Speech impediment

Speech impediment

Speech impediment

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 10 2009 7:00 AM

Speech impediment


Before reading any further, PLEASE read my post on religion and politics. I've had lots of people wondering why an astronomy blog is not only about astronomy. That post will clear things up.]

Yesterday I wrote an empassioned article about the mainstreaming of ridiculous and frankly crazy rhetoric from extremely fringe groups, people who think Obama is literally like Hitler, yet are being treated as if their opinions are well-reasoned and worthy of debate.

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 made myself pretty clear, I thought. My rant was not against Republicans in general, for example. The main thrust of my post was not taking on any political party -- yes, I did take a swipe at Bush, but that was not because he was a Republican, it was because he was clearly and provably antiscience, and again that was secondary at best to my main point. I do not say anywhere in that post that if you disagree with Obama, or if you're opposed to what's in his speech, then you're a whackjob (though I do think you'd be wrong).

What I was saying is that nutsoid fringe craziness is getting way too much airtime and consideration, and is being presented as a reasonable stance. The people making claims that Obama is Hitler and the like are not very different from people who say they have alien babies, or that the Apollo landings were faked. They are way off the path of reality, and most people in this country and this planet know that. Putting people like that on TV and engaging them (except the way Barney Frank did) makes rational discourse nearly impossible, as it lowers the signal to noise ratio to essentially zero. We have real trouble in this country, and we need real debate. Pandering to the fringe makes that impossible, and many media outlets are simply trying to foment discord and perhaps push their own agenda.

Yet many of the comments left on my blog, on Twitter, on other blogs, and on Digg are just adding to the noise. They accuse me of being an Obama sycophant, or of denying people's freedom of speech. These claims are patently false, and obviously wrong to anyone who actually read what I wrote, instead of reading their own blind prejudices into my words.

Examples abound. This guy got what I said completely wrong, and says I'm claiming we should have more Obama. He seems to think I am rah-rahing Obama (I did in fact support the speech, but -- repeat after me -- that's not what the post I wrote was about). This guy calls me an idiot, though he never really says why. I assume he thinks it's obvious, but the irony in his words is not hard to find. This guy accuses me of attacking straw men, then creates a cornfield full of 'em.

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Noise, noise, noise.

I could debunk these point-by-point, but it doesn't matter. I certainly can't reason with people who don't want to be reasonable, and for people who are reasonable the flaws are easy to see.

To be clear and succinct: my point was not about political parties. It wasn't about liberals, or conservatives (I have issues with liberal commentators such as Randi Rhodes, for example, as well as with neocons like Rush Limbaugh; opposite ends of the political spectrum and both just as often as far from reality as the other). It wasn't about other speeches in the past. It wasn't even really about the content of Obama's speech, though I agree with it, and the speech's content was what the craziness was about.

My post was about clearly lunatic rhetoric being taken as reasonable discourse, and how that demeans real discussions of real problems. I can't make it any simpler than that. The very fact that so many people chose to ignore this basic premise of what I wrote and to spin, fold, and mutilate it to increase the noise in the conversation ironically proves my point. And to them I say: Those of us who are reality-based see through you, and you are the very people we won't let drag us down.