On Advice For A FreeThought Blog (By Notung)

Since I’m heading out today in about half an hour to farewell one of the long-term contributors to the Perth Atheists In The Pub and Perth Skeptics group…

[They are going to Japan to teach English – after they’ve spent years promoting events in this town, including running lunches averaging around fifty; planning their forthcoming SkeptiCamp and even getting people together for group photos at a crowded Global Atheist Convention AND hosting a late-night rationalist radio show… yes, they are a loss to the community and I am rather sad, but glad that they are having an adventure]

… in short, I only have a little time to respond to the anonymous “Notung”. Who has some advice for “A FreeThought Blog”.

Since it’s A FreeThought Blog singular, not plural, I’m guessing they don’t mean the network? There’s about two dozen bloggers here after all. They also don’t demonstrate that they’ve had any experience with running a network of blogs (or even moderating a forum, or… anything from what I see?)…

Therefore, I’ll aim to make my response in the spirit that they intended to do with theirs – “My advice is intended to be constructive. Comments are welcome and appreciated. Disagreement is encouraged. Please keep all comments civil” – as they do, in the end, propose something practical that I was planning to do here for a while and never got around to.


What is ‘freethought’, and why might we want to be a ‘freethinker’? Freethought is a reason-based approach to forming beliefs about the world, and a respect for scientific inquiry. It is productive; when we employ reason when assessing claims, or test hypotheses using the scientific method we tend to get useful results. There are other reasons for preferring the freethinking approach but for my purposes I need not worry about them here.

…So what would a ‘freethought blog’ look like? If it is to warrant the name, it would surely practise and promote the approach outlined above, putting reason before all else. It does not matter necessarily what conclusions one is led to by this approach, but rather that the posts one writes attempt to shake off received wisdom and dogma, and endeavour to replace it with a freethinking methodology. A freethought blog would encourage rational discourse in the comments, where arguments are challenged robustly and reasonably, and all opinions live or die by the quality of the reasoning that leads to them. — Notung

All good and fine – but I don’t see any rules here about that.

In fact, we’re all fairly autonomous and it’s only recent events (of which Ed Brayton has spoken to, and you can read that here) that indicated to me that there are plans for Ed to “put some structure in place to help the network move forward in a more positive manner“. Those are pending, clearly. So, I’m waiting on those too.

As for the criticism of the name, I’m lost as to the point they want to make there.

For example – are you going to (somehow) take the name Freethought Blogs away from Ed Brayton and the other bloggers – is it false advertising?

What name would you like Ed Brayton to buy for the network instead? Do you want a vote on it? Or is it just some of the bloggers here or some posts that you have issues about them “warranting the name”? Are you aiming to do a Shirley Jackson The Lottery-style culling, maybe? I am puzzled.

What of http://www.skepticblog.org? I’ve had issues with things that Mark Edwards has written in the past. People like to pitch into Brian Dunning on a regular basis, it seems – does that not make him a “worthy” skeptic blogger, if that’s your point? Didn’t Steve Novella have posts that spiral into a billion negative comments about his podcast? How about that time that James Randi questioned the veracity of global warming? Where do we set the bar?

Should The Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe become “The Handful Of Skeptics Who Present the Collective Show’s Opinion On What They Think Is A Reasonable Approach To What Is Currently Observable Space Of Which Conjecture As To Its Composition Has Been Agreed Upon Until Further Notice“?

Maybe this is why a group of New Zealanders called their show “The Completely Unnecessary Skeptical Podcast? Notung is not writing blogposts about their choice of name – at least none that I’ve seen.

Yes, I’m starting to get silly now. Possibly even rude about the absurdity of possibly telling a site that they don’t somehow deserve (?) to have the name they purchased. But when I get imaginative, that’s where things start heading, so, my apologies, “Notung”, if it came across that way.

In fact, I personally haven’t had any guidance or restrictions placed upon me at all while I’ve been writing here.

If you choose to point at examples of other people who used to blog here, and how that was dealt with, then you’d have to raise it with the involved parties, as it’s not my business but that of Ed Brayton and the parties involved. And those changes, which aim to be for the better, as he wrote – are pending.

This is my blog. So, when I choose to write at Freethought Blogs, it was with the aim to write The Token Skeptic. This is it. Welcome.

It has some definite association with the podcast Token Skeptic (transcripts, events I do that end up on the show, events in my home town or further afield…) – in fact, if I had to compare this blog as it stands, it is more akin to Reasonable Doubts than your (say) Greta Christina. I rarely even read the other blogs on this network, in fact. Even rarer that I comment on them.

Which I guess is a point in itself – you choose to read what you want.

You can choose to respect or disrespect a blog network as you want, regardless of the label or the branding they choose (hey, Answers in Genesis, anyone?) and deal with the ramifications as they happen.

In short: if you have a problem with the name, I guess that’s just what happens with a large network, of many personalities, with many different takes on what Freethought means (not just your take on the word). Like Skeptic Blogs. Or Science Blogs. Or Discover Blogs.

You do – thankfully – have the ability to support and criticise (in the fashion you think should be modelled as good, constructive criticism) and even boycott if you like, what you consider to be inappropriate. This is not a totalitarian state. At least, no one here has told me that it is, nor do I feel like I’m blogging in one.

You might even – as I’ve suggested to friends – start up your own blogging network of people who demonstrate what you think is a fine reflection of a word like “rationalism” or “freethinking” or whatever. I’d probably read it too. If you somehow provide better than I get here, I might even be tempted to ask to join. A blogger from here chose to write instead over at www.patheos.com, for example. Not a problem from anyone about their choice, as I recall.


The anonymous “Notung” then sets out what I then read as the beginning of a comments policy for a blog. I don’t know whose blog they want it to be on, but I’m assuming they mean the network?

There’s quite a few blogs here who already have them. Here’s one. Here’s another. And here’s another – notice, it’s on Pharyngula.

I don’t have one and was planning on writing one. You see, if there’s someone who comments who has completely and utterly misread what has been written, I’ll usually email them to see if we can sort it out. It’s resulted in more emails sometimes, and hopefully reduced the incidence of flame-wars and the like. I’ve even done phone-calls in the past to people, rather than drag things out. It seems the sensible way to deal with issues, rather than add to the stress of others and to myself. Stress is, after all, what led me to leave Facebook for a while (…as I completely screwed up my social schedule calendar in the process – so much for that smart move). I’d like to cut down the effort by just having a comments policy.

So, in reading this post by Notung, I’m interested in their points and agree with many. I think their post is a good start, but I think I’d like to work my own way through it, using my experiences as well.

Although I read this:

If you are blogging about an issue you are genuinely concerned about, and a skeptic leader raises the idea that the way the issue is being framed might actually be contributing to that issue, then you have two main choices; a rational discussion, or an attack on the skeptic leader

 …and I smile, thinking of how over the years, I’ve seen people contradict with their behaviour what was established common opinion about them and… well, you probably just have to think of your time in employment or social circles where one person’s hero was another person’s not-hero. It’s not so easy, for anyone. Especially not on the internet.

Did I mention the comments policy on many blogs here already? Hmm.

At any rate – thank you, anonymous Notung for your views and I hope you find an audience for your post that will do something constructive with it beyond the usual “yay” or “nay” –  but I suspect mine might be the most detailed response from Freethought blogs that you’ll get publicly.

Many of the people who respond to your blogpost may have nothing to do with instigating the making of changes here – but perhaps they could also model the changes they want to have happen?

Perhaps, since Ed Brayton has demonstrated with his post, people could give some feedback directly to the site via him regarding helping improve the site. That’s just another thought.

I have also, in doing this, discovered a glitch in the blog network that means many of the pages aren’t visible – so thank you for helping me report that to the network support crew to fix.

I’m out for the rest of the day to farewell a friend and a long-term, real-world atheist and skeptic who made a difference to this town.

By the way, please send happy birthdays to the Michigan Skeptics Association, as they are celebrating their second one very soon.

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