Re: The "P" stands for "pedagogy"

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it's not all that easy for students googling her

This assumes students google one, which might somewhat overestimate their interest in one.


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 12:41 PM
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Yeah, I'd definitely agree with this. One of the things that I've heard from a lot of my past students is that no one ever figures out what my personal biases are, aside from a few comments about which are my favorite poems, etc. They can't figure out if I'm Christian, Jewish, or atheist, they don't know if I'm straight, bi, or gay, they can't pin down what the terms of my feminism are, etc. My conservative students tend to imagine I'm a conservative, and my liberal students imagine I'm liberal. All they have to do is ask, really, and I tell them whatever they want to know, but the important thing is that keeping them guessing, in the classroom, means they don't know how to kiss up to me or how to piss me off. I set the terms of the discourse, that it should be polite and well-informed, but I don't say there's any idea they aren't allowed to express. I can't imagine how annoying it would be to be in Myers's class, either as a student or as Myers himself.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 12:42 PM
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Surely you mean Latour.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 12:46 PM
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To the post: Yes, exactly. He threw a public hissy fit: unwise. I had much the same response to the recent New Yorker cover. Have we not talked before about the changing place of shamelessness in public discourse?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:00 PM
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This assumes students google one, which might somewhat overestimate their interest in one.

It only assumes that some students google one, in an idle moment or otherwise, which I think is not a terribly high bar to clear.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:18 PM
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Who knows what people learn from? "My seemingly sensible biology professor is a nutty atheist activist" could be a learning experience too.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:34 PM
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Students do google.

I think though that you're absolutely wrong, Labs. College students are adults, albeit you can't tell from the way many of them behave. College professors are adults, too, who are entitled to public opinions outside of their jobs. And I don't think that it necessarily "creates pedagogical difficulties" to have students find out that you're not some kind of teaching robot; sure, it changes the feeling of the classroom, but so fucking what? What matters is if you make it *clear* to them that whatever your personal/political beliefs, you are assessing their work against a professional standard.

Moreover, PZ's feelings about religion are *not* all that unfounded for a professor of embryology and biology.

Anyway, having had way too many students say things like "her feminism impacts her teaching" as if that were a criticism, uh uh, no way, no how do you get to say that good teaching requires one not to have a personality or personal opinions, whether about things that are related to your subject or not.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:35 PM
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Addendum: I actually think it is good for students to know one is not a teaching robot. I mean, I used to take PK to class on days when babysitting fell through: what if my students had been offended/distracted by finding out that I was a Working Mother!!

Tough shit. If the prof is doing his/her job, then student hangups about prof's personal life are the students' problem.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:38 PM
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No, B, you're wrong! So there! Seriously, though, you're misreading the post.

College students are adults, we agree. We also agree that academics are entitled to public opinions. (My claim isn't about entitlement.) And we agree that the following claim is false: "it necessarily 'creates pedagogical difficulties' to have students find out that you're not some kind of teaching robot." (My claim is an empirical claim about the likelihood of harmful effects; it's not about the necessity of harmful effects. All I've got is anecdata, sure, e.g. the Jewish student who wanted to avoid classes taught by the guy everyone knows is serious about Jesus, but that's all anyone's got, I think.)

Also it should be obvious that I'm not claiming "good teaching requires one not to have a personality or personal opinions."


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:43 PM
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Bitch, if Myers' display isn't enough to have a bad impact on teaching, what would be enough?

A former colleague of mine got in trouble for complaining on his blog about the "rich white fucks" in the College Republicans. It seemed to me then, as now, that calling your students "rich white fucks" is bad pedagogy. I've been putting Myers performance in the same category.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:51 PM
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Students do google.

I'm sure some do, though I've yet to encounter evidence of it. Students often ask me my politics, especially in an election year, and I've been non-pseudonymously writing for publication since at least 2000 and it's mostly available by google. Last year, especially, a large number of students seem to have got it into their heads that my politics were other than they are. (Which is fine by me, btw.)

All by way of saying, I think students base their assessment of your politics on what they see in class, and their interest in you ends when class does.

Maybe the solution to the problem Labs is sort of posing is not "don't have a public persona under your own name," but "don't do things Labs considers deeply unfortunate under your own name."


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 1:56 PM
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Rob, what if they are rich and white and the professor really is fucking them?

Eric, I'm not saying the pedagogical aspect is the main source of my irritation; it's just a little bonus. And while there are grey areas my own personal comfort level is fine with most of what you do under your name but not comfortable with Myers yelling "you people are stupid!!!1!" at a subset of his students.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:04 PM
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|| Holy shit, today's Gallup tracking has Obama with a nine point lead. He was up 2-3 for the last couple of weeks, then started to open a lead on Thursday. The news about his workouts must be getting around.

Also, I'm trying to learn some Portugese...so far I can say "I'm American, I don't understand Portugese...does the gentleman speak English? with some degree of fluency. ||>


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:04 PM
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No; calling *your students* names is not in the same category as expressing a strong personal opinion about public issues.

Also, note that the entire brouhaha started because Myers was pissed at the fact that a *Catholic student* was attacked by other Catholics. If he really hated all religious people, presumably he wouldn't give a shit.

Anyway, Labs, I really think that, e.g., the Jewish student who wants to avoid a class taught by the Jesus freak is making his decision based on personal, rather than educational criteria. Which, y'know, is fine; we're entitled not to take classes from people we dislike. But that isn't affecting how *Myers* does his job; it's affecting (maybe) how students do theirs. And really, students aren't such wilting flowers that they can't say "yeah, that Prof Myers really has a bug up his ass about religion, but he's a great biology teacher."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:07 PM
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On second thought, Eric, I suspect there are differences between our institutional cultures-- I bet there's more googling going on here than there.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:07 PM
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not comfortable with Myers yelling "you people are stupid!!!1!" at a subset of his students.

He *isn't* yelling it at his students.

It's like you're turning into Labs Horowitz or something. Yiiii.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:08 PM
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B, I want my classroom to be open to a diversity of students, including those who, for various reasons, might be more easily intimidated or timid. That's because I'm a feminist who listens carefully even to a different voice.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:09 PM
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A good professor beats the timidity out of his/her students. Before the world does it for them.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:10 PM
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18: the provost made me turn in my paddle.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:11 PM
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What about difference as such is unwelcoming? Only the pose of neutrality is welcoming? Can the students welcome each other qua different, or are they to absorb the lesson that they should pose as neutral, too? Is the neutrality requirement sending the message that strong personal convictions are ipso facto offensive and a barrier to some kind of shared enterprise?


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:12 PM
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17: That's awesome, and I'm sure that your pedagogical methods are fabulous. What I'm saying is that people whose self-presentation differs from yours are not necessarily bad teachers, and may *even* have sound pedagogical reasons for what they do. And if they don't, that's still okay.

Basically, it's fine to say "*I* wouldn't do it because that's not how I teach"; it's not fine, especially in the era of Horowitz and given the fact that Donohue is, in fact, trying to go after Myers's job on the specific grounds that he's hostile to religious people, to say that his blog "affects how Myers does his job" with the implication that it affects it in a bad way. No, you're not saying in the post that this is bad, but y'know, "likelihood of harmful effects" right back atcha.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:15 PM
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PGD, make sure you're learning the Brazilian accent. You probably are, but it's worth underlining - Iberian Portuguese sounds like a throat disease.

And, since I'm opining, tracking polls are meaningless this far out. Clive Cook had a good column about this in the FT two weeks ago.


Posted by: mike d | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:15 PM
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the provost made me turn in my paddle.

But what about your cat-o'-nine-tails and your riding crop?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:16 PM
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their interest in you ends when class does

I'm sorry you haven't been getting that many chili peppers from your students, Eric.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:18 PM
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People, whatever their own faith may be, should respect Bitch's Catholic view on this matter.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:21 PM
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not comfortable with Myers yelling "you people are stupid!!!1!" at a subset of his students.

He *isn't* yelling it at his students.

You're right, but only because of the word "at". PZ Myers is the most famous professor at his institution, and he has gotten to be that way by impolitely expressing his strong opinions that belief in religion is stupid. It's pretty easy for his students to discover that.

I think it's pretty analogous to the case of the Jewish students who are uncomfortable with a known Christian supremacist, as AWB mentioned. It takes a pretty high degree of maturity to be really convinced that somebody can respect some of your opinions while having scorn for extremely important parts of your worldview.


Posted by: Fatman | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:22 PM
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PGD, make sure you're learning the Brazilian accent. You probably are, but it's worth underlining - Iberian Portuguese sounds like a throat disease.

This is Brazilian Portuguese, which sounds like a throat disease interspersed with subtle little vowel sounds between the gargling. And the subtle vowel sounds are key to the meaning. On the page, just another romance language, but in the mouth: completely fucking impossible, basically.

tracking polls are meaningless this far out

The dirt has been flying since May at least, and Brand Obama is still catching on with the public. A good sign I think.

the provost made me turn in my paddle.

probably one of those useless devotees of your modern, "advanced", educational theories.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:24 PM
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25 gets it exactly right.

26: No, he's gotten that way by having an excellent professional blog. Admittedly the arguments about religion have added an element of notoriety, but give the man his due.

Also, I think many adults think that many things young people believe are stupid. Generally, young people seem rather unfazed by that.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:24 PM
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Actually, my last comment was wrong -- Brazilian Portuguese seems to move the throat sounds up to the tongue, where they become softer "jhu" and "ch" type sounds. Still very hard to get those little vowels in there, though.

All right, I'll stop now.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:28 PM
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His blog has evolved over the years. Back when he was still serving it off his own personal machine he spent a lot more time talking about animal development and evolution. I think the stridency has come about due to the number of trolls that came along and started going on about the Jesus and the Hellfire and the Miraculous Creation That Is Our Planet.


Posted by: Hank | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:35 PM
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You don't mess with the Jesus!


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:39 PM
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I don't think atheists or christians should be allowed to be teachers; just polite agnostics. It could be one of those "don't ask, don't tell" deals. As long as you don't get caught denying Jesus on the internet or going to church, you wouldn't get fired.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:56 PM
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To be fair, "knowing one's teacher is not a teaching robot" is not *quite* the same thing as knowing that your teacher publicly boasts about childish pranks intended to piss off a religious community.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 2:57 PM
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33:

Indeed. One might argue that such pranks are actually a pretty good sign that a student has cause to fear that their own viewpoint and/or might not be impartially judged.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:04 PM
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I think the word "analysis" is supposed to go after and/or, but use your imagination.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:05 PM
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12

"Eric, I'm not saying the pedagogical aspect is the main source of my irritation; it's just a little bonus. And while there are grey areas my own personal comfort level is fine with most of what you do under your name but not comfortable with Myers yelling "you people are stupid!!!1!" at a subset of his students. "

How about yelling you people are going to hell to a subset of your students?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:33 PM
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36: also undesirable, especially if they brag on their fire and brimstone blog about stealing a copy of OOS from the library and tearing holes in the pages with a crucifix or whatever. Which professor is doing that again?



Posted by: HamLove | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:52 PM
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33: Fair enough. Labs is still being uncharacteristically Horowitzian.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:53 PM
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Indeed. One might argue that such pranks are actually a pretty good sign that a student has cause to fear that their own viewpoint and/or might not be impartially judged.

Why would the students view point even come up to be judged? He seems to teach the following classes:

* Genetics
* Human Physiology
* Developmental Biology
* Neurobiology

I took similar classes in college. They are mostly just memorization and regurgitation of facts. I was never asked an opinion in any of the science classes I took. If he was teaching a class on the effects of science on theology I could see an issue.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 4:56 PM
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Given that there is no place for discussion of one's religious beliefs in a biology class, any of Myers students who are intimidated and whose learning experience is affected by the notion that their professor is an avowed atheist were probably not going to benefit from classes teaching the Dread Evilution anyway.

Half of the ones who know about the Frackin' Cracker Pranck probably delight in the Oooooh! Transgressive! nature of the whole thing. I mean, cool! Our professor got death threats!

I managed to get through a French lit course taught by a priest when I was 15, in another country and in the original language, without being affected by my professor's religious quirks [or what his response to my atheism might be]. I submit that learning that the whole world doesn't agree with your point of view/philosophy/brand of woo is a Very Good Thing and an essential part of growing up.

I also managed to get through Con Law with a professor who was an ex-Marine stuck in the 60s who professed a desire to shoot anyone who burned the flag. I managed an A- despite my feelings on the subject of political free expression and the death penalty for murder motivated by excessive "patriotism".


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:03 PM
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add '


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:04 PM
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D/E, really you either should have burned a flag or shot him.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:08 PM
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Possibly both.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:19 PM
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You should have shot him with a burning flag.


Posted by: Tiny Hermaphrodite | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:22 PM
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My sister teaches biology at a big state university. One of her colleagues is a former bible-literalist Christian who, because of the shiteousness of her local school board, confronted evolutionary theory for the first time as an undergrad in college. She had a hard time with it, lots of qualms and doubts and worries, and so she went to her professor's office hours. He was a rather strident atheist and basically mocked her. Fortunately, the TA for the course was an understanding and patient person who talked some of the problems over for her---with the result that this former bible-literalist Christian is now a professional biologist at a big state university. My sister has Very Strong Opinions about the usefulness of not being a jerk about the intersection of science and religious belief.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 5:55 PM
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31: You don't mess with the Jesus!

Indeed, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Despite the careful dancing around to clarify that this is about religious tolerance and so on, it's really about the fact that you don't mess with the Jesus. You better profess some faith, at least in this country, in Him, certainly if you're a public figure, certainly if you're a politician. Or at the very least, leave a very wide space for him, despite the glaring hypocrisy involved for any number of us.

Well. That's how it is. There are more important matters to attend to, politically.

On preview: In terms of pedagogy, of course tolerance and understanding are called for.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:07 PM
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She had a hard time with it, lots of qualms and doubts and worries, and so she went to her professor's office hours.

Again, not the appropriate place to discuss one's religious qualms - problems grasping concepts, yes; theological issues, no. You don't go to the eye doctor to angst about your pipes rattling, you go to the plumber.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:22 PM
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Tho' mocking her was certainly rude. Manners, always, manners. [The most important part of being raised spiky Episcopalian. Faith is a distant second.]


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:23 PM
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But if you've been raised a bible literalist, you're going to have a difficult time simply grasping the concepts behind an evolutionary model of, say, time, change, knowability, evidence...all kinds of shit that aren't necessarily "religion". If the professor simply waves the student away saying "not my department, toots, try the seminary" I think he's being if not irresponsible at least lazy and uninviting. Give the kid a reading list, at minimum!


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:35 PM
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I think it does matter that UMM is a small campus in a very small town. Myers is well known to his students outside the classroom. They don't have to google him.


Posted by: jim | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:37 PM
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UMM is a small-town state school governed from the Twin Cities. By and large the town, which would be nothing much without the college, is happy (or very happy) to have the school there. The problem would be voters statewide. The Catholic Church is the largest single church here, about 25%.

UMM used to be an Ag school. Someone or another repurposed it and buffed it up. It's been a great success.

By and large, Catholics and Lutherans around here do not have the anti-intellectual streak that many Christians do.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 6:55 PM
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or what his response to my atheism might be

Most priests I have encountered refuse to believe I am an atheist. I suspect there is a long story behind that position.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 7:30 PM
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I tend to agree with Labs here, and it's not because I try to be a brain-on-a-stick in a classroom, but because I've noticed that students are *really* interested in trying to figure out what I think on a topic.

I suspect this is more of an issue in philosophy than evolutionary biology, because we expect students to adopt (or play-adopt) views and defend them rather than learn a series of facts and methods. And if they think that I think that position X is bogus to the point I'm ranting about it on a blog, let alone pulling pranks, I think I'm not wrong in thinking that will discourage them from defending it. They're always asking, trying to figure out what I think is the right view. They think it will lead to an easier A.

And in philosophy, at least, there's a value to having the classroom be a comparatively safe space for people to dick around with stupid arguments for stupid positions. Surely I couldn't expect to desecrate a host and have a well-run philosophy of religion class.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 7:33 PM
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Bob, to them the madness in your eyes seems Christian.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 7:48 PM
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I'm not sure that an appeal to (alleged) pedagogical norms is going to have much sway with PZ Meyers. Based on recent events, he seems to be angling for an interview in the next RE/Search "Pranks" book.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 7:51 PM
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I read PZ's biology posts more than his atheism posts, and I'd guess that he's an inspiring teacher. He really loves biology, and he's a tremendously high energy guy.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 7:53 PM
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B, long ago didn't you say that one reason for keeping your blog pseudonymous was to keep your classroom and online personas distinct?


Posted by: fl | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:37 PM
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Personae.


Posted by: John Emerson-W-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:39 PM
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45: I don't know that PZ's statements on a blog are anything like his statements in a classroom (not that you're saying they are). God knows mine aren't.

53 makes sense, especially in drawing the distinction betwee philosophy and biology. Though I'm really not sure if students being curious about what the prof thinks is the same thing as students being intimidated/threatened/harmed if they find out.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:39 PM
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57: Sure, but that doesn't mean that everyone else needs to do it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:42 PM
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Also, in my case, a *big* part of that is the open marriage thing. Which wouldn't affect my teaching, obviously, but it's just not something I need freshman boys speculating about.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:44 PM
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But you saw it as a good thing for various reasons. Are all of those reasons inapplicable here? (Again, i'm not saying he's obligated to so much as I'm saying it would be better if he did.)


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 8:49 PM
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Though I'm really not sure if students being curious about what the prof thinks is the same thing as students being intimidated/threatened/harmed if they find out.

No, it's not. That depends on what they find out. I just don't think you can rule out the little buggers being curious, or knowing how Google works.

And I think it matters that Myers isn't teaching anything where it is likely that a student might come to him about other non-science issues, though Jackmormon's story is worth considering.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 9:32 PM
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Indeed, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Despite the careful dancing around to clarify that this is about religious tolerance and so on, it's really about the fact that you don't mess with the Jesus.

Maybe I'm missing something, but where did this come from? I am pretty sure that none of the people who objected to PZM's stupid prank objected on the grounds that he needs to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

But what about your cat-o'-nine-tails and your riding crop?

True fact: The head of my department keeps a whip in his office. To my knowledge, never used...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 9:53 PM
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64.1: It's just a general observation that bowing to the Jesus contingent (that is, Christians) is the default position. It didn't really bear saying.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 10:14 PM
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62: I really don't know. It seems to me that Myers posts very little about the kinds of things that made me decide to be anonymous: sex, personal angst, doubts about the profession. I certainly didn't decide to be anonymous because I was afraid my students would read me ranting about Larry Summers or anything. In general, I'm pretty okay telling my students what I think about stuff--sometimes I'll postpone it, but you know me: I answer direct questions pretty directly. If it's a political thing, or (more importantly), a "what theoretical school do you prefer," I'll tell them and then make a point of saying that my opinion is neither here nor there as far as my assessment of their work goes. And usually the students who like me best are the ones who hate my politics, since after all, pursuing a strong argument is kind of the bread and butter of humanities teaching.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-27-08 10:25 PM
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Shorter Labs: "Won't somebody think of the children!"


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:04 AM
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when I hear the word "pedagogy", I reach for my revolver.

One might argue that such pranks are actually a pretty good sign that a student has cause to fear that their own viewpoint and/or might not be impartially judged

For as long as you academics continue to think like surrogate parents or service sector employees rather than professionals, that's the way you're going to be treated (specifically, you're going to be treated like service sector employees). The students aren't there to be respected or impartially listened to - they're in a university specifically because they don't know enough about biology.

The whole point about being a professional is that you're valued for your specialised skills (in this case, biology teaching), not for your service, and this means that when someone comes to you asking you to use your specialised skills to help them, it's them that has to compromise with your personality, not the other way round.

There's a genuine free speech issue here surely to God - it's absolutely correct to say that this bogus "think of the sttuuuuudents" thing is exactly the line of argument someone like Horowitz would use to run a guy out of his job.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:21 AM
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OMG, D2 is actually saying something reasonable about education for once.

Marriage has clearly softened you, D2.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:24 AM
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D2, what are you doing out of bed?

Timothy Burke tried to launch a campaign a couple of years ago based on a very similar take:

The rise of the expensive "full-service" model of higher education coupled with the pervasive resurgence of in loco parentis, of the college or university as "nanny" determined to manage most aspects of community life and ethos. This blueprint counsels abandoning the vast majority of services provided by most colleges and universities while also maintaining a scrupulous disinterest in the private lives of students, faculty and administrators.

Don't know if he got anywhere with it.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:50 AM
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The whole point about being a professional is that you're valued for your specialized skills (in this case, biology teaching), not for your service, and this means that when someone comes to you asking you to use your specialized skills to help them, it's them that has to compromise with your personality, not the other way round.

My clients certainly do not feel this way about my practice of my profession.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 4:22 AM
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And how well does this really hold up? I'll refuse to go back to a doctor if I detest their personality. I'll find another competent doctor.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:05 AM
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Indeed, and if you're keen on respecting consecrated items, you'd probably find someone else to teach you neurophysiology.

Difference is, nobody would claim that because you didn't like the doctor, he wasn't practicising medicine properly. Might make it difficult for that doctor to find a job if everyone hated him just as much, but that wouldn't affect his professional status as a doctor.

For the longest time, lawyers and accountants were prohibited from advertising by their professional bodies, precisely because it was felt that touting for business was incompatible with professional status.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:22 AM
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71. Well, if you're counsellor or a therapist or similar, then obviously your self-presentation is part of your professional skill set. If you're a social worker, it may be important in some situations. But in the vast majority of cases, you don't have to care whether the person who conveyances your house or changes your engine oil or teaches you genetics even continues to exist outside your transaction with them.

The question is, whether the professional brings beliefs to the job which affect their performance in it. Myers' hostility to religion isn't such a belief, because even if he were a practicing catholic it wouldn't change what he says in class. Genetics remains genetics, whatever your professor does in his spare time.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:22 AM
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73: Fair enough. I think the sub-problem is 1) the glut of academics on the job market, and 2) that we let students prioritize what features they value in a professor. Which means that pedagogy has come to mean something very different than being a knowledgable resource. Which isn't totally a bad thing.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:30 AM
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Professionalism is history. Finance rules. Dsquared doesn't understand that because he's in finance but thinks he's a professional. QED.

Last class reunion I went to I heard a PhD-MD whining about his HMO job. Doctors are now labor, and they're unionizing.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:32 AM
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i don't like being taught by radical professors, even if they're "on the same side of the spectrum". i wouldn't like to be taught by ward churchill, and i wouldn't like to be taught by pz myers just as much as i wouldn't like to be taught by john yoo (even ignoring their extracurricular activities). for me the ideological distance between moderate and radical is still bigger than between left and right, but seemingly that's becoming more and more an antiquated viewpoint.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:46 AM
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77. The question is, if you ignore their extracurricular activities, can you tell whether they're radical or not. And if not, why should you care about their extracurricular activities?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:54 AM
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There's no comparison between Myers and Yoo or Myers and Churchill. Myers is a mainstream left-liberal on politics.

The right now is pretty much all radical. The moderates have been driven from the Republican Party.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 5:57 AM
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78. i have zero interest in any professor's extracurricular activities, but the hallmark of radicalism, namely the absence of nuanced judgment, tends to shine through in a classroom setting.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 6:37 AM
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Bullshit, TE. Radicals are often right where centrists are wrong. David Broder is the reigning grandmaster of nuanced judgment, and he's a complete blithering idiot. Many great teachers, scientists, and scholars have extreme opinions, both about their own topic and about everything else.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 6:48 AM
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Difference is, nobody would claim that because you didn't like the doctor, he wasn't practicising medicine properly.

Sure I would. A very important part of a doctor's job requires building trust with the patient -- trust that is crucial to the open communication between doctor and patient that is necessary to proper diagnosis and treatment.

Same goes for teaching. Pedagogy is not some mechanical function of a teacher standing at the front of a classroom imparting knowledge to students who take it in as passive vessels. It's a dynamic process -- communication -- that is significantly furthered or inhibited by the relationship between teacher and students

But in the vast majority of cases, you don't have to care whether the person who conveyances your house or changes your engine oil or teaches you genetics even continues to exist outside your transaction with them.

Conceiving of teaching as comparable to getting an oil change is not conceiving of teaching as a professional venture.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:12 AM
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Difference is, nobody would claim that because you didn't like the doctor, he wasn't practicising medicine properly.

They might, actually, because sometimes being rude towards a patient is a proxy for the doctor isn't taking the patient's medical complaints seriously. Around the internets people do things like keep lists of doctors who are fat-friendly, because if the doctor thinks obesity is behind every medical condition, the patient won't like going to the doctor.

There's a genuine free speech issue here surely to God - it's absolutely correct to say that this bogus "think of the sttuuuuudents" thing is exactly the line of argument someone like Horowitz would use to run a guy out of his job.

Note here that the argument in the post was not for running him out of his job, but on justifications for pseudonymity, which treat the profession as it is (a little too nannyish for my tastes), which isn't just an information dump.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:24 AM
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Conceiving of teaching as comparable to getting an oil change is not conceiving of teaching as a professional venture

Yes it is. It is conceiving of it as a different professional venture from the one you conceive it as, is all. Or maybe not even that. Clearly teaching involves an infinitely more complex and nuanced skill set than changing engine oil, but both should involve, as I quoted Burke as saying above (70), "a scrupulous disinterest in the private lives of students (motorists), faculty (mechanics) and administrators (garage owners)."


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:28 AM
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Burke also would abolish dorms, athletics, health care, any kind of services, and extracurricular activities. Which might be a fine way to run a university, but it's very, very different from the way its run now.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:31 AM
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81. i don't see where i said moderates cannot be idiots or that radicals cannot be right or that good researchers cannot have extreme opinions. i simply expressed my discomfort with the idea that someone whose spectrum of diverging opinions he's willing to engage in approaches epsilon can gain a modicum of control over my well-being.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:34 AM
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I think an interesting example on the right was John McCarthy, prominent Stanford computing and AI professor (he may be emeritus by now). During a lot of his heyday he was pretty much an Edward Teller-type nutcase on Russia (his thing seems to be the desirability of "growth" these days). In his field this seemed to do him little harm, although he was apparently extreme enough that I saw it get mentioned in popular writings by his colleagues (although in an "oh well, that's John" way). And overall McCarthy's posiitons did one one-millionth the harm (and were far outweighed by his contributions) to Stanford's reputation as institutional affiliation with the asshats at the Hoover Institute has.

Overall, this pedagogical quibble is pretty lame in the larger scheme of things.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:36 AM
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Difference is, nobody would claim that because you didn't like the doctor, he wasn't practicising medicine properly.

The doctoring case works badly for your argument. "I know the doctor is pretty conservative, so I felt uncomfortable asking about the health risks of [some weird sexual practice, some birth control option, abortion, whatever]" is not really an implausible or unprecedented thought. (Interacting with patients, making them comfortable, etc., is part of the doctoring job.) The general point might be right, but this example isn't convincing.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:38 AM
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I'm willing to accept that as a confession, TE.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:41 AM
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85: Burke also would abolish dorms, athletics, health care, any kind of services, and extracurricular activities.

Not familiar with Burke's larger point, but as someone in the midst of yet another round of college visits (3rd kid), I have some sympathy with the quoted words. The upper-middle classing nanny-stateism of many colleges and universities is really something staggering if you had a gap of 25 years where you ignored them. I will just say that if the challenges of this century hinge on climbing walls and sushi bars, we're gonna be OK! (And of course they are in mostly just responding to the market pressures, many of which come from us parents. El Boomerinos remaking the world in our neediness once again.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:44 AM
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It works brilliantly for my example because although I'm sure it genuinely sucks to have an asshole for a doctor, in this case everyone seems to agree that it's the patient's business to shop around for another doctor and that they don't have a legitimate complaint against him as a doctor unless they can prove that he didn't meet the relevant standard in the carrying out of his medical speciality. You can only sustain a complaint about a doctor if he's actually been nasty to you - if you just stick away from him because you think that he hypothetically might be, good luck getting the GMC to give a cuss.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:45 AM
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No one was arguing that Myers should be censured. Or kicked out of the university.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:48 AM
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Reform Mormons.

Not a joke. JM knows which Smith founded this branch.

There was a lot of millenarianism in the XIXc US, and it was sometimes associated with progressive politics -- suffrage, anti-slavery. (It was still all crazy, of course). Mormons became conservatives fairly recently.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:48 AM
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Just imagine that that was on the other thread.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:49 AM
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It works brilliantly for my example because although I'm sure it genuinely sucks to have an asshole for a doctor, in this case everyone seems to agree that it's the patient's business to shop around for another doctor

And just like a patient, once enrolled in a particular HMO, may have limited choices of doctor for treating a particular condition, a student, once enrolled in a particular university, may have limited choices for a professor to teach a particular course.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:54 AM
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For the Flophouse:

REORGANIZED CHURCH OF JESUS, 202- 333-6052
3526 MASSACHUSETTS AVE NW, WASHINGTON DC 20007


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:56 AM
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Sorry, my bot is buggy today. I'll take a break.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:57 AM
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92: my point, as far back as #68, is that the other professions have a definite standard of what constitutes a legitimate criticism of a professional, and that having this standard is pretty close to being constitutive of what it is to be a professional (I remember a rather good article about management consultants which attacked their claim to being professionals while never promising anything other than customer service). The teachers, however, seem to have moved in the direction that Tim Burke identifies of being all-singing-all-dancing comprehensive providers of childcare services to the 18-21 age group, and as a necessary part of doing so, the concept of a standard of legitimate criticism appears to have dropped away.

More succintly, I think that this whole "student assessment" malarkey really ought to have been spotted a lot earlier on for what it is - a sustained (and by now, successful) attack on professionalism.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 7:58 AM
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89. confession of what? that I'm not a radical and you are one, and that i think you lack the ability to engage in what i wrote and rather dismissed as "bullshit" what you'd preferred i'd have written, and that as a consequence i wouldn't consider taking a class from you because i require that my teachers possess the intellectual maturity to do their job and not only the specialized knowledge? yeah, you can take that as a confession.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:03 AM
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Actual teachers are hit from both directions. A lot of the university not only thinks that the singing and dancing part is mere "customer service", but the teaching part too. According to them, real academic professionals don't teach at all, not even grad students, and only do research.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:05 AM
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You seem like a whiny, fearful person who wouldn't be a good student for that reason. I'm not auditioning to be your teacher.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:07 AM
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the other professions have a definite standard of what constitutes a legitimate criticism of a professional

I think we might have different views about the content of those standards. Doctors have been told, for example, "improve your bedside manner or get out of my practice." Whether it's grounds for professional censure or not is different from whether it's part of the skill set for being a good doctor. Sure, this isn't as easily codified as standards for malpractice, but that's a different issue.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:08 AM
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the other professions have a definite standard of what constitutes a legitimate criticism of a professional

In medicine, there are guidelines on how to deal with patients of different cultural or religious backgrounds, even though one could be a jerk to those patients without losing one's medical license.

More to the point, I think we can distinguish between the types of legitimate criticism that say 'don't do this or be disbarred/lose your license/lose tenure' and the ones that say 'this is really not best practices.'


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:08 AM
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TE, what would constitute inability to do their job would be if they penalised you for disagreeing with them. If your idea of good teaching involves offering the students homogenised pap, then why bother going to college? You can get that from self help books. The onus is as much on you to defend your position as a moderate as it is on Emerson to defend his as a radical, and a teacher who doesn't challenge both of you is really not doing their job.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:10 AM
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95: I'm still seeing this as broadly good for my analogy. If you had a doctor that you had to see through your HMO, and he was perfectly fine at doctoring, treated your condition just great etc, but you didn't really like him and/or you felt a bit uncomfortable with him because you thought he might disapprove of your lifestyle, would you really expect this complaint to be taken seriously? Fair enough, depending on the situation, one might feel sympathy for someone stuck in that position, but would we really say that all doctors ought to censor their political expressions just in case?

Getting it down to a concrete example, say we've got a doctor who provides emergency contraception, willingly refers patients to abortion clinics, etc, generally does everything that you'd ask. But she also happens to be a Christian and is well-known for having conservative views. Given that she's already massively compromised on her beliefs for the sake of her professional standards (which is the whole essence of professionalism - to be a professional is to operate according to the profession's standards, not your own), is she also meant to circumscribe her personal life? No way.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:18 AM
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Additionally, that mainly applies to disciplines where opinion is important. I'm not sure what radical genetics, or moderate neurophysiology would look like.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:19 AM
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Speaking as a student, some students actually like and respect their professors and are interested in learning more about them, including their normative commitments.


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:20 AM
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Doctors have been told, for example, "improve your bedside manner or get out of my practice."

whoa there. Unless you've got some reason to believe that PZ Myers is rude to religious students to their faces in class, you're shifting the goalposts here. Doctors haven't (or at least, haven't legitimately) been told "keep your political or religious views quiet or get out of my practice". There's a professional standard for the way in which doctors deal with patients but that's not similar at all.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:21 AM
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105: I could see a partner in her medical practice saying 'You're not in trouble with the AMA, but that site you have where you call anyone who needs the pill a Godless whore? Knock it off.'


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:22 AM
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107. Fine, nobody's saying they shouldn't. Only that they shouldn't have to.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:22 AM
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But she also happens to be a Christian and is well-known for having conservative views.

"And there have been multiple stories on the local television news that feature video of her screaming 'Murderer' at women seeking an abortion at a clinic," seems closer.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:25 AM
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109: Indeed, the partner in the medical practice might even describe the offensive website as "unprofessional." If I show up at some bar association event, get sloppy drunk, and start dancing on the tables, I will not be disbarred or get sued for malpractice, but my peers will quite rightly describe my behavior as "unprofessional."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:31 AM
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I used to attend the annual Scottish Accountants' Dinner and I absolutely disagree with the example in #112.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:37 AM
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108: fair point. You had said

it genuinely sucks to have an asshole for a doctor, in this case everyone seems to agree that it's the patient's business to shop around for another doctor and that they don't have a legitimate complaint against him as a doctor unless they can prove that he didn't meet the relevant standard in the carrying out of his medical speciality

And we wandered off into a discussion of what the content of professional standards is. My "bedside manner" example wasn't meant to be analogous to PZ's classroom behavior, which, as far as anyone knows, is great. It was meant to show that "being an asshole" isn't really compatible with "being a good doctor."

This might be a good time to reiterate how modest the post's thesis is.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:38 AM
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Are you serious, heebie? "Loony false tip"?

The only thing I knew about the FLDS and Rulon & Warren Jeffs was based on the many posts about it by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I'm amazed that now there's finally a crackdown, the overzealous placement of the kids into foster care is causing everyone to think the FLDS is probably really not bad at all.

Here's one. Their archives are impossible to search because it seems like every commenter's decontextualized comments are considered URLs of their own, but at least I found one of the threads.


Posted by: Fatman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:46 AM
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Hmm, on second thoughts I think "legitimate complaint" there looks like it ought to mean "legitimate grounds for an official complaint", which is stronger than I hoped I'd meant. I wanted to say something like "something that would make a sensible unbiased member of the same profession think the worse of x's professional qualities"


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:47 AM
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104. what would constitute inability to do their job would be if they penalised you for disagreeing with them.

exactly, since i consider radicalism as a sociological urge to dismiss diverging viewpoints i expect radicals to use their institutional power to enforce their dominance over the academic airspace. and if i am to defend my moderate viewpoints i don't want to give them this advantage. because i reject it doesn't mean i favor pap. it's very possible (but sadly somewhat rare) to hold extreme views without being a radical.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:48 AM
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sorry wrong thread

Who wants to lovemore Matombo?


Posted by: Fatman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:54 AM
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it's very possible (but sadly somewhat rare) to hold extreme views without being a radical.

How would this work in practice? "Workers of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! So you should all sign my petition to get the iron links replaced by lighter aluminium ones - it'll probably be filed in the bin, but we don't want to appear too radical!"


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 8:55 AM
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Who knows what people learn from? "My seemingly sensible biology professor is a nutty atheist activist" could be a learning experience too.

This is true. A chemistry prof of mine liked to flirt with intelligent design, the flat tax, Spoonerist anarcho-capitalism, and eugenics. He'd admit that he wasn't convinced by any of these ideas if you pressed him, but would say that he believed in "keeping an open mind." I learned from him just how tedious contrarian posturing can be.

Any interest I have in religion at this point in my life is mostly historical/anthropological/theatrical, but Kotsko gets the Myers thing right. Myers is being a dick. (That said, Myers isn't the first to turn dickishness into a pedagogical virture.)


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:27 AM
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119. How would this work in practice?

simply put, an extremist holds a position that is at the extreme end of an ideological spectrum. a radical might be anywhere on the spectrum but has only a narrow scope of acceptable positions. so ted kennedy is an extremist while mccain is a radical. it's just that most extremists tend to be radicals and vice versa (think gwb/cheney), so those terms are easily conflated.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:42 AM
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holds a position that is at the extreme end of an ideological spectrum.

Ted Kennedy?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:50 AM
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Being a "dick" is not necessarily a bad thing. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ himself were all "dicks".

What's your answer to that? Huh? Huh?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:51 AM
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122: just bear with him, he's talking nonsense.

Topically, I've been reading this, which evinces a dramatically different (but more common-sensical) definition: radicals are those who would like to see radical change in society.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:52 AM
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is that an expression of disbelief or mock disbelief?


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:53 AM
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ted kennedy is an extremist while mccain is a radical

Whut? You do realize that there are actual, factual, communists and fascists out there, right? Labeling as extremists someone who, even in his wildest liberal moments, would be a moderate in Scandanavia and someone who's really just a militaristic man with no policy knowledge or interest and a bizarre moral compass... Well, that's just an insult to those who actually have the conviction.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:57 AM
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Populuxe,

I learned from him just how tedious contrarian posturing can be.

Amen to that. Plus it is fairly easy to do - essentially saying 'Nuh uh' and leaving all the heavy lifting to your opponent.


Posted by: Tripp | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:59 AM
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exactly, since i consider radicalism as a sociological urge to dismiss diverging viewpoints i expect radicals to use their institutional power to enforce their dominance over the academic airspace

But he isn't teaching anything about religion, he's teaching biology. Surely "dismissing diverging viewpoints" is fine if the viewpoints he's dismissing are creationism or intelligent design or, I don't know, autism caused by vaccines or any other nuttiness a biologist might encounter? Sometimes there just is a right answer and a wrong one, and it's not radical to dismiss the wrong one.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 9:59 AM
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#123. All of those men might've been dicks on occasion, but their fame, indeed their very ethos does not arise from their dickishness. Actually, the phrase "being a dick" should be changed to "being a tiny penis" because there isn't enough there to be stimulating, only enough to be annoying.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 10:00 AM
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126. Labeling as extremists someone who, even in his wildest liberal moments, would be a moderate in Scandanavia

sorry for imprecision. ted kennedy is an extremist within the scope of the u.s. senate, which is certainly out of whack with a lot of other ideological spectra, but that's the system he (observably) interacts in. where ted kennedy would be as a parliamentarian in scandinavia is essentially guesswork. where he is within the senate is actually measurable.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 10:10 AM
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No, no, no. The very essence of Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK was dickishness. You've bought the lie. After death (and, where appropriate, resurrection) their images were cleaned up for PR purposes so that their heritages could be monetized.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 10:15 AM
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130 points out part of what is broken with your formulation of radicalism and extremism


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 10:19 AM
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130. what is broken with your formulation of radicalism and extremism

oh, there's nothing broken with it. if you think you have a different definition of the terms it might be that you're looking at a completely different realm or possibly didn't spend a lot of time trying to separate often subtle differences in social behavior.

128. Surely "dismissing diverging viewpoints" is fine

dismissing diverging viewpoints is fine in the lower divisions where the teaching goal is essentially to impress a core of agreed-upon specialized knowledge upon the students. in the upper divisions, once you try (or purport to try) to get the students to probe the boundaries of this knowledge it's counterproductive.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 11:12 AM
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TE, your definitions of "extremist" and "radical" are used by no one else that I've ever encountered, and your claim that Ted Kennedy is thought extreme only by wingers.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 11:16 AM
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134. i'm not particularly interested whether these terms gel with "commonsensical" definitions, as it's quite obvious that the commonsensical definitions offered here either conflate different behaviors or are burdened with value judgements which in most cases depend on the user's own ideological position. if i'd offered "ted kennedy is an extremist" on a right-wing blog, the response would certainly have been "oh totally!", "rock on!!", etc. and the readers would've been pissed at me calling dubya an extremist. i'm not particularly interested in an exchange on that level because it exhibits exactly the kind of inability to remove one's own bias i'm complaining about. i also don't see how sifu's definition of radical as "engendering radical change" clashes with mine. the "dicks" you listed above were in fact radicals in both senses (and, in gb shaw's words, "unreasonable men"), which made them good revolutionaries but, in my opinion, bad college teachers. i think i defined my terms clearly from the get-go, and if my use of "radical" grates with yours, just replace it with "goonooboo".


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 11:47 AM
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Perhaps you should make up your own technical terminology so as not to confuse people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:00 PM
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135: ignoring radicals for a moment, your definition of `extremist' reduces to extreme values of a particular distributions, then. Which is fine as far as it goes, but the reduction becomes odd. The US senate does not have a particularly wide spread viewed as a `political spectrum', so in that sense Kennedy is near an edge. But that choice is both somewhat arbitrary , and highly relative. You lose all ability to compare people in different systems, or even different part of the same system, without first deciding how to normalize for the different `spectrums' you've used (e.g. consider Kennedy even in the broader context of US politics and he's not near the edge anymore. He didn't move, you're spectrum did). So that just pushes the problem under a carpet.

At the root of it, the idea that Ted Kennedy is an extremist is silly, which means any system classifying him that way needs a lot of scrutiny and a really good reason to do it (which I don't think you've provided).


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:17 PM
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you're spectrum

No, you are.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:20 PM
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gah. stupid finge'rs.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:27 PM
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135: Two problems with this:

1) I also said that McCain's not an extremist. His current positions are definitely on the right-wing, but there are many people both in the U.S. government and in politics on the whole who are far further (hell, Santorum just got voted out how long ago?). Now, I think he's further from the center than Obama at the moment due to the need to pander to a distrustful right-wing base, but still.

2) Even if you're looking for a senator to declare a liberal extremist, Kennedy isn't the one. He's a fairly moderate-left liberal even as far as that milquetoast body goes. I believe Feingold is the cliche fire-breathing liberal, even if he doesn't have a particularly disliked last name.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:50 PM
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Wouldn't Bernie Sanders represent the leftest point on the Senate spectrum?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:53 PM
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136. oh if i did that the charge would be that i use incomprehensible jargon. i don't mind the confusion, language is puposely ambiguous, and sometimes it's necessary to tighten the definitions of terms to resolve the confusion. but if i'm confronted with the two-pronged objection that if the reader uses their own definitions my comment is nonsensical, and my definitions differ from theirs they must be wrong, i don't have high hopes that the discussion will lead to a useful end. and, again, if the other side uses their institutional power to end the discussion to my disadvantage it's a situation i rather avoid. that's why i don't like goonooboo college professors.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 12:54 PM
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Thinking about this a bit more: You pretty much always have the spectrum renomalization problem if you try and talk generally (e.g. US federal politics is extremely narrow compared to most democracies) --- you never entirely get rid of this. However, It seems to me there should be a least-surprise approach to terminology... and while an absolute may not be obtainable some nod in that direction should be made. The arbitrariness in use (`the US senate' is not a very sensible spectrum for almost anything). A more sensible definition of `ideological spectrum' makes this more useable (although 2d probably isn't good enough).

I see more trouble with the definition of radical. In what sense is a person `a radical' if there narrow set of acceptable views entirely matches the status quo?

The mislabeling of Kennedy as an extreme point isn't that important.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:03 PM
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oh if i did that the charge would be that i use incomprehensible jargon.

this is a rather strong assumption.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:04 PM
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137. sibu, extreme comes from "on the outside". kennedy was for the longest time (i think he's pretty much left of center now) on the outside in the dominant dimension in the u.s. senate. i don't think he'd be on the outside if you created a common issue space between the us senate and the european parliament, but that's essentially a question whether you're able to create that space. obama and clinton are typical partisans (from "being a part of"), they're on all dimensions in the middle of the democratic cluster in the senate. mccain is often labeled a "maverick", which translates as someone who is able to create nonpartisan ad-hoc coalitions. but if you look at mccain's voting record, he is mostly a republican partisan on the left-right dimension and on the outside on the secondary dimension. and if you check his voting record more closely his "nonpartisan coalitions" tend to be with other non-centrists (left and right) to derail a centrist compromise. that's a different behavior than creating a pure non-partisan coalition which would pick people randomly from the ideology spectrum. in my terminology that's non-extremist (he's not furthest away from the democrats) but radical (from radix = root; opposed to compromise positions on a subset of issues).


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:27 PM
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82 gets it right. Anyone who thinks pedagogy is about being an inflexible font of knowledge isn't going to be a very successful teacher. If that's all you want, we've got shitloads of books to learn from. Also, the idea that being a teacher means that your students have to put up with your personality works well in old Kung Fu movies, but I assure you it works rather poorly in the present-day classroom.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:35 PM
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143. In what sense is a person `a radical' if there narrow set of acceptable views entirely matches the status quo?

in a hypothetical example imagine all voting coalitions fall into two types: left vs. right and moderates vs. radicals. if someone votes randomly in the left vs. right votes and always with the radicals against the moderates he would end up in the middle on the left-right ideology spectrum and still vote against all centrist positions (especially if the center is the status quo).


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 1:42 PM
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Kennedy probably isn't even the furthest-left Senator (I'd guess Feingold or Sanders), but anyway, there are no extremist leftists in the Senate. The world's tallest dwarf isn't tall, and the most extreme leftist in the Senate isn't extreme -- in fact he's barely even left.

You really do need to work on your expression of your views. I believe that I finally do understand now what you were trying to say, but it took too long. Fortunately, Unfogged exists to waste time.

By and large, I don't think that your analysis is worth much, once understood, but that's for later.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 2:26 PM
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147: The point wasn't hypotheticals that make this definition work, it was hypotheticals that make it insensible, or at least counterintuitive.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 2:30 PM
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149. just switch the last qualifier: if the center is never the status quo. it seems like your definition centrally hinges on the notion of radical change, which doesn't really matter that much to me. my usage is closer to the "fundamentalist" meaning of the term: focus on one primary issue, from which little deviation is accepted.

148. people who make those kinds of comments are generally more interested in imposing their own viewpoint on the available data than trying to eliminate their own bias to truly understand a phenomenon. on your substantive claims: generally, a winner-takes-all electoral system is designed to limit extremist representation, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the most extremist senator isn't anywhere close to the most extremist constituent. people have tried to match up the congressional spectrum with the electoral spectrum, but the methodologies are fairly questionable, especially what the tails are concerned. it's pretty clear that the republicans started it, but once one party cranks up the partisanship it will automatically change the behavior on both sides (which is why kennedy is no longer on the extreme end, he's been passed on the left by his younger colleagues). and i'm seriously not interested in whether my analysis is "worth much" to you. for that i would first have to consider you someone who's at least in my league on this topic.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 3:15 PM
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Tiny Emperor, you have a very high opinion of yourself! Who are the people who are in your league on the topic?

Few people have much time for someone who redefines key words on an ad hoc basis.

I doubt that Kennedy was ever at the far left of the Senate, and in any case, the Democrats in the Senate have not moved to the left compared, for example, to 1980. There's been a polarizing tendency because a lot of the conservative Democratic seats became Republican, but the left is not farther left.

In any case, calling Kennedy extremist is wrong, for the reason you yourself explained.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 4:40 PM
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radical change, which doesn't really matter that much to me.

radical change may not matter much to you, but ignoring that aspect makes your attempt to define `radical' at best counterintuitive. It's not at all clear that a definition of `radical' closer to `fundamentalist' is useful, but it is clear that it's unusual. I'm not rejecting it out of hand, but you'll have to do a better job of justifying the usage than you have.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 07-28-08 4:53 PM
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152. ignoring that aspect makes your attempt to define `radical' at best counterintuitive

actually m-w also accepts the definition to mean using radical means to preserve the status quo, so that's a part of the definition you're ignoring. the difference between us is that i have no problem if you use your definition and run with it to offer something substantial, but you're simply complaining that my usage doesn't parse with yours, and you offer nothing but "intuition" (actually: your intuition) to back it up. and for some reason you believe that is a concern i should take seriously.

151. Tiny Emperor, you have a very high opinion of yourself!

oh i don't have a high opinion of myself as much as i can tell that you're not in a position to patronize me. kennedy is the textbook example of a prominent liberal on the extreme end of the congressional spectrum. he'll surely lose that position to people like feingold once feingold has the required name recognition. the southern d-to-r switch theory has long been debunked since polarization also occurs in the northeastern, midwestern and western regions. freshman classes have been more extreme than their incumbent peers on both sides for more than 25 years, including intraparty and r-to-d replacements. that's basic knowledge in the field, but i'm sure it's wrong because it doesn't parse with your "intuition". whatever.


Posted by: tiny emperor | Link to this comment | 07-29-08 5:44 AM
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