The pig, she flies!

In which I actually agree with Ed Brayton for once:

I tend to bristle at the idea of judging a blog by its
comment section. As Jamie Kilstein said a few months ago, the comment
section at PZ’s blog is the 7th circle of hell. The one here is often
scarcely better. Even I cringe at what is clearly — yes — tribalism that
goes on in the comments section. It’s just the nature of the beast and
it’s happened to me on both ends. A quick story:

A few years ago I criticized Richard Dawkins for signing a petition
that would make it illegal for parents to teach their kids about
religion. The comment section was descended upon by hundreds of his
acolytes, saving me up one side and down the other. I was
misinterpreting the petition, they said, and how dare I criticize
someone who had done so much for atheism when I was just a lowly
blogger, and so forth. After a while Dawkins himself showed up and said I
was right, that he hadn’t read the petition closely enough, that he did
not favor such a law and he’d asked them to remove his name from the
petition. Even after that, many of his followers continued to excoriate

I’ve had the same thing happen here on the other side, where someone
has shown up in the comments and criticized something I wrote. They were
hammered like mad by many of my readers and I had to jump in and say,
“Wait a minute, he’s actually got a point.” That makes me even more
uncomfortable than being on the receiving end of it. We are all prone to
tribalism and to shallow thinking, including those who regard ourselves
as skeptics who are above that sort of thing.

I’m not keen on judging a blog by its comment section either, except in that one can judge the character and self-confidence of the blogger by how he manages his comment section.  Here at VP, for example, there is actual debate among people who disagree with each other and with me.  In the posts this week alone, there are numerous regulars disagreeing with me about the limits of the Constitution’s ability to guarantee God-given rights as well as a vigorous debate on the permissibility of gun control between commenters.

PZ, as far as I have seen, is actually quite good about permitting critics to comment freely at Pharyngula, the problem there is not that he cannot bear dissension, but rather that his commenters are such a clueless collection of mid-witted ideologues that most critics stop uselessly banging their head against the wall of idiocy there before long.  I actually respect him much more than many other bloggers in that particular regard.

But Brayton is entirely correct to point out that the self-styled skeptics are every bit as tribal and superficial as those they make a habit of denigrating.  This is a point I have been making for literally years, and it is good to see that some of the more vocal members of the skeptic community are willing to openly acknowledge it.