Saturday, August 4, 2012

Drama For Her Own Sake

I've mentioned Doctor Philip Mason before, when I did a post a little while back about the ludicrous Draw Mohammed Day public event. As always, I have to point out that I enjoy watching his videos on the Thunderf00t and BeautyInTheUniverse channels. As should probably be expected for a biochemist, the scientific content is bang-on stuff and explained so simply that a bag of hammers could comprehend it.

As always, though, I have a few criticisms of everyone's styles, if only because there are actually right and wrong ways to make an argument. Social Graces have been the hallmark of the gentleman for ages and the greatest heroes of the intelligentsia have always been those who could dissent with grace, poise, and an absence of invective.

Now, don't get me wrong, Dr. Mason's videos are good. He's a marvellous scientist, and I've had a lot of fun with his experiment in using water, a rechargeable battery, and a blast shield to create a plasma the temperature of the surface of the sun inside a coke bottle; watching his aerial photography using nothing more than a camera mounted to an inexpensive styrofoam plain, and particularly his astronomical sightings. When he talks about science he is bang on the mark.

Now, I should preface the rest of this rant by paraphrasing the usual Voltaire: Dr. Mason has the right to say anything he wants on any subject. Absent approval or disapproval of his statements I will still fight with my life for his right to do so. Likewise, anyone else has the right to express dissent or assent to his statements. I'll even go so far as to say I actively encourage him to respond to the following criticisms.

The next sharpest tool in Dr. Mason's chest after his scientific literacy has always been his invective, and that is not for a lack of use. It's generated him quite a fan base, myself included, and as always, invective is fun to watch. I've got a bit of ichor in my pen as well and I know how easy, tempting, and satisfying it is to add the odd insult into an argument.

Thing is though, it only works if it's an add-on to your argument, and even then, you're going to be taken more seriously without it. In a few cases, invective is used by Dr. Mason as a substitute for an argument, as in his recent obsession with... well, it takes some explaining.

The atheist community rarely thinks with one mind, but one of the central ganglia has always been the Freethought Blogs operated by PZ Myers. Recently, Dr. Mason was given an authorship position by Dr. Myers on the blogs. As I understand it, Dr. Mason commented on issues facing just about every society that has large conventions - the perception of sexual discrimination, radical feminism, and chauvinism. Whatever the comments made in this First and Only post on FTB, Dr. Myers removed Dr. Mason's authorship privileges. This has sparked a rather graceless drag-out, knock 'em down brawl between the two and has resulted in countless blog posts and videos tackling the subject on each side - in doctor masons' case, largely continuing to hammer on the original point, as here.

Now, I appreciate that Dr. Myers essentially promised Dr. Mason absolute freedom of speech and then promptly removed him over a disagreement of how far that freedom actually extended. I even agree with Dr. Mason that he should be reinstated and FTB, though it's hard to see why anyone would want to be now that it's clear content is being controlled over there. Where my irritation comes in is that this whole argument has turned something that is a reasonably valid concern (the potential mistreatment of women at skeptic conferences) into something more ridiculous (though admittedly, there was a lot of help coming in from the "skepchicks" themselves).

Dr. Mason, I have a reasonable assumption you will at least click on the link to this post I am leaving in your comment feed. I feel you are fighting a losing battle on this one issue. The more often you write about it, to the exclusion of your ordinary, science-based content, the less and less people are going to care about it.  Unfortunately, and this should not be taken as an insult, your content dealing with social issues and political issues has never been as effectively rendered or as exciting to view as your scientific content. In the same way that I do not write about sports, dating, or issues of race, it behoves your style and your intellect to remain in the scientific arena, where, quite frankly, you are a king among men. Choosing a hot-button issue like Rebecca is a marvellous way to generate page-views. Drama, for her own sake, sells, but they are empty calories, Doctor Mason. Unfulfilling, and, when all is said and done, you will still be hungry in five minutes.

To borrow your own signoff: Best Wishes,

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