Help Shannon on the road to recovery

Help Shannon on the road to recovery

Help Shannon on the road to recovery

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 16 2007 8:31 PM

Help Shannon on the road to recovery

This is important. Please take five minutes and read it through to the end.

Last Saturday, I blew it.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I wrote a blog entry which I meant to be focused on how we ascribe supernatural causes to statistical events, and how the words we use tend to wriggle into our brains and take on a reality they don't deserve. The motivation for this was a newspaper article about a young women who suffered a horrific car accident, and despite her statistically remote chance of survival, she has been making a remarkable recovery. The words "miracle" and "luck" were used many times, and I wanted to talk about those words and how I think they get misused.

Somewhere down the line, though, for whatever reasons, my writing took on a snarky tone. I will give no excuse for it, except to say that it was stupid of me. It had several repercussions: it distracted people from what I was trying to say, lessening the impact of the actual content. It riled up people needlessly, as well, of course. But the dumbest part of all this was that somehow, I forgot that at the other end of that article was a real human being who was going through a personal version of hell that I can't even imagine.

Sometimes you need a kick in the butt to see the obvious. That kick came when Shannon Malloy, the woman who had the accident, left a comment on my blog (and her friend Twyla also left several salient comments). And yes, I was skeptical as well, but through various means I have determined it was in fact Shannon who left the comment.

The sense of my own stupidity that hit me was palpable. It is so easy to be a keyboard commando, as they say, and write whatever you want and not think of the repercussions. But I have always tried to be above that, to be at the very least polite. It's not always easy, of course, when dealing with the kind of stuff I do. And I've slipped a few times, sure, but never like this. I was really disappointed in myself.

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I updated the blog entry, and issued an apology in the comments. But there are over 100 comments there, and mine got lost in the crowd. It deserved its own entry, so here it is.

Science, skepticism, and critical thinking are all about admitting when you're wrong, and taking action to correct them.

I was able to track down Shannon's mother and send her a note expressing my regrets over my own callousness. It turns out that she is a gracious and warm woman, and we resolved our issues in a friendly and I dare say upbeat manner. It's ironic, but after feeling so miserable, I now feel just the opposite, knowing that there really are good people out there. Even better: today I talked to Shannon on the phone as well! We only talked for a few minutes, but it's clear that she has a lot of gumption and strength. It is no exaggeration to say that she is an inspiration.

I see an onslaught of bad thinking, histrionic attacks on reality, personal insults (like you can't imagine), and other assorted bile every day. It can be difficult. But seeing what Shannon and her friends and family have gone through, I can handle my own load better now. I think I've learned my lesson, and I'm stating so publicly.

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And now, after all this, I want to do something positive for Shannon. Her mom told me that she has a vast amount of surgery left to go through, and it's expensive. Very expensive, six figure expensive. Saturday's blog post got over 100 comments, which means a lot of people read it, which means, I think, a lot are reading this.

So: got any spare cash? A donation fund has been set up in Shannon's name at the Denver Wells Fargo bank to help her pay for medical bills. If you want to donate to it, send a check to Wells Fargo. Make it out to "Shannon Malloy Benefit Fund" and put the fund number in the memo field: 303 666 0508. The address is

Wells Fargo 7150 Leetsdale Dr. Denver, CO 80224

But I can make it even easier. I have a PayPal account, and if you send money to that, I will collect it and send it to Wells Fargo myself. I will of course keep your info secret; I won't disclose who sent how much. Since I am moving next week, and expect I'll be busy, I'll leave the button up on the top of this blog at least until next Wednesday, May 22. If donations are still rolling in, I'll keep it up until after my move.

Here you go. Give.

Update (Sept 15 2007): Donation button removed.