A report from the field…

…from PZ Myers at the AAI Convention:

The good news for all the critics of this choice is that Dawkins pulled no punches. In his introduction, he praised Religulous and thanked Maher for his contributions to freethought, but he also very clearly and unambiguously stated that some of his beliefs about medicine were simply crazy. He did a good job of walking a difficult tightrope; he made it clear that the award was granted for some specific worthy matters, his humorous approach to religion, while carefully dissociating the AAI from any endorsement of crackpot medicine. It won’t be enough, I know, but the effort was made, and talking to Dawkins afterwards there was no question but that Maher’s quackery was highly objectionable. I also got the impression that he felt the critics of the award were making good and reasonable points, and that he felt the awkwardness of the decision.

Good. I daresay he wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable enough.

Dawkins should feel the awkwardness of the decision to give an anti-medical science loon an award that bears his name. Although the AAI screwed up, Dawkins is not blameless. He brought it on himself with his airly dismissive attitude when these concerns were first brought up. I can only hope Dawkins learns from this experience. Maher’s views are far worse than a simple political disagreement, such as the example of Dawkins disagreeing with Christopher Hitchens but remaining able to work with him on other issues. Maher is a medical crank, who is demonstrably wrong about vaccines, HIV, and cancer, among other things, as I documented in a post listing many of the posts about Maher I and others have done over the years to describe just how far into quackery he is. It also didn’t help that the AAI apparently posted signs around the auditorium threatening to expel (word choice intentional) anyone who “disrupts” the meeting. Clearly, the AAI was feeling the heat. Unfortunately, they attacked a straw man. No one that I’m aware of, least of all me, was advocating “disrupting” the awards ceremony.

As for the “tightrope,” well, suffice it to say that I’m still less than impressed. PZ is right about one thing; it wasn’t enough. To me, this whole fiasco is pretty strong evidence that, if atheism and science come into conflict (unless, of course, that science happens to be the science of evolution, in which case I highly doubt that this controversy would have been so flippantly dismissed), for Richard Dawkins atheism wins hands down, and science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community. Atheism is clearly what’s more important to Dawkins now. As long as he bashes religion, Maher’s a-OK with him and only gets a brief remonstration for his promotion of quackery and anti-vaccine views. I’m the other way around. Quite frankly, I no longer care much about atheism; science and reason are my passion, which is why this fiasco got me so worked up. As I said in the comments of another post, increasingly, it really is striking me as the difference between two world views. I realize I’m likely to provoke a negative reaction from some by saying this, but there you are.

I’m also happy to have been one of the very few that I can identify who didn’t let go of this issue and kept pushing it, even to the point where it clearly started to annoy and exasperate Richard Dawkins’ good buddy PZ. Arguably, I was the one who pushed it the hardest, although a fellow skeptic (Dr. Benway) wouldn’t let it go in the comments of that weaselly post written by Josh Timonon for RichardDawkins.net. Kudos. No doubt Dawkins, PZ, and the AAI would have preferred that this unpleasantness all go away. I suspect that, if I and a handful of others hadn’t kept pushing, it would have gone away too.

As I’ve said before, I regret nothing. Stirring up trouble for a worthy cause is a good thing, even though I knew from the very beginning that the AAI wasn’t going to rescind the award and Richard Dawkins wasn’t going to refuse to give the award. That’s why I urge those of you who were as upset as I about this to keep stirring up trouble–politely, but insistently, of course and even to The Great Man himself. Don’t let the AAI or Richard Dawkins think that, now that the awards ceremony is over, we’ll forget about this.