UPDATE: Hoffman has now corrected the error about the source of my ranking as one of the top ten most popular atheist bloggers, and has graciously apologized for the error.
I don’t feel a compelling need to respond to every bad thing that’s said about me on the Internet. JT Eberhard‘s dad once said something that really stuck with me — “You don’t have to show up at every fight you’re invited to” — and whenever someone says something annoying/ wrongheaded/ unjust about me or tries to suck me into an Internet fight, I try to remember that. I simply don’t have the time or energy (or indeed the desire) to show up at every fight I’m invited to. And in the all-too-common case of writers who I think are trying to build a reputation and gain undeserved gravitas by picking fights with more prominent writers, I don’t want to give them what they’re looking for. Remembering what JT’s dad said helps the water roll off my back, and gives me a measure of peace.
But when I see accusations about me that are flatly, factually untrue, made by someone with a reasonably sizable audience, I feel more compelled to respond. Especially when one of the accusations against me is a fairly serious accusation of deception and fraud.
R. Joseph Hoffman at The New Oxonian has written a screed against the so-called New Atheists, and has declared us to be obsolete. Okay, fine. He’s entitled to his opinion; time will tell if he’s right about our obsolescence. And I suppose it’s flattering, in a bizarre way, that I’m considered one of the “headlights” of the so-called New Atheism by someone who despises it so much. The article is pretty much the usual anti-New-Atheist rhetoric, though, without much new to contribute, and I wouldn’t normally bother taking it on. (Especially since PZ and Ophelia have already done so.)
There are two flat-out factual errors about me in this piece. One is simply annoying, in a baffling and frankly somewhat entertaining way. But the other is a fairly serious accusation of deception and fraud. So I’m going to address that one first.
She is ranked by “an independent analyst” (actually no: the Secular Student Alliance) as one of the Top Ten most popular atheist bloggers.
Actually — no.
The independent analyst who ranked me as one of the Top Ten most popular atheist bloggers was not the Secular Student Alliance.
Here’s why I take this accusation somewhat seriously. The Secular Student Alliance is an organization that I’m professionally involved with — I’m on their speakers’ bureau, through which I earn a very modest income. If the SSA were, in fact, the ones who had ranked me as one of the Top Ten most popular atheist bloggers, it would be deceptive of me, to say the least, to say that this ranking had come from an independent analyst.
But it wasn’t. This ranking was done by Hemant Mehta. My page on the Secular Student Alliance Speakers’ Bureau site references it — but the SSA are not the ones who did it. They had nothing to do with it.
And Hemant is, in fact, an independent analyst. Hemant and I have a friendly but fairly loose professional relationship: we like each other, and we sometimes link to each other’s blogs, send each other tips, speak at the same conferences and share meals or drinks when we do. But our relationship ends there. His analysis/ ranking of the most popular atheist bloggers was done without my participation, and indeed without my knowledge until he posted it on his blog. In fact, at the time this analysis/ ranking was done — February of 2009 — our professional relationship was even more loose than it is now. (I wasn’t even on the SSA speakers’ bureau then.)
And if Hoffman had taken thirty seconds to email me and ask, “Who was the independent analyst who ranked you as one of the Top Ten most popular atheist bloggers, and what was their methodology for determining this?”, I could have cleared this up. He didn’t. He chose, instead, to publicly accuse me of deception and fraud, without doing even minimal fact-checking to see if this accusation was correct.
I am asking him now to immediately issue a public correction.
Okay. Now to the second factual error about me in this piece, the less serious but far more baffling and entertaining one:
She sees everything as a weird sexual joke.
Citation desperately needed.
What, exactly, is he talking about?
I’m looking over my blog posts for the last week. The last month. The last year. And I literally have no idea why Hoffman would say this.
Yes, I sometimes write and speak about sex. When I do, I sometimes use humor — as I sometimes do when I write about other topics. I even occasionally make humorous passing references to sex when I write about other topics. And I suppose a fair amount of my sexual humor could be characterized as “weird,” depending on the listener. So yes, weird sexual jokes do make it into my writing now and then. More so than some other writers, for sure — sex is and always has been one of the central foci of my writing — less so than others. But it’s just flat-out factually wrong to say that I see everything as a weird sexual joke. Even a cursory glance at my blog will make this abundantly clear.
In fact, this accusation is so far removed from reality that I literally have no idea why Hoffman would make it. I don’t know if (as is the case with many people) he sees any reference to sex that isn’t deadly serious as a weird joke; or whether (as is the case with many people) he’s uncomfortable with the topic of sex and therefore tends to exaggerate in his head how often any given writer brings it up; or whether (as is the case with many people) he’s uncomfortable with the topic of sex and tends to react to any reference of it with nervous laughter; or whether (as is the case with many people) he’s not used to women talking about sex in a casual, matter- of- fact, down- to- earth manner, and therefore exaggerates in his head how often they bring it up and reacts to it with nervous laughter; or whether (as is the case with many people) he sees any discussion of sex as trivial and therefore laughable; or whether something entirely different is going on. And honestly, I don’t care all that much. I’m not that interested in doing the armchair psychoanalysis of the motivation behind this accusation. I’m utterly baffled by it, so I’m moderately curious as to what’s behind it…. but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that it’s wrong. R-O-N-G Wrong. And Hoffman didn’t even bother to link to my blog, so readers could find my writing and see for themselves whether he was wrong or not.
For someone who supposedly cares so much about intellectual honesty, he hasn’t shown much of it here.
I could go on for days about this piece and everything else that’s wrong with it — about what he wrote about me, and what he wrote about other atheists, and what he wrote about the atheist movement in general. (His suggestion that I should take on “serious issues,” i.e. the ones he wants me to write about, is particularly patronizing — and particularly ignorant, since I have, in fact, discussed the very issue he proposes for me.)
But again: I don’t want to get sucked into every fight I’m invited to. I’m willing and indeed eager to engage with thoughtful people who disagree with me, and who want to debate that disagreement in good faith. I don’t think Hoffman qualifies. So I’m going to point out his gross factual errors, and leave it at that.
50 thoughts on “On Accusations of Fraud and Making Weird Sexual Jokes”
I wonder if he has a book coming out and wants more publicity – I had no idea who he was before this. But now I know him as the angry, boring, censoring, arrogant dude with average intelligence that makes things up and is not above sucker punching great thinkers to get a little attention. Poor thing.
Hoffmann wants nothing more than to be relevant and he is no longer so. He’s not worth the attention.
I can’t resist pointing out—because it infuriates me—that Hoffman indulged in fat-shaming too. The pictures of you and PZ he chose to highlight were taken when both of you were significantly heavier, and it was disgustingly obvious he did so to say “look at these stupid slobby fatties.” How ugly to assume the rest of the community is as vile as he is.
Melody, how do you mean? Has he been sidelined from some professional engagement? That might go some way to explaining his behavior (though not that far).
Was Hoffman ever relevant in the atheistic community or just among a small cicle of academicians?
I think by “weird sexual joke” he means that you are a sex-positive person who sees the mutually consensual expression of sexuality as a fun and normal part of healthy, adult living. You know, “weird.”
Oh Jeff, to hear him tell it he put in years of unrecognized toil—good, honest, thoughtful toil!—and now all the vulgar kids are getting the credit:
It’s embarrassing how transparently motivated by jealousy and self-pity he is.
wow! I just went and read the whole blog entry. What an amazingly inept effort at a hatchet job! As the first commenter says, it may be of value for giving people access to the blogs he attacks so the readers can judge for themselves, but I fear that anyone who would be drawn to such juvenile stereotyping and name-calling would not be interested in getting actual information. But we can hope.
Is it bad that the thing that bothers me most about the claim is “weird”? I can see thinking due to some memory bias that you talk about sex in humorous or light-hearted ways a lot, but I don’t get “weird.”
So, in other words, Greta’s sexual and Hoffman’s a weird joke?
Maybe it’s because I’m used to scientific writing, which is concise and to the point, but I wasn’t actually able to work out what Hoffman was saying or what points he was trying to make. Something about New Atheists being bad, but that was about all I could parse.
Well that’s pathetic.
Thanks Josh for the link. I first noticed the Ox through O. Benson’s Butterflys and Wheels blog 2 years ago.
Strange that I’ve been a non-supernaturalist since 1970 and I’ve never heard of Hoffman. I would think that a great atheist as Hoffman would have jumped onto the publishing bandwagon that was afforded by the Four Horsemen during the post 9/11 years, yet he has retreated into a semi-oblivion of anger and rancor.
Josh, Official SpokesGay @ #3: Yeah, I noticed that, too. It was so childish. “Look at how fat they are, too!” And again, intellectually dishonest — those pictures are very much out of date, and he had to go to some trouble to find them (I’ve actually never even seen the one they used of me).
Josh, Official SpokesGay @ #7: Srsly. And you know the sad thing about that? I’m actually well aware of the fact that the so-called New Atheism is very much building on decades of work by the Old Atheism. I even say so in some of my talks. I am happy and even eager to give those folks cred and honor. Except the ones who try to get cred and honor by tearing down the work we’ve been building on their foundations.
R. Joey is upset because gnu atheists don’t pay him the difference he feels entitled to.
I’m really liking Jeff’s “The Ox” as a new ‘nym for R. Pretentious Name.
“Weird sexual joke” is in the eye of the beholder. Every time Hoffman looks at you, he sees weird sex. He seems to be the only one. What does that say about him?
The picking fights with bigger bloggers thing doesn’t work, in my experience. Most people who do it end up burning a bridge to someone who could have been a supporter. My career has done much better by being nice to people who are, by and large, on the same side as me. And treating them like they are on my side, and that disagreements between us can be handled with mutual respect.
It really is amazing how many of the “Old Atheists” seem to be coming out of the woodwork these days to tell us all how important they are and to get off their lawns. I could have sworn the main point of activism was to change the world, not cover yourself in personal glory. But apparently before publishing “The God Delusion” Dawkins was supposed to make a pilgrimidge to this guy’s house to kiss his ring or something.
I actually find it kind of sad that he’s gone out of his way to be such a childish little troll.
Could it be because you’ve snickered about Santorum? Have you snickered about Santorum?
… I got nothin’.
Perhaps he studied at Bill O’Reilly’s Skool of Journalism or was watching Fakes News too much last week?
Santorum was my thought, too. Maybe he saw your Twitter, hasn’t heard about Dan Savage’s definition of santorum, and was puzzled. Or something.
I would actually be interested in reading your thoughts about the book he linked to on Amazon to prove… whatever that was about proving. Women’s Studies are an evil conspiracy or something. Which didn’t actually seem to be what he was accusing you of ignoring, unless there was a big chunk of missing context.
I don’t know, to me that’s kinda like writing a sentence on how I’m allergic to fish and hyperlinking it to a picture of me on holiday in Japan. Am I missing something there?
This was really surprising — somewhat horrifying. I knew nothing of this guy until now. I guess, even though I’m 77, that he would classify me as a new atheist because I only got going on blogging a few months back.
Even if he’s somewhere near my own age, I’d counsel him to grow up and come off the childish petulence. Reason needs all the voices possible and I rejoice every time I find a new website or blog that is doing a good job. I know most of them don’t reach all that many people and try to “cross pollinate” by referring to as many others as possible when I write something. Does he want to be the “pope” of atheism, or what?
The piece in the article that really stood out to be was this:
The heteronormative privilege is strong with this one.
Citation desperately needed.
Word. There were a lot of wrong things in this article, but this was the one that made me go ‘bzuh? What the hell does that mean?’
This is not a variation on the acronym I’ve ever seen – did Hoffman just stick the U on the end of his own accord? What is it meant to stand for? Unicorn?
U for Unanimous/Universal/Ubiquitous/Unaccompanied/Unknown/Undecided?
It occurred to me a couple days ago that a lot of the criticism of the horrid Gnu Atheists is basically a territory-marking thing – atheism used to be a part of philosophy, and it was mainly philosophers who wrote and spoke about it. And guess what? Now it’s a bigger movement. With biologists and sex-positive bloggers and lawyers and fiber arts teachers and psychologists and homeschoolers and all sorts of riff-raff speaking up. The poor philosophers are really not getting the adoration they deserve.
It’s really pretty pathetic. I enjoy reading philosophy, but the whining of professional philosophers about how icky and mean the Gnu (non-professional-philosophers) Atheists are makes me quite reluctant to buy their books. Guess what, guys? You’d sell more books if you quit whining that people outside of your professional guild were talking and writing about the ideas you want to talk and write about.
I think the interpretation of Greta’s sex writing as a “weird sexual joke” has a great deal to do with Hoffman’s conformity with media-influenced norms regarding how sex may and may not be discussed publicly. On television, for example, sex may be portrayed, but only in a way that is arousing (The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show), frightening (Law & Order SVU) or humorous (most “adult-oriented” sitcoms). Rational, factual and intelligent writing or speaking about sex does not fit into any of those boxes. Hoffman therefore forces it into the misconstruction of “weird joke.”
Greta, hon, the paragraph about “weird sexual jokes”? It was a stealth #mencallmethings. He was indirectly slut-shaming you. That’s what the “everything” was about: tapping into the old misogynous trope that a woman who talks about sex at all is to be entirely defined by her sexuality, presumed “loose”, and is nothing but a “slut”, and worthy of contempt and disregard.
I’m sorta giddily tickled that you are so secure in your sexuality this interpretation never crossed your mind. That’s why his comment was so unintelligible to you: you forgot guys like him think you’re supposed to be ashamed of yourself for being a sexual being.
Hey, is there are reason the right side bar is advertising to me “BOLD CHRISTIAN CLOTHING”?
Better, is there an entertaining reason?
(Boy, I hope for their sake they’re paying only for click-throughs and not impressions.)
I had never heard of the guy. You are quite right in pointing out his errors and ignoring him. He’s not worth the agro.
Google adsense became sentient about two months ago and has a twisted sense of humour. I am getting Norah’s shockingly similar to cold reading techniques.
Just as an aside, Hoffman gets his Mark Twain wrong. He has Huck, Jim and TOM on the raft with the two grifters, but Tom doesn’t show up until much later. I guess he couldn’t be bothered to actually check.
It looks like he got both the pic and some of the information about you from your wikipedia article:
He probably just noticed the “Secular Student Alliance” link in footnote 7, instead of following it to see that it referred to a different source.
Looks like lots of room for improvement on this wikipedia article. (Don’t attempt to do this yourself, Greta. Editing your own article is a big no-no in the wikiverse.) Maybe you can enlist your faithful minions here to improve it? Do you have a preferred pic we can use?
@ 25 – “Does he want to be the “pope” of atheism, or what?”
Kind of. He was VP of the Center for Inquiry and expected to end up dropping the V, but…it didn’t work out.
This is, somehow, all the fault of The New Atheists, because.
Actually, it doesn’t look like the SSA page on you has a link to the Friendly Atheist to back up the “top 10 atheist bloggers” claim, either. So even if he had followed the footnote (which he may have done, for all I know), he wouldn’t have found the original source.
I’ve fixed that link to point to the original Friendly Atheist article.
Also looks like the wikipedia article uses a lot of the SSA verbage, which should probably be changed.
Re. LGBTU – I’ve seen it used often enough on this side of the pond, where U stands for Unsure, e.g.
But having Googled I’m going to find it hard to stay away from FABGLITTER…
IMO, Hoffmann is insane. Not in the figurative sense. In the literal sense.
Obviously I’m not a medical doctor and I haven’t examined him or seen his medical records or any such thing, but if there was a betting pool on, I’d put a Benjamin on his having a genuine clinical mental disorder.
You can judge for yourself. Several people I know have had their own experiences with his batshit insaneness, but I discuss some of my own experience here (and much more in my following comments there, too: Hoffmann made similar accusations of fraud and deception against me, eerily similar to how he defamed you).
In his reissued book on Goguel Hoffmann also published what amounts to either culpable ignorance or an outright lie about mythicist Earl Doherty by denigrating him as “a disciple of Wells”. Anyone who has read Doherty and Wells knows they are as alike as chalk and cheese. (See, for example, the evidence in the last half dozen or so paragraphs by Doherty where he has posted a larger discussion about his own unfortunate experiences with Hoffmann: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/JesusProject.htm).
I have solicited a retraction of this from Hoffmann when he has visited my own blog in the past but without success.
I have a very reliable official source who gives me very good reason to believe that Carrier and Godfrey are (please excuse the inpropriety and explicit language), having a sexual relationship.
And your fucking point is? Anything to do with content?
No, I thought not.
It is about as appropriate as their comments are to the post and yours too. My comment imitates the ridicularity of their accusations. I know that Hoffmann is regarded very highly in the Academy whereas Carrier is not and the consensus is that Carrier is a pseudo academic at best. In fact Carrier doesn’t hold an academic position and has never been appointed to one. I doubt he ever will be. He’s not regarded as an academic.
So my point about the types of criticisms that Hoffman makes being rooted in guild protections and barriers to entry are spot-on, then. Good to know.
The Academy (whatever that is) does not own atheism or have a monopoly on the right to criticize the impact of religion on human well-being.
Here’s the saddest thing I see: A person who sees himself as a founding father refusing to take part in a movement as it is becoming great, relevant, and important. Hoffman is the hipster of atheism, officially and forever, he dug his grave with his own pitchfork post.
What alot of hot aired nonsense, erroneous speculation and what appears to be an attempt to promote some sort of ‘protection’ conspiracy. Hoffmann is respected internationally, as a historian. As such he knows about the history of atheism but what you represent is “new atheism” which is an insignificant phenomenon in the world today, insignificant for people including those of little or no faith. It’s major presence is on the internet without which it probably wouldn’t have happened, but the internet creates an allusion for new atheists that they are important, influential, and breeding fast. The Academy and other people have the right to critique new atheism and to critique it’s mischaracterisations, mistakes, erroneous caricatures and tactics, and its many other flaws. And we have the right to draw attention to contemptible, ridiculous insinuations and claims. Considering the sources and their arena however, with its gossipy gullible groupies, their claims are nothing more than laughable.
47. “The Academy and other people have the right to critique new atheism and to critique it’s mischaracterisations, mistakes, erroneous caricatures and tactics, and its many other flaws. And we have the right to draw attention to contemptible, ridiculous insinuations and claims.”
…And yet, we have no right to critique yours? Sorry, man, but if that’s the case, I don’t really wanna be a part of your grumpy old men club. I’m very sorry the interwebz confound you so much, you may continue reading your newspaper and grumbling about us messing your lawn and such.
I didn’t say that Laura Ray and neither did I say that the Academy has a monopoly or owns atheism, whatever that means, or has a mononopoly on the right to criticize, whatever that means. I just said it has a right to criticise. Grumpy old men? If only you knew – but that’s a very funny image.
“The Academy (whatever that is) does not own atheism or have a monopoly on the right to criticize the impact of religion on human well-being.”
“Hoffmann is respected internationally, as a historian. As such he knows about the history of atheism but what you represent is “new atheism” which is an insignificant phenomenon in the world today, insignificant for people including those of little or no faith. It’s major presence is on the internet without which it probably wouldn’t have happened, but the internet creates an allusion for new atheists that they are important, influential, and breeding fast.”
It’s major presence is on the internet without which it probably wouldn’t have happened, but the internet creates an allusion for new atheists that they are important, influential, and breeding fast. The Academy and other people have the right to critique new atheism and to critique it’s mischaracterisations, mistakes, erroneous caricatures and tactics, and its many other flaws. And we have the right to draw attention to contemptible, ridiculous insinuations and claims. Considering the sources and their arena however, with its gossipy gullible groupies, their claims are nothing more than laughable.
I have no quarrel with Hoffmann over his efforts to speak up about atheism from whatever academic and professional foundation he has at his disposal. I will not sit still for his denigration of the sincere and solidly founded efforts of others.
I lay no claim to be being an academic or a scientist. I am a thinking lay person with some bit of talent at wrting and expression and important things to say. To have anyone turn up their nose at my lack of credentials in the academic and scientific world is something I find pompous and repugnant.
I will be forever grateful for the genesis of the internet. It makes true democracy possible in the dissemination of knowledge and opinion. All aristocracies are repugnant holdovers of what is rapidly becoming creaky antiques of the past.
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