Over the weekend, I posted the latest podcast episode: an interview with the Center For Inquiry’s new CEO Robyn Blumner. In addition to her own background and the future of the organization, I knew I wanted to talk to her about the flak Richard Dawkins receives online for some of the things he tweets. As the head of his foundation, as someone who knows him personally, and (frankly) as a woman, I figured she could add some useful perspective to the discussion.
Part of what she said made a lot of sense to me. She said Dawkins was indeed inartful at times — and not helped by the limitations of Twitter — but he was also misunderstood by some of his critics. She said she knew him well enough to say he wasn’t actually bigoted or sexist. (Whether you agree with that assessment is another story.)
That’s essentially my take on Dawkins, too. I cringe when I see him tweet certain things, and I don’t think he really understands why people are upset over the more “controversial” things he says, but I don’t think it comes from a place of hate. Ignorance, maybe, but not hate.
But another part of Blumner’s response was definitely wrong. She suggested that critics go after Dawkins in large part because they want pageviews and clicks (and therefore money). I don’t blame her for thinking that — a lot of people assume bloggers create controversy for that reason. I just don’t think it’s accurate.
I can at least speak for myself here. When I write posts about the world of “organized” atheism, or the personalities involved with them, they get relatively few pageviews. The outside world doesn’t give a damn about any of it. I know that. They also don’t give a damn about what other random bloggers do or say. Or what conferences are coming up. Or what’s going on in my personal life.
Maybe a few more people pay attention when Dawkins’ name comes into the picture… but not that many more, I assure you. (This post, for example? You’re one of the only people who will ever read it.)
So when she brought it up in our conversation, I tried to push back in what I hoped was a respectful way. I said the people who criticized Dawkins online weren’t doing it for clicks or cash. They were doing it because they genuinely have a problem with what he said. We can debate whether that frustration is warranted, but I don’t think it’s fair to question their motives.
Anyway, several bloggers expressed frustration with her response to that question. Which is all well and good — I agree it’s a silly notion that Dawkins’ critics would go after him simply for pageviews.
One thing you won’t see on any of those sites, though?
Our actual conversation.
None of them posted the interview on their sites. None of them even linked to it.
That meant none of their readers could benefit from hearing the source material. They couldn’t hear her voice, her tone, the context of the discussion, and all the other things that add more nuance to any conversation.
I’m not saying they would have changed their minds about Dawkins or Blumner as a result of hearing our interview in full. I’m also not saying that they took Blumner *out* of context in any way. (Though there was much more that we discussed on the same topic than just the sound bite they’re all quoting.)
I’m just saying readers ought to be able to form their own opinions on the matter, and it’s our job as bloggers to give them the material to do it. Just like I can quote politicians and analyze what they say while still linking to the video or article I’m referring to for people who want to see it for themselves.
I expect church leaders, not skeptics, to shield information from people.
Since none of them would do it, let me make it very easy:
Here’s the podcast. The relevant bit begins at the 30:30 mark.