Memory Lane

With all the talk of sockpuppeting on Ophelia’s blog over the last couple of days, Wally Smith has, of course, been brought up in conversation. Wally Smith, for those of you who don’t remember, was the Alabama grad student who lost his position in his advisor’s lab because he allowed his antipathy for New Atheist bloggers, and a few of those bloggers in particular, to drive him to making shit up about them all over the internet. He was also the driving force behind the You’re Not Helping blog and approximately 75% of the comments on that blog under a wide variety of names.

I was feeling nostalgic. The good old days of relatively reasonable harassment, right? So I went back and looked at the YNH blog, which was preserved for posterity right before Smith got scared and deleted the thing.

Revisiting “I agree with Polly-O!” is always a joy. Aside from that, however, it turned out that what I found there was strikingly familiar.

There were the constant accusations of tribalism. See the tags here and elsewhere. There are “groupthink” and “witch hunts” that are no such thing. There is the constant claiming that things that could maybe, possibly, be called molehills if squinted at just the right way through a microscope are mountains of moral culpability.

There is the attempt to justify bad behavior by saying that others are bad too (yes, “Patricia” is also Wally Smith):

YNH is still overreaching, but it’s mild compared to what we usually see (and some, not you though, are only crying foul here and never elsewhere, which is something I’m beginning to believe YNH posts these types of things for to expose on purpose).

There’s the idea that uncovering who is behind attacks on you is some moral crime:

Disgusting, rotten, dishonest imbeciles who will try all means possible to silence anyone who disagrees with them rather than disprove what has been said?

Yes. They are.

There’s the gaslighting:

Of course, she also has asserted that you guys are most certainly one person, so the “delusional” label seems to be more applicable when made in the other direction….

There’s the talk of bullies and narcissism and claiming victimhood:

Ophelia always amazes me in her ability to scoff at those who act offended and whine (read: cry poor, bullied victim) while then turning around to act offended and whine (read: cry poor, bullied victim) herself. What’s more amazing is that she appears to know that she does it.

There’s pathological narcissism in that approach somewhere. Oops – I just bullied Ophelia!!

There’s the kitchen comments:

If you don’t want random people commenting and critiquing what you’ve got to say, Ophelia, Jerry et al., then don’t say it. Keep it amongst friends or something, but don’t get all whiney and confrontational when someone happens to comment on the things that you have willingly and knowingly put out in public (what did you expect to happen??). Anonymity is part of blogging, and it’s part of the internet. And saying that you “won’t pay it attention” or something similar just because it’s coming from an anonymous source is nothing more than a cop-out. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the blogging kitchen.

There’s even the “fainting couch” and meeting accusations of sexism with outright misogyny:

Ophelia can go screw herself (just to clear things up, that’s a unisex “screw herself,” since apparently Ophelia takes the default position that one is being sexist if they criticize her on here. I doubt that’ll get her off her sexism fainting couch, however….that useless, putrid twat. Is that sexist since I’m a woman too? I hope so.)

All that from one guy talking to himself and pretending to be all of his biggest supporters. If he’d only had some marginal ability to open Photoshop and click around a bit, he could have been a one-man slime pit. Kind of makes you wonder which one of them he is, doesn’t it?

My vote, based on sheer number of sock puppets, would have to be Tim Groc/CommanderTuvok/MirrorMirror/ManondesSources/ACursoryGlance/Sickimoo/pocketcalculator and probably several other handles who pop in only to each claim that “they” are growing in strength and our doom is nigh. Any day now. Any time. Just like the rapture. Next runner up would be Jacques Cuze/Oliver Crangle/jay. Or it could be none of them. The pitizens and their friends may simply be following the same timeworn plan for dismissing their “enemies” without engaging honestly.

If any of the pitsters did learn anything from our old friend Wally, it may be that they learned the wrong lesson. The lesson many of us took from Wally Smith was that sock puppetry is basic cheating at social interaction, and it is human nature to punish the cheaters.

Ask Wally Smith, if you can find him.

Memory Lane
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18 thoughts on “Memory Lane

  1. 1

    I vote for Skepsheik as being Wally Smith. He has been parroting Wally Smith for a couple of months now, and never passes up an opportunity to slather a blog with Wally Smith’s list of horrible things that were said at Pharyngula eons ago. He has done it so much that I felt it necessary to revisit them all and update the links so people can again read the context on the Wayback Machine or on instead of getting a list of quotes with no way to see the original. Here (link) is my post on that if anyone is interested.

  2. 2

    Wally surreptiously edited my comments at the YNH blog to make them say things opposed to what I’d meant. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar crap were going on with critics at the slymepit, but while I’ve seen claims of deleted posts and bannings, I haven’t seen evidence of that sort of edit-to-reverse nonsense out of them, yet.

  3. 3

    Hi Dave, I remember you doing some awesome work on the analysis of the sockpuppetry both at YNH and previously at The Intersection, where Wally began assembling his “binders full of socks” menagerie.

    As for speculating on “Where’s Wally?” assuming he’s at the pit… I really don’t have the desire to read those feckless gits at length to pick up on any distinct writing styles. Wally Smith was quite capable of writing fairly well, if he chose, and he had already mastered several distinctive writing voices to enable him to run his sockpuppet zoo with great facility. It was a bravura display of invention but rather like a tightrope walker, you only need slip up once and you’re in trouble.

    Tuvok, for all his admiration of the Vulcan mode of rationality (devoid of human qualities such as compassion and empathy), is neither a good writer nor a good thinker, so I really don’t think he could be Wally’s main persona — he would have to be a cut-down limited personality sock, rather like bilbo was a simple bullying thug in comparison to a more rounded sock like Milton C., who shared some personal background in common with Wally himself. Tim Groc appeared literally from nowhere and seems to have vanished similarly, and I was curious to see someone make a similar apparition on Pharyngula a short time ago and get banhammered – which if this speculation has some basis, perhaps means Wally has worked out not to keep socks for long periods of time, and to create and discard them on a regular basis.

    The other thing is, upon rereading some of the old threads, is how the accommodationism wars split completely differently to the way the split on feminism has gone. I would think it would be rather uncomfortable for Wally to be posting laudatory paeans of some of the people who he previously vilified and slandered in the YNH / Intersection days, who these days are now more closely identified with Team Harassment.

    At any rate, it demonstrates the importance of maintaining a persistent pseudonym or name as the ultimate guarantee of one’s reputation and bona fides in arguing in good faith.

  4. 5

    Stephanie Zvan:


    I’ve suggested that in the past, but Ophelia thought it highly unlikely. She’s got a point, in that Tuvok has a distinctively childish writing style. (I imagine his voice to be that of a toddler shrieking “I hate you”.) If it is Wally, he’s putting a lot of effort into play acting.

    Aratina Cage:

    Well, I’ve just been notified that Skepsheik is not Wally Smith

    I think you’re assuming too much from that Twitter exchange. In my opinion, it could be Wally, it could be Sigmund, or it could be someone else entirely. In fact, why would it be Sigmund?

  5. 6

    I don’t know, Aratina. I recall that Sigmund was able to put an argument together. If you read Skepsheik’s bit of the dialogue, well, that would have to be the most extreme case of Watson derangement syndrome I’ve seen. Also, I’m pretty sure he stuck around long enough after Elevatorgate to pick up that using “skeptic” or “atheist” as part of your handle was a reasonable marker for “asshole”.

  6. 7

    Aratina – oh I really doubt it. I don’t think Sigmund would do anything as crude and dim-witted as “Peezus and O.” Not even to fool people or have a laugh or whatever. I think he has too much aesthetic self-respect for that…and I also don’t think he would insult the J and M toonist that way.

    For the same reason, I don’t think he would be a slime pitter. He is alienated enough, for reasons I don’t understand, but I strongly doubt that his taste is degraded enough.

    That whole game Notung played with you is disgusting. It was just to show off about how in the know he is along with impressing you with his “not at liberty to disclose” bullshit. “Not at liberty” my ass – this isn’t MI5, it’s a fucking bunch of internet bullies, most of whom want to keep their identities a secret so that they can bully people with impunity. “Not at liberty.” Please.

  7. 9

    This reminds me of a string of robberies that all took place at the same new convenience store near my house over a couple of months. My neighborhood already has a reputation for being “unsafe”, so this kinda irked me. But then, five robberies later, the police were there taking statements when the guy came back for more money and was arrested. Turns out, it was the same dude as all the other times. He even used to be an employee at the store! It suddenly made me feel a lot better about the crime rate in the neighborhood: rather than being five different criminals all really fixated on that store, it turned out to be one really, really stupid criminal who was really fixated on that store.

  8. 10

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the “pit” consists of:

    10% “real” people — Vacula, Paden, Mayhew.
    50% trolls — people who don’t care one way or another about the issues at hand, but are just there for the shits and giggles. They’re cyberbullies because they’re cyberbullies. They probably do the same thing on YouTube, reddit, and anywhere else bullies are not sanctioned.
    30% sock puppets — of both groups noted above
    10% right wing Christians trying to stir up shit.

    Although a Venn diagram of above might have some overlap. Christian troll who sock puppets.

  9. 11

    Xanthë, chronic tuck @3:

    Hi Dave, I remember you doing some awesome work on the analysis of the sockpuppetry both at YNH and previously at The Intersection, where Wally began assembling his “binders full of socks” menagerie.

    Wow, thank you! I didn’t even remember the analyses I’d done until you mentioned them. Had to go re-read ancient threads to find out where I’d posted the stuff. Talk about going down memory lane!

  10. 12

    Aratina Cage @4:
    I wouldn’t take the hints seriously. I suspect a few people on the Slyme Pit love to drop false hints just to muck with people’s heads. I had one of them (John C. Welch, I think) claim to me that Abbie Smith wasn’t her real name. I rather doubt that.

  11. 13


    The other thing is, upon rereading some of the old threads, is how the accommodationism wars split completely differently to the way the split on feminism has gone. I would think it would be rather uncomfortable for Wally to be posting laudatory paeans of some of the people who he previously vilified and slandered in the YNH / Intersection days, who these days are now more closely identified with Team Harassment.

    See, I think it’s exactly the opposite, actually. With certain exceptions (ERV, Jerry Coyne) it seems like at least one side (PZ, Ophelia, etc.) is almost exactly the same, and the arguments from the other side are identical. There’s the bits that Stephanie pointed out, but also there’s the more general trends. The pro-harassment side keeps getting big names to come out in support of it (Dawkins, Grothe, Shermer, Lindsay) just like the accommodationists did (Plait, Bidlack, Mooney). There’s the same vague accusations of bad behavior without any supporting evidence (remember Plait’s ‘atheist screaming at you calling you stupid’?) and the ones supported by outright lies (good ol’ Wally Smith). There’s the general perpetuation of the notion that Pharyngula is a wretched hive of scum and villainy and hivemindedness that was way better back in that mythical time when PZ only posted about science topics.

    But more than anything, there’s this narrative of “mission drift,” of dividing up the limited resources to focus on issues that aren’t part of the list of traditional skeptical topics. There’s the notion that there is only one right way to do things, and that we all need to be on-board with that right way. There’s the constant talk of silencing from the people who are actively trying to marginalize other positions and opinions. And there’s the blind reverence for authority figures, that we–especially people who are “just bloggers” or “armchair skeptics” should let the big names lead the way, and just do what they say.

    It was rarely couched in these terms back in the accommodation wars, but both battles have largely been about trying to protect one group from having their privilege challenged–whether the religious privilege to believe unreasonable things without being questioned and still call yourself a skeptic, or the unexamined white middle-class western heterosexual cisgendered male privilege to have skeptical/atheist meetings cater to your every whim, including your desire to pick up a little tail without facing consequences for your actions. Both battles have involved an inability or unwillingness to see that by actively trying to preserve the privilege of one group, they’re sending the message that a different group is unwelcome, that they’ll be tolerated but that the conference really isn’t for them. You can give us money, atheists/feminists, but keep your “controversial” views to yourself, and heaven help you if you try to give more than a token speech or two on that “controversial” topic.

    Would Wally Smith be giving accolades to the misogyny squad? If it allowed him to cozy up to the power players in the movement and be all holier-than-thou to Ophelia and PZ? If it allowed him to take that “my way is the only way” stance? If it gave him license to talk more about mission drift and schisms? I bet he would.

  12. 14

    Alright. I see that no one agrees with me that Notung’s refusal to deny it was Sigmund was significant. Whoever Skepsheik is, he still has been leaving Wally Smith droppings wherever he goes, and he has made arguments in favor of misogynistic slurs that are nearly the same as arguments Wally Smith made about misogynistic slurs. So whoever it is, for shame!

  13. 16

    Not so much on their side as apparently sympathetic. He’s made some dog-whistle statements in the past, and I think he’s had Justicar on as a guest blogger. Ophelia has talked about it occasionally (since I know she was on the receiving end of one of those passive-aggressive barbs), but I can’t find any links with a quick search.

  14. 18

    (off topic)


    Following Stephanie’s link and reading the old comment thread I came across an earlier bit of controversy from nine months ago involving Ron Lindsay that I must have missed at the time. It’s interesting because it’s kind of a harbinger of recent events.

    Here’s a link if anyone’s interested.

    (/off topic)

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