Atheists and Science

Jerry Coyne is once again complaining that his readers don’t seem to care all that much for his science postings.  He spends significant time writing up some blog posting about a scientific finding and gets only a small handful of comments (many which don’t even address the topic of the article).  But then he posts an anti-Trump or anti-religious article, and he gets hundreds of comments.   When he complained to his readers about this, many tried to reassure him that they do indeed read the articles, but just don’t have the expertise to comment.  So he  checks the page views and discovers the same pattern.

Coyne shouldn’t take it personally.  We saw the same pattern years ago when PZ Myers’ blog was popular.  Myers would write a science article and get a few comments, then follow with an anti-religious rant that elicited hundreds of comments.

The problem is that Coyne has bought into his own activist rhetoric – he mistakenly believes that atheists, as a group, are lovers of all things science.  But that’s simply not the case.  Atheists, as a group, have no greater interest in science.  They just want to be perceived as people who love science.  They merely want others to think they have this great love of science because that’s supposed to make them look smart.   Since you don’t actually have to read the science articles to generate the perception, that’s why so many of Coyne’s readers don’t comment or even read his science postings.

After all, consider Hemant Mehta’s blog.  It appears to be more popular than Coyne’s and each blog posting gets way more comments.  Yet Mehta does not post any science articles.  It’s simply a steady stream of anti-religious articles.  Mehta needs clicks to make a living and, as such, knows what his atheist readers want and will read.

Anyway, Coyne thinks the solution to his problem is to threaten that he will stop writing science articles:

All I can say is that it’s infinitely harder to write one of these posts than it is to bang out something about the Templeton Foundation, cats, or postmodern academia. If people want me to continue dissecting science papers, they’ll have to at least view them.

That should work.

Look, what do you think would happen to Coyne’s readership if he decided he was only going to post science articles from now on?  After a few months of nothing but science articles, he’d begin to lose readers left and right.  Because despite the posturing, atheists, as a group, have no great love for science.

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17 Responses to Atheists and Science

  1. Dhay says:

    > “All I can say is that it’s infinitely harder to write one of these posts than it is to bang out something about the Templeton Foundation, cats, or postmodern academia.”

    That can be viewed in a different way: Jerry Coyne is telling his readers that it is ‘infinitely easier’ for him to bang out something about the Templeton Foundation, cats, or postmodern academia than it is for him to write a science post.

    Although “infinitely harder” has to be an exaggeration, ‘infinitely easier’ likewise, the meaning is clear; Coyne spends needed hours to research, get his thoughts in order then write his science posts, but he tells us he can and does “bang out” his more typical output in little time with little effort and little thought.

    When Coyne researches and writes his science posts he evidently behaves appropriately for a scientist, using science, evidence, careful consideration (which is time-consuming) and reason. When Coyne “bang[s] out” his other posts on eg the Templeton Foundation, cats, or postmodern academia — his usual post output, in other words — he apparently lets science, evidence, careful consideration and reason go by the wayside.

    Possibly (or probably) Coyne didn’t mean for readers to draw that conclusion from what he said; it is, however, a conclusion very easily drawn from his own words.

  2. Dhay says:

    I’ve kvetched before about how readers seem to ignore science posts, which started out as the heart of this website and are still dear to my own heart. In response, readers often say that they do read them but simply can’t comment because they don’t have the expertise. That’s fair enough and isn’t a problem for me. But then I decided to look at how many of those posts are actually viewed compared to posts about politics, food, and other stuff. [Coyne provides a list comparing science vs non-science post viewings.]

    I’ve seen similar before from Coyne, and wondered then as now why he gives importance to numbers of viewings when he surely cannot have an accurate count, and obviously so.

    Many, perhaps most blogs present the way the Friendly Atheist blog does: the Home page is nothing but a date-ordered series of banner headlines; you must click the link to view the full post, and that increments the page (post) view figure.

    Coyn’s blog is very different; from the Home page I can and do scroll down a date-ordered series of … of entire posts. However much (or little — cats speaking Polish!!) time I spend reading and considering and quoting a post, so far as I can tell I trigger not a single post view — because I do not visit the separate web page the post also shows on (this time including comments, commenting does trigger a post view.)

    Coyne’s ‘viewing’ figures for any post are therefore likely to be inaccurate, and it astonishes me that a man who should be scientifically literate should be apparently so unaware of such an obvious source of error.

    *

    What Coyne’s figures do probably reflect fairly accurately is the viewing habits and interests of his actual fans, his currently 52,911 ‘Followers; these are presumably sent regular update e-mails containing links directly to the announced post; if they bother to follow the link to view — even a glancing view — they will trigger a post view increment. So probably Coyne’s figures do tell Coyne (and us) with reasonable accuracy the level of interest in science of the 52,911 in his core atheist fanbase.

  3. John Branyan says:

    Bullseye.
    The flipside of this is also true. Religious blog posts that don’t mention Donald Trump see their readership decline. Religious people just want to be perceived as interested in pious thought.

  4. David K says:

    Of course when you bring up religion or lack thereof, people come crawling out of the woodwork to claim their worldview is the only correct one. Isn’t that why most people toss in a few blogs or articles to boost their numbers? 🙂

    Most of the reading that interests me (other than a/theism) is science. It interests me a great deal but it is not my area of expertise. I don’t feel confident in discussing much of it and as such, I don’t respond, I just listed and learn.

  5. Dhay says:

    In his 25 January 2018 blog post entitled “More accommodationism at “The Conversation”” — he really detests moderates and their moderation, does Jerry Coyne — there’s a claim which Coyne makes every few months:

    … As I’ve said before, there are hundreds of people who have turned toward science by arguments for atheism—arguments that denigrate religion as a “way of knowing”. Dawkins’s old site “Convert’s Corner” [Link provided by Coyne.] attests to that. …

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/accommodationism/

    The first thing to note is that Coyne’s link links not to an “old site” version of the site but to the current site, featuring today’s news, I checked.

    The second thing to note is that although Coyne seems to suppose that there’s a flood of converts, evidenced by “Convert’s Corner” thank-you mails, there isn’t. Coyne keeps pushing “Convert’s Corner” as his evidence; he’s done so over many years, time and again, and again, and again, every few months right up to today … the last “Convert’s Corner” mail was dated 07 November 2016, and the mails were few and far between well before that. Converts and their mail dried up long ago. “Convert’s Corner” is no attestation to Dawkins’ effectiveness today — if anything, it is powerful counter-evidence.

    You’d have thought even an Emeritus scientist would have checked first before making an evidential claim like that; but no, evidence doesn’t seem to matter to him.

    *

    Might as well document the dates of the most recent mails in each of the mailboxes:
    Convert’s Corner: 07 November 2016
    Fan Mail: 07 November 2016 (Same mail as above)
    Disagreement and Oddities: 11 February 2014
    Hate Mail: 20 May 2013
    Ugly (yes, it’s still there): 15 September 2013

    All mail dried up long ago.

  6. Dhay says:

    In that 25 January 2018 “More accommodationism at “The Conversation”” blog post Jerry Coyne continues his obsessively repeated claim that “science and religion are incompatible” by criticising an article by Tom McLeish, a professor of physics at Durham University, who obviously thinks otherwise.

    Somehow, it never seems to dawn on Coyne that although he has the opinion that “science and religion are incompatible”, there’s an awful lot of people out there, many of them scientists, many of them tenured Professors — here in the UK all Professors are tenured, the lower professorial grades found in the US being mere Lecturers — who not only disagree utterly with Coyne in principle, they live out their practical disagreement with Coyne’s “incompatibility” by being people who are both scientists and religious, both religious and scientists.

    And many of these are of Coyne’s calibre as a scientist or, as in Francis Collins’ case, far better calibre.

    Coyne has his opinion, Coyne and … and who, precisely? Many others have a quite different opinion, either openly expressed or simply lived as scientists who are also religious, religious people who are also scientists and have no problem with that.

    It’s Coyne who’s out of step, Coyne with the odd views, Coyne who’s the party bore declaring endlessly and obsessively to anyone who will listen that there’s no free will, no “I”, no compatibility between religion and science.

  7. Dhay says:

    Verbose Stoic has just posted “Jerry Coyne on Incompatibility and NOMA …” in response to yet another Coyne diatribe against an “accommodationist”:

    https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/jerry-coyne-on-incompatibility-and-noma/

    There’s minor formatting errors in the second half — he forgets to cancel a quote, so it looks like Coyne is saying VS’s comments on that Coyne’s quote — but it’s well worth reading.

    I have trouble myself in criticising Coyne’s claims, many of which seem like non-sequiteurs — and once you’ve thought or said “that doesn’t seem to follow”, where do you go from there — but VS seems to do a very decent job.

  8. Dhay says:

    Further to my response two above, I see that Edgar Andrews (who has just responded in a later thread …)

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/how-reliable-is-the-political-compass/#comment-22463

    … has a very impressive CV as a Physicist formerly working in both academia and industry, plus a very impressive CV as a vigorous proponent of Christianity who has regularly opposed ‘Science and Reason’ with science and reason — and who continues to do so.

    Plainly he is someone of Jerry Coyne’s calibre — he appears to be of much better calibre — and is one of those who not only disagree utterly with Coyne in principle, they live out their practical disagreement with Coyne’s alleged “incompatibility” of religion and science by being people who are both scientists and religious, both religious and scientists.

  9. Dhay says:

    Sorry, I meant to merely link to the page for the ‘Author’ info, but left that pesky https prefix in and put up the book picture (which does link there) instead.

  10. Dhay says:

    One atheist who is promoting science, though he seems to be promoting scientism and that science and scientism should take over the humanities, is Steven Pinker, who’s been busily promoting his new book (and getting some kick-back).

    A small bit of Pinker strangeness which caught my eye is this:

    Several university presidents and provosts have lamented to me that when a scientist comes into their office, it’s to announce some exciting new research opportunity and demand the resources to pursue it. When a humanities scholar drops by, it’s to plead for respect for the way things have always been done.

    https://newrepublic.com/article/114548/leon-wieseltier-responds-steven-pinkers-scientism

    It’s odd in itself. And I suspect that if a scientist were to come into a university president’s or provost’s office and announce some exciting new research opportunity in post-modern science and demand the resources to pursue it, Pinker would be the first to plead for respect for the ways things have always been done.

  11. Dhay says:

    In a response above I documented the dates of the most recent mails in each of the mailboxes:
    Convert’s Corner: 07 November 2016
    Fan Mail: 07 November 2016 (Same mail as above)
    Disagreement and Oddities: 11 February 2014
    Hate Mail: 20 May 2013
    Ugly (yes, it’s still there): 15 September 2013

    And concluded, All mail dried up long ago.

    Well, I was wrong: after a gap of a mere seventeen months Richard Dawkins has received another Convert’s Corner mail, this one dated 07 April 2018. [ * ]

    It must be very exciting for Dawkins and his staff to realise that at such a fast rate of mails there could be as many as another seventy documented converts in the next hundred years; Jerry Coyne is therefore evidently right in repeatedly pointing to the the RDF’s Convert’s Corner as the evidence of Dawkin’s continuing relevance.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/community/convertscorner/

    On the other hand the posting of this latest mail received demonstrates that the RDF staff are posting mail received, when received; hence it demonstrates that there have been no non-fan mails whatsoever — no mails categorised as ‘Ugly’, as ‘Hate’ or even as ‘Disagreement and Oddities’ — in the last four to five years.

    *

    ( * The mail’s from a guy who starts with “I am a gay man, …” and finishes with “… I’ll buy you lots of drinks if our paths ever cross.” I find that juxtaposition unintentionally hilarious, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.)

  12. Dhay says:

    > Jerry Coyne is once again complaining that his readers don’t seem to care all that much for his science postings.

    It’s not just his science posts which Jerry Coyne laments his blog’s readers probably don’t even read, it’s also his cat posts:

    It’s Caturday, though I don’t know how many people actually look at the cat stuff. Nevertheless, I persist. First, a tweet as lagniappe …

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/07/21/caturday-felids-history-and-housecats-cats-scatter-before-an-earthquake-cat-upstages-scholar/

    Nevertheless, he persists.

    *

    > Because despite the posturing, atheists, as a group, have no great love for science.

    Love for science is a mere virtue-signalling badge, the ‘virtue’ in this case being their atheism: anyone can say “We support Science and Reason”, it costs them nothing, it’s not going to get challenged (if only because everybody, of whatever religious persuasion or none, supports and celebrates actual science and actual reason), it functions as a badge.

    It’s a more subtle way of calling yourself a “Bright”.

  13. Dhay says:

    The RDF’s “Ugly” mailbox has now vanished — the 60 five year or older mails formerly tagged “Ugly” have had that tag removed, so now the system doesn’t create an “Ugly” mailbox to display them in.

    They haven’t been re-tagged “Hate mail”, so the number of those — of similar vintage — remains at 13.

    It’s a merely administrative change; there’s no other changes. It’s a dead website as far as mail is concerned.

    And it’s little more than an internet news collation service otherwise:
    http://dilbert.com/strip/2009-11-17

  14. unclesporkums says:

    No surprise there.

  15. Dhay says:

    > Because despite the posturing, atheists, as a group, have no great love for science.

    I am minded of CP Snow’s 1959 essay and lecture entitled “The Two Cultures”, which includes:

    A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?

    I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Cultures

    How many of those who consider they are advocates and practitioners of ‘Science and Reason’ can answer such an “even simpler question”, “the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read?”? Fewer than one in ten of the highly educated can, says Snow, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into the simplest concepts of science as their neolithic ancestors would have had.

    As regards the ordinarily educated and ordinarily intelligent person doing their Christmas shopping in the Mall, it’s surely far fewer than one in ten who have better insight into the simplest concepts of science than their neolithic ancestors would have had.

    And that surely applies to those atheists who bray Look at me, the embodiment of ‘Science and Reason’: many or most will have an abysmal (indeed neolithic) level of scientific literacy.

    *

    Neolithic. That puts the jibe of some atheists, that Christians are stuck in Iron Age thinking, into a rather different perspective.

    *

    Evidently the science part of the Enlightenment never reached most people — including most ‘Science and Reason’ alleged practitioner atheists.

    I guess if a 69 year old can validly self-identify as twenty years younger, if an adult can validly self-identify as a baby, and if [insert self-identification example here] then atheist scientific illiterates can validly self-identify as ‘Science and Reason’ practitioners.

    *

    If the ‘Science’ part of the “badge” claim is bullshit, as I suspect it (usually) is, is the ‘Reason’ part any better? I’m sure there are atheists (as there are Christians) who adequately meet the appropriate standards to not be just bullshitting about science, reason, or both — but in general?!

  16. Dhay says:

    > Jerry Coyne is once again complaining that his readers don’t seem to care all that much for his science postings. He spends significant time writing up some blog posting about a scientific finding and gets only a small handful of comments…

    Odd, Coyne complains that his readers don’t read those posts of his which are long and full of real science … but when it comes to a “New report again raises the alarm about climate change”:

    Click on the screenshot below to go to the CNN story, and you can find the government report it mentions at [Link provided.] (Note: the report is very long.)

    [Emphasis Coyne’s (originally italicised.)]
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/11/23/new-report-again-raises-the-alarm-about-climate-change/

    Ah, it’s long, it’s looong, so Coyne’s, er, avid lovers of ‘Science and Reason’ shouldn’t bother to read it, and Coyne evidently doesn’t expect them to attempt to.

    Why read and better understand real science, eh, when there’s a CNN potted summary.

  17. Dhay says:

    In Jerry Coyne’s 24 November 2018 blog post entitled “Voting on this site” he laments:

    Just a note: I’m always surprised at the low number of people who respond to our polls. You don’t have to comment, but what’s the harm in voting?

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/voting-on-this-site/

    Coyne currently has 57,177 followers; the last vote (“Do you favor the proposed change in regulations allowing Congressional representatives to wear religious (but not secular) head coverings?”) shows 508 votes cast so far — surely fewer before Coyne’s plaintive plea for more votes.

    By my calculation that’s fewer than 0.9% of Coyne’s followers who have the very, very minimal level of interest and engagement that will move them to: think for a second or two, click on one of ‘No’, ‘Yes’ and ‘No opinion’, then click ‘Vote’.

    I’m sure there’s a small core who are highly interested and highly engaged, some of whom — some only — will actually read and try to be educated by Coyne’s science posts; that small core seems to number just 500 or so of Coyne’s followers

    As Shakespeare nearly said, “Damned by faint interest.”

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