Commenting on the CFI’s non-response

CFI finally responded to the Ben Radfort brainfart. It’s a really fucking stupid response, that I shall take apart now:

What is the cornerstone of CFI’s mission? Is it atheism or humanism? No, not really. Commitments to atheism or humanism or any other “ism” are conclusions we arrive at, presumably after consideration of the relevant evidence and arguments.[and feminism ain’t? Fascinating] The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry.[Excellent. so now, I’m sure, you will thoroughly criticize Ben Radford for the complete and utter lack of critical inquiry in his rambling, right?] We see freedom of expression and critical inquiry as indispensable tools for arriving at an accurate understanding of just about any issue of importance, including, but not limited to, the truth of religious or fringe science claims. This brings me to the recent controversy concerning Ben Radford’s blog post on Free Thinking, as well as the related controversy about the blog Free Thinking itself.

The bloggers on Free Thinking, as has been stated on numerous occasions, and as readers of our blog are expressly advised, represent their own personal opinion.[what does “opinion” have to do with this? What happened to “critical inquiry”?] They do not speak for CFI. (Even this blog post is not technically official policy, as it has not yet been reviewed by the full Management Committee, but it would be appropriate to describe it as expressing my view in my official capacity as president & CEO.)[that’s… incoherent, actually] We intentionally adopted this policy not only because it’s practical (you can’t do a timely blog post if it has to pass through management review), but because we wanted our bloggers to feel free to advance novel and speculative ideas, arguments, and theories[sexism-denialism is novel? In which universe is that true? And why does the same not apply to the “novel and speculative” ideas of AGW-denialism, evolution-denialism, etc.?] without worrying about whether they’d get in “trouble” with management.

We also fully expected that some of the blog posts might make claims that some in our audience would dispute. Great! Isn’t that how the advance of knowledge through free expression is supposed to work? Jane makes claim 1A in her blog post; Joan politely points out in her comments that Jane has overlooked factors x, y, and z; and Jane then thanks Joan for pointing this out, revising her claim to 1B.[that’s nice, but has fuck-all to do with what happened, since “Jane” got pissy and pouty and doubled down on a truly idiotic claim. Again I ask, what happened to “critical inquiry”?]

This is an idealized version, of course. In real life, it’s more like this: Jane makes claim 1A; Joan calls Jane a fucking idiot; Jane calls Joan a moron and digs in her heels; Tom, over at another blog, yells that both Jane and Joan are stupid; Jane and Joan momentarily join forces to call Tom a sexist pig[I do wonder what this non-sequitur here is supposed to do? Are you saying “sexist” is an insult like “moron” and “idiot”, without an actual meaning?]; Frank says Jane has no business blogging and should be fired; Larry comes up with some obscure dictionary reference the relevance of which no one can understand; and someone using the pseudonym Weeenie10 with a cute Batman icon limits himself to typing in the word “fart,” and on it goes, for about 800 comments spread over 3 or 4 blogs.[this whole paragraph is a strawman of what actually happened; if that’s how you are trying to make your argument, you’re not doing it particularly well]

Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Actually, it is. Near instantaneous transmission eliminates certain filters, so, yes, there’s a lot of junk that gets posted, including pointless insults, but there are serious commenters, and their comments can clear up some mistakes and steer a discussion in the right direction. Whether the exchange of ideas works efficiently, as in the ideal model, or in fits and starts, as in the real world, it often works.[except in this case, where incoherent, uncritical sexism-denial is being posited as an “opinion” and the idiot who did it is not changing his mind; while those who’ve pointed out that he fails at basic research, critical thinking, and the ability to take criticism are being castigated for being “mean” and wanting him fired]

Obviously, there are limits to what we’d put up on our blog, not because we want any limits on free expression, but because we are a donor supported organization and we have an obligation to use that donor money prudently[so if the Discovery Institute gave you money, you’d start allowign creationists to post? Or what the fuck is this line supposed to mean? Is this a very long euphemism for “addressing sexism denialism is mission creep”?]. So we’re not going to invite Joel Osteen, Deepak Chopra, Warren Jeffs and so forth to blog[ok, so you are either saying that you were lying about the whole “The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry” thing and the deciding criterion is cash (who pays you for letting sexism-denialism be posted?), or you’re saying there’s a difference between the reality-denialism of religiosity and reality-denialism of sexism. Either way, this is not making you or the CFI look good]. These individuals can take advantage of the outlets available to them. Our bloggers are all, broadly speaking, working from a nonreligious or skeptical perspective.[“broadly speaking” meaning “sometimes not at all”? Because the complete lack of critical thinking skills and “skeptical perspective” in Radford’s posts is what people are complaining about]

One or more of our current bloggers could also conceivably write a string of posts clearly contrary to CFI’s mission and/or its official position on important policy issues. A blogger could, for example, argue that the Establishment Clause should not be enforced[erm… you do know that’s an actual opinion, right? the “should” kind of gives it away. We’re not arguing about opinions here though], that alternative medicine should be exempt from scrutiny, that women should not have the same rights as men, that we should prohibit gays from serving in the military, and so forth[still all opinions, some hateful some ignorant; nothing to do with sexism-denialism and lack of critical inquiry in sexism-denialism, as has been perpetrated by Radford]. Depending on the frequency of such posts, the person might be removed from blogging or other action might be taken. Again, this would not be because we’re opposed to free expression, but because we don’t see the need to fund a continual stream of messages that are contrary to our mission[you’re really confused. I though you said humanism and atheism weren’t part of your mission? Let me make this clear: if someone posted opinions that go against humanism, you’d eventually ban them from posting, but someone who exhibits complete lack of critical thinking is exempt?]. That’s never happened and I think it’s unlikely to happen because someone who found themselves disagreeing with several of our key public policy positions presumably would seek employment elsewhere.

This brings me to Ben’s recent post (or posts, as he had more than one, and the one that actually appeared on Free Thinking seems the least controversial). Some commenters have recommended that Ben be fired or removed as a blogger. Similar suggestions have been made, by the way, about Melody Hensley, who commented on Ben’s blog posts, either on Free Thinking or elsewhere.

First, by way of background, these recommendations are not unprecedented. Every few months I receive recommendations about firing employees, terminating individuals’ contracts, or ceasing all contact with certain authors or speakers. For example, I’ve previously been told (in public fora) that I should fire John Shook, Michael DeDora, and Melody, that I should remove Chris Mooney as POI host, that I should never invite PZ Myers to a conference again, that I should not allow Paul Kurtz to post on our blog (back when he was still with CFI) and that CFI should forever cut any and all ties with Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson (this last suggestion usually being made by different people)[were any of those criticisms made because the people in question were failing at the basics of critical inquiry or skeptical thinking, or just because their opinions pissed someone off? Because there is a difference]. I have declined to follow all such recommendations. I have declined all such recommendations because the reasons offered were either not worthy of consideration or essentially asked me to cut these people off simply because they were perceived to be on the wrong side of an issue.[I smell a strawman coming on; otherwise, this entire paragraph could have been excluded, as people are not calling for action from CFI because they disagree with Radford]

The fact that a person may be on the “wrong” side of a particular issue is not a sufficient basis, absent exceptional circumstances, for CFI to stop working with that person—especially when it’s not always immediately apparent what the “wrong” side is[and there it is, the strawman. it’s not disagreement that’s the problem; it’s that sexism-denialism is not actually a matter of disagreeing on matters of opinion or even policy, but about denying reality; and Radford did so in an especially non-critical, non-skeptical way that exposed his inability to do proper research; I mean really, children’s books? Ask Yahoo?]. We’re supposed to be free thinkers, not dogmatists.

Ben’s posts may exhibit some mistakes in reasoning and may have used some research that was unreliable. I think I can make these statements with confidence because Ben has acknowledged these mistakes himself, in part because some commenters pointed out some research he may have overlooked. (See, free expression does work—sort of.)

Based on this, I don’t see any reason to take any action.[I’m eagerly awaiting the day you let creationists, anti-vaxxers, AGW-denialists and 9-11 Truthers post on your site, as long as someone criticizes them and they offer sufficiently non-committal not-pologies]

Some commenters suggested there should have been an official CFI rebuttal. Why? An official rebuttal suggests that Ben was speaking on behalf of CFI and we needed to clarify that he was not, but as indicated, he was speaking for himself. Second, there were already rebuttals aplenty of Ben. PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Julia Lavarnway (a CFI employee) had their own blog posts criticizing Ben and commenters on Ben’s posts did not seem to be at a loss for words.

And what is it CFI was supposed to rebut?[uh… the factually incorrect bullshit he wrote? I have a very hard time imagining you’d be asking the same thing if the post had been written by a creationist, anti-vaxxer, AGW-denialist or 9-11 Truther] Ben’s speculations about the hues of dolls’ faces? Presumably not.[why not? it’s factually incorrect, after all] What appeared to bother some commenters was Ben’s alleged sexism.[no; his sexism-denialism. why the fuck can’t you tell the difference?]

OK. CFI denounces sexism[nice but really fucking irrelevant to the topic at hand]. We always have and presumably always will. Stereotyping based on gender is wrong and policies and practices that promote such stereotyping should be condemned. Furthermore, attitudes that exhibit sexism are unacceptable, and we should work to eliminate such attitudes, including, to the extent they exist, such attitudes within secular/skeptical organizations
[this also has fuck-all to do with the subject at hand, which is reality-denialism, research-failure, and complete lack of critical thinking].
The problem is I doubt that Ben would disagree with anything in the above paragraph, nor did I see anything in his posts to suggest he would[might that be because you’ve attacked a strawman that had fuck-all to do with the criticisms aimed at Radford? Yes, yes I think it might]. Therefore, I’m not sure it counts as a “rebuttal.”

At the end of the day, it seems to me we had a controversial post (or posts) in which a blogger ventured some opinions[the denial that certain forms of sexism exist is not an opinion any more than the denial of AGW or of the age of the earth is an “opinion”], invited comments on those opinions, received comments that suggested he had erred in some ways, and then modified some of his opinions. This is not something we should decry. To the contrary, we should support a robust exchange of opinions.[]

Because of this recent controversy, CFIs Management Committee will discuss the future of Free Thinking this coming week. I have made plain my views, but we do have collective leadership at CFI, so it’s not inconceivable that the policies governing Free Thinking would change. I hope not, because I think any radical change would undercut what CFI stands for. There are already an ample number of institutions that provide the comfort of orthodoxy[not denying reality and scientific research is “orthodoxy”? Is it “orthodoxy” to accept AGW? Is it “orthodoxy” to accept the Theory of Evolution? because you can’t have it both ways: if accepting the reality of the sexism Ben denied is “orthodoxy”, so is the acceptance of every other well-established observation of reality.] for those want that sort of thing. They’re called churches.[fuck you, too]

So all this rambling to simply state: “I think sexism is a matter of opinion not of measurable and observable reality, so while we won’t let believers in the Yeti post, we will still allow sexism-deniers to post. Everyone who disagrees with me on this is a fundie.”


9 comments on “Commenting on the CFI’s non-response

  1. Well fucking said. I guess Lindsay was just determined to pound another nail into the coffin in which CFI’s relevance and credibility now rests.

  2. Ambidexter says:

    Shorter CFI response: “Ben’s entitled to his opinions and his facts and if you don’t like him making up his own facts, then suck it.”

  3. julian says:

    “fuck you, too”

    My thoughts exactly. If you want to insult me please just do so. Don’t pussy foot around it like some shy teenager.

    Anyway, it’s whatever for me (luxury of being male with little invested in CFI). I have a strong distrust of organizations and CFI is no exception. There’s nothing particular about the CFI that means anything to me.

  4. Carlie says:

    Well, at least now I don’t have to feel guilty about not donating money to CFI.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    or you’re saying there’s a difference between the reality-denialism of religiosity and reality-denialism of sexism


    I get the impression we’re looking at NOMA-postmodernism: on some topics, there is such a thing as reality, while on others (like whether sexism has any consequences), it’s all just opinion and everyone’s own truth is true for them.

    While I clean up the floor of my vomitorium (you’re all invited to use it, I can clean it up again), let me try to shyly hint at how unthinking and ignorant this… worldview is.

  6. David Marjanović says:


    And politely. Gosh darn it to heck, I had completely suppressed the memory of how fucking important politeness is to the CFI:

    Jane makes claim 1A in her blog post; Joan politely points out in her comments that Jane has overlooked factors x, y, and z

    My vomitorium has flowing water.

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Happier and shinier news… which shows once again that sexism has consequences.

    And apparently so does the godlessness of the Czechs. ;-) Islam per se, though, does not.

  8. Paul says:

    It wouldn’t be so bad if Lindsay didn’t insist on building up straw-arguments every time one of CFI’s bloggers says something moronic. When he posts small individual comments (say, over at Metamagician), or if you have a one-on-one discussion with him, what he says tends to be reasonable. But it seems like whenever he has to stretch more than a paragraph to discuss controversy with CFI, he finds the need to make things up or only address the bad actors and namecalling instead of the ideas being discussed, pointed out, or criticized. As soon as someone says something impolite to CFI, he goes full “CFI-patriot” mode. Perhaps he considers it part of the job as president and CEO? But even then, that just goes against all the “orthodoxy” that he accuses CFI-criticizers of.

  9. aceofsevens says:

    I think David nailed it.

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