Reflections on a “crackpot” post

PZ Myers sometimes gets a bit snooty over at his well-read Pharyngula Blog. For instance, in a recent posting, he dismisses Science Blog with this description: “it’s a site that simply reprints press releases. Send ’em anything, and they’ll spit it back up on the web for you.”

I beg to differ. And if I’m lucky PZ, in the spirit of open-mindedness, will deem this posting worthy of a link on his pages.

PZ apparently bases his assessment on a now deleted thread about the source of life in the universe. He discusses it in a blog posting entitled An Amusingly Suspicious Paper.

He compliments me for my willingness to respond to the error-ridden scientific content, which was soon overwhelmed by a flame war from the author’s acolytes. The thread had its amusing moments, especially in an interchange about a Schopenhauer quotation, torches, and pitchforks. But its real value was as an example of how evidence and reasonable discussion about science, and what makes a journal (online or otherwise) credible, can expose a crackpot idea and its excessively self-promoting author.

The now departed thread even included a link to a webpage describing how the author drove a critical posting off the net by threats to sue. It makes me wonder if that was the cause of its disappearance here.

In any case, despite his haughty dismissal of Science Blog and his mischaracterization of me as its owner, I owe PZ a big thank you for preserving a bit of the debate, now that it has disappeared from here. His blog is on a site owned by Seed Media Group, and if the offended poster of the original article here threatens to sue them, he will be laughed off.

So should Science Blog still leave itself open to posts from dubious sources? Definitely. It’s easy to recognize self-promotion and it usually fades from view under its own weight. And it allows more reputable folks like me to have a forum to reach an audience we care about.

Was the whole affair worth my time and effort? I think so. As my comment on PZ’s article notes:

I sometimes question myself about whether it is worth getting involved with such outrageous folks. But this incident has helped me put it in perspective. It is critical that we learn to distinguish between fringe ideas that have the potential to advance science even if they are wrong, and ideas that are simply wrong because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the science.
[…]’s paper falls in the second category, and it is not even well written. In the immortal words of Wolfgang Pauli, it is “not even wrong.”

Fred Bortz
Science Books for Young Readers
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Science Book Reviews


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