A regrettably necessary open letter to the writers of the Pharyngula Wiki

OK, so it’s no secret that I’ve left Pharyngula. Not because of any falling out with PZ, whom I still adore, but because of the tenor of the commentariat. There are a number of regulars there who are fine people, and a number who are deliberate jerks in situations that do not call for deliberate jerkery, and a Venn diagram of those two sets would overlap considerably.

Some of those regulars have set up an offsite wiki. I recently noticed that my entry there was not only out of date, but remarkably dismissive, casting me as PZ’s “assistant” and belittling my work except where it took part in the petty shitfights the commentariat find important.

I edited the entry to correct and update it, removing the weirdly and badly written summary of my work and replacing it with straight fact.

That edit has been reverted twice, with the most recent reversion bearing a haughty note implying that the reversions would continue until I “prove [I’m] Chris Clarke.”

I wonder whether this will suffice.

Edited to add: I note that someone else has at least temporarily reverted the entry to my edit, so for purposes of transparency, here’s the version I objected to:

Chris Clarke assists PZ Myers running Pharyngula and writes some articles himself. Chris Clarke writes about natural history, also the environment. Initially Chris wrote for a small non-profit environmental publication and later edited it. After that he worked on a number of environmental publications, some used paper, some the Internet and he also published work via the radio. Chris is interested in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

Chris Clarke will likely turn down any invitation to speak at the Center for Inquiry because he is dissatisfied with their policies over sexual harassment and women generally.

(end update)

I’d hoped to avoid making a public thing out of having left Pharyngula, because for one thing I’d prefer to move on, and for another there are some who will seize on anything they can to try to create trouble for a number of the bloggers at FreeThought Blogs, and needless public drama is tha last thing PZ needs right now.

But apparently I have no choice but to either say something publicly or let an insulting and inaccurate bio stand on a site that’s supposed to be run by friends. Well played, children. Well played.

Final update: the person who was demanding proof has acceded to my request. We’re done.

Really final update: those of you tempted to leave comments excoriating PZ for not hewing to the misogynistic status quo in your tepid and useless little “movement” should decide not to bother. Your comments will never see the light of day

55 thoughts on “A regrettably necessary open letter to the writers of the Pharyngula Wiki

  1. Rev. BigDumbCHimp

    “If the corrections you made are accurate why would it matter who you were ?”

    Was wondering the same thing. Seems there is a bit of over zealousness. / fear going on there.

  2. Old Molly

    Seriously? I’m so glad I left off commenting there – I think your last post was the last time I commented. The tenor makes me tired, and amazingly enough intelligent and insightful people can actually disagree about the correct interpretation of particular fact sets. The self-righteousness of the We Have The One Correct View And You Are A Troll Because You Disagree With Me” is quite astonishing.

    I’ve met amazing people through Pharyngula, but I’ve moved on.

  3. maureen.brian

    I’m sorry that you feel you have to go and hate the way that it has happened.

    You are a class act, Mr C, and don’t let anyone tell you different. I was glad to see you join Pharyngula because you added a bit of breadth and depth in areas where we of the Horde might have been lacking. As you know well, it is perfectly possible to do PZ full credit without needing to believe that he is the only source of wisdom in the universe. Or, indeed, the only one whose prose is sometimes magnificent.

    I shall continue you to follow you by other means.

  4. JPaper

    I’m sorry this happened Chris. I always enjoyed you’re contributions to Pharyngula. You’re an all around great guy. You deserve better.

  5. yazikus

    Chris, I second what JPaper had to say. You do deserve better. I love you site design btw. It is pretty.

  6. Chris Clarke Post author

    Thanks, JPaper, but let’s be clear: my finding the comment threads there an unhealthy environment for myself does not equate to having been mistreated, or anything like that. Yeah, I deserve better. But we all do.

  7. Dave Bonta

    I’m sorry you lost what I presume was a paying gig, although I will appreciate being able to find your postings more easily now, in just two rather than three places. As for the Free Thinkers, I think the Coyot.es Network is much more convivial and relevant than FTB. (I enjoy getting new content in my email.)

  8. dysomniak

    Hi Chris, I loved reading you on Pharyngula but I understand your reasons for leaving (I rarely comment myself.) Sorry that some asshat(s) need to add insult to injury.

  9. ChasCPeterson

    “There are a number of regulars there who are fine people, and a number who are deliberate jerks in situations that do not call for deliberate jerkery, and a Venn diagram of those two sets would overlap considerably.”

    That’s it, exactly.

    And I think it’s contagious. Over the years I’ve seen many individual commenters get nastier and nastier in response to less and less.
    Me, too. I think I remember you writing once that you didn’t like the person you became when you blogged at Pandagon for a while. That’s how I feel sometimes at Pharyngula, and it’s why I am currently taking a break from there.

    p.s. looks like I got the job and will be shaking your hand soon!

  10. Matt Penfold

    So who is the Proxima Centuri Person who first removed the changes Chris made, and then deleted the whole entry ?

  11. Brownian

    Congratulations, Chas!

    And I take a break from Pharyngula commenting once in awhile too, for much the same reason (seeing it in myself). I’ve stopped commenting entirely when I’m under the (or some) influence. That’s especially not helpful.

  12. Antiochus Epiphanes

    Chris: Sorry to hear. Sometimes I don’t visit Pharyngula for a few weeks at a time, because reading comments tends to make me unhappy. Completely understand. I enjoyed your posts there, and have read a few of them here on account of it.

    Also, Chas: Congratulations. Win!

  13. Xanthë

    Chris, I understand and sympathise with your withdrawal from being co-blogger on Pharyngula, and wanted to say I greatly enjoyed how well your writings both complemented PZ’s, as well as expanding the range of postings there. If there were a way for you to return that didn’t involve the general environment there being detrimental to you, I think many readers would appreciate what you have to offer (the jerkish part of the commentariat you mention will always find opportunities to be jerks, alas). I’m glad the nuisance Wiki person’s stopped being a nuisance. Thanks again Chris.

  14. John Phillips, FCD

    Sorry to see you go from Pharyngula Chris as I always enjoyed your posts as well as your contribution in threads. Must add this site to my Opera speed dial now to make it easy to pop in here.

  15. roger

    aaah, the comments. i left a kinda zinger, not toward you, on creek running north back when i was dread pirate roberts in the internet. you were quite gracious in accepting my apology. learned my lesson. disagree but stay civil.

    i do very much appreciate places with good discussions. i read pz, but skip the comments. i read comments here.

  16. Chris Clarke Post author

    I remember that exchange, roger, and the guy who pissed you off was minimizing rape. If there was any time to fly off the handle, that was it.

  17. pecunium

    I like Myer’s writing, and generally agree with him on social issues, but the commentariat is such that I have never felt comfortable there (which is, perhaps, saying a lot; given the parts of the internet I often inhabit). I sense a certain amount of closed-minded judgementalism, married to a dismissal of arguments which come from “certain types of people” which is offensive.

  18. SteveHT

    Always enjoyed both your entries and your commentariat rants on Pharyngula. No worries though, since I’m a desert rat, I’ll just mosy over to my bookmarks and add coyotes crossing back to the must-read list.

  19. Iris Vander Pluym

    So sorry to see you go, Chris, but I understand—and even if I didn’t, I would still 100% support your doing whatever you need to in order to be well and happy. I am grateful that PZ led me to know of you and your work, and will especially miss your brilliant bon mots in comments over there.


    *bookmarks http://coyot.es/crossing/*

  20. DLC

    Hey man, just saw PZs “Goodbye Chris” post, and came by to say thanks for posting there. Your articles were appreciated, by someone who lives in a paved-over part of the desert. I’ll drop by from time to time and look in. FWIW I too have stopped bothering about the comments section on Pharyngula myself, from time to time. I understand that many there are passionate about pet topics (I have a few such hobby horses myself) but there is a definite trend toward trigger-happiness and overreaction which is hard to handle, even when it’s not directed at you.

  21. Enid

    Sorry to see you go! I remember you from Pandagon, so I was happy to see you join Pharyngula. I’ll have to add this blog to my rss reader.

  22. Sandy H.

    I can certainly understand your decision. While there are many commenters I greatly respect on Pharyngula, I had to leave the comment sections because of a certain rabid clique who relentlessly pummel anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with their opinions. The bullying and degradation have gotten way out of hand. I still visit PZ’s blog on occasion for his posts, but I don’t even bother reading the comment sections anymore. They’re just too mean-spirited and spiteful. I have neither the emotional strength nor the time for that sort of deeply hurtful viciousness.

    In any case, I wish you well and I’m happy to follow your wonderful writing here. Best of luck!

  23. MadHatter

    I’m not a regular commenter at PZs…or really anywhere…but I did want to let you know that I really enjoy your writing and have been following even if I don’t comment. Thank you for your work!

  24. Sue

    I’m grateful to PZ for a lot of learning, I admire him for his courage and his stand against the MRAs but most of all I thank him for bringing you to my attention Chris. Your a wonderful writer and communicator. Your writings have opened up new joys to me. I’ve only once commented on Pz’s site and that was on one of your posts. I will look in here for when I need some mind ease and perspective. Thank you

  25. jenBPhillips

    Sorry to see you depart from Pharyngula, Chris, but I completely understand. I seldom participate in–or even read–the comments there anymore. There are some incredibly nice, generous people there, but I know from my limited stint guest blogging there a few years ago that the intensity of disagreement can fierce, chronic, and stressful. Regardless, I’m glad that, through PZ, I discovered you, and I’ll look forward to reading you here.


  26. Edward White

    I enjoyed your work at Pharyngula and plan to visit Coyote Crossing on a regular basis. I totally understand your reasons for leaving, though. I am also sorry about the editing war on the Pharyngula wiki, although I didn’t even know there was one until the dustup. Thank you for all the work you did over there.

  27. nm

    Maybe you could update the blogwarcamel to reflect comment thread wars. I did love trying to get that thing to spit.

  28. Travis

    Sad to see you go. I really enjoyed many of your posts even if I rarely commented on them (I only comment a few times a week over there, but I am a very regular reader). While I love the rough and tumble I am occasionally disappointed by some of the commenters there, sometimes I feel like the three chances and reset rules have been forgotten.

  29. Mike Haubrich

    I am glad that you were on Pharyngula as long as you were. Like many, I kind of stay away from the commentariat, but I still love PZ’s blogging. Why, I remember back in the day before comments multiplied exponentially that I used to be a regular there. Yep, this blog is in my Feedly now and I have enjoyed reading your stuff since Creek Running North.

  30. Gnumann+

    I’m apparently not abreast of things. I’ve been a rather irregular guest on Pharyngula lately. And even more irregular as a commentor. I won’t say I’m sad you’re leaving. I’m happy you are doing what’s best for you. And hopefully I’ll mange to follow you here, so you won’t be missed – but Pharyngula will be less great without you.

  31. Dutchgirl

    I miss your contributions to Pharyngula. Yours were the only posts I participated in the comments other than the Lounge. I will come here more often for your p.o.v. and desert news. Thank you for the time you did contribute to Pharyngula, you were/are appreciated by many.

  32. Rob

    Hi Chris, I always enjoyed your contributions at Pharyngula and I’m sorry to see you go. I will come by and check you here though. Hope everything works out for you.

  33. Joe T

    I’d like to thank you for your posts at Pharyngula. I’m going to add your blog to my bookmarks and check it now and then. My job makes regular drives through the Southwest necessary. Its nice to know more about the desert landscape I’ve come to adore.

  34. SueinNM

    I want to thank you for being supportive when my first attempt at commenting at Pharyngula resulted in suspicion and some hostility, even though I’d been an avid lurker for years. it hurt to have people make assumptions about me even though I was a loyal reader.

    I still feel inclined to defend Pharyngula because Myers has stuck his neck out for feminism and against MRAs when few others would do so. I think this sense of support and safety has led some to forget that some trust is due, even though I agree that no dismissive and anti-feminist viewpoints should be tolerated as they are elsewhere.

    What makes me sad is that so many of the commenters I thought of as “friends” in an odd sort of way left Pharyngula some years ago. I miss them. It seems that those willing to speak have decreased as the amount of suspicion has increased. I understand the suspicion, but wish we could somehow return to the “good old days.”

  35. Ian

    Hi Chris,
    I have enjoyed reading your Pharyngula posts and visit this blog regularly. I completely understand your decision to leave FtB. I have been reading atheist/skeptic blogs for five or six years now and originally they were rumbunctious but interesting, challenging and, importantly, outward looking. Now I hardly visit them as they have become horrific battlegrounds between bloggers who I mostly support and commenters who are, mostly, just beyond the pale. Comments on blogs and newspaper/magazine articles are almost entirely depressing for the sheer intensity of hatred, contempt and stupidity that they manifest and the intensity (in its most negative form) of the “debates” within the “freethought” community is just exhausting. If the writing in these comments in any way reflects the true nature of these people then thank goodness that they have minimal cultural influence. In addition to the horror of the comments, which one could just ignore, the blogs within this community are now largely inward looking and consumed with a kind of civil war that mirrors exactly the obsessed internal wars of marginal political and religious groups anywhere. So much for the light of reason. I enjoy A C Grayling for his humane optimism, but five minutes reading around the “freethought” blogosphere makes me want to run to the liberal waffling of an English vicarage!
    I hope you enjoy some freedom from the attack dogs that circle FtB at present and I look forward to following your writing here.

  36. Algernon

    Sorry to see you go. I’ve mostly lurked for the last few years, and commented very little. I get it. My soul isn’t a limpid bunny field. It’s that *I want to be a better person than that* and I’m going to do whatever I have to in order to keep my sense of self respect.

    So good luck, and I will follow your work here.

  37. Stevan

    I enjoy your posts as well, Chris. Living in Europe, reports of the Mojave desert are like missives from the moon, to me!

    Thanks for posting them on Pharyngula.

  38. AlexanderZ

    I too am sorry to see you go. I sympathize with your feelings regarding the comments. It sad to see even decent people resort to incessant cussing and personal attacks. Though I’ll really miss the bunny video: it was awesome to see a hateful comment magically turn into fluffy cuteness.

    I enjoyed reading your posts, particularly about the desert and the solar plant industry, and will continue to follow you here.

  39. Kristjan Wager

    I’m sorry to see you leave Pharyngula, but like everybody else here, I understand your reasons.

    I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time now, and have no plans of stopping reading your stuff, so expect me to drop by from time to time.

  40. skpoly

    I have been reading Pharyngula since 2006, and I can count the number of times I have commented on one hand.

    I greatly appreciated your involvement and posts at Pharyngula and I look forward to spending more time around these parts! Also, I was never really interested in deserts before your posts. So thanks for that too.

  41. magistramarla

    I’m another FTB regular who is sorry to see you leave Pharyngula.
    I wasn’t aware of all of the problems, since I don’t choose to get too deeply into arguments.
    I learned to love Pharyngula because I’m married to a science guy and our oldest daughter is a neurobiologist. I started reading a bit more about science to help me to keep up with their conversations. From there, my hubby and I were both drawn into the freethinking community.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts because they gave me another perspective on science and ecology. I hope that you will guest post at Pharyngula again occasionally when things are calmer over there. Thanks for expanding my knowledge, Chris!

  42. Kefkef

    Hi Chris. I’m echoing what so many people have said above – that I’m sorry to see you leave Pharyngula. I hadn’t heard about you until you joined there, and was enthralled by Walking With Zeke, which I had to buy immediately. Since then I’ve enjoyed your posts over there, and now have bookmarked this blog so I can continue to enjoy your writing.

    Like others above, I enjoy PZ’s writing, but no longer even read the comments. I’ve had my fill of online shouting matches.

  43. strange gods

    Chris, I’m sorry about the reverts at the wiki. That shouldn’t have happened, and I should have been paying attention to prevent or mitigate the situation. Email me if you need anything else there.

    Thanks for all the jaguars.