Mix information with vitriol

People are discussing the uses and abuses of irritation, or anger, or zeal, or dickishness, or baying for blood. This is prompted by a talk Phil Plait gave at The Amaz!ng Meeting a couple of weeks ago. He took an informal poll, Matt D tells us:

Let me ask you a question: how many of you here today used to believe in something — used to, past tense — whether it was flying saucers, psychic powers, religion, anything like that?…Not everyone is born a skeptic. A lot of you raised your hand. I’d even say most of you, from what I can tell.

Now let me ask you a second question: how many of you no longer believe in those things, and you became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard?

Not many hands. But as lots of people have pointed out…so what? Hardly anyone does get in people’s faces, screaming, and call them idiots, brain-damaged, retards. Many people do various things that are well short of that, some of which could be considered alienating to some; excessive; tactless; and so on. But that’s not a very exciting claim. Some people are tactless and alienating. Well yes, how true. And?

Stephanie Zvan notes that sometimes a blast of well-directed anger is exactly what’s needed.

a friend gave me Flim Flam. James Randi told me how people had lied to me under the guise of nonfiction, under the guise of science. He was, in fact, kind of a dick about it. That’s not a very nice book by any definition of the word. It uses name-calling. It sneers.

But oh, it was exactly what I needed. I needed it both for the information it gave me and for the anger and vitriol. Without Randi’s vitriol, I wouldn’t have been able to make the clean break in thinking that I did.

PZ says again that things aren’t as simple as mean bastards v wonderful nice people.

Everybody seems to imagine that if Granny says “Bless you!” after I sneeze, I punch her in the nose, and they’re all busy dichotomizing the skeptical community into the nice, helpful, sweet people who don’t rock the boat and the awful, horrible, bastards in hobnailed boots who stomp on small children in Sunday school. It’s just not right.

The awful, horrible, bastards in hobnailed boots who bay for blood and stomp on small children in Sunday school. Let’s have the complete picture here.

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