Why Nisbet’s gag order reeks of authoritarianism

Mathew Nisbet, in a recent blog post, writing about the PZ Meyers/Dawkins Expelled incident, and its aftermath of a YouTube video of Myers and Dawkins discussing the same, writes

If you haven’t seen this clip yet, above is a preview of the central message on how “Big Science” views religion in the documentary Expelled. There’s little work needed on the part of the producers, since the message is spelled out via the interviews provided by PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Notice the very clear translation for audiences as to what supposedly establishment science believes:

A) Learning about science makes you an atheist, it “kills off” religious faith.

B) If we boost science literacy in society, it will lead to erosion of religion, as religion fades away, we will get more and more science, and less and less religion.

C) Religion is a fairy tale, similar to hobgoblins, a fantasy, and even evil.

The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions.

Nisbet goes on to say

As long as Dawkins and PZ continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education. Dawkins and PZ need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. Let others play the role of communicator, most importantly the National Center for Science Education, AAAS, the National Academies or scientists such as Francis Ayala or Ken Miller. When called up by reporters or asked to comment, Dawkins and PZ should refer journalists to these organizations and individuals.

And, further,

If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support. Lay low and let others do the talking.

So Richard and PZ, when it comes to Expelled, it’s time to let other people be the messengers for science. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog. I will have more to say on Expelled strategy in a talk I am giving Thursday night at UWisc-Eau Claire and then next week Monday in a lunch time talk given with Chris Mooney at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

Nisbet is wrong; Myers and Dawkins, have as much right to write, discuss and comment on the issue as anybody else, if not more; if such writing, discussions, and commenting also promotes their ideologies, books and blogs — all the better for them.

In fact, I find Nisbet’s position, namely, that

This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog.

disgusting, because, in a different context, I was told the same thing about supporting the religious right in India — though, some of my right leaning friends agreed with me that the right wingers did indeed behaved stupid, violent, and beastly in some cases, they argued that my protesting against their actions somehow would harm the cause, namely, saving Hinduism from the outside forces.

If this is how we have to make science palatable to the public, namely, by suppressing dissenting voices and opinions, pray, what is the use in promoting science? Wouldn’t the world (as Bharathiar put is so eloquently) laugh at us if we buy a painting by selling both of our eyes? Isn’t such monolithic points of view, in which, other voices and shades of opinion suppressed reek of authoritarianism and political extremes?

Nobody claimed that Myers and Dawkins speak for all of science — I have seen at least two posts in the past week criticizing their stand on religion, one of which, I even linked to in this blog (And, for the record, nor do I agree with them on all issues). However, if Nisbet is really worried about their bad impact, he should show us how he really wants to deal with the issue by writing about it instead of issuing gag order to Myers and Dawkins.

In the event, I can not help but be suspicious of Nisbet’s aims and intentions, and think, that this probably is a way of promoting his ideology or book or blog, and nothing to do with either the truth, or science, or science popularisation, or public perception of science.

Update: There have been many responses on Scienceblogs to Nisbet’s (and Mooney’s) posts about Expelled incident; this one by Orac at Respectful Insolence is by far the best I have read:

Whatever the case, the reason I have not ventured into this whole debate in a very long time is because I tend to lean more towards the Mooney-Nisbet side of the frame, and discussing it around ScienceBlogs has become more trouble than it’s worth, given that both sides appear to have hardened their position to the point where a middle ground, nay reason itself, is hard-pressed to find an entrance. That’s why I hope that Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbett will pay attention to me here when I say to them:

You are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong about the Dawkins-Myers incident.

I don’t know how to put it more plainly than that. In fact, I was shocked at just how wrong-headed Matt Nisbet‘s take on the matter was. How he can conclude that this incident was “bad for science” makes me wonder if he has a single clue, particularly the part where he tells Dawkins and Myers to shut up and “lay low” about the incident.

Far worse is Nisbet’s breathtakingly inane statement (yes, my use of that term is intentional):

If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support. Lay low and let others do the talking.

In other words, not only is he likening Myers and Dawkins to a clueless Obama campaign flak who went beyond what she should have been saying or a clueless Clinton campaign hack who made what is arguably a racist statement about Barack Obama and was forced to back down and resign from the Clinton campaign, but he’s telling Myers and Dawkins to shut up and let the “professionals” (like him, presumably) deal with the situation. I hope that Nisbett will pay close attention when I respond to him here, given that I have generally come down on his side of the framing issue more than is good for my mental health around the ScienceBlogs collective:

Bullshit!

Take a look!

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One Response to “Why Nisbet’s gag order reeks of authoritarianism”

  1. Russell Blackford goes after faith/science compatibility « Says:

    [...] Another post critical of Nisbet’s stance can be found at Entertaining Research. [...]

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