But now it would seem to be equally targeted at Mooney.

    BTW I archived the entire Intersection site once the evidence came out about Tom Johnson, before the confession. In this sense it got the same treatment as YNH.

  234. “BTW I archived the entire Intersection site once the evidence came out about Tom Johnson, before the confession. In this sense it got the same treatment as YNH.”

    I’ll be interested to see what approach Mooney et al take with the original offending posts. Memory hole, mea culpa post updates or nothing at all. Any bets?

  235. Sorry, Zach, but I’m not being quick to blame Mooney – I’m just blaming Mooney. I’m blaming him for banning the wrong people, for a start. Well, the wrong person – I’m actually the only person I know of who was and is banned from commenting at The Intersection. I was banned for (apparently) being persistently critical of M&K’s claims in their book and on their blog. William was never banned for the repetitive trash-talking he did at The Intersection, including trash-talking aimed at me – calling me a liar, for example. “bilbo” said – repeatedly – that i was lying by asking M&K a set of questions about their claims about “new” atheism. That’s exactly why I thought that “bilbo” could well be another of William’s sock puppets. William repeatedly accused me of lying in just the same way, a couple of weeks ago – “lying” in the sense of saying something he disliked. Chris Mooney saw fit to ban me for disagreeing with him, but not to ban “bilbo” for calling me a liar when I was not in fact lying.

    So no, I’m not being too quick to blame Mooney, I’m just blaming him. He owes me an apology.

  236. Ok, on the moderation:

    Here is Milton C. apologizing for conduct in a previous thread at The Intersection:

    “I was also a bit nasty myself, so I apologize for my role in the mud-flinging, to everyone in general and to those who I was engaged with, personally. If people need to be put into permanent moderation and/or banned, I’m all for it (myself included, if needed). Let’s bury this one and put it behind us….and all think clearly next time and act like adults on both sides of the opinion aisle.”

    Mooney was referring to this thread, in which Milton was telling us how smart and right Bilbo is, with Phillip jr. doing back up, and all sorts of stuff.

    In other words, there was a high volume of comments by William, many back to back, in a thread which “got out of hand.”

    He seems to have had every opportunity to check this out. In fact, it should have been obvious.

  237. I just posted this on Sheril’s thread at The Intersection:

    So “bilbo” who repeatedly said here that I was lying in my questions to you two was not moderated, but I who repeatedly asked you two to do a better job of justifying your claims – I was banned. Do you think you should have second thoughts about that now, Sheril? Now that you know “bilbo” was William? A sock puppet? Who has made something of a career of saying I’m lying when I say something he dislikes?

    I think you should lift the ban on me, and I think you should apologize.


    I wonder if it will get through.

  238. on July 7, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Reply truthspeaker

    Let me get this straight, Chris. You’re a journalist, but you’re “shocked” and “appalled” that a source would lie to you?



    Twenty years ago I would have said you are in the wrong line of work. The way things are now, I suggest applying for a senior editorial position at the New York Times. Your gullibility and obsequious deference to authority figures would fit right in there.

  239. This is just too good.

    That whole thread on the intersection where the various William sockpuppets were clutching their peals over things said on another blog was just some hack involved in a self circle jerk and the Colgate Twins just ignored all of it.


  240. If all this turns out to be true, don’t expect any apologies (however warranted). I expect Chris is locked into this world view he built (albeit on false foundations). I see this as a akin to creationists and the age of the earth, nothing will change these (mis)conceptions, not even dare I say it, talking to social scientists.

  241. Ophelia’s right. We’re not being quick to blame Mooney.

    Several of us pointed out at the time that we didn’t buy Tom’s story, and gave good reasons why we didn’t. (Including his changing his story.) We also didn’t think he sounded like “a scientist,” for reasons such as the ones I gave here, above.

    Mooney gave the misimpression that “Tom” was “a scientist,” which if you don’t qualify it, sounds to most people like a Ph.D.’d professional such as a professor. Even Mooney, the communications guru, knew he was not that, but refused to clarify when explicitly asked.

    Given the good clearly-stated reasons for suspicion of his source, Mooney should have done some basic fact checking before reassuring us that he knew the identity of his source, which he did not.

    He chose not to.

    Apparently, he did not care if is source was real, or if people got the wrong impression of a real source, so long as the slant was favorable to the story he wanted to tell and the moral he wanted to draw. Either that, or he trusted his gut so much he dismissed the correctly-justified suspicions of actual working scientists who rightly detected whiffs of something rotten.

    Either is reprehensible. At best, it’s irresponsibly bad journalism, and a groveling apology is long overdue.

  242. And later in the “Housekeeping” thread:

    From gillt:

    “What conversation Julie? Mooney erased all evidence of milton’s and bilbo’s and the rests “disappointing/embarrassing/unsavory” behavior. Say it was juvenile and leave it at that–but why erase it”

    If this is true, Mooney erased Williams self-dialogue without checking to see if it was sockputtetry.

  243. Ophelia,

    I’ve looked back over things now.

    You’re right, it isn’t hasty to blame Mooney for the Tom fiasco. And further, it isn’t hasty to blame Mooney for letting the sockpuppets go unchecked, per my later comments.

  244. Actually Mooney threatened to ban both bilbo and MiltonC after both tried to out someone in the comments section and get that person fired from his job.

    Both bilbo and MiltonC. made groveled a bit, promising never to do it again (much like what William’s doing now) and Mooney forgave both of them. I don’t get how it escaped Mooney’s attention that the two people asking forgiveness for the same offense had the same IP address?

    Mooney erased the post which contained said bad behavior of course, but the apologies post remains.

    Incidentally, this is also why I don’t accept William’s apology now. He has a history of apologizing for unethical behavior.

  245. I was one of the several of us who pointed out the flaws in Tom’s story, and Mooney’s weird credulity about it, given that he is a journalist and all – but of course I had to do it at my own place, since I was and am banned from Mooney’s blog.

    Quite, Zach. There’s no haste at all. There’s a lot of stuff here.

    Not least – my sustained irritation at Mooney’s refusal to reply to critics and his continued trashing of “new” atheists ended up pissing off a former friend and collaborator and co-author of mine to the point that he severed all relations with me, down to defriending me on Facebook. I resent this. Mooney didn’t set out to bring about that result, of course, but his unfair dealings are what did bring it about.

    So no. This is anything but hasty.

  246. William

    One specific question. That time “bilbo” said I was lying in my list of questions for Mooney and Kirshenbaum – that was you, right? Not the other “bilbo,” but you – right?

  247. In my defense, I was referring in particular to his dealing with the sockpuppets, though as I noted before, a very brief investigation was all that was required to see that this is a very solid strike against him. I was not aware of the extent of his treatment of you in particular, Ophelia.

    If gillt is telling the truth, which appears to be the case from looking at The Intersection threads I linked in my earlier comment, then Mooney really went out of his way to allow YHNism.

  248. To those who say that William doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or needs therapy, etc. I would recommend a book mentioned above “Mistakes Were Made,” specifically the part about pyramids and how a person, through justification to resolve cognitive dissonance, can end up in severely different states based only on a small decision that could have gone either way.

    A few years ago I spent some time on a blog site arguing with people, and I can say that the line between “crap I was wrong, I should admit it” and “crap I was wrong, I should create an alternate name to support my wrong opinion and agree with me” is thinner than most might think, especially when tensions are running high. Luckily I fell on the right side of the line, but a small, one-time decision could have changed that.

    • “Eric

      To those who say that William doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or needs therapy, etc. I would recommend a book mentioned above “Mistakes Were Made,” specifically the part about pyramids and how a person, through justification to resolve cognitive dissonance, can end up in severely different states based only on a small decision that could have gone either way.

      If you are going to bring up cognitive dissonance in this thread you really have to point to the most obviously dissonant person involved: Chris Mooney. His credulous acceptance of “Tom Johnson’s” fishy story and arbitrary rejection of well founded criticism of aspects of his recent books, framing and other demonstrably flawed claims and positions suggest that Mooney is no longer operating objectively.

  249. @Zach Voch:

    Correction the Housekeeping thread where Milton and bilbo were apologizing was a result of this post: “The New War on Science–Now It’s Guerilla Style” which Mooney erased and which contains bilbo and MiltonC threatening to get an AGW denier fired from his job.

    I kind of understand why Mooney erased it. I’ve seen weird on the internet but bilbo and MiltonC went completely insane on that guy and Mooney should be embarrassed he let it get so out of hand.

  250. Mooney should be embarrassed about soooooo many things………

  251. Thanks gillt. I had several tabs open while doing a check and mixed them together.

    The post I ended up linking still has a good mix of sockpuppet self-congratulation, so it’s still worth checking out for all who are curious.

    • The groveling MiltonC and bilbo engaged in on the “Housekeeping” thread sounds just like what William is doing now. Both then and now William says he can’t explain such behavior and how he just wants things to go back to normal asap. Seems a bit hasty considering his year plus long trail of lies and slander.

  252. A few years ago I spent some time on a blog site arguing with people, and I can say that the line between “crap I was wrong, I should admit it” and “crap I was wrong, I should create an alternate name to support my wrong opinion and agree with me” is thinner than most might think,

    Only if you tend to consider the the lazy dishonest way out.

  253. […] has just been revealed that “Tom Johnson,” whose story I elevated from the comments of this blog into a […]

  254. If you’re still around, Mooney, did you actually check to make sure Tom Johnson’s IP matches the other sockpuppets? While it seemed obvious at the time Tom Johnson was a fake, I’d hate to think the only thing it took you to convince yourself that the story wasn’t credible (when somehow you found it credible in the first place) was someone taking credit for faking it without verifying they are the person who provided the story in the first place.

  255. haha I just had a funny thought… hope Mooney will forgive the levity…

    The e-mail exchange: Mooney’s source-checking 101

    Tom: Lol yah Tom’s my name lol new atheists are bad hurr
    Mooney: FOR REALSS?!?!
    Tom: srsly lol look at this guy named TOm that’s me bbq wtf
    Mooney: word

  256. on July 7, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Reply whyevolutionistrue

    Chris Mooney:

    “I am shocked by this, and appalled. William/”Tom Johnson” directed me the website of specific person, a Ph.D. candidate at a reputable university.

    I will be looking into this further.

    I had never checked IP addresses or for sock puppets before, but I certainly will be doing it now.”

    Sounds like Claude Rains in Casablanca. For crying out loud, Mooney, you just see that a website exists and that’s enough for you. Have you thought about verifying that person’s existence by email or a phone call before you go posting all over your site?

    Well, now I see what kind of journalist you are. You don’t check sources so long as they’re on your side.

  257. Mooney has not seen fit to remove the ban on me at The Intersection. Even now. Even now that he has been shown to be biased beyond belief in his “moderation” of comments there – he is still keeping me in the dungeon.

    Chris Mooney, do you have any ethical sense at all?

    • If I contrast the treatment Mooney gave to “Tom Johnson” and to Ophelia, the thing that keeps coming back to me is what came out about David Irving at the trial he instigated. Testimony of Holocaust survivors = unreliable, and if a judge actually referred to one fact within an entire statement as doubtful, he was quoted out of context to make it seem as if the whole testimony were not to be trusted. On the other hand, all Nazi testimony = accepted without checking and if a document suspected to be a forgery confirmed the inflated number of dead at Dresden that Irving was pushing, why then it couldn’t be a forgery, could it?

      No, of course, I’m not going so far as to compare Mooney with Irving in other respects. But he meted out completely different treatment to people, depending on whether they backed him up or not. Disagree and you’re banned, even though you’re a completely reputable person posting under your own real name. Provide “evidence” that backs up the line being pushed, even though there’s no other source for it and suspicions are being voiced as to whether any of it is even true, and you get a special thank-you post. And right up to today, even though everything in the last two sentences has been in the public domain for months, Mooney was standing by his actions as being right and correct. What is really disgusting here is that William’s confession is required to make Mooney relate to this with shock. This next should be all caps, but it looks horrible: with the evidence you already had, you should not have had to wait for anyone’s confession. Anyone acting fairly would have nipped this in the bud, which you did not do.

      And now will come the inevitable contortion, just as it did with so many YNH sycophants, that just because there were so many (no longer deniable) lies backing up the party line, doesn’t mean the party line might be in need of some adjustment.

      • “Disagree and you’re banned, even though you’re a completely reputable person posting under your own real name.”

        I wonder if you-know-who (or I do, at least) will pop in again to say “completely reputable? That’s a joke, right?” Even after all this.

        Let’s hope not. Let’s hope people can learn.

        • The one I think you’re referring to doesn’t seem to have learned anything so far. But when one sees that nothing has any effect – well, my eyes glaze over when I see the poster’s name.

  258. WTF is this “Oooooo it’s hard to detect sock puppets” bull? Writing as a former administrator of (the late lamented) Internet Infidels Discussion Board, it ain’t all that hard, kids. It requires paying some attention to comment threads and a modicum of organization to detect a couple of sorts of diagnostic patterns, but it’s not rocket science.

  259. […] Further developments in saga of YNH – William – bilbo – Milton C – PollyO – and “Tom Johnson.” “Tom Johnson” was also another alias, although his story was loosely based on things I had heard other general students say. The conference context or whatever was, as already mentioned, obviously false. When Chris contacted me, I made up a story about being a grad. student as an explanation about where the story came from because I didn’t want the Tom character to get exposed as false. […]

  260. Oh dear god. You just go to the “Value of Science” thread and start reading comments and boom, there’s bilbo, then there’s Julie agreeing with bilbo, then there’s Milton C agreeing with Julie. And I’m only up to comment #10!

    I’ll say one thing for you, William; you’re energetic.

    I have to tell you, though – you helped to fuck up my life in some ways. It goes beyond just internet drama.

    • It gets worse.

      Oh, and to get the full picture: keep in mind that at this point in The Intersection history (I don’t know about now, I don’t generally post there anymore), almost every post longer than a tweet went to moderation, to be explicitly permitted by the blog hosts. Somehow, none of it seemed fishy.

    • Ophelia, but also remember Mooney played a bartender who did not cut off customers who were acting irresponsibly. He didn’t care what was happening as long as the money came rolling in.

  261. And it appears that Mooney doesn’t want to unban Ophelia just yet: http://zachvoch.blogspot.com/2010/07/mooney-must-really-hate-ophelia.html

  262. “I would recommend a book mentioned above “Mistakes Were Made,” specifically the part about pyramids and how a person, through justification to resolve cognitive dissonance, can end up in severely different states based only on a small decision that could have gone either way.”

    Is it really that hard to grow some gonads and say ‘sorry, folks, I was wrong, mea culpa’ at the outset?

    Maybe I’m just totally foreign to the idea that one should be ashamed of admitting being wrong. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and you fucking make up for it and learn and continue as you were otherwise.

    Oh, and the little shit makes up long protracted stories too?

    Here’s the ‘Tom Johnson’ post:


    • “Is it really that hard to grow some gonads and say ‘sorry, folks, I was wrong, mea culpa’ at the outset?”

      It is if you are Chris Mooney. His new post over at Intersection is all about how he was duped and was guilty of being too **trusting** (awwww, poor Chris, too much of a good thing, too trusting) rather than being irresponsibly credulous of claims that said what he wanted to hear. As of that post he still doesn’t get it.

  263. The fact that there was no discernible at-least-plausible motive behind this is even more disgusting – because people who do those protracted sorts of making up stories and sockpuppeting and wreaking havoc on the interwebs for a YEAR have serious, serious problems, and I for one am deathly afraid of anybody even half as irrational. That an individual has such poor control over their emotions scares the crap out of me.

  264. “It is if you are Chris Mooney. His new post over at Intersection is all about how he was duped and was guilty of being too **trusting** (awwww, poor Chris, too much of a good thing, too trusting) rather than being irresponsibly credulous of claims that said what he wanted to hear. As of that post he still doesn’t get it.”

    Accusing me of being Chris Mooney? The nerve! I shall have to give a nastily-worded reply. :P

    I have to throw my voice in with the ‘and he calls himself a journalist?’ contingent. This is hilarious.

    • “Accusing me of being Chris Mooney? The nerve! I shall have to give a nastily-worded reply. :P”

      EEK! Darn dangling modifiers, or something. I’ll go do penance at Language Log and try to name my error…

  265. Please be aware that the evidence linking Tom Johnson to YNH is independent of the confession. The bulk of it starts here.

    Had it not been for gillt, Paul, Wowbagger and others, the Tom Johnson revelation would never have come about, as I was clueless about Tom Johnson and anything related to The Intersection. After I saw the clear connection between Tom and Will, I asked him to come out with it, and he did.

    • I’m not really willing to call “the posts sound similar” evidence. It’s far from definitive. I’m not saying Tom Johnson is real or isn’t lying, and I’m not saying there’s not something fishy going on here, but I will say that it’s clear we’re dealing with a self aggrandizing habitual liar. Once caught in an initial lie, he may well have chosen to make the lie even bigger. His confession is only slightly more credible than he was in the first place. I’d like to see Mooney tell us for certain that Tom Johnson and the others share an IP address.

      • Uh, don’t you think he would have denied it if they did not share an IP address? Either he’s being lazy and not checking at all hoping things will blow over, or he’s simply not providing the positive evidence. It would take 10 seconds to check the IP address on the relevant post, and he spent at least 10 times that writing his most recent blog post on the affair. The fact that he hasn’t denied the connection is proof enough.

        • Probably. I’m just reserving a part of my brain for the possibility, however small, that there’s another layer of lies being heaped on top of the lies.

  266. This is the first I’ve ever read The Intersection. Reading “Tom Johnson’s” fabrications about fans of Dawkins, Myers, Coyne, et al. calling religious people stupid and ignorant to their faces and “shouting forced laughter” at them is really infuriating. It is a libelous attempt to embarrass and disparage people like me and to make people like me think that other people like me are behaving in ways that I don’t like and wouldn’t want them representing me with. And, by extension, it is a horribly manipulative way to try to persuade people like me from not wanting to associate with other people like me for fear their more counter-productive than helpful.

    It’s a pure attempt “divide and conquer” strategy using complete lies. It’s disgusting. This goes even beyond “merely” speaking in multiple voices to give the false impression you had a chorus of supporters. This adds fabrication of one’s enemies. Puppeteering not only supporters but your enemies.

    And it’s also upsetting to see the thread where “William” grovels out apologies for the same behavior he would later LAUNCH A BLOG to resume engaging in.

    Seeing how far back this goes, it’s hard to take him remotely seriously when he says the YNH blog didn’t start as a smear campaign but only degenerated into one or that his puppetry on the YNH blog was a response to things escalating. Puppetry and smears have been the modus operandi since long before YNH.

    And claims to learn from it the last time were 100% shit.

    So what’s to make us think anything has changed this time?

    I’m far less certain that forgiveness is warranted after all. There’s just no way to gage the sincerity of the remorse when you’re dealing with someone who lies through his apologies as blatantly as Milton C. and bilbo did (with Julie chiming in for judgment and forgiveness for them). I mean, an orchestrated puppet show to manipulate your way to forgiveness?

    Narcissism does not even begin to cover this behavior.

    I take back my encouragements for you to blog again, William. Your word is just shit.

  267. I’m not calling “the posts sound similar” evidence on their own. I am saying that I suspected the similarity was not a coincidence about two weeks ago, and that William’s confession is not all there is.

  268. A few years ago I spent some time on a blog site arguing with people, and I can say that the line between “crap I was wrong, I should admit it” and “crap I was wrong, I should create an alternate name to support my wrong opinion and agree with me” is thinner than most might think, especially when tensions are running high.

    Bullshit. And even if it weren’t, the line between posting one or two comments as a sockpuppet in support of one’s argument and creating an entire blog as a stage for your puppets, as well as trolling other blogs with your puppets for the purpose of maligning and impugning others, such as has been done to PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and others, is a damn canyon.

    Now, it’s up to the aggrieved parties if they wish to accept William’s apology.

    As for Mooney, his notpology is perfectly consistent with his sense of integrity.

  269. “And claims to learn from it the last time were 100% shit.

    So what’s to make us think anything has changed this time?

    I’m far less certain that forgiveness is warranted after all. There’s just no way to gage the sincerity of the remorse when you’re dealing with someone who lies through his apologies as blatantly as Milton C. and bilbo did (with Julie chiming in for judgment and forgiveness for them). I mean, an orchestrated puppet show to manipulate your way to forgiveness?

    Narcissism does not even begin to cover this behavior.

    I take back my encouragements for you to blog again, William. Your word is just shit.”

    This has happened before?

    • The Tom Jonson affair was in oct, 2009.
      Big fat lies all around from William.

      In feb 2010, William uses two sock-puppets (bilbo and MiltonC) to gang up on someone and threaten to get them fired for being an AGW skeptic. That took place over the course of a few days. Then William offers apologies from both sock-puppets a day later after Mooney made vague threats about banning people. He only ever fesses up when he’s caught.

      I say, “William. Your word is just shit.”

      • Yes, gillt, that’s the incident I meant when I said this has happened before. Sorry, I hadn’t specified more clearly Katharine.

        He had already tried to mess with someone’s career and prostrated himself (with 2 identities no less!) begging for forgiveness. That tells me that YNH was not started with good intentions and just badly executed as he’s tried to paint.

  270. Bullshit. And even if it weren’t, the line between posting one or two comments as a sockpuppet in support of one’s argument and creating an entire blog as a stage for your puppets, as well as trolling other blogs with your puppets for the purpose of maligning and impugning others, such as has been done to PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and others, is a damn canyon.

    It takes a special kind of crazy to do the latter. I mean, emotional fits of stupidity are usually momentary, but a year-long delusion complete with constructed blogs, puppets, and trolling multiple blogs? And this is just online trollery – who devotes that much energy to this shit, David M*bus?

    I think we’re dealing with a nutcase here. I wonder how much we can prod him and break down his defenses before he goes insane?

  271. Er, put that first paragraph in quotes.

  272. Katharine, well it happened last week – and it happened before in the sense that MiltonC and bilbo did a previous mea culpa. So yes, it’s happened before.

    I tacitly accepted William’s apology, but I didn’t urge him not to quit blogging, or praise him, as a few people did. I definitely thought that was excessive. It was good that he apologized, but not so good that it magically transformed him into an interesting and valuable blogger, sight unseen. I don’t think he should go on blogging, and I’m sure as hell not going to praise him. He’s eaten up with malice, and he can lie for months on end.

    • I was among those encouraging him to take up blogging again. Of course, it was easy for me, as I was in no way a target of his.

      However, one of the main reasons I did so is so that he could offer up his own case as a cautionary tale and update everybody on which socks/comments were involved over time as he remembers them.

      But aside from that, I have serious doubts that he could contribute positively after additional material has come out, particularly once I found that apology that I quoted earlier.

      • I had encouraged him to continue blogging because I figured he was young and had made a mistake and that he had shown a knack for decent arguments when he wasn’t harassing and nitpicking people. I thought he was talented. I wasn’t going to praise him as some did as especially admirable for the apology but saw him as certainly forgivable.

        But seeing how shamelessly he can feign sorrow as merely a prelude to the same sort of disgraceful behavior are simply a far more epic scale means there’s just no trusting him in any way shape or form. He’s not just young and getting carried away, he’s a real liar who abused the trust of those who forgave him. That takes a particular lack of conscience that I don’t get.

        And, it’s worth noting while we’re holding him accountable, that he didn’t confess to all the puppets even when he made his first supposedly real apology, in this thread, let alone in his first notpology. And even until TODAY had still not confessed to all the major puppets. And who knows, maybe he still hasn’t.

  273. What a farce. I’ve only heard about this recently and at arm’s length. But even without the details, which sound like they were pretty serious, “William” deserves a big 2-fingered salute for donating more fuel to the parrots squawking about “divisions amongst the New Atheists”. You’re Not Helping? Too right.

    As for “I want closure, how can this be over?” blah blah, just admitting you did something massively massively shitty doesn’t just suddenly make up for it.

  274. Also, does anyone want to join in the Ophelia acrostic game?

    • I did, but it’s in moderation (and mentions that the other has been for more than two hours). Zach has grabs of both and I suppose he’ll eventually post them if Mooney doesn’t let them through. Looks like for me, he has obtained special Vatican permission to reinstate Limbo.

  275. Apparently, according to Greg Laden (my general disinclination to give Laden much regard aside), the Templeton Foundation has linked to William before.

    Surely we can call them out as well?

    • I did email the editor to say that (cough) YNH might not be altogether reliable. She linked to this post last week after the second, larger (but still not complete) apology and said a couple of people had warned her and they (we) were right.

  276. […] to Katharine (in the epic comments section of The Buddha Is Not Serious’s post on You’re Not […]

  277. Am I the only person who thinks Mooney looks disturbingly similar to that fugly dude who played the werewolf in Twilight?

  278. As if this wasn’t enough, now there is a whole separate discussion about PZ being sockpuppeted and Greg Laden being a wanker.

    • Well, in fairness, the sockpuppet thing died fairly quickly. Jon was just lashing out at that point.

      I am confused as to how someone would confuse my writing style and PZ’s. He’s much more colorful, in general. I kind of just say what I think, which doesn’t tend towards the imaginative. I was kind of hoping he had responded to one of the comments he linked since it ended with me calling him on some BS just under a year ago, but it was a silly hope. Nobody there actually tries to defend assertions when it comes to slamming New Atheists.

  279. Ophelia does part-time outsourcing for the oracle at Delphi.

  280. For shits and giggles, I backed up the Intersection page: http://backupurl.com/x6dzuy

    • Do we think there’s a risk M&K will go back and try to retrospectively “sanitise” their blog and to pretend the sockpuppetry never happened?

      I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it difficult to remember all of the different socks William’s used…

      Milton C., Philip Jr., Petra, bilbo, Polly-O!, Seminatrix, Brandon, Tom Johnson, … how many damned layers are there to this onion?

      Regards, PML

  281. Heehee, Oedipus. Oh and sorry I was unable to help you out that time! But that’s how it goes when people try to avoid their Fate.

  282. Just for the record, I am making the claim that there are no in place rules as to what kind of “checking” or “journalistic integrity” are demanded of a blogger regarding the stuff that happens in the comments section of a blog. That is my point and it is my point point.

    Well, I have second point, which is how the credibility of the community going after Mooney drops when it turns into nothing but a blanket party. If you don’t know what a blanket party is let me know and I’ll describe it for you.

    As a blogger, I’m not interested in being told that I have to meet the “journalistic standards’ outlined post hoc by some anonymous commenter.

    If that makes me a wanker, then I’m a really big wanker. I resent and resist post hoc rule making.

  283. Katherine: Apparently, according to Greg Laden (my general disinclination to give Laden much regard aside), the Templeton Foundation has linked to William before.

    Surely we can call them out as well?

    Yeah I love you to. Kissy kissy. But you need to revise your remarks because you got it wrong. Furthermore, since you got that wrong, I assume everything you say is wrong. Forever. In fact, you have the credibility of a gnat. But your personality makes up for it.

  284. WILLIAM!!!!!

    You need to get in touch with me at your earliest possible convenience. I am not joking and this is not any kind of a trap.

    Email me, I’ll send you my phone number if you like.



  285. These are not arbitrary post hoc rules.

    You don’t make a major issue of a claim by an anonymous source without a little checking that the source, you know, actually exists. Not even us sloppy bloggers can get away with that. Mooney’s authority rests on the fact that he’s a professional journalist, so it’s fair to expect he would at least be able to do that part right.

    As for checking out sockpuppets: Mooney also has a history of demanding that other bloggers police their comments sections. He has set himself up as an arbiter of how to manage a comment thread, largely so he can sanctimoniously declare himself ‘better’ than the rabble of the New Atheism. Hypocrisy is always fair game, and Mooney is wallowing in it.

  286. Greg, why would anyone choose to blog, or to respond to blogs and attempt to engage in dialogue and make arguments, if it’s to be treated as a worthless game, and good faith doesn’t matter?

    Props to PZ, you’ve hit that nail on the head again!

    Regards, PML

  287. PZ, yes of coruse, and well stated, as per usual.

    I am wary of post hoc analysis and perhaps a bit of confirmation bias. (Lots of people said lots of things before the fact, IIRC) But as I said earlier, I did not read the earlier exchanges so I can’t judge that, and I’ve conceded that Mooney took this to places he should not have. Above all, the original point that Chris made was wildly incorrect, thanks to William, who also did something similar on the YNH blog with is sockpupets of my readers. I don’t think there is much disagreement on that

    However, there is inappropriate post hoc rule making that I won’t stand for . I remain uncomfortable with assertions such as that a blog needs to be held to the same standard as a book, and many other dumb ideas that have been suggested.

    Such as the Pope’s comment just now (above). Who, exactly, is talking about a worthless game? Who says good faith does not matter? Anyone whom “william” had contacted was using good faith at some point, yes? Pope M, if you are going to tell me that I’ve said something wrong, please refer to what I’ve said, not some random thing that came into your head.

    • Hi Greg,

      I agree in not believing that “blogs need to be held to the same standard as a book” – bloggers are obviously free to do whatever they want with their blogs, and manage them as they see fit, which I thought was your general point. Apologies for not honing my previous comment to address your precise words. But assuming a blogger is trying to genuinely foster discussion with his/her readers then spelling out some minimum standards or basic guidelines are usually appropriate to allow discourse to proceed, and if those standards aren’t met it will diminish trust in the blog at the very least, and the credibility of the blogger may possibly suffer as well. If it’s a sandpit where fair-play is expected then shouldn’t that be made evident up-front somewhere?

      I can understand that a journalist might not want his blog to be held to the standards of journalistic ethics (and please note I’m not one of the people demanding that Mooney’s blog do so!), but it’s possibly to the peril of his professional reputation if he doesn’t cover his arse properly, since credibility and trust are important to public people.

      As for “who said good faith does not matter”? It certainly matters if actual discussion is to take place rather than the antics of 4chan. However, rather incredibly that topic is currently open for debate on the Intersection right now. If simple honesty doesn’t matter when people comment on Mooney’s blog, then perhaps he should be blogging over on 4chan.

      Regards, Philip (and yes, that is my name – the Popish nickname is the pseudonym you’d see on Mooney’s blog if my posts weren’t in the moderation black hole. I’m not usually either that random, or anonymous)

  288. Okay, the whole “Tom Johnson” thing has me pissed off all over again, not only because it was such a nasty lie in the first place, but because I consider the famous “New Atheists” (the ones everyone thinks of when that term is used) are fairly accommodating when compared to me, I figure if “William’s” made-up story had been with me in mind, he would have had me fire-bombing the conferences instead of just being astoundingly rude.

    Anyway, since both of “William’s” previous apologies were obviously not anywhere close to “the whole truth,” I rescind my acceptance of the latter one.

    And if anyone would like to go matching up names from YNH and the Intersection, here’s a list to get you started. I’d say that maybe William could use the list to jog his memory, but my trust of what he’s got to say is just about zero right now, even if he’s admitting to wrong-doing.

  289. “Katherine: Apparently, according to Greg Laden (my general disinclination to give Laden much regard aside), the Templeton Foundation has linked to William before.

    Surely we can call them out as well?

    Yeah I love you to. Kissy kissy. But you need to revise your remarks because you got it wrong. Furthermore, since you got that wrong, I assume everything you say is wrong. Forever. In fact, you have the credibility of a gnat. But your personality makes up for it.”

    This is about as tiresome as your word salad on PZ and his commenters. But mea culpa, that was Paul W’s comment.


    I still think you’ve got precisely the amount of credibility you accuse me of on anything but anthropology.

  290. Katharine, thanks. Anthropology is a huge field that includes almost everything.

    I don’t normally make sure that any comment I make also includes an insult even if it is not relevant. You like that apparently. I wonder why? Are you, like, an asshole or something? That’d be my guess.

    Anyway, if I’ve learned one thing from this whole affair, it is to not ever take an autonomous commenter or blogger seriously. This means you.

    Sorry Oedipus. Maybe I can cut you some slack because you seem to have all sort of ethics and shit.

  291. “Just for the record, I am making the claim that there are no in place rules as to what kind of “checking” or “journalistic integrity” are demanded of a blogger”

    Is the same true for a journalist? Or are you saying Chris is just a blogger?

  292. “Greg Laden

    PZ, yes of coruse, and well stated, as per usual.

    I am wary of post hoc analysis and perhaps a bit of confirmation bias. (Lots of people said lots of things before the fact, IIRC) But as I said earlier, I did not read the earlier exchanges so I can’t judge that, and I’ve conceded that “

    Yeah, I don’t think your deliberate ignorance of the earlier posts is something you can merely brush off. The posts are still up, as are the comments and Ophelia Benson’s contemporaneous thread at B&W on the issue. You keep complaining of post hoc confirmation bias but the complaints against the fishy post by “John Thomson” are not post hoc. Further, the sockpuppetry is secondary to the confirmation bias Mooney exhibited by credulously creating a post endorsing the falsehoods in “Thomson’s” post as proof (seemingly Mooney’s only proof) that the New Atheists are mean and counter productive to science. Checking the IP of a fishy post is SOP as part of any valid fact checking.

    Meanwhile, Mooney is so afraid of substantive criticism that Ophelia Benson remains banned. Even mentioning her name sends posts into moderation. But the dank moat’s worth of anti-science trolls continue to allowed their vituperative tirades of ad hominems and other fallacies.

  293. “Katharine, thanks. Anthropology is a huge field that includes almost everything.”

    If by ‘almost everything’ you mean ‘everything that has to do with the study of human culture and biology’, which is actually a pretty small amount of ‘everything’, you are correct.

    “I don’t normally make sure that any comment I make also includes an insult even if it is not relevant. You like that apparently. I wonder why? Are you, like, an asshole or something? That’d be my guess.”

    Yup. A gaping one.

    Anyway, if I’ve learned one thing from this whole affair, it is to not ever take an autonomous commenter or blogger seriously. This means you.”

    You appear to have your snark mixed up with your self-aggrandizement and your collateral damage to people who aren’t even arguing with you.

  294. “autonomous commenter”

    Which was a very interesting Freudian slip, as it turns out.

    Is the same true for a journalist? Or are you saying Chris is just a blogger?

    As a blogger, I’m concerned with the post hoc rulemaking accusation bullshit against bloggers. I don’t care about journalists.

    Scote: No, I do not need to be told what to read any more than I need to be told what to think or how wrong I am because I didn’t react like a headless chicken.

    • “Scote: No, I do not need to be told what to read any more than I need to be told what to think or how wrong I am because I didn’t react like a headless chicken.”

      Hmm…I’m not seeing any actual rebuttal there. I don’t see a valid defense for your argument from ignorance, the argument where you pontificate about “post hoc” complaints which aren’t actually post hoc if you bother to read the actual blog posts and comments. “Tom Johnson’s” post was suspect on its face. Checking a post’s IP is SOP as part of verifying its authenticity.

      I think your indignant posts today, including your intemperate arguments from ignorance, are pretty damaging to your credibility.

  295. No, Scote, the point here is that you’ve totally lost track of the argument and it is not my job to put you back on track. You are being totally random. I’m not rebutting anything. I’m just pointing out that a) that you have spinach on your face and b) I’m not ever going to support the post hoc implementation of bloggy rules that do nothing other than to serve the purpose of some blog-hater’s argument. This has nothing to do with whether Chris Mooney fucked up in one or more ways.

  296. Eric,

    To those who say that William doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or needs therapy, etc. I would recommend a book mentioned above “Mistakes Were Made,” specifically the part about pyramids and how a person, through justification to resolve cognitive dissonance, can end up in severely different states based only on a small decision that could have gone either way….[T]he line between “crap I was wrong, I should admit it” and “crap I was wrong, I should create an alternate name to support my wrong opinion and agree with me” is thinner than most might think, especially when tensions are running high.

    This wasn’t just a one time incident. He carried it out for several months, with several sock puppets on several sites. He also set up a blog where the sock puppets would have conversations with one another and pat each other on the back. This is not normal.

  297. “Greg Laden

    No, Scote, the point here is that you’ve totally lost track of the argument and it is not my job to put you back on track…. I’m not rebutting anything.”

    The argument of the day is that Chris Mooney credulously endorsed a fishy story because it was what he wanted to hear, and then subsequently claimed to have authenticated while chastising mean New Atheists for questioning it. I don’t think you have an engine in this race, let alone know what the right track is.

    “This has nothing to do with whether Chris Mooney fucked up in one or more ways.”

    Au contraire, this has everything to do with Chris Mooney F’ing up. Seems to me that your defense reeks of your own desire not to be held to any standards of integrity at your own blog. Are such standards required? No. Could you and should you be criticized for not having any? I’d say yes. The “it’s only a blog” excuse is utter BS, just as invalid as saying Unscientific America is only a book. Like a book, a blog is only a format, not a generic excuse for sloppy fact checking and other forms of counterfactual irresponsible postings or defamation–especially on Science Blogs, which I think we all expect to be held to a high standard. Blogs run the gamut from personal diaries to full blown, award winning investigative journalism. But if you, personally, would like *your* individual standard and credibility to be crap, well that is up to you, but it has nothing to do with the fact that your posts are in blog format.

  298. Seems to me that your defense reeks of your own desire not to be held to any standards of integrity at your own blog.

    Wow, are you really accusing me of having no integrity whatsoever? Some anonymous shit who clearly can’t keep an argument straight is telling me that I’m not worthy of you? Interesting.

    I have a suggestion for you. Kiss my ass. Oh, and while you are down there, Don’t you dare tell me how to blog. That’s all I’m asking.

    Oh, and learn how to use HTML while you’re down there too.

    • The keyboard’s been drinking, not you? Or is this William?

      The gratuitous insults reflect back on you.

      Nobody’s making up rules for anyone. This is a case of people showing how credible and credulous they are.

  299. Am I the only person who thinks Mooney looks disturbingly similar to that fugly dude who played the werewolf in Twilight?

    LOL, I saw a poster for Twilight the other day and had the exact same thought.

  300. You should see the Twilight tee-shirt I got my daughter.

    Bela Lagosi holding the severed head of Edward.

    Bela and Edward together, the way it should be!

  301. “Wow, are you really accusing me of having no integrity whatsoever? Some anonymous shit who clearly can’t keep an argument straight is telling me that I’m not worthy of you? Interesting.”

    You are the one who claims that there can be no standards of integrity for “blogs”. I’m sure individual bloggers like PalMD, Orac, Glenn Greenwald agree with you 100 percent :-p , which is why you told Paul “IT’S A FREAKIN’ BLOG…. You don’t get to come along later and demand some form of due journalistic diligence. That’s just stupid.”

    I note that you have omitted any actual rebuttal of the fact that a blog is a *format* in the same way that a book is a format, not an inherent standard or lack thereof of journalistic integrity, and that your defense of low standards on the basis of being a blog is not sound. Your defensive snark is not a valid substitute for rational argument.

    I have a suggestion for you. Kiss my ass. Oh, and while you are down there, Don’t you dare tell me how to blog. That’s all I’m asking.

    Oddly enough, in spite of your angry imperative to the contrary, I haven’t told you how to blog. Criticizing you for your endorsement of low or no standards is not the same as telling how to blog. How you blog is up to you. But I get to state my opinion. That you don’t see, or just don’t admit, the difference suggests to me that your arguments are either intemperate or disingenuous.

    “Oh, and learn how to use HTML while you’re down there too.”

    Ah, the argument by orthography. If you have to resort to off topic attacks then it seems to me you are merely admitting that you don’t have valid argument to present and must resort to ad hominems instead.

    Given the seeming anger in your posts this evening I’m curious as to how you will respond when you discover that I posted much the same comments to your own blog posts on the Mooney/Tom Johnson kerfuffle? Should be interesting, even if I don’t expect it to be the height of reasoned argument on your part.

    • Scote, you know: it’s not bad. It’s <okay.

      But if you are going to try and mimic YNH-style argumentation when disagreeing with Greg (veering off topic; being obsessively nitpicky; conflating the trees, ignoring the forest) you need to at least throw in the occasional swear word for shock value. And pretend to be more than one demographic.

  302. Given the seeming anger in your posts this evening I’m curious as to how you will respond when you discover that I posted much the same comments to your own blog posts on the Mooney/Tom Johnson kerfuffle?

    I’ll probably just delete them.

  303. bilbo-MiltonC- TJ, it’s evident from our history that you hate my guts, but isn’t it time to come clean? For example:

    1. The names of all the aliases you used at The Intersection.

    2. More details on what you told Chris Mooney about Tom Johnson.

    3. How do you square what you said earlier today: “That’s probably why no one took the story seriously anyway when I said it months ago.” With the obvious fact that Mooney took it seriously. Who are you kidding?

  304. “Just for the record, I am making the claim that there are no in place rules as to what kind of “checking” or “journalistic integrity” are demanded of a blogger”

    In the case of a blog that is sponsored by a news organisation, actually, they do. A journalist’s blog is still not a document of record, but it can be seen as reflecting on the news media that journalist works for.

  305. As of this morning the Intersection “has gone to full comments moderation”. Problem solved!

    • Problem solved!

      Well, it has solved the niggling problem of inconvenient commenters thinking up ever-more-creative ways to post Ophelia Benson’s name.

      At present, “full comments moderation” appears to mean “no comments allowed.” Which is an interesting (at least) response to a firestorm of criticism.

  306. Gee, I feel Special!

  307. Wow, are you really accusing me of having no integrity whatsoever?

    I think the evidence speaks for itself, Greg. Between your tendency to re-edit others’ comments to distort them and your defence of the lack of fact-checking, is there something we’re missing?

  308. on July 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Reply Kirth Gersen

    Here’s an amusing thought! What if “William” (and all his socks) were in turn socks created by Ophelia, specifically to make accommodationists look bad? This scenario has all the hallmarks of a bad Hollywood blockbuster. I can just see the cast: Julia Roberts as Ophelia Benson, Nick Nolte as Greg Laden, and special guest stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as Chis Mooney and Sheril Kirschenbaum…

    • I know! Ophelia is *in fact* Chris Mooney, and this whole charade has been sponsored by a popular toothpaste brand!

  309. It still amuses me that this spiraled out of some 23-year-old’s self-esteem problems.

    • The drive to be right is strong in a lot of people. And the ability to take perspective is low in a lot of people.

      Some just never stop rather, they escalate.

      Then denial, self-rationalization and self-protection. Denial is a really strong mental mechanism. In the rehab community they use the mnemonic device “don’t even know I am lying” to indicate the self-perceptive character of it. On of the most potent psychological defense mechanisms.

      Addicts tend to have it, and a bit of rage-a-holics, a little bit of the inability to being wrong, and a little bit of blog-commenting addiction may well be enough.

      I think that’s quite sufficient to explain what happened.

      • ‘the drive to be right’? You mean the drive to look as if they’re right.

      • Honestly, I’m not sure why we let some people out of the womb.

        Maybe I’m a little naive if I expect people, by the time they hit, oh, their early twenties, to have at least a reasonable grasp of not only mature defense mechanisms but also the ability and the security in themselves to admit when they’re wrong.

        The fact that the world tolerates a lot of that is fucking ridiculous.

      • Relevant classification of defense mechanisms:


  310. Julia Roberts? No. How about Meryl Streep?

    Meanwhile – to take the joke seriously for a second – the sock puppet scenario is totally out of the question, not (or not just) because I have some vestige of integrity, but because I couldn’t possibly manage the vulgarity. Not never, not nohow.

    I want to insist on that point. It’s not just the lying and malice that are so foul about William’s doings; it’s the revoltingness of much of what he allowed himself to put on the screen. The passion for associating argumentation with excrement, for instance; the stuff about sexual torture he perpetrated at The Intersection (pretending it was from comments at Pharyngula); the attribution of violent threats to other people; the sexual stuff. It’s incredibly UGLY – it’s trashy – it’s vulgar – it’s squalid. It’s way the hell beneath me aesthetically. Set aside ethics and honesty for the moment; I would never in a million years go in for that kind of ugliness.

    • the stuff about sexual torture he perpetrated at The Intersection (pretending it was from comments at Pharyngula); the attribution of violent threats to other people; the sexual stuff.

      whoah whoah whoah—you mean the vile posts threatening Kirschenbaum that YNH appealed to constantly as sobering examples of the potential extremism among anti-accommodationists were William’s puppetry???

      The fucking bastard!


      He should be brought up on whatever stalking and harassment charges apply for making threats over the internet.

      To use threats to women’s safety as a ploy like that. It’s beneath despicable!

      • whoah whoah whoah—you mean the vile posts threatening Kirschenbaum that YNH appealed to constantly as sobering examples of the potential extremism among anti-accommodationists were William’s puppetry???

        This is not entirely accurate. There is nuance being lost. “The stuff about sexual torture” refers to the many sockpuppets claiming Pharyngulans defended X Y or Z types of sexual assault. Example:

        William posted this as Philip Jr. Note that these are colorful ways of telling people to go eff themselves. Several quotes in other places were brought up that were literally doctored to make them look like threats instead of rhetorical flourishes. Some were completely fabricated as far as anyone could determine (like what Petra said about being told to get raped with farm implements). But as far as I could tell, none of the out of context, altered quotes were originally posted by a William sockpuppet. Hell, he used sexually-charged insults thrown at Pharyngula commenters as evidence that they threw sexually-charged insults. But as far as we know, he didn’t actually false flag to plant any of the insults in the first place (unless you count the ones he made up out of whole cloth…)

        Oddly enough, at the time I thought that bilbo brought up the infamous list of quotes. I might be missing a post in the history at this point, I don’t recall. Either way, at this point we know the author behind both nyms (and most of the others) are the same.

        • Ugh, my clarification didn’t clarify at all. Sloppy wording.

          What I meant to say is that he did not post violent sexual threats on Pharyngula then mention them on The Intersection as examples of Pharyngula commenters (which I thought you might have believed when reading your post). He did, however, alter pretty much all the comments he did take from Pharyngula, as well as make up several out of whole cloth (without actually posting them to Pharyngula first). It’s still disgusting, I just wanted to make sure we were disgusted accurately.

          • Yes, I’m still disgusted. Just more accurately.


            • I’ll look for the exact person who said this, but I believe it was PhilipJr. or Petra who said one of their relatives was raped with precisely the same instrument a commenter at Pharyngula allegedly told someone to use on themselves.

              We have every reason to believe William was lying about that, which is beyond the pale.

              I find it hard to believe William was an atheist or fatheist. Not that atheists are above lying and deceit but that someone who shares a defining commonality among others to be so entirely mean-spirited toward them seems unlikely to me.

              • I disagree, gillt. I think that William was, in all likelihood, an atheist.

                Unless the sockpuppets were used to defend the truth of Christianity, for example, as opposed to accommodation, I don’t think it’s likely that he is religious.

                There is one case I recall, though I can’t remember where, on a forum where a preacher pretended to be the worst caricature of atheism. So yes, it happens, but I don’t think that it was the case here.

                • I’m still wondering. In the post of mine that William did answer, I mentioned my doubts about YNH’s atheism and he gave no direct reply to that (though I grant it wasn’t phrased as a question).

                  • Well, I guess as far as I’m concerned, it really just doesn’t matter whether or not he is/was religious.

                    I know that in one of the Tom Johnson threads, Tom Johnson claimed to be an atheist.

                    • It doesn’t change what he did, but it might colour it a bit differently. That is a part of the accomodationist issue I do find of interest: the motivation of some non-believers to want others to keep quiet about it.

              • Actually, gillt, that was someone with the nym Amy, here. The nym doesn’t appear elsewhere in the arguments, nor at YNH (although it does admittedly sound a good bit like the other sockpuppets, and follows the “common first name” MO — but of course I’m also posting under a common first name).

                The most gutwrenching part of that post is that it’s plausible Amy is just an innocent bystander, taking Mooney and the sockpuppet chorus’s words as accurate when it comes to describing comments on Pharyngula. The same thing happened when Greg Laden said to SC that “Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with”. Invariably, people who were not familiar with the situation or the people being so described took the blogger and/or their supporters at face value and parroted their assertions, instead of researching the situation for themselves, where they would have come to the total opposite conclusion. This is why I don’t generally buy the “it’s just a blog” excuse for shoddy fact-checking.

                • You’re right Paul, that would be much much worse if Amy were an innocent bystander. Let’s hope she’s a puppet. SK or CM could tell us for sure.

                  I come from the viewpoint that Tom smeared both scientists (particularly evolutionary biologists) and atheists with his yarn.

                  So did William ever say he was into science or a scientist? I still can’t square why someone who is either an atheist or a scientist or both make up damaging lies about scientists AND atheists. He must have had some idiotic rationalization for doing so.

          • The clarification is welcome.

            William’s sockpuppets (joined in the echo chamber chorus by John Kwok and others) also maintained the ludicrous claim that these sorts of doctored or fabricated statements were entirely typical of the million or so posts on Pharyngula, as well as avoiding the patently obvious fact that while numerous posters are acerbic and vulgar, a proportion do manage to put their points across without recourse to profanity and should not be tarred with the broad brush. Portraying the entirety of the site and its posters as vulgar, misogynistic rape-apologists was poisoning the well, as William well knew.

            • And as I found out while digging out the acerbic quotes from Pharyngula as compiled by William/YNH the sockophant during one of his more sporadic episodes at Mooney’s blog, The Intersocktion, (link 1, & link 2), some of the more vile quotes were from trolls, not from Pharyngula regulars.

              • “erratic” not “sporadic” episodes, I meant.

                • If you’ve done that legwork then none of us have to, I suppose. Does it look like any of them were planted there expressly for William to harvest? That is, which trolls and what else do we know about them?

                  • I did a lot of that same legwork at the time, and posted some of my findings on the Endless thread. I can’t speak for Aratina Cage, but a lot of the quotes used were from trolls with other known identities (and different manners of posting, etc). Also, PZ did confirm that William had posted as bilbo on Pharyngula, by looking at old posts and isolating the IP address. He probably would have said if other trolls were using that same IP.

                    The quotes used had quite a variance in when they were posted, and were pretty obviously found by searching for specific bad words. He really didn’t have any motive to plant quotes, especially since he showed no compunction to altering the ones he found or making them up wholesale in the first place. Nobody on The Intersection side was attempting to verify that the quotes they were complaining about actually existed (and yes, there were a couple that weren’t sockpuppets, although some of the normal Intersection Trolls somehow seemed to know to steer wide and avoid most of the situation).

                  • I had to go back through them to remember it all well enough.

                    There was one troll named simon mentioned in the second link who was quite the perv and would tell people to do disgusting things not in a FOAD kind of way but as in he really wanted to see it kind of way.

                    The other one was named Ward S. Denker from the first link about “dying in a ditch” and he basically exploded at Knockgoats (a.k.a. “KG” these days).

                    Besides those two trolls, we also had some vile anti-gay/misogynistic trolls (and even a sockpuppet) who elicited some of the more creatively foul and sincerely angry responses from regulars, we had some hypothetical sayings that were not directed at anyone in particular, we had a regular quoting something vile that was left on a YouTube account, and, as the second link shows, we even had one person quote an auto-insult generator!

                    It doesn’t look like William/YNH was involved in any of the actual verbal spats on either side. It appears he simply searched for swear words or body parts and threw them up as an indictment against Pharyngula as fast as he could find them while fabricating more through other sockpuppets, which makes sense given how fast the turnover was at the Intersocktion at the time and given how different the contexts were for the list of quotes that William/YNH held up as evidence against Pharyngulites.

    • William has said that some of the most angry, negative comments were from him. A few are jokingly obvious like this one from a supposed Greg Laden fan [Edit: If you want to stay sane then don’t bother looking].

    • on July 9, 2010 at 12:11 am | Reply Kirth Gersen

      Heh — I’m not a big Julia Roberts fan, either, but they always put her in those sorts of lame conspiracy movies. You’ve got to admit that the idea is pretty amusing, though, in a bad movie sort of way. And the really sad part is that every denial on the Internet now reads like a YNH post.

      I do hope you don’t think that I’m actually suggesting you would have stooped to the nasty stuff, though — there’s no evidence for that, and no percentage in it for you, either.

      • It’s not that I don’t like her (though I’m not a huge fan), it’s that she’s too young! I will hold out for someone around my age or I will withold the rights. (There are no rights; I know; I’ll withold them anyway.)

        • on July 9, 2010 at 2:12 am | Reply Josh Slocum

          Besides which, Meryl Streep has talent, real talent. You deserve her. She’s srs bsns, she is.

  311. “Wiliam,”

    Was Anna K. your sock puppet?

    Was Vyspyr?

  312. I wonder what happened to William.


  313. “William,”

    And how about Vindrisi?

  314. I have removed the clairvoyant adjective which I attached to Ophelia in update #11. It suggested the wrong message since it was obvious to most scientists that Tom Johnson’s story was implausible. I’ve also reworded the update.

    Ophelia may still be clairvoyant, but this particular case could not count as a demonstration of it.

  315. […] on the “Intersection,” and we weren’t aware of it until recently, thanks to the revelations of The Buddha is Not Serious. We had not been in the habit of checking IP addresses or trying to […]

  316. In moderation at The Intersection:

    “I’m a scientist and atheist and, like you said, Tom Johnson’s fat lie did strike a nerve with me. It was a fairly obvious smear campaign against scientists and atheists.

    So give credit where credit is due, Chris. It was a few regular commenters on this blog and a few others such as Oedipus and OB who exposed Tom Johnson by having a discussion about it and asking William for the truth.

    We did it for you Chris…to keep you honest.

    You are welcome”

  317. Oh FFS, not that bloody lie about the rusty knife again. Since people are so reading challenged, here is the lolcat translation of the incident.

    PZ posts article: catholic apologist comes out with yet more crap about how raping children isn’t that bad really and besides, everybody’s doing it.

    O hai. Angry kitteh is angry. Raep bad! HULK SMASH!!! Raep teh rape appolojists – see how tehy likes it! With rusty nife!!elebenty! GRRR!!! Oh wate. If I raep rapist then I is rapeist too. Then basement kitteh wins0rz. Nooo!!!!! Do not want! Raep raepists, only not rilly k?

    Point to note: complete and utter absence of any reference to the intersocktion whatsoever.

  318. For those curious about the background to Ophelia’s ban,

    Look at all of her posts mentioning “Mooney” (use ctrl+f) here to here.

  319. Looks like Ophelia dared to ask for tangible evidence for assertions in Mooney’s book. That ended in heavy moderation and ban.

    This, I think, is the Intersections post in question:


    A commenter was allowed to call her a liar without challenge and her saying that this was improper was moderated.

    Funny, I started defending Ophelia exactly when people went off the rails with lying accusations.

    No matter, it’s a really poor discourse culture here. Critical discourse not allowed. People get called trolls and liar if they ask tough questions. Get banned and so forth.

    Of course all this had the prehistory of Coyne writing a review for Science that was very critical of Mooney (specifically elevating the NA issue) and Mooney called a mischaracterization and the blog responses to that whole deal.

    But basically as far as I see it Mooney allowed a commenter to call Ophelia a liar, but then prevented her to respond to that accusation through heavy moderation and the eventual ban.

    Did I get that wrong?

    • Appears to be about right, judging from the posts and what Ophelia has said about the ban.

      Of course, the piles of background about what lead to her getting called a liar by TB (@104) are relevant to vindicating her.

      She did get to comment @113, noting her comment was stuck in moderation, and then at 118, and of course, it was followed by an ironically prophetic comment by J.J. Ramsey:

      “Ophelia Benson: “My comment is awaiting moderation.”

      One of my comments had been awaiting moderation as well. I doubt that it is a ideological thing, especially since some of your more caustic comments has gotten through before. I suggest that you not be so quick to make insinuations of censorship.”

      Ho ho!

      By #121, her rebuttal still hadn’t made it through:

      “J J Ramsey – yes, yes – I know it’s not literal censorship. But I think M&K should take more trouble about this, because whatever kind of filtering it is, the outcome is that the false and libelous accusation of lying is out there while my rebuttal is not.

      I suggest that you try to focus on someone else for awhile. Your obsession with me is unhealthy.”

      At 131/132, she notes again that many of her comments are still in moderation. Refers again to the missing reply to TB at 139, followed by Kwok telling her to stop whining.

      Past 145/146, which are in the same vein as the previous, no more comments in her name.

      So, basically, it was TB, Ramsey, and Kwok going after her, and nothing of hers got through aside from her saying that her rebuttal to TB wasn’t going through.

      • Hitch: “But basically as far as I see it Mooney allowed a commenter to call Ophelia a liar, but then prevented her to respond to that accusation through heavy moderation and the eventual ban.”

        As far as I can tell Benson’s sin was persistent questioning until she got an answer. In other words, not getting the hint from Mooney. Eventually Mooney censored her in the only way he could.

        Of course at other times, Mooney responds to persistent questioning, such as in the case of Tom Johnson’s story, with condescension (New Atheist Comment Machine) and further ignoring. .

        • It’s true, I was very persistent. Ironically, if Mooney only knew it, that was because I could not get it through my head that he’s just not reasonable! I persisted because I kept (stupidly) thinking he would respond.

  320. I posted this at The Intersection, dunno if it will get through:

    Greg Laden:

    I think you have a point—this is just a blog, and maybe the full standards of journalistic fact checking don’t apply here. I suspect that most of Mooney’s critics would agree with that point, as I do, if you’d state it properly and not go way the heck overboard.

    This isn’t just a case of a blogger getting duped by a dishonest source, and some standards should apply. (The way you talk about it, it sounds like you think there shouldn’t be any standards of rigor for bloggers, that any such standards are ex post facto, and that we should all be more appreciative of anything you bother to do. Bunk.)

    You really should read the backstory, Greg. This was a case where the blogger was warned by several very serious people that the comment in question was fishy, and was given a number of good reasons for doubting the accuracy, honesty, and identity of his source, and the accuracy of the blogger’s portrayal of him. (I myself was one of the people who questioned whether “Tom” was really “a scientist” in the obvious sense; it seemed pretty clear to me that he was not a professor or a research scientist at a comparable level, and didn’t know how such people actually talk about their jobs.)

    The blogger was also warned that even if the incident in question happened roughly as it was related—which seemed quite unlikely to many of us, and “Tom”s backpedaling seemed to confirm that—it was just one anecdote, and the blogger was making too much of it, making it sound typical or somehow representative of the “New Atheism” and its deleterious effects.

    There’s backstory there, too. Chris has often been accused—rightly, IMHO—of distorting and overblowing anecdotes, leaving out crucial context and making things sound much worse than they were.

    Chris nonetheless chose to trumpet an unsubstantiated anecdote as Exhibit A in his case that the “New Atheism” is very damaging. He went further, and criticized the skeptics
    of the anecdote as “attacking” his beleaguered, brave, and noble anonymous source because they were (rightly) skeptical of the anecdote.

    We were not impressed then, and we explained clearly why. This isn’t ex post facto. It’s I told you so! And it’s not just “I told you so” either—we didn’t just casually dis somebody we disagreed with, and just happen to luck out and turn out to be right. We had correctly and repeatedly explained a number of good reasons to be quite skeptical, and we were ignored and portrayed as annoying and perhaps even menacing jerks for it. Hyeesh.

    That’s where some of the schadenfreude is coming from.

    Do you Mooney Haters realize what you are doing here? You are no longer allowed to even USE the phrase “ad hominem” again.

    Check your own meds, Greg. Your narcissism is getting really freaking tedious.

    None of you would have done the kind of background checking that you are now demanding that Chris needed to so. None of you.

    The hell you say. I certainly would have, and many bloggers do. Many bloggers do think that a blog should be more than a partisan rumor mill, and that questionable anecdotes should be questioned. Many readers appreciate that level of skepticism and rigor, even if it falls somewhat short of full journalistic fact checking.

    You could learn a lesson from that. Your knee-jerk defense of bloggers at the expense of blog critics is getting old and explains a lot of the lack of respect you’ve been getting lately.

    I think the point that Chris’s critics are making about Chris being a journalist is that even if the standards of rigor on blogs are different and somewhat lower than in (some) print publications, Chris Mooney of all people should be aware of the issues, and exercise at least a modicum of skepticism and rigor. He should have been skeptical of his own source, at least after good reasons for skepticism were explained to him, rather than doubling down and portraying his lying unverified source as a victim and a hero, beset by nefarious types like me.

    If a journalist, of all people, reacts as though such skepticism is just nefarious and threatening partisanship, and reassures people that his source is really “a scientist” without actually knowing that, it’s a problem. It was bad enough that Chris did not answer the question of what he meant by “a scientist,” when people expressed confusion as to what that meant. It was much worse that Chris didn’t actually verify that his source was even a student of the subject he claimed to be a “scientist” in. And that’s a far cry from veryifying that the incident in question actually happened at all, much that it was accurately and fairly portrayed.

    Remember, this is coming from somebody who regularly sets himself up as an expert on science communication, and frequently criticizes other bloggers for their supposedly lax comment moderation policies. If you want to take exception to people imposing their own standards on other people’s blogs, take it up with Chris.

    This episode has demonstrated that Chris and Sheril have failed pitifully to impose any reasonable or fair standards on their comment sections. They’ve often allowed at least one vicious, dishonest sock-puppeting creep to dominate their comments and set the tone. (In at least one month, “William” was responsible for at least 30 percent of the comments, and that’s just going by the sock puppets confirmed so far.)

    They have also banned at least one fairly prominent “New Atheist” blogger who persistently and correctly pointed out that their source was probably fake, and who helped track down their rampant sock puppeter and elicit a confession from him.

    Consider that when you say that none of us would have done the fact checking we’re demanding. Some of us (Oedipus Maximus et al.)did in fact do some fact checking, and caught the very culprit that Chris and Sheril could have caught vastly more easily (by checking a few IP addresses when suspicions were stated and clearly justified).

    Get with the program, Greg. Read the back story or shut up.

    You are right that some people have overstated, or perhaps oversimplified, the issue here. It’s not that Chris failed as a journalist in this instance—it’s merely that he failed as a responsible blogger, and as a journalist and constant critic of other bloggers’ standards, he really should have known better, but he let his own partisanship get in the way. He really set himself up for this, and it’s an epic fail, and a bit of schadenfreude on the part of his incessantly-maligned critics is understandable.

    • Thanks, Paul, that was very clear and much-needed. And I don’t mean as a rebuke to Greg, because I hope he does not shut up, even if I do feel that certain comments have been OTT.

      I haven’t seen the point made as explicitly as you did and it really needs setting into sharp relief: what M&K could have done easily and now say they never even thought of doing, was in fact done the hard way by another group of people, who did, admittedly, in some cases have the additional incentive of wanting to clear their names of lies told about them at YNH and M&K’s blog.

      Shan’t bother trying to post anything at the Intersocktion, but the real “put up or shut up” challenge that needs to be addressed is PZ’s over there. That there were lying socks in favour of M&K and against NAs over there is not something anyone is disputing anymore. The evidence, not to mention explicit confessions, is everywhere. Mooney has some gall by reporting this only with the rider that it could have been true for the other side as well. He neither shows any evidence (which he would have at his fingertips, should there be any), nor makes a claim that there is any, he just throws out a little stinkbomb that it “might well have occurred.” The irony that this is coming from the self-appointed arbiter of how to communicate in ways that foster unity rather than divisiveness would rupture any device designed to measure it.

    • Quick question Paul, could you cite which month ‘William’ managed 30%?

      For example, if that month happened to be March this year, that would imply approximately 700 posts total, which while possible, would be rather more than the 190 posts in the two most-commented threads which I documented over on Pharyngula earlier today; that was out of a sample of 848 posts, or about 22% of the total – rather lower than your 30%.

      PZ Myers’ current thread on this train wreck

      • Aw, fuck me with a fork. I’m wrong.

        I misremembered what you said over at Pharyngula. I know less than you.

        My bad.

        (By the way, as a note to Sheril, I’m not literally suggesting that anybody commit sexual violence with cutlery, upon me or anyone else. Duh.)

    • As always, beautifully said.

      I was constantly wanting to say that to you at The Intersection but I couldn’t because of the ban!

      Mind you, I did think your name was Dave for awhile, recently, but I’m over it.

      • As always, beautifully said.

        To my shock and amazement, Greg Laden disagrees with you (and the other Paul).


        In fairness, what I posted there was more redundant, because I started a new post taking new revelations into account, and pasted the old one in… but still.

        Yeah, I’m really going to take Laden’s judgment seriously about this, especially when he tells me about how to edit for his blog when my “batter” is low.

        Wow, what a sloppy thinker and writer Greg is, for somebody who pontificates so much.

    • You’re a credit to our name. I must admit, though, when I see comment feeds I always get a bit of a rise seeing very complimentary “Thanks, Paul” and other posts and then a downer when I realize it’s that pesky Paul W. again, instead of people recognizing the wonderful me. But then I read your posts and don’t feel bad anymore, except perhaps about how I can’t match your clarity of thinking and ability to summarize situations.

  321. Okaaaay, I’ve been away for several days at a conference with little time to access the internet. This is all fascinating.

    I just want to say that I’m not convinced that William has told us everything even now. I’m not going to be surprised if there’s another big revelation forthcoming. William … if there’s more, I urge you to come out with it now rather than have another saga. The other thing is that with these new revelations I may feel the need to post on it after all, so I’m giving notice of that.

  322. Stewart:

    Mooney has some gall by reporting this only with the rider that it could have been true for the other side as well.

    Hey, for all we know it could be true. Just like it could be true that “William” is actually Mooney or Kirshenbaum.

    For all we know, the New Atheists are just as bad. And for all we know, the Accommodationists are far worse than we yet imagine.

    Hey, this axe-grinding unbridled speculation thing is fun.


    I just want to say that I’m not convinced that William has told us everything even now.

    That’s an excellent thing to wonder about, given his history of feigning contriteness when caught, and his tendency to “come clean” only about things he’s been caught doing.

    I’m not going to be surprised if there’s another big revelation forthcoming. William … if there’s more, I urge you to come out with it now rather than have another saga.

    Yes. If “Willam” holds back, and gets caught again, I’d favor outing him by his full real name, to warn other people such as prospective mates and employers they’re dealing with an unregenerate con artist.

    Maybe we should take up a collection to hire a professional investigator.

  323. Sorry for the blockquote fail. The first quote (of Stewart) should be just one sentence, and then unquoted rather than requoted.

    • Sure, anything could be true. But we actually know about William’s misdeeds on the Intersocktion and elsewhere (and were very sure of it before he admitted it – I think that’s not unimportant), whereas Mooney has given us no good reason to believe there are any anti-accomodationist Williams at work.

      This is why Jean Kazez’s question (on the Appalling Revelations thread) is so out of place:

      “Ruseell [sic], Why not ask Chris if he’s stopped beating his wife, while you’re at it?”

      Because we don’t go around asking questions that are merely insulting or defamatory if we have nothing with which to back them up. Does Mooney have anything to back up his suggestion, which is defamatory to a large group of people?

      Russell is very rightly concerned (over at B&W) that Mooney will simply be immunised from learning from his mistakes if he gets back-up on matters like not apologising for them from people he thinks are mental heavyweights.

  324. I think the false use of hypotheticals is indeed to be rejected. Well said Paul.

    (Of course I could have meant that in all sorts of ways!)

  325. […] Wednesday came the revelation that “Johnson” was also “bilbo,” “milton c,” […]

  326. The two pages on the Intersection about Tom Johnson are now empty.

    I will be posting an archive of the Intersection website which I grabbed after realizing the Tom Johnson connection, shorty before William’s confession of it.

    • Thank you. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone who comes along later and reads only Mooney’s current version of events to be unable to see what was really published. “The Communicator” strikes again, doesn’t he?

  327. Wow. Mooney wishes he hadn’t published “Tom Johnson”‘s account because in retrospect he was a sockpuppeter, not because it was ridiculous on its face in the first place. And he holds that he had “no way to know something fishy was going on” with that comment. Bullshit, based on the long thread telling him it didn’t even have a sheen of plausibility.

  328. Oh, and he nuked the threads so the evidence will be gone? Really slimy. Extraordinarily so.

    By the way, Kirshenbaum reads and moderates The Intersection. The fact that Mooney found Tom Johnson’s account in any way plausible shows that he has absolutely no experience interacting with scientists on a professional level. Can her not telling him the account was ridiculous be held up as evidence that despite her M.Sc., she never had any of that sort of experience either, even as an onlooker?

  329. I find this rather unsatifying. So Chris has the key to verification, which he withholds. He claims the other side lied about the identity question and his verification was sound, but no third party can see if that is accurate.

    At the same time, content that is evidence in the whole saga is deleted without warning. That’s not proper either. Instead they should be up and marked as not credible with links to clarification.

    William, do you want to clarify how things stand in the light of Chris’ post?

    • IMO, the “grad student” is rather plausible. He is consistent about his fake field, so he’s probably some sort of science student constantly inflating his credentials. I’d be slightly surprised if he was really a grad student instead of an undergrad (Mooney hints he verified the former, but he’s still being very reserved and careful in his wording). But I wouldn’t be surprised if he linked Mooney to his true identity and then disavowed it when it became clear that he was being recognized.

      Then again, Mooney hasn’t stated the very simple methods he could have used to confirm the identity of the grad student (I wouldn’t expect him to out the name, and it would be wrong to do without actually verifying that the sockpuppeter is the same as the student, which I am not confident he has done). Such as contacting him using the contact information on the student’s web site to make sure it’s the same person. It’s still the same basic “I checked him out and he’s legit, trust me”. If he only “verified his papers” and such, William could have simply picked up that information to share with Mooney in the same manner Mooney looked it up to verify it. Also, I LOLed at the “Identity Theft” part, as if William was using the guy’s good reputation to open bank accounts or get credit cards.

      Mooney only now doubts the story because of the sockpuppeting, not because it was a silly story. /eyeroll

      • “He is consistent about his fake field, so he’s probably some sort of science student constantly inflating his credentials.”

        Is he? Where? I haven’t seen that (that I remember). I don’t think he’s a science student. He never talks about any scientific subject matter (at least that I’ve seen). Neither do I, and that’s because I’m not a scientist. Real scientists have a funny tendency to be interested in their subject, and mention it now and then.

        • I thought I recalled different socks mentioning biology, although I could be wrong. But he did consistently say “scientist” as opposed to say, dipping into the humanities, but that could be written off as him wanting to frame (heh) scientists instead of any other field. Just reminded me of a science undergrad who was sockpuppeting as a means of wish fulfillment (and to add extra weight to his statements).

          But really, I should probably retract the previous suggestion as there’s no real evidence. It’s just the impression I got.

  330. The zip file of the Intersection site is 210 megs.

    I’ll try to post the Tom Johnson pages for now. Please let me know if you see other blank pages.

  331. I did a “Save As…” of both pages yesterday, anticipating that they were likely to be severely edited back – at that stage the “Exhibit A” had 212 comments (the only new comments from 2010 were a couple of trackbacks), and the “My Thanks to Tom Johnson” had 168, up to Kagehi at July 7 2:21pm.

  332. Mooney didn’t nuke the pages, just incorrectly linked to them on the post.
    Correct links:

    As for “Tom Johnson”, Mooney said he was a “scientist” on the original posts and is now claiming he is also “very young”. Suspicious.

    So either William lied here about making up a story to Mooney or lied to Mooney twice or both or…..

    In any case, William is still lying. People here were right. You’re apology was worthless.

    I agree with Mooney on one thing though William: get off the fucking internet.

  333. As Feynmaniac said, Mooney’s Tom Johnson links were wrong. I’ve changed the update. Thanks.

  334. Is William lying about lying about lying about who he said he is?

    This is very confusing.

    • Mooney only confused things further I’m afraid.

      Also admitting he took the skeptics advice to check Tom’s identity, (which he should of done before elevating his anecdote to Example A) but then write a follow-up post calling those same skeptics part of the “New Atheist Comment Machine” and suggesting they were attacking Tom is patently absurd.

  335. So, let’s sum up, shall we?

    1. We still don’t know whether William is Tom Johnson or whether he’s an undergraduate or graduate student as even his ‘apologies’ contradict what Mooney says, but we can say for certain that he’s learned his lesson and is very, very sorry.

    2. Chris Mooney, a science journalist, was completely helpless to discern whether or not Tom Johnson’s story was true. (If only we could invent some sort of long distance communication devices to prevent such things in the future.) Of course, considering they write unapologetic books criticising religion and occasionally use profanity, there’s no telling what sort of persecution the New Atheist Hate Machine™ might unleash upon an unsuspecting world, so it was better to run with Tom’s hearsay testimony, even if only so future scientists reconstructing the collapse of civilisation might learn how it began.

    3. She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named remains banned from The Intersection.

    Looks like a win for science all around.

  336. Let’s not forget Isaac at Pharyngula who was all ‘LEEEAVE JOURNALISM ALOOOONE!’

  337. The Communication’s Expert is not communicating expertly at all!

    Example A: as someone pointed out, he linked to a post that contradicts what he says about Tom’s stated identity.

  338. on July 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Reply Kirth Gersen

    OK, eveything is clear now.

    1. “William” isn’t really William, any more than he is Patricia, Milton, Polly-O, bilbo, etc., etc. He may or may not be “Tom Johnson” of the maybe-bogus conference.

    2. “William” claims that there never was a conferenence in question.

    3. Chris Mooney says that he, in turn, has proof that there was a conference, and that someone was there, and that someone is “Tom Johnson.” And that “Tom Johnson” may or may not be “William.” But he doesn’t want to tell us anything, because, upstanding journalist that he is, he has to protect his sources.

    4. Chris also says that he has spoken with “William,” who is now telling the truth. Except about the conference. Maybe. And maybe everything else as well.

    Other than the glaring point that every “fact” contradicts every other one, the picture is as clear as day.

  339. In other words, Mooney is not helping.

  340. Since my last few posts at The Intersection have disappeared into the void, I’ll post this one here, too.


    One reason people want clarification of whether “Tom”/”William” is an undergrad, a grad student, or a Ph.D.’d professional is that many people clearly interpreted his claim to be “a scientist”—and Chris’s definite confirmation of that—to mean that he was a roughly professor-level scientist. When he said that his “colleagues” were doing all sorts of very rude things at functions to which they were invited, that sounded like professors or research scientists or at least postdocs dissing people very loudly, bluntly, and publicly after being invited to attend “conservation conferences.” He also said that their “superior” condoned such behavior. (Who would that be? A chair? A dean?)

    Some of us didn’t buy it. He did not sound like somebody who understood academia at even the graduate student level, much less the professor level. For one thing, professors rarely refer to anyone as their “superiors,” although a student might refer to his major professor in that way.

    So we took exception to the apparent gist of the story. It was not a story of experienced professional scientists behaving badly. Perhaps it was a story of some students being blunter than “Tom” liked. The fact that Tom backpedaled about what was said and done, and how publicly, made us especially dubious.

    So we asked—are we talking about a group of professors behaving very badly at a function to which they’ve been invited to speak, or a couple of students stacking chairs being overheard speaking their minds? The former seemed unlikely to us, and the latter seemed possible, but still likely grossly overstated.

    Neither “Tom” nor Chris bothered to answer that question, which is actually important in assessing the major claim that this was supposed to be Exhibit A of—did the New Atheists incite terrible rudeness among professional scientists, as most people would clearly understand the term, or was it just a difference of opinion among very young, green students who may have been overheard? The latter sort of thing might not be good, but it’s not nearly the same thing as the former. And was the report from someone with serious professional stature, who might reasonably guessed to be more likely to be reliable than some disgruntled very young student?

    Now we’re told that “Tom” is “very young” and therefore forgivable for his transgressions.

    Isn’t that interesting? We’re told that the person whose report was elevated to “Exhibit A” is not to be held responsible for his actions or his dishonesty. For reasons that Chris knew all along, but didn’t bother to tell little old us, even when we asked.

    That’s very interesting to those of us who doubted whether “Tom” was for real, or was a credible witness.

    Chris Mooney chose to let people believe that “Tom” was a responsible person in a position of responsibility, and likely honest, even after the question and various reasons for doubt were raised.

    And now he’s telling us to let the poor dumb kid off the hook, because we can’t expect someone so “very young” and green to have good judgment, or hold him to account for his massive and systematic dishonesty.

    Funny, that. When “Tom” was saying things Chris wanted people to believe, Christ cast us cast as axe-grinding meanies for expressing doubts on that score. (And avoided the question of “Tom”‘s academic status and experience.) But now he’s just some misguided kid who should be cut a lot of slack for having systematically lied and smeared people for months.

    If the latter is true, something is very rotten about the former.

    And Chris is still trying to have it both ways. On the one hand “Tom” has been outed as a chronic axe-grinding, inexcusably dishonest liar. He has admitted as much himself. It’s even been demonstrated that “Tom” has been caught doing nefarious things before, feigned remorse, and proceeded to do even more nefarious things.

    Yet Chris suggests that his story, or something like it, might still be true. We just can’t know.

    Sure, we don’t know if it’s true, but if it comes to unbridled speculation, we don’t know that “Tom” isn’t Chris Mooney, and none of you can’t be sure I’m not Pope Benedict.

    Chris’s source has been thoroughly discredited, but he still hasn’t given up on planting doubts based on what that source said. Holy cow. What kind of journalistic ethics is that? (What kind of blogging ethics, if you don’t hold him to journalist standards?)

    Likewise, Chris admits that his blog was full of sock puppets who were loyal to him, and attacked the New Atheists. But he suggests that maybe there were sock puppets on the other side, doing the same thing the other way.

    Oh really? I really don’t think so. Perhaps there were. Perhaps there was some minor sock puppetry on “our” side, by some minor figure, but I will literally eat my hat if it approached the scale of the sock puppetry in favor of Chris & Sheril and/or against the “New Atheists.”

    If Chris has any evidence of such sock puppetry, he should come out with it, right now. If he doesn’t, he should look for it, rather than spreading FUD in defense of the indefensible.

    It shouldn’t be hard to find. Just look at the longest and most contentious threads, and the most frequent posters, and see if they had sock puppets. This is not difficult to do by hand—it’s dead easy. If there was New Atheist sock puppetry on anything like the scale of the months-long anti-New Atheist hatchet job, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

    But there wasn’t, is there? It’s just another smear job, isn’t it?

    I’m betting there wasn’t, as PZ did.

    Do prove us wrong if you can, Chris.

    If Chris’s star witness was just some kid who can’t be held responsible, and he thinks people on both sides lie comparably often, that doesn’t say much about the New Atheists and Chris’s critics, but it says a whole lot about Chris, and his loyalists, and his standards.

    • I think that I’ll just refer people to this comment from now on. It captures about everything.

      I’ll echo a suggestion I made at B&W, though.

      Would it be possible for Chris Mooney to publish the correspondence with all specific, identifiable information about “William” censored? And, where censored, explain the nature of what has been left out?

      This seems like a reasonable suggestion.

  341. on July 9, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Reply Kirth Gersen

    “This seems like a reasonable suggestion.”

    Unfortunately, what’s “reasonable” and honest isn’t always what’s “nice,” and Mooney’s career is based on telling us to choose the latter in all cases, when the two come into conflict.

  342. OK, no blame, no recriminations. I would just like to know:

    1. Is “Tom Johnson” a scientist (even at the grad school level)?
    2. Does “Tom Johnson” have a body of published work?
    3. Could “Tom Johnson” have credibly attended a “CONSERVATION EVENT” (whatever that might be) in the role of a scientist?

    The answers–a simple yes or no to each–to these three simple questions would allow us observers to sort out which of William’s statements were fabrications.


  343. OMG, you guys ARE NOT HELPING!!!!

    Is it true that on this thread, there are several comments claiming that key posts were taken down by Mooney, then several comments about how the site was archived just in case this happened, and so on and so forth, but then it turns out that there was just a mistake in the URLs somewhere and the pages are really there after all?

    Does this mean that it is possible go get something wrong on the internet???? And make a big deal out of all of it quite mistakenly?

    And seriously, if you just for a moment consider the very very real possibility of confirmation bias (and it’s OK to do that because it is still insulting! Confirmation bias is NOT AN EXCUSE. It is a FLAW!!!) Then you can see how Mooney, with his beliefs, would see the numerous commenters telling him he’s wrong as, well, being wrong. So here on this thread, we see those same commenters yelling about how they were right. Well, of course they would say that!

    (And as it happens they were, but still… do you not see how this appears?)

    You guys need to take it down a notch. There’s more than enough actual material here. Exhibit A is falsified. Personally, I think Exhibit A having been first proffered because of confirmation bias than shown wrong is WAY more powerful than what you are saying here!

    You are like those drivers on the highway who tailgate whomever is in front of them and don’t take in the bigger picture, and end up having to stop at every red light because of their lack of strategic thinking.


    • Yep, and realizing their mistake, they corrected it and moved on.

      There are commenters who are going too far, Greg. You can catch them specifically and find the parts that are objectionable, or you can yell “firing squad mentality” at all of those involved without making distinctions.

      I’ve had success with the former, not so much with the latter, in cooling heads and keeping things on topic.

    • Greg,

      I’m not disagreeing with the suggestion that we should be slow to jump to unflattering conclusions about Mooney or Kirshenbaum’s actions


      I don’t think the jump to thinking they’d disappeared pages was a big leap. A jump, yes, and regrettable, yes, but pretty freaking plausible.

      As I understand it, Mooney and Kirshenbaum have been known to disappear embarrassing pages, including perhaps the very most interesting page relevant to this fiasco—the one in which William went spectacularly over the top, to Mooney’s embarrassment, and two of William’s socks tried to get somebody they didn’t like outed at his place of employment.

      Mooney closed the page and then disappeared it.

      After that, the offending socks said they were very very sorry and should never have done such horrible things, and would never do horrible things again, and thanked Mooney for his great mercy in not permanently banning them.

      IIRC, at least one said the kind of thing William has been saying lately, e.g., that banning him would be a good idea, he shouldn’t post anymore, etc., etc.

      And of course he did. He just took his evil shit a little further underground, so that he could continue to do it with less risk of getting caught.

      (BTW, if anybody saved that page, I’d really like to see it.)

      Given that background, it wouldn’t be shocking if Mooney had disappeared the recent pages in question, rather than simply fumbling the links. And given that the fumbled links showed up in a funny way, rather than as the usual 404s or whatever, it wasn’t a terribly paranoid guess.

      You are right, of course, that somebody could make it look pretty bad by taking it out of context—e.g. omitting the background above—so the advice to be slow to jump, (much less leap) to conclusions is well taken.

      • BTW, if anybody thinks I’m mistaken or unfair in my understanding above, do jump to say so.

        I’ll start… I shouldn’t have said “disappeared.” That may connote Very Bad Things, and there can be very good reasons for taking a page down, as there seem to have been in this case. (E.g., attempted outing.) I’d prefer to see it back up, suitably redacted to protect the innocent, but I’m not trying to imply anything nefarious about it being gone.

      • Unfortunately, I don’t have the page Mooney disappeared. I’m not sure if anyone does.

  344. Greg, as I see it, it’s simple. Had Chris said, very sorry all, I suffered from confirmation bias there, my bad, and also my bad for harping on it and dismissing those who spotted early what was going on. If he had said that, I’m sure it’d be all over.

    If he had extended a hand towards Ophelia, perhaps. Or tried to find some reconciliation with his critics on the topics that clearly painted NA worse than it deserved.

    All that would have been great.

    Instead he still has to put in hypothetical qualifiers (“might still be accurate”), place the blame squarely on William etc.

    I’m sorry but the story is not just William and it’s not just that Chris made a mistake. It’s that the consequences of that mistake are still hardly acknowledged.

    As it stands now, there is no apology for the way critics who, as it turns out had valid and ligitimate concerns were treated.

    For some this may be a pro- or anti-Mooney thing. I’m neither, but I don’t agree with you at all about how you characterize this.

    Anyone saw how William was treated when we thought he came clean? That’s how people who are believed to have make an honest apology are treated. And that was good and right. Chris has not made an honest apology and hence he still faces in fact very valid criticism.

  345. Zach, yes, it got fixed, but the near hysteria should not have happened inthe first place. It wasn’t helping.

    No, there is not a rule that I can not make broad statements. Obviously there is a diversity of comments and approaches. And, yes, there is a bit of a firing squad mentality going on as well.

    Yes, you have a valid way of making your points . But it may not be my way. And, yes, the paranoia is another way as well, but it … well, it just doesn’t help. At this point, anyone can point a non-involved third party to this thread with a few comments about approach and attitude, and most people without a stake i this issue could read the last half of it or so and come away understanding that there are a bunch of crazy people on the internet, when in fact, what we have here is something rather different from that.

    Had Chris said, very sorry all, I suffered from confirmation bias there, my bad, and also my bad for harping on it and dismissing those who spotted early what was going on. If he had said that, I’m sure it’d be all over.

    Very good. Chris has not said anything about confirmation bias. As far as I inow, I’m the only one saying that, and most anti-Mooneys are disagreeing and saying that that can’t possibly be a factor.

    But you are right. It was confirmation bias (in part) and the fact that we can see confirmation bias in a well educated communication expert who happens to have certain expectations about “new atheists” is very very very important. Very.

    If he had extended a hand towards Ophelia, perhaps. Or tried to find some reconciliation with his critics on the topics that clearly painted NA worse than it deserved.

    All that would have been great.

    You seem to be arguing that I should stop telling you to leave Chris alone. I’m not telling you to leave Chris alone.

    As it stands now, there is no apology for the way critics who, as it turns out had valid and ligitimate concerns were treated.

    As unfair as it may seem, that is not going to happen. There are different ways to interact with people, and the in your face screaming, even if correct, rarely gets nicy nicy afterwards. If one choses to be an over the top screaming in your face interlocutor, one may certainly do so, but it limits the possible outcomes.

    Anyone saw how William was treated when we thought he came clean? That’s how people who are believed to have make an honest apology are treated.

    Excellent point, but in truth, that was an extraordinarily rare occurrence. Offhand, I can’t think of too many similar examples. Can you?

    • No, I cannot, but it gives a good indication what a good route is to take in these cases.

    • I wasn’t claiming a rule. I was claiming that the results you should expect from broad statements will be considerably different.

      To put it in the form of a goal-oriented statement: if you are concerned with quelling mob mentality and exaggerations, then addressing specific examples and people is more likely to be successful than making a broad statement, even if that broad statement is correct. Further, a broad statement is more likely to have the effect of the mob mentality redirecting(toward yourself) than dispelling.

      That’s just my experience.

      Also, plenty of others have talked about confirmation bias particularly and the issue being partisan mentality broadly, up to Mooney. I haven’t seen many comments accusing Mooney of conscious fraud. I have seen several comments which seem to imply it, however, so your point still holds that we need to use our prefrontal lobes, not our limbic systems.

      For others who read this response, please take Greg’s comment as a caution and not a specific charge directed at you personally.

    • I’ve seen lots of examples of complete and utter responsibility taking apologies. But they usually happen only when someone has screwed up in a major and undeniable fashion, has all opinion against him, and simply has no better cards to play than to throw himself on the mercy of whomever he wronged and whomever is watching. And, often, such confessions of wrongness are preceded, as William’s was, by initial attempts at notpologies that flat out failed.

      Mooney can still follow up a notpology with a real one, but I don’t think he did anything remotely wrong enough to warrant throwing down his cards and begging for mercy. As far as he is concerned he was fooled by a source he tried to check out. That’s not the stuff he’s going to start tearing his clothes and gnashing his teeth and self-flagellating over. (Though I think that the smears against PZ and the rest of the NA’s from both him and William are serious and in some of William’s cases were outright libelous).

      • He doesn’t need to self-flagelate at all.

        Just recognizing reality is enough, but I recognize that in our world even that is too much to expect.

  346. I wasn’t claiming a rule. I was claiming that the results you should expect from broad statements will be considerably different.

    Fair enough.

  347. I’ll admit the possibility of confirmation bias on the broken URLs, but there is another side of the story:

    I’ve never, ever seen that problem before: those links take us to a real, live Discover page complete with banner and sidebar containing M&K’s picture. Everything looks exactly right except the blog post content is missing. We’re not talking about a 404 error here.

    Plus, it would make sense from Chris’ perspective to remove them at least temporarily.

    I didn’t rant about it; I was only taking steps to get those pages up. I was relieved that it was just a URL problem since it’s less work for me (I was in middle of writing Josh to ask him to host it).

    • I noticed that as well. The reaction to the broken URLs was still a little hasty, but the circumstances you mentioned distinguish it from hysteria, IMO.

      I also made an archive for purposes of before/after documentation of comments, as the treatment of comments at The Intersection is, shall we say, a little sketchy.

      Also, if Mooney goes back and “corrects” William’s efforts by removing the sock comments, I want to have a for-the-record relevant to future “tone” debates or issues of what should count as “fair” regarding comment moderation at The Intersection. As I’ve been pressing the comment censorship issue pretty heavily, I want to keep my own record straight as well. I hope that he goes back to the (worst/largest) threads and puts up a cautionary note at the bottom of the OP instead, but just in case.

  348. Huh. Interesting. Well, sometimes hysteria is good, then!

  349. And, did you hear, the US and the Russians just exchanged spies.

    So, if you have a feeling we are living in John LeCarre novel, it could be because we are!

    • on July 11, 2010 at 12:37 am | Reply Daniel Fincke

      Do the accommodationists have any captive New Atheists we can get back in exchange for freeing William?

  350. One quick observation, not intended as an attack, before I get to my main argument: I’m not sure that accusations of hysteria levelled at those in this thread are “helping”, either.

    I’m just as fallible as anyone else – for instance, above in the thread when it appeared that two Intersection posts from 2009 appeared to have been removed, I said, quote: “I did a “Save As…” of both pages yesterday, anticipating that they were likely to be severely edited back”. Well, I’m glad to have been proven wrong on that point, which I had thought might be a possibility – not a certainty. As someone has pointed out upthread, I’m happy to admit my mistake, and move on.

    There is a tendency to pick over the small details in this skirmish, rather than the big picture, which I think is a fairly natural outcome of the mess, seeing that many people have different axes to grind over their interactions with “William”, or with Chris Mooney, or with others involved in the fracas. I applaud those who are attempting to look from the larger perspective.

    From my perspective, the “framing wars” over the tactics used to promote science is the larger picture if not the indisputable “Big Picture”. The “New Atheists” such as PZ Myers hold a strong commitment to honesty and the evidenced-based content of their messages over variables of tone that might give offence in some quarters; the “accomodationists” stress the need for non-strident, non-alienating communication and presentation of science and a respect for opposing views (obviously this is a quick pen sketch). One possible synthesis of the two positions might be represented by those who believe the “New Atheists” are needed at the extremity in order to make the “mainstream” of scientific opinion appear as a reasonable middle ground, rather than the entirety of science being brought into disrepute.

    Without trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, the actions of “William” over the last nine or ten months have been a one-man campaign to attempt to discredit the “New Atheists” from the “accomodationist” side, and he has used a large repertoire of dirty tricks to do it. Let’s not forget that he has gone to extraordinarily elaborate lengths not only to lie, but to backstop his lies: fabrication of “consensus” by means of fake individuals providing “confirmation” of lies; blatant hyperbole, cherry-picking, and gross dishonesty in representing the views of his targets. The YNH blog had also started to pick up a number of regular posters who were not sockpuppets, but were willing to join in the chorus. Finally, apart from the lies, there is a significant proportion of his postings that looks very much like (and I hesitate to say it, for obvious reasons, but I think it is arguable) defamation of some individuals: one sock would advance a contentious statement, and immediately another would step in to repudiate it – but crucially, the original lie would be left to stand.

    So, what is the outcome of these revelations? I’d be tempted to think that it’s a “lose–lose” situation for both the “New Atheists” and “accomodationists”. In the case of the former, the personal integrity of some “New Atheist” has been under attack, but instead of the attacks being roundly condemned, a chorus of predictable voices are decrying the reactions of schadenfreude, or downplaying the extent of the dishonesty. The attacks on Mooney’s gullibility are also “not helping”, since the reaction is being characterised as revenge rather than an attempt to receive some acknowledgement from Mooney that their position had been grossly misrepresented. The lies have been out there for some time and obviously have had some effect; the retraction is welcome, but late.

    On the “accomodationist” side, the “lose–lose” situation plays out in that Mooney, having stressed the virtue of communication, has been seen to endorse a notorious liar, and far from totally repudiating him has weakly offered the possibilty that some of the liar’s views might actually be “true”. I surely can’t be alone in thinking such a position has next to zero credibility. Nothing that a proven liar says should be taken on face value, and the mixed messages coming from Mooney’s confidants suggest some willingness to put a small amount of trust in the liar. Where’s the evidence for that? Being somewhat accomodating to a liar in this way looks like the decent thing to do, but it doesn’t inspire trust.

    Another small factor that also reduces Mooney’s credibility as a communicator – belatedly realising that his blog has occasionally become an echo chamber of lying “sockophants” (in two threads in March, “William” was responsible for at least 22% of the posts under at least six different identities), he has now made it much more difficult for communication to occur there. I have little doubt that if I tried to post this short essay at the Intersection, it would be blocked just like the several other posts I’ve attempted to make there in the past several days. Mooney seems no longer interested in “communication” per se, on his blog – he is managing the appearance of “the right type of communication”, which seems to value tone rather higher than honesty (as compared to a free-wheeling blog where anyone within reason can post without suffering censorship, but the “high tone” suffers). Greg would point out it’s just a blog, Mooney can do what he likes with it, and I agree. It’s not a big deal, but it seems emblematic of how this debacle is not prompting a rapprochement between those of opposing views, but fixing their convictions more strongly.

    Anyway, the foregoing is obviously my standpoint, and I could be completely wrong about all of this…

    Regards, Philip

    • I’m new to all this but let me be completely cynical.

      The “framing wars” is a red herring. It’s a “wedge issue”.

      Everybody frames their issues. Everybody accommodates in some way. Everybody chooses their tone and the type of rhetorical devices they use. There are no binary opposites here, there is a range and people fall on that range.

      The real thing that is going on is attempts to stereotype people.

      So one poster or commenter in one specific instance falls on the far end of that range.

      That is then elevated and made into an example of a whole supposed group “New Atheists” “Accommodations”.

      And hence a picture is painted that looks binary. But it’s essentially demagoguery and selective quoting that paints that picture. It’s not an accurate picture.

      But it’s not a symmetric situation.

      One side gets it worse. Much worse. Whole books are written that invent merged identities to attack (“Ditchkins”), and people are quoted out of context to make them appear violent (Wilson on Hitchens).

      And that while atheism still suffers from very high levels of distrust in the US, as the Minnesota study has shown.

      And to the outside what is the effect? Not that people think that just New Atheism is bad and aggressive and worse. It reflects back on all atheists.

      Now the claim is that, only if New Atheists framed the issue better there was no problem.

      I had more sympathy for that argument if indeed what New Atheists by and large say would be delivered as said.

      Problem is that New Atheists are “framed” negatively. Take the dagger rape thing or the Chamberlain thing. Pull something out of context and blow it out of proportions.

      That is the framing that supposedly New Atheists create. But they really do not. They are just subject to quote farming, to out of contexting, to exaggerations and dramatizations.

      And then they get the blame for framing it wrong.

      That is, it seems the “framing war”.

      Now the honest stance is simple. It’s the DeGrasse Tyson/Dawkins one. One a point one can disagree if the delivery worked. But to paint a person or a group in a certain way is not honest.

      Heck I didn’t like at all the Andrew Rosenberg thing. But that doesn’t detract from appreciated quite a bit of what PZ says and does overall. One can take issue with a point, a situation, a case and not demonize the person, the group they supposedly belong to and so forth.

      But we don’t have that.

      My criticism of Chris Mooney is exactly this. The Tom story was not just a case of elevation and sock puppetry, it was a case of stereotyping a group. When people in the comments pointed that out, they got shot down.

      Now that it’s clear what the context is, no apology for that. No, instead we get qualifiers “may still be accurate” and “sock puppets might have appeared on both sides” that still throw some schmutz at people who clearly overall had a very valid point.

      If that’s the “framing war” I’m clearly on one side and one side only: Stop framing groups in a way that they do not deserve. No matter what group!

      It’s negative stereotyping and should be called out as what it is.

  351. A few small mis-edits above:
    para 4, disputable, not indisputable; and “non-alienating communication in the presentation of science”.

    I also now have remembered one small point that I wanted to make, but the recollection arrived too late. With the wisdom of hindsight, some people have been taking Mooney to task for not suspecting the presence of, nor looking for sockpuppets. Yesterday I noticed that back in March, at least one poster had explicitly suggested that the thread was being trolled by sockpuppets:

    “Strengthening Public Interest In Science?”

    227. Stu Says:
    March 12th, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Guys, when you start sock-puppetry to troll a thread to 500 posts, it helps to be not completely obvious.

    Just a friendly tip. Goodbye.

  352. Not having paid attention to The Intersection until this episode, the first thing that strikes me is how idiosyncratic Chris and Sheril behave as bloggers.

    After 24 hours their Tom Johnson links still point to the same funny pages which have the Discovery banner and sidebar with their picture, but which have emptiness where the blog content is supposed to be.

    Soon after the Tom Johnson post was made, they approved Feynmaniac’s comment which gave the correct links. Why didn’t the person approving the comment make the correction? I’m sure there’s no conspiracy, it’s just inexplicable for the mistake to stand for 24 hours and counting.

    Earlier, Sheril partially quoted Paul’s comment, snipping his question while giving this response,

    It’s actually quite difficult to figure out when someone is sock puppeting. Multiple users can share the same IP, depending on where they are posting from.

    What? I politely asked her to answer Paul’s question but this was ignored as she made two comments after mine.

    Again I assume there’s no conspiracy, but at the same time it doesn’t make sense and there’s no effort on their part to clarify. I see the same issue regarding Mooney’s latest post. From trivial stuff (links) to big stuff, it’s inexplicable to me.

    • You’ll understand their behavior better if you realize that Chris and Sheril are full of the themselves. They haven’t fixed the links because they can’t be bothered. They didn’t notice the sock puppets and abuse in their comment threads because they just don’t care.

      You have to remember that these are people who think they can condescendingly tell Richard Dawkins how to properly communicate science.

      To be fair though, it’s also worth realizing that they view the vast majority of commenters on these long threads as hostile “screechy monkeys” (as I believe they once called us). I’d say they brought it on themselves by starting the framing wars (and fighting dirty, and failing to respond to legitimate criticism), but nonetheless, it does explain some of the less-than-hospitable atmosphere of their blog.

      Look at how many comments their blog generates when they haven’t brought some the-scientists-are-doing-it-wrong kerfluffle down upon themselves. There are perhaps a dozen sympathetic followers (most of whom are outcasts from Pharyngula, or have turned out to be sock puppets). So maybe it’s not too surprising that they treat large influxes as comments more as a hostile attack than as an opportunity for communication and debate.

      That said, I have also been quite surprised at the very dismissive attitude that the Intersection takes toward its readers. I think it may be symptomatic of the attitude of the Accommodationist-Framers, but I’ll leave it at that.

    • I’ve been posting at The Intersection for a few years and that has been my experience with Chris and Sheril. If you happen to disagree with them, which I often do, you will find that they ignore you and you will instead be dealing with Anthony McCarthy, Jon, TB, kwok and at least two puppets.

  353. In moderation at The Intersection.

    Black Cat: “What is more, it doesn’t seem anyone had any idea that Tom was a sock puppet before he admitted it. Many knew his story was not credible, but it does not appear the possibility of him being a sock puppet was seriously considered.”

    Early on, I made an off-the-cuff comment asking William whether Tom was one of his sock-puppets at the Buddha thread. I think it was pretty obvious that I didn’t take it seriously, but TB rushed to Tom’s defense calling me a Troll for even suggesting such a thing. When I made a more substantial suggestion later on that Tom and Milton C called themselves evolutionary biologists and how unlikely that was, TB was the only one to come to Tom’s defense again.

    It appears to me that TB took the possibility of Tom being a puppet rather seriously.

  354. Added update #14.

    • Your offer to Mooney to vouch for him based on secret evidence isn’t really going to clear up anything. If Kazez assertion is correct that “William” lied to you in this thread about whether or not he really is a grad student, etc., to through you off his trail then he is **still** lying. In such circumstances continuing to advocate for, and conspiring to, keep his identity secret seems whole unsupportable.

      If “William” had come clean on his own, or the first time he was caught, or even the second time, that might be one thing, but if he lied the second time and is continuing to lie then I’d say there is no way you can reasonably justify protecting a continuing serial liar who’s lies have actively spread and continue to spread confusion, doubt and disunity in our community.

  355. One question I’d like answered is if “Tom” was actually driven by secular motivations or if he was a theist all along.

    YNH seemed like the king-of-all-concern-trolls, and Tom Johnson has done a phenomenal job of further wedging apart elements of our community.

    Are Christians permitted to lie if doing so sows discord and confusion among their enemies? Cause that’s been the effect of every single one of William/Tom/YNH’s actions (helped along in good part by a few key high-profile bloggers).

  356. Why do I have this nasty feeling that “Tom”/”William”/whatever is sitting somewhere, reading the comments on both this blog and on Mooney’s blog… and enjoying a chortle on everyone’s expense.

    “Yes, yes, it’s all going to plan… muahahaHAHAHAH!”

  357. I have to say, Kazez’s comment that the “New Atheists” are: “in love with William. You really, really want to believe everything he told you, even though you have no independent corroboration.” – strikes me as pretty bizarre. When I first read it, my rather angry reaction was “bullshit! You have got to be joking!”, but I didn’t attempt to add to the pile-on over at her blog. I think taking random pot-shots at people is aggravating the situation – which is perhaps exactly what “William” had intended.

    Let me be crystal clear on this.

    “Tom Johnson” aka “William” aka “Milton C.” aka “Petra” etc etc etc has said precisely nothing which I am treating as “true”.

    I see no reason to regard anything he’s claimed to have seen as credible; and a lot of it is on the borderline of being reasonably plausible (the linguistic nuance here is that something credible may be readily believed; whereas something merely plausible bears only the possibility of being true, and may not be found to be so upon further inspection).

    Regards, Philip

  358. Didn’t quite phrase that right: … and a lot of it is on the borderline between being reasonably plausible on the one hand and implausible on the other.

  359. Well, Mooney himself is clear that “William” and “Tom Johnson” are the same person. He claims to have spoken to this person, and he also claims that they have used the same IP addresses. The issue that Kazez is making a fuss about is that “William” told a lie on this very thread – i.e. he lied about not being a graduate student. The claim is that he’s who he originally told Mooney he was.

    I just don’t get the relevance of this. Even on Mooney’s own account:

    1. “Johnson” is the same person as “William” and all the other sockpuppets who’ve been identified so far.

    2. This person has lied his head off and engaged in other extensive abusive activity on the internet (vendettas, abuse of invisibility, misrepresentations, fakery of multiple identities …).

    To which we can add:

    3. The original “Johnson” story was always wildly implausible on its face.

    And we can also conclude that:

    4. The source of the story is now revealed as someone with no credibility.

    I think it’s also fair to conclude that:

    5. Those of us who told Mooney the story was incredible, back in 2009, and that he was foolish to rely on it so heavily, have been vindicated in our judgment.

    What most annoys me is that Mooney still won’t concede that the story was always incredible on its face. You’d think events would get him to go back and reconsider this. He could win some good will just by being honest about that one issue. So could Kazez, who has been digging an increasingly deep hole for herself. I honestly don’t care about whether Mooney should have done more identity checking in 2009, or whatever. I don’t even care about the real identity of William/Johnson.

    I’d like to be able to connect some more dots if the names of more sockpuppets at The Intersection or elsewhere ever come to light, but mostly I’d like to see Mooney and Kazez stop with the stuff about how Mooney’s early investigation revealed the puppeteer’s true identity. That may or may not be so – as far as I can tell at the moment, it is so – but it’s simply not the point. I don’t think it’s worth getting distracted about. The real point is as per 1. to 5. above.

    • on July 11, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

      “The original ‘Johnson’ story was always wildly implausible on its face.”

      Why? First, the protests of implausibility came largely from one side of the partisan divide, from those who would be embarrassed if the “Johnson” story were true. Second, and more importantly, Johnson’s story looked like what would happen if some people not only took PZ Myers’ old advice to get “meaner, angrier, louder, fiercer” but further decided to stick it to “pious twits” on their own turf.

      You can’t build up a reputation for meanness and not expect people to find accounts of such meanness plausible.

      • I don’t wish to rule out confirmation bias, which could have predisposed Mooney to accept the story and predisposed the story’s intended victims to reject it.

        But is it seriously being proposed that confirmation bias was the only thing in action here and those who didn’t accept the story simply lucked out when it turned out not to be true?

        Perhaps other factors, such as methods of evaluating information and judging the reliability of its sources, were at work here. To whatever extent that was the case, it’s pretty clear that the toolset Mooney was using is the one that was flawed and pretending that that aspect of the story just doesn’t exist means, essentially, a refusal to take new information on board and use it to improve the way one functions.

        • A slight elaboration, just in case that can get a little clearer.

          Suppose none of this had happened publicly, with all the repercussions, names and reputations dragged through the mud, etc. Suppose somebody Mooney did not know well enough for him to have a previous opinion about told him a story, privately, and Mooney believed it. He didn’t do anything with it, he just drew the conclusions he felt were warranted by what the story illustrated. Later, through a source far more convincing and trusted than the one from whom he got the story, he finds out that it was all made up. What happens then? One would hope he’d learn that the source of the story is not trustworthy. One would also hope that he’d revise any opinions he’d formed or strengthened on the basis of the story. But beyond all that, if the person to whom this happened (it doesn’t even have to be Mooney for the purposes of the illustration, it’s all generally applicable) has a shred of introspection, he would seriously ask himself what caused him to accept a story he now knows to be false from a relative stranger in the first place. Does he have to change something in the way he evaluates and processes information he receives to protect himself from a repeat performance?

          That, to me, seems valid for a case that never goes beyond the strictly private realm. Now, apply it to the circumstances in which Mooney’s obscenely public debacle took place and note that the strongest self-corrective measure he mentions is “we’re going to take action to prevent that in the future.” That is written in the context of nipping future sock-puppetry in the bud and he doesn’t really address the question of his own perceptions, which fanned these flames like hell and have turned out to be in need of more than just a bit of fine-tuning.

      • That’s of course silly. It’s confirmation bias and worse it’s negative stereotyping.

        If a christian kid bullies someone in school we do not conclude from it that someone who advocates that kids are more assertive and stand up for their opinion encouraged this and worse that this reflects badly on all christians who want to be assertive. Let’s call those chrisitans “New Christians”.

        But most of what is going on here is stereotyping anyway. There quite clearly is a rather massive vested interest to make “New Atheists” appear more nasty than they are. And there is quite a bit of stereotyping of “Accommodationists” as well.

        In the first case, that was the fault of YNH and it’s also the fault of how Chris handled the Tom Johnson story at Intersections. And it’s the fault of yourself too.

        I’m frankly rather tied of all this stereotyping that is going on and people looking desperately for confirmation.

      • JJ, it might have looked like that … to a gullible nitwit.

        Read the account again in its original form, with your blinkers off: it is obviously a piece of fiction by someone with no talent for sketching events realistically. Prior to the recent revelations, I could have accepted that the fiction just might be based on some real incident that had been filtered through someone’s wild imagination … or just wildly exaggerated and embellished. It’s still possible that there’s a grain of truth somewhere about some argument that took place in the real world between an academic and a minister of religion. We’ll probably never know.

        But the actual description of events was simply incredible. As so often, I can’t prove this to you, as it’s a matter of judgment and experience not a mathematical algorithm. But as so often, your judgment strikes me as dreadful. As was Mooney’s.

  360. The bit about “falling in love” was humorous hyperbole. What I meant is that when William confessed here, it seemed to make people feel good, and so I think there was an eagerness to believe him and let the whole crazy episode come to an end. In the moment, it did seem probable that all of William’s sock puppets were equally fabricated. However, that is not the case. “William” was stabbing Chris Mooney in the back when he said Tom Johnson was just another made up sock puppet, because in October 2009 he had sent him definitive evidence that he was for real, and Chris had said as much on his blog.

    Russell, You say the issue is whether Tom Johnson’s story was “credible” and whether Chris was “foolish to rely on it.” But then you go on to say you don’t care if Tom Johnson is real or not, and you don’t care if Chris vetted him properly. But the issue about whether Chris was foolish IS the issue of whether he vetted him properly. Which means: did he gather enough evidence in October 2009 before trusting Tom Johnson?

    Or….what? Are you saying that Tom Johnson’s story was SO incredible that no amount of vetting should have made Chris believe it? Why do you think that? Suppose somebody comes to my blog and says that atheists are having a “baked Jesus contest.” I find that unlikely. I say–how insulting to atheists! But then they tell me who they are, and how they know, and why they care, etc etc. If they give me enough solid evidence about that, I think I should at least let them testify at my blog that there’s a baked Jesus contest. I don’t think I should exclude their testimony because of the antecedent improbability.

    I don’t even really follow why you find Tom Johnson’s story so antecedently improbable. As you probably know, there is a baked Jesus contest–discussed recently at Pharyngula. In a world in which atheists have baked Jesus contests, is it really so incredible that they might have clashes with religious people out in the real world–even at certain kinds of conservation meetings? I do know atheists who confront religious people in the real world, so this never seemed incredible to me.

    The whole issue of what’s “incredible” and what isn’t strikes me as extremely contentious and subjective. To me, the question is about vetting. And then when we consider whether Chris did that properly, we have to focus on what he had in front of him in October 2009, not the whole body of evidence that exists now. Yes, the later revelations have to make us more skeptical about him as a witness. But that doesn’t bear at all on what Chris had reason to believe in October 2009.

    To those who believe it’s wrong to let Tom Johnson/William/Bilbo/etc remain anonymous. I have the feeling he’s a troubled soul. I honestly think he needs therapy, not punishment. So I agreed not to reveal his identity, and will certainly keep my promise.

    • Btw Jean, you used snide hyperbole from the beginning. None of them adds to your credibility or source of sensible verification of Chris’ claims. Rather you go out on a limb to try to discredit everybody who doubts Chris or yourself by calling them gullible… with more hyperbole.

      If one doubts one is automatically “anti-Mooney” and engaging in “schadenfreude” right?

      I’m not anti-Mooney at all. I’m against all these negative stereotypes that people build up. And there is no “schadenfreude” at all either. There is exasperation that a honest discussion is not to being had, just framing, labeling and deflection. And worse, a building up of camps and enemies (“anti-Mooney”).

      • Jean: “I don’t even really follow why you find Tom Johnson’s story so antecedently improbable”

        That’s easy. I’m a scientist, I work with scientists. I personally know a fair number of evolutionary biologists. The story seemed patently ridiculous to me. That’s why I find the story improbable, as does every other scientist I’ve told it to. And so what? Chris didn’t do the first step of checking Tom or the story out before he ran with it.

        Also, what version of the story are you talking about? The original or some later watered-down version.

    • Jean, you misunderstand the issues. Whether Mooney established the real-life identity of “Tom Johnson” has absolutely nothing to do with it. That is NOT the issue at all.

      A person with a real-life identity can still make up, and then stand by, a ridiculous story, especially if he is treated as a protected source. Finding out his identity, if that’s what Mooney did as you keep saying, should have done nothing to make Mooney think the guy’s story was credible.

      I can’t imagine why your shit detector didn’t go off when you read the original unrealistic work of fiction from “Tom”, which contained, among other things, detailed and wildly implausible scene depiction. Just go back and read it without blinkers. You’ll laugh at it. This has nothing to do with baked-Jesus events or other public acts of satire, but is all about how people such as academics and ministers of religion interact. For a start, do you really imagine that any Baptist minister would have responded as described to such extreme in-your-face rudeness? No Baptist minister I have ever encountered would have. But as I said to JJ above, I can’t prove it with a mathematical algorithm. The whole thing, with all the absurd details, just did not ring true, as we said at the time. But Chris – perhaps out of confirmation bias, perhaps just out of terrible judgment, perhaps a mixture – swallowed it whole.

      I don’t understand why you don’t “get” this, why keep obfuscating with this nonsense about checking the guy’s identity, and why you have been so aggressive about it (e.g. you turned up out of nowhere and mocked me when I made a very civil, even conciliatory, comment to Chris Mooney on his blog, and you have generally escalated the whole thing; you have treated Ophelia like dirt).

      As for Tom/William’s anonymity, I’m not interested in outing him. I’d be happier if we stopped talking about that, but I don’t claim to speak for anyone else.

      • And furthermore, Jean, no one has suggested that Chris should have deleted “Tom’s” comment. That’s a straw man. Chris did not merely fail to “exclude” it. He elevated it to a separate blog post and presented it as hard evidence of the damage being done by publicly forthright atheists. It was his “Exhibit A”. And then he followed with a further post praising the author. If he’d simply not deleted it (maybe, for all we’d know, thinking, “Hmmm, this is fishy, but I won’t delete it”), there would have been no problem. But he had to use it to go on the attack with his very convenient piece of supposed evidence.

        • I’ll correct myself on one thing, though: the word used was “pastor”. In my milieu that usually implies Baptist or something similar. But perhaps the minister was of some other kind of denomination. That doesn’t affect anything in the argument, but it’s good to be self-correcting where possible just in case something turns on it.

      • on July 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Reply J. J. Ramsey

        “For a start, do you really imagine that any Baptist minister would have responded as described to such extreme in-your-face rudeness?”

        Are you referring to this:

        At the meeting, I was having quite an interesting dicsussion [sic] about evolution with a pastor (he fully accepted evolution but still believed in God) when that same colleague walked up, asked “You believe in GOD??!!” incredulously, and laughed (loudly) in his face when he responded “yes.” She then said “we don’t NEED the help of the religious!” and walked away. The pastor never said another word that whole meeting.

        On the one hand, I can see Jack Chick writing this. On the other hand, sometimes people really do act cartoonishly batsh!t, and I can easily see someone being dumbfounded just as a sheer WTF reaction. Sorry, but it’s just not that clear-cut.

        If there is a lesson in all this, it’s that one should take stories from relative strangers on the Internet with more than a few grains of salt.

    • Just to address your tangent: It is important to remember that the baking Jesus contest is a protest in solidarity with someone unjustly fined a lot of money for performing a comedy sketch involving baking Jesus. (http://camelswithhammers.com/2010/06/15/spanish-singer-prosecuted-for-cooking-a-crucifix-in-1978/)

      Expressions of solidarity with people who are victims of religiously imposed laws meant to intimidate their religions into being respected, and assertions of the right to free speech however blasphemous, do not reflect badly on atheists and should not be represented as doing so or be equated with uncivil, needlessly obnoxious interpersonal behavior that is insensitive to time, place, and tact (like the kind “Tom Johnson” alleged).

  361. Jean, no the vetting is not the issue. The issue is that it’s fair game to use anecdotal evidence to make broad statements about a supposed group like the “New Atheists”.

    That is and remains to me the only issue.

    The problem is that Chris was happy to use anecdotal evidence (hearsay) like that. And that the selection of the material suffers from a confirmation bias.

    How he proceeded after that is only a footnote. An interesting one, but a footnote. It is only important in the sense that it highlights what happened initially and that people were very right to question that very move. Elevation of negative hearsay.

  362. I agree with Russell that vetting is not the issue, and I hope my offer to Mooney (update #14) does not confuse the matter. If Russell or others believe it does, then I will take it down.

    The purpose is that even if there is some super-secret evidence which is favorable to Mooney—evidence only known by him, Jean, and TB—then I offered to vouch for Mooney as well. I have a long correspondence with William; he has confided his details; I have kept them private; William can attest to this. Mooney has nothing to lose by allowing me to vouch for him too.

    (Scote, we know this does not fulfill your wishes; please don’t get into that again.)

  363. Oedipus, if you want to vouch for his identity – without revealing it – that’s fine with me. I’m not so much interested in that aspect. The point for me is how unfair and biased Chris Mooney was in accepting this story at face value, and using it as a club to try to hurt people whom he sees as his opponents. Great damage has been done to reputations and relationships over the past year, especially with that vicious chapter in Unscientific America, but I’m still hopeful that Mooney might at least learn something from this debacle.

  364. “(Scote, we know this does not fulfill your wishes; please don’t get into that again.)”

    I call it staying on message. And I’ve yet you hear you give a good reason why you should oppose a call openness, transparency and primary evidence, or why sunshine, rather than more second hand anecdotes, isn’t the best answer to clearing up all the confusion and vagueness surrounding this issue.

    BW, yes, that’s framing, but framing that is true to logic, my argument and my beliefs and principles, unlike Mooney-style framing, such as the BS “New Atheists should shut up” framing.

    • Scote, where did I oppose a call to openness?

      • Mel Gibson was outed for less. William/YNH has written some seriously sick smears against New Atheists and the ethical thing to do is expose his identity.

    • Scote, our whole conversation at Ophelia’s blog can be summarized like this:

      Oedipus: Here’s an X.
      Scote: X is useless. I want Y.
      Oedipus: Here is why X is not useless.
      Scote: OK, well then X is not as good as Y. I want Y.

      I never said that I could give you Y, as I made clear on Ophelia’s blog. Now you are suggesting that since I can’t give you Y, I therefore oppose Y.

      Scote, please read this. You’ve been perpetuating this misconception from the beginning of our conversation. Rather than continuing to defend it, please consider re-evaluating it.

  365. Russell, Your comment at The Intersection did presuppose you own version of events. You asked Chris “do you now accept that you are biased?” or some such. I was just calling you on it with that famous question “When did you stop beating your wife?” which also presupposes something that might be in dispute. I thought you’d see the connection.

    Re: Ophelia. We do have each others’ email addresses and we can sort it out ourselves, if we so choose.

    Look, I am not misunderstanding anything. It’s not just Tom Johnson’s identity that was substantiated by the evidence Chris had. The basic story was as well. Really, I do understand the distinction and I’ve said this repeatedly at my blog.

    With hindsight, I’m not betting on what Tom Johnson really witnessed at any meetings. I’m just saying it all did check out at the time.

    As to all the other issues people think are “the issue”–whatever. The only issue I have anything to say about is whether Chris was irresponsible to take Tom Johnson seriously.

    • It’s not just Tom Johnson’s identity that was substantiated by the evidence Chris had. The basic story was as well. ” -Jean

      Does that mean you have details about the conservation meeting and have verified it took place, records of other people who attended, confirmation that “Tom Johnson” attended, and stories from other people who attended the meeting, unbeknownst to “Tom Johnson”, that back up “Tom Johnson’s” story of events?

      If all you have to go on is “Tom Johnson’s” word, you have nothing.

  366. “Look, I am not misunderstanding anything. It’s not just Tom Johnson’s identity that was substantiated by the evidence Chris had. The basic story was as well.”

    So now you claim the story, the “basic” story, is verified as well. What **exact** parts of the basic story do you claim to be verified?

    • Jean, Mooney, and even William/YNH could end this confusion over “Tom Johnson’s” story right now by publicly declaring the date, time, place, and official name of the conservation meeting so that it can be independently verified, assuming anyone alive remembers putting it on and attending it.

  367. I really don’t follow why there are calls for “outing” this person now, when there weren’t before. (Or did I miss something?) The fact that he back-stabbed Chris Mooney adds to his pile of sins, but it was already pretty high. Outing him just so everyone can be absolutely sure about what really happened doesn’t seem like a good enough reason.

    I think dates, times, places, etc., would make the identity of Tom Johnson 100% clear. So I can’t say that.

    • I don’t call for outing anybody. People have different perspectives. But that doesn’t stop opinions being lumped together.

      He didn’t back stab Mooney, Mooney chose to make a big deal of a random comment on his own free volition because it confirmed his biases.

      If he had not sought to confirm a stereotype there would be no issue here at all. As said, the rest is a footnote.

    • I think dates, times, places, etc., would make the identity of Tom Johnson 100% clear.

      The only reason I can think of that an independent verification of the so-called conservation meeting would expose William/YNH is because his real name is Tom Johnson or perhaps William something-or-other. Otherwise, what is it that would personally identify him out of all the other people who attended the meeting—if such a meeting did take place.

      On the ethics of outing, by sheltering this person you are protecting someone who has made very sexist remarks about people at Pharyngula in general and directly about Ophelia Benson. Of course, in our patriarchal culture, misogynists must be protected, the poor little babies. I say, let the person’s smears stand with the real person.

    • I look forward to Mooney contacting me, then. (See update #14 of this post.)

    • on July 11, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Reply Bruce Gorton


      Whether William gets outed or not isn’t supremely important in our judgements of Chris Mooney. The fact is both he, and now you, are claiming this story “may still be true” even though the only testimony to it, has been recanted.

      The person who told Mooney all about it, and whose testimony was lifted to being exhibit A is a liar whose account you choose to believe because hey, he is an admitted liar and therefore how can we trust his confession?

      Your reasoning is not confusing, it is fucking stupid.

      This has highlighted several major issues which were highlighted with the story at the time. Mooney AT THE TIME said that this was only one person’s experience. He had not said that the events had corroborated, he did not even detail what the conservation event was.

      In the case of this event it would be easy to reveal details that would not lead to the identity of the “William.” Details such as who the pastor in question was, or even the name of the conservation event.

      Events are public, and thus have a fair few people at them.

      Five minutes and a phone book and if this could have been corroborated, it would have been.

      Further, William’s career is currently threatened by the fact that he is a troll who tells lies in order to defame people. What he did is precisely why we have libel law. What he did is actually illegal.

      But at the time his anonymity was given the bullshit defence of “He feared reprisals from the new atheists.” This slur has been entirely discredited, the reprisals he would suffer would be for lying, not for bravely revealing some uncomfortable truth.

      Now, quite frankly your whole schpiel is based on beloved myths of your own. You want to defend that mythology, fine, but find some real evidence for it instead of clutching on for dear life to burning wreckage of the Johnson account.

      For Mooney, all he needs to do is apologise and drop the story. Accept that he got it wrong, and by promoting the comment the way he did, he did wrong.

      Mooney may know Tom Johnson’s real identity, he may not. Ultimately it doesn’t actually matter. What matters is the story itself has been discredited, that Mooney’s defence of that story was wrong, and that he unfairly, by using that story, slimed other people.

      When a story turns out to be false, then you retract it, and apologise.

      Mooney has half-heartedly retracted in a manner which aimed to keep the sleazy accusation going. He has not apologised.

      William is the originator of the issue, however the actual issue is what William said, and Mooney chose to spread. Mooney lent his credibility to that account, the account turned out to be bullshit, and Mooney’s credibility has been rightly damaged. Finished and klaar.

      Why you fact check is not so you cover your arse when it turns out the account is false, it is so that you do not spread false accounts.

      He can salvage his credibility, no reason why he shouldn’t, but not so long as he and his supporters engage in obvious denialist plays.

    • Jean,

      I’m one of the very few people who have suggested outing “Tom.” And I’m open to being argued out of that position.

      Here’s my reasoning.

      “Tom” engaged in a determined, systematic, vicious, long-term program of lying about people, and exploiting pseudonymity to get away with it.

      He libeled a lot of people, and did it often, in a moral sense and I think a legal sense. (Whether the libel is actionable or a suit would be winnable in practice, I don’t know, and don’t really care because I don’t think anybody really wants to go there.)

      Normally, I’m against outing people, on principle. I think pseudonymity has an important place on the web, and I use it myself, and I’d think anybody who tried to out me was a flaming asshole.

      However, “Tom’s” actions were really serious and merit a very serious response. I think this is a rare case where the need to enforce some semblance of minimal moral norms outweighs the usual very good reasons for respecting and preserving pseudonymity.

      (I’m not saying you or Chris or Oedipus should out him. If you’ve made promises not to in order to get information from him, I understand the validity of that. I do think he’s made himself fair game for anybody who hasn’t made such promises.)

      One way in which I think “Tom” has made himself fair game is that he himself tried to out someone else. He opted out of the usual social contract that people subscribe to, and put himself outside the circle of normal moral people.

      I would still not favor outing him for a first offense. Even if he tried to out somebody else, I wouldn’t normally favor outing him in return. I don’t believe in eye-for-an-eye justice.

      However, in this case, I think it would probably be justified.

      One reason is that this isn’t his first offense. He got caught trying to out somebody else, apologized, and then proceeded to abuse his pseudonymity a lot more to libel a lot of people.

      I think his contrition was mostly feigned. He got caught doing one thing that’s beyond the pale, apologized, and redoubled his efforts to do things that are clearly beyond the pale.

      That matters a lot to me. I believe in giving people second chances, but he already had his. He was an unregenerate dishonest asshole to a lot of people, knowing full well that such behavior is unacceptable.

      He has admitted to that He admits he has no excuse—it’s not like he didn’t know that what he was doing is considered very wrong. He just didn’t care, at the time.

      Given his past confession, apparent contrition, and continued massive assholery, I’m afraid that being forgiving doesn’t work with this guy. I’m far less inclined to give him another chance.

      Normally, I would. Not only do I not believe in eye-for-an-eye justice, I don’t believe in “two strikes and you’re out.” I do believe in third chances, in many cases.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know how to give this guy a third chance, and keep tabs on him, without knowing who he is.

      Given that he’s feigned contrition before and proceeded to be just as big a gleefuly malicious asshole to as many people as he knew how, I think it would be wrong to trust him to straighten up.

      That would be unfair to other people he may abuse in the future, if his contrition is once again feigned or transitory.

      I’d give him a third chance, but not without an enforcement mechanism—something that provided substantial motivation for him to straighten up and stop acting dishonestly and maliciously, whether he felt motivated by his knowledge that it’s wrong or not.

      I don’t know how to do that while preserving his anonymity.

      Suppose that he gets caught doing this sort of thing again.

      How is anybody who catches him doing it to know that he’s already been given a second chance, and a third, if we sweep this under the rug and blame it on an unidentified “Tom”/”bilbo”/et al.?

      How are we to know he won’t continue to do this, over and over, a bit more carefully, because if he gets caught again it very probably won’t really get traced back and connected to his recent personas?

      I do not think it’s fair to leave this person free to do this sort of thing again to others. (Or even us again, if he’s a little subtler.) It’s also not fair to others to set a precedent of letting somebody off easy for repeatedly doing these kinds of dishonest and malicious things.

      Given his feigned or transitory contrition, he’s put us over a barrel. He’s made it quite clear that his contrition and promises can’t be trusted. He might be honestly and durably contrite this time, but we have to think he’s likely not. We have to think it’s fairly probable that the only major motivator for him is getting seriously punished if he’s caught.

      Having said that I agree outing is usually very extreme, let me qualify that.

      How serious is it to out someone?

      If he’s gay or a member of some other unfairly despised and victimized group, it’s pretty serious indeed. I’d hate to see that happen over this.

      If not, though, it’s really not out of line.

      What we’re talking about when we talk about outing him is merely telling people the truth.

      It’s not libel. It’s not even a punishment by a lot of standards.

      If we tell the truth about what he did—that he lied about who he was in order to get away with lying about people—that’s just not our fault. Its his.

      In general, if somebody lies about you, and lies to you and others in order to get away with lying about you, you are simply not obligated to keep that a secret.

      Think about it. When was anybody who was clearly defrauded ever obliged to keep the fraud’s identity secret?

      Even if you do let it be known what the person actually did, but take no other action, that’s what’s normally thought of as getting off scot free.

      So, for example, if a con artist gets caught bilking people, and is revealed as a con artist but no prosecuted or fined or jailed, we say that he got off scot free.

      Simply letting it be known that the person is a proven fraud is not generally considered a punishment at all. It’s not like jailing them, or fining them, or making them do community service. It’s just the truth, and it’s fair to tell the truth about such things.

      Imagine that, say, Bernie Madoff was caught running Ponzi scheme, but immune from prosecution because of a technicality involving exclusionary rules. We’d say he got off scot free, even though we and everybody else knew about the fraud, and that it was in fact committed by Bernie Madoff.

      That’s what getting off scot free usually means—it doesn’t mean keeping the offense secret, or that there won’t be any negative consequences of the truth being known.