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.
…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:
- 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.
- Remain skeptical yet still be open to the possibility that you are mistaken. Send the evidence to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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.
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.”