Matt Nisbett farts again.

March 31, 2009

Oh dear, it appears that Matt Nisbett has had another little accident.  He appears to have farted again.

Several scientist authors and pundits, led by the biologist Richard Dawkins (2006), argue that the implications of evolutionary science undermine not only the validity of religion but also respect for all religious faith. Their claims help fuel the conflict frame in the news media, generating journalistic frame devices that emphasize “God vs. Science,” or “Science versus religion.” These maverick communicators, dubbed “The New Atheists,” also reinforce deficit model thinking, consistently blaming conflict over evolution on public ignorance and irrational religious beliefs.

Dawkins, you see, is now a maverick communicator, with all the negative connotations that are supposed to go with that phrase.  The fact that Richard Dawkins is arguably one of the most prominent and successful authors on modern evolutionary biology, and – entirely unlike Nisbett – a highly respected author, is not enough to save him from Nisbetts desulutory remark that he is merely a maverick communicator.   According to Nisbett, if you cast doubt on religious faith, you’re a maverick (small ‘m’ please.  Big ‘M’s are reserved for failed Rebulican presidential candidates) communicator.  Bollocks Nisbett.

Suprisingly, Nisbett actually initially allowed some comments on his blog (his is one of very few on Science Blogs that moderates comments for approval) which were almost universally negative.  It took him a while to respond to any one, but eventually he posted a comment, which started with this statement:

I think many objections are clearly addressed in the text of the chapter excerpt or in past articles I have published on framing.

The word “clearly” has a meaning.  I don’t think it means what he thinks it means.  If the objections of the overwhelming majority of people commenting on his spiel were addressed “in the text of the chapter excerpt or in past articles”, then he’s not communicating clearly – which one should imagine would be a problem for someone touting themselves as a communications expert.

He continues:

For example, I explicitly note that as a social critic and pundit, there is nothing unethical about Dawkins expressing his personal opinions about religion.

A statement that I think most normal people can agree with.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure Nisbett is normal.  Consider:

Yet when Dawkins and other New Atheists also use the trust granted them as scientists to argue that religion is a scientific question, that science undermines even respect for religious publics, they employ framing unethically,

A normal person would most likely interpret this as a direct contradiction.  Dawkins is entitled to write about his own personal views, but because he is a trusted scientist (Ha!  Has Nisbett never heard of Ken Ham or William Dembski?) it is unethical for him to do so.

Nisbett would appear to have closed comments on that post now.  His next comment (with no intervening comments from his first) starts, “Some commenters”.  Some of those commenter commented after his first post – I know, I was one.  I called him out for the lying sack he is.

Why is Nisbett a lying sack?  Consider this:

The conflict narrative is powerfully employed in the 2008 anti-evolution documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. By relying almost exclusively on interviews with outspoken atheist scientists such as Dawkins and the blogger PZ Myers, Expelled reinforces the false impression that evolution and faith are inherently incompatible and that scientists are openly hostile to religion.

If you’re not familiar with the story behind Expelled, you may not immedeatly see why this is not just a lie, it is bordering on libel against PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.  I haven’t seen the film, but as I do know the story behind those interviews, and to say they were heavily cut and what made the final film would appear to be a gross understatement.Nisbett then goes on to describe the film as an attack on atheistic science, and how awful it is, and how much damage Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers have done to the integrity of science in the US, finishing off with:

By the end of its spring 2008 run in theaters, Expelled ranked as one of the top grossing public affairs documentaries in U.S. history.

In truth, Expelled was a disaster.  It was a complete and utter failure.  Nisbett here is lying.  Oh, I have no doubt whatsoever that when pushed he will say something along the lines of “it was the highest grossing public affairs documentary in Spring 2008, so long as one only includes April 2nd, somewhere around lunch-time, and limits the category of ‘public affairs documentary’ to ‘Expelled’, therefore I’m not technically lying”, but the simple fact is that Nisbett is a professor of communications – he knows full well that the impression he wants to impart with his words is – to be as generous as I possibly can be – only in the most strict sense backed by the facts.  But the new expert on ethics that is Matt Nisbett ought to know that a lie by ommission is a lie.

Nisbett is a liar.