Discussion & debate, PZ Myers-style

After the recent coverage in USA Today (and here) of National Geographic’s acquisition of ScienceBlogs, PZ Myers — who runs SB’s most popular blog — responds in his trademark fashion:

Working blue

Category: Administrative • Stupidity
Posted on: June 8, 2011 5:45 AM, by PZ Myers

PZ Myers

Stop writing to me about Mairson and [USA Today reporter Cathy] Grossman. I have no respect for their opinions at all. …

Bugger ’em.*

My policy has been and always will be to write as I will, to say without reservation what I think, and to have a damn good time while doing it. I will not mute the way I express myself because a couple of delicate little flowers wilt when a blog does not have the same formal tone as a long-established magazine, and I will categorically reject the criticisms of idiots who look at what I say and see only shrill, rabid, militant, screaming, hysterical, obscenities — that is a slanderous mischaracterization that immediately calls into question their capacity for critical thought. …

So to all of you who’ve been pestering me with Grossman and Mairson’s ginned-up non-controversies and bluenosed fussings, don’t worry. Nothing is changing for me. Web servers might change, blog software can shift, different paymasters might try to borrow my pages, but I am completely free: I write what I write because it is what I want to write, not because I am obligated to put myself in a straitjacket to please an advertiser. And I am especially not constrained by a pair of prissy, shallow whiners who have no association with me, no input into what I say, and absolutely no relevance. [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing here.

It’s worth noting that the concerns we’ve expressed here at Society Matters — and that Ms. Grossman shared with her readers at USA Today — are not “ginned up non-controversies.” The editors at National Geographic are already worried about the rhetorical style of Myers and some of his fellow Sciblings (as the bloggers at ScienceBlogs are known). From Retraction Watch:

One of the issues that is likely to be contentious — and certainly was for Myers, who is no stranger to invective — was that of standards and practices. Braun [David Braun, vice president of news and editorial service at National Geographic Digital Media]:

It is important to debate freely and robustly. National Geographic has a gold standard reputation for quality. National Geographic values and standards apply to all of our content, wherever and however it is received. With our respect for freedom of expression, we are also sensitive to the way we communicate. We are sensitive to our worldwide audience’s expectations of our brand. So we avoid unjustifiable offense and are sensitive to generally accepted standards.

The subject later came up in a question from Scibling Ed Brayton, who noted that he posts an item called “Dumbass Quote of the Day” and does not shy away from sharp words on politics. Braun responded that material has to run through their standards and practices:

I don’t want to sit here and comment on a case-by-case basis but I do want to work with you to work this out. We do stand for freedom of expression. We want to aim for a higher level of debate that is respectful and doesn’t offend in an unjustifiable way.

We suspect this will be an issue as Scienceblogs is integrated into Nat Geo.

We suspect the same thing.


* Ed. note:
bugger |ˈbəgər; ˈboŏg-| vulgar slang chiefly Brit.
verb [ trans. ]: penetrate the anus of (someone) during sexual intercourse; sodomize.


8 June 2011 @ 12:15pm:

PZ Myers, in the comments section of his own blog:

Somebody slap Alan Mairson, please. He’s been whining at me constantly lately about my “profanity-laced diatribes” and how I dare to dismiss the faith of billions as lunacy. He’s a prim, prudish bluenosed wanker who has appointed himself the politeness police over an organization which no longer employs him. Which makes him a disgruntled former employee who seems resentful that his former organization might possibly have an independent contractor who doesn’t have a stick up his ass like he does.

He does seem to have found a like-minded censorious colleague in the odious Grossman. The company he keeps does not reassure me that he’s a serious critic — just another whiner about ‘tone’.


  • Anonymous

    Since you don’t seem to realize –

    What he means is that, if after acquiring ScienceBlogs NatGeo decides to begin exerting more editorial control over blog content than P.Z. likes, he will leave ScienceBlogs. Pharyingula was  an independent blog initially, and there’s no particular reason why it couldn’t be one again. This is not without precedent; there was a rather large migration of ScienceBloggers after the Pepsi incident.

    Fortunately, this is incredibly unlikely to happen, since presumably as a publication National Geographic is aware of the utility of freedom of speech.

    Though I do have to wonder why you think that NatGeo has influence over P.Z’s words simply because they’ve bought the company that currently handles his blog. It’s kinda like saying that Microsoft could start censoring your flow charts, after they bought Visio from Shapewear; yes, they could, but it’s not like there’s only one flow chart program out there. Paying money for something does not mean you own the people who use it.

    • I agree completely. Which is why this case is so interesting.

      As the excerpt from Retraction Watch (above) indicates, National Geographic is already applying some pressure. And as PZ makes clear, no one will tell him what to say or do. National Geographic wants his traffic so they can sell ads on his blog; PZ wants the freedom to speak his mind. 

      It’s a battle of the brands: PZ Myers vs. National Geographic. What’s eye-popping is that the cards are stacked in PZ’s favor. 

      Thanks for your comment — and for stopping by.

    • P.S. I just quoted you here: http://societymatters.org/2011/06/09/battle-of-the-brands/
      Thank you!

  • Marta

    What, exactly, is your issue, sir? 
    You are unhappy with PZ Myer’s content?  The manner in which he writes it?  Is it that you object to his tone?  His language?  His irreverance?
    And what is it, exactly, that you seek?  That his popular blog is censored or otherwise monitored by National Graphic for content?  Eliminated all together? 

    You have now, at best, an extremely tenuous relationship with National Geographic, and no relationship whatsoever to PZ Myers, or his blog.  How is what PZ Myers writes of concern to you at all?

    • Hi Marta, Thanks for your comments. The easiest way to answer is: I’m not an employee anymore, but I am a card-carrying member of the National Geographic Society. In many ways, I think NGS is just a microcosm of the world. And while I don’t think I can move the world, I am under the delusion (?) that NGS can change. 

      Why? Because 20 guys — John Fahey & the Board of Trustees — run the place. No stockholders. No union. No oversight. Nothing. (Quite a gig, huh?) 

      Put another way: My dad once told me that my job was not to save the world; my job was to clean up my room. I sometimes think NGS is my room — or it has seemed that way for more than 20 years! 🙂

    • Hi Marta, Thanks for your comments. The easiest way to answer is: I’m not an employee anymore, but I am a card-carrying member of the National Geographic Society. In many ways, I think NGS is just a microcosm of the world. And while I don’t think I can move the world, I am under the delusion (?) that NGS can change. 

      Why? Because 20 guys — John Fahey & the Board of Trustees — run the place. No stockholders. No union. No oversight. Nothing. (Quite a gig, huh?) 

      Put another way: My dad once told me that my job was not to save the world; my job was to clean up my room. I sometimes think NGS is my room — or it has seemed that way for more than 20 years! 🙂

  • If PZ leaves Science Blogs, SB will lose a great deal of traffic.  Pharyngula is my 2nd stop of my personal day — I go on to other SBs from there.  I suspect I’m not the only one.
    Science Blogs will go down the crapper without PZ because many other Bloggers will follow as well.

    Science Blogs will just become another Christian apologist imitation science blog.
    This nation will be teaching Creationism in schools while the rest of the planet goes on with science education and research. 

    During WWII, appeasing the German Nazi government resulted in deaths of more Jews and others who didn’t fit the ideals of the Reich.  Christianists in this country seem as if they won’t be satisfied until the USA is an unofficial theocracy.  Non-theists and other non-Christians already are not electable in this country.  Politicians must exhibit themselves to be “magical thinkers” to have a chance to win an office.

    I’ve already seen my political party taken over by Christianists and it is becoming a party of morons.  Is is merely a coincidence the two are occurring simultaneously?

    • Hi DD –

      Great comments. So good, in fact, that I plan to excerpt your first graf in a post I’m putting up tomorrow. I hope that’s okay. 

      Re: WWII & the Nazis — in the early 1900s, National Geographic was quite taken with the science of eugenics. They published lots of articles on the subject, including one by Alexander Graham Bell. Race theories were all the rage, and NGS enthusiastically jumped on that bandwagon. In 1937, NGM published a story called “Changing Berlin,” which was an ode to Hitler, who was a big eugenics guy. (Ideas have consequences.) The following month, NGM published an ode to Mussolini. 

      My point is the bad stuff comes from all quarters. Religious people don’t have a monopoly on doing stupid things.

    • P.S. I just quoted you here: 

  • Virginia Joe

    I didn’t take anything you’ve written as criticizing PZ, who I had never heard of before, or suggesting he should tone it down. I think you correctly question whether his style of editorializing will work under the NG brand, whether at some point he will be asked/told to tone it down.  To me that has been your point all along. By the way, the guy is clearly an asshole.

    • A familiar voice! Hi, VJ! Thanks for stopping by again… and for the support. This ScienceBlogs issue has clearly hit a nerve. It’s also an amazing window on the minds of NGS executives — and on their (lack of) understanding of how the internet works. More on this tomorrow.

      Keep in touch…

      • Glaucidium

        Alan – while P.Z. Myers is the most prominent member of ScienceBlogs whose commentary can be at times be seen as abrasive and insulting, he is far from the only SB blogger who draws fire for straight talk and stepping on toes of opponents. If Nat Geo decides to institute “civility standards”, they will lose other SB bloggers, over both their own freedom to post and in support of free Internet speech in general. All this will mean is that their blogs will continue to appear in other formats.

        I have to say that your fussing over P.Z., rather than making you appear as a poor dear concerned person protective of the image of NatGeo, suggests that you have personal issues with P.Z. which you should write about directly, or just get over.

        • G – I agree. It seems, to me, that NGS has put itself in an impossible position. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will all work out just fine. 

          As I’ve commented elsewhere, I don’t have any personal issues with PZ. I wish him well. I’m just fascinated by this case because it says so much about something in which I do have a personal stake: the National Geographic Society. 

          Thanks, G, for visiting. Come again! 🙂

        • FYI: I just quoted you here: http://societymatters.org/2011/06/09/battle-of-the-brands/

  • if PZ were to leave Sciblogs then his followers will – well- follow him- and all the traffic he creates will go with him- what do you think speaks more loudly to Natgeo? money or your whining?

    • Whining, for sure. I’m certain that if I whine loud enough, Nat Geo will change its ways. 🙂

      But seriously…. I agree that PZ’s exit would be a bad thing for Nat Geo. But I guarantee that there is no way they will allow him to call religious people “batshit insane” right below the NGS logo. It just won’t happen. 

      Far more likely that NGS will let him stay & speak his mind… but bury the NGS branding in a dark, distant corner of the ScienceBlogs site. 

      Thanks for coming by. And for your comment. 

    • FYI: I just quoted you here: http://societymatters.org/2011/06/09/battle-of-the-brands/

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  • Virginia Joe

    Tacroy’s analogy is completely wrong. NGS didn’t purchase a tool that other use, like software. They purchased a content business. They have every right to control what that content business publishes. I think most of the new visitors do not understand your point, which is not that PZ should be censored, but that the content he produces seems inconsistent with the NG brand. Up to this point, SB is not branded, so perhaps it’s not an issue. Just because the same company owns Fox News and is majority owner of the NG channel doesn’t mean they can’t live under the same corporate umbrella, except… I don’t see the business rationale for acquiring SB if not to brand it.

    • VJ – I couldn’t agree with you more. Only thing I’d add is the rationale for acquiring SB without branding it might be that NG could have its cake & eat it: Let PZ be PZ… expand the platforms where NG can sell ads (NGM, TV, nationalgeographic.com, SB network)… but bury the NG brand in a deep dark corner of the SB site. 

      That way, NG gets the money without tarnishing the NG brand — which works as long as the NG-SB connection stays off the public’s radar.

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