Somebody Doesn’t Like Me

Some of you may remember Tim Kowal, who used to comment at Positive Liberty. He blogs now at a sub-blog of Ordinary Times (until recently The League of Ordinary Gentlemen). He recently put up a post about abortion, which he’s against. And that’s fine. Where it gets iffy is when he starts commenting about polling data, first broached by one of the commenters who didn’t like his position, and he pulled a little trick I’ve seen him do before, emphasizing the parts of the data that are conducive to his position, and ignoring those parts that are not.

That poll says 64% want abortions outlawed in the second trimester, and 80% want it outlawed in the third. That’s a huge majority that disagrees with the “status quo”. [Link]

Well, yes, it does. But it also shows that a clear majority want to keep it legally available in the first trimester, and Tim never seems to want to talk about that part.

So I critiqued him, noting that it’s a bit disingenuous to cherry pick the data this way. And he missed the point.

Now comes this criticism insisting that conservatives who yield on matters of principle are engaging in sophistry. I call foul. In a discussion on morality, I will be happy to make my arguments about abortion on principle. But this post is about the politics of a moral issue… [Link]

I don’t quite follow that first sentence, but it rather badly missed the point. So I tried again; this is me talking this time.

There is no honest way to promote the favorable data points while downplaying the bad data points. As a social scientist who teaches my students about research methods, I can tell you straight out that we instill in our students the idea that to do so is a form of academic fraud. I would fail a student in my research methods or senior research class who did that.

[Quoting TK] In a discussion on morality, I will be happy to make my arguments about abortion on principle.
OK, in that discussion, the polling data is irrelevant.

[Quoting TK] But this post is about the politics of a moral issue
OK, so the polling data matters? Then all of it matters, not just the parts that are favorable to your position. (Are there pro-choice people doing the same thing from the other side? Then they’re being dishonest about it, too, and is that the company you want to keep?) [Link]

And he responded with this:

No one is doing “social science.” I was making an argument. That argument, so far as it goes, concedes where the poll data does not support it…. Also, I notice you do not label the comment offering the Gallup poll as “deceptive,” even though it only “promotes” some of the data…

This is not your classroom. Go sniff around elsewhere if you want to accuse someone of “fraud” and “deception.” It’s not welcome here.[Link]

And then, in an act that someone less generous in spirit than I might call cowardice, he shut down the comments. Well, it’s his blog, and that’s his right. But, TK, it’s the internet–you can’t claim the last word that easily, eh? Now let’s look at his complaints about my critique.

1. “No one is doing ‘social science.'”
Well, that’s not exactly true. If you’re using polling data to support a claim, you kind of can’t avoid doing social science. And anyway…

2. “I was making an argument.”
So, what, this justifies being less than forthright about the data? Keep in mind, TK prides himself on being a Christian, and he’s trying to hold the moral high ground here. But I went to church for a lot of years, and I don’t remember that the commandment against bearing false witness had an “I’m making an argument” exception. Granted, it’s tough to claim to be the moral side. If you actually act morally, you’re handicapped in practical politics by those who aren’t similarly constrained. But if you don’t actually act morally, then you can’t really claim to be on the moral side anymore. But, tough. That’s the path he’s chosen, and the only question is whether he can really walk it or not.

3. “That argument, so far as it goes, concedes where the poll data does not support it.”
Except, no, not in his hands it doesn’t seem to. He and I’ve gone around on this polling data issue before, and I’ve seen him emphasize when the majority agrees with him before (this discussion was deja vu all over again), but I don’t recall him ever giving much air time to where the polling data doesn’t support his argument.

4. “Also, I notice you do not label the comment offering the Gallup poll as ‘deceptive,’ even though it only ‘promotes’ some of the data.”
Actually, TK, I did. He seems a bit distraught here, so perhaps he missed the part in my last comment where I said, “Are there pro-choice people doing the same thing from the other side? Then they’re being dishonest about it, too,” And really, does he think I’m that kind of guy?

5. “This is not your classroom. Go sniff around elsewhere if you want to accuse someone of ‘fraud’ and ‘deception.’ It’s not welcome here.”
Oh, I’m sure it’s not. Nobody likes to be called out when they’re not playing fair. Now on the one hand, we could see this response as just being like my own commenting policy: “[T]his blog is primarily for my benefit, not yours or ours. So all comments are subject to my benevolence. The rule is essentially whether I would want to be having the conversation with you over beer at the bowling alley.” And if TK doesn’t find me an enjoyable drinking companion, that’s certainly his privilege. On the other hand, it’s fair game to criticize somebody who appears to want free reign to argue disingenuously while pretending to have the moral high ground. It’s also fair game to criticize somebody for acting in a way that some folks might interpret as looking just a bit lacking in, shall we say, certain manly qualities.*

Feel free to chime in here to defend yourself and critique me, TK. Unlike some people, I won’t try to take my blog and go home.

*For the record, I’ve not yet banned anyone here (not that I’ve ever had that many readers, of course). I encouraged one person to go away if he couldn’t talk about anything but the Koch Brothers, and more recently I suggested a former League of Ordinary Gentleman blogger bugger off if the only way he wanted to participate was full-bore incivility, but neither has been banned, and either can come back. I also, despite my comment policy threats, had never deleted a comment until recently, when a truly (and unfortunately) deranged person who rabidly hates me for being libertarian has commented under many names at the League–and who has been banned repeatedly, but eventually reappears under a new name–left a couple of really bizarre and perverse comments that I just couldn’t let stand. We haven’t had that much to drink.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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20 Responses to Somebody Doesn’t Like Me

  1. It is nothing personal, James. It seems to me futile, and obviously so, to argue with someone who thinks you a deceiver and a fraud. You made your accusation. I gave my response for the record. I’d terminate such dialogue with anyone. And having provided that disclaimer, I now do so.

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Note: This is from a guy who has given me to understand that he believes what David Barton writes. Just sayin’.

  3. ppnl says:

    Keeeerist! Religious leaders are beginning to turn away from Barton.

    On the subject of arguing with the religious online have you been watching the debate over at Popehat? Clark posted a watered down version of “Why do atheists not rape their children?” Well, very watered down but still there.

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Huh, no. I missed that one. I think until I’m not 15 hours behind on my sleep before checking it out, though.

  5. lancifer666 says:


    Are your ears burning?

    Brayton started a thread on libertarians and Matty brought your name up as a non-demonic example of the breed, as opposed to the straw men that were being mowed down like so many dandelions.. Of course the deranged and addle-brained Raging Bee was eager to trash you.

    Others, Gretchen among them, shot him down. Heath said that Bee was correct but that his “passion” colored his argument.

    I have laid in the weeds enjoying the whole spectacle from afar.

    You may want to drop in for your amusement.

  6. ppnl says:

    I don’t do much more than scan Brayton’s blog anymore. Mostly it seems to be an almost mechanical list political craziness. I agree with him that the right has simply gone crazy and I agree with much of his criticism of libertarians. But for the most part his posts do not generate interesting thoughts or debates.

    This one seems to be an exception. The anti-libertarian faction is laying it on a little thick but at least it is generating some discussion.

  7. Matty says:

    I think I’ll try not to do that in future actually arguing with Bee is like arguing with a brick wall. I did nearly laugh out loud when he offered Mitt Romney as an example of a libertarian though. On the subject of this post, I’m not familiar with the polling in question but what is quoted seems to me to support the basic idea of the status quo if not the detail. That is abortion should be legal under some circumstances but not others. Not that details don’t matter but once you rule out either full foetal rights from conception or a woman’s right to have the foetus removed from her body any time it is in there we are no longer really talking pro or anti abortion.

  8. pierrecorneille says:


    I had your thoughts about the poll seeming to reflect the status quo (with the qualifier that I haven’t read the poll either). My understanding of Roe v. Wade is that in the first trimester, the woman has pretty much full control over whether to abort; in the second, the state may regulate “for her health” (or some such standard); in the third, the state has much more latitude to outlaw or limit abortion.

    I don’t really know how the Roe guidelines have changed over the years, although I’ve heard that these guideline have since become more restrictive of women’s prerogative to abort.


    My frustration with the arguments that most movement conservatives advance is that they (the arguments) seem either shallow or not fully honest. I’ve found this to be more or less true when it’s a question of empirically verifiable matters and evidence (e.g., the poll results you discuss) or more nuanced discussions of “moral arguments,” which because of their nature, are harder to call out. What I find frustrating with the person who wrote the posts in question, is that he generally is otherwise pretty civil, compared to some of the others.

    In other contexts, especially when talking with self-identified liberals who in my opinion seem to look down on such folks, I sometimes get prickly and defend them. But when it comes to the actual arguments these conservatives make, it’s hard to side with them.

    I’m sure my conclusions are a result of some sort of me seeing what I tell myself ahead of time I want to see. I sometimes wonder if our starting assumptions are so different that we’re (non-movement conservatives) just unable to see things from these conservatives’ point of view, and they ours. At any rate, I have yet to find a thoughtful online commentator. (Maybe I just do read enough, which is a real possibility.)

    But at the same time, there’s also a sense that if one is called out on misleading information, the proper thing to do is to acknowledge it (if it is misleading) or demonstrate why it’s not misleading. Suggesting that something is presented in a deceiving or fraudulent way might be hard to swallow in the heat of the moment, but upon sober reflection, it’s important to realize that such an error is just that–an error–and can be corrected with a swift correction. Otherwise, at least on a practical level, one loses the support of those who disagree and even the support of some of those who agree.

    I feel kind of bad writing this, because I don’t necessarily want to pile on the criticism against someone who doesn’t pose any direct threat to me and who online has been quite polite with me, who disagree with him a lot. And I’ll admit that at least he posts under his own name, unlike me. Still, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with his style of argumentation, and it’s harder to avoid with the League’s new format, where the sub-blog posts didn’t used to be as visible unless you actually went to them. (Now, as you know, the posts all show up on the same post-queue.)

  9. pierrecorneille says:

    “(Maybe I just do read enough, which is a real possibility.)”

    Ugh! Maybe I do(n’t) edit enough…..I should’ve said “don’t read.”

  10. J@m3z Aitch says:

    So, should I be grateful to Matty or angry with him? *grin* I’m famous, in an obscure way, it seems. I’ll have to drop in and see what’s going on there.

    I agree about Brayton’s blog, though. I just don’t find it very interesting anymore. I occasionally scan to see if there’s some interesting tidbit of police thuggery I’ve missed, but not much more.

    I also agree with Pierre that TK is normally polite, but I’ve noticed from the days of Positive Liberty that he doesn’t take critique of his argument well, at least in certain domains, including not only abortion but his romantic ideas about the religious and idealistic founding of America. I think because both are wrapped up in his religious beliefs, and even though I’ve never criticized those religious beliefs, I suspect criticizing anything that connects to them feels threatening. But I don’t think the dude is a bad guy; I get the sense he’s quite nice overall.

  11. lancifer666 says:


    I think I’ll try not to do that in future actually arguing with Bee is like arguing with a brick wall.

    I have long ago stopped responding to Raging Bee. He doesn’t even try to sprinkle rational arguments into his spit flecked rants.

    I have also grown a bit tired of Brayton’s “Obscure Right Wing Loon of the Day” threads. He’s becoming like Nelson Muntz pointing at a naked Bart Simpson and yelling “HA HA HA!” over and over again.

  12. Dr X says:

    I still scan and comment at Brayon’s occassionally, but probably read less than a quarter of the posts. Partly it’s that the posts have a repetive quality to them. I’m glad these stories are posted, but it’s a bit much for me as a steady diet. I’ve also found the comments less interesting over time. There are a few thoughful commenters there, but it does strike me as more of an echo chamber than ever. I don’t think of that as Ed’s doing, but I don’t think the association with PZ has enriched the comment threads. I’ve now been called a racist and a sexist in no uncertain terms by commenters who strike me as possible members of the teenage division of the thought police. I know, many of you have had similar experiences experiences there. Anyway, it’s gotten very old.

    As for this subject of the present post, there are many people who just don’t have a feel for intellectual integrity. It isn’t merely that they choose not to be intellectually honest. I don’t believe it’s in their cognitive repertoire. Related, see: critical thinking, metacognition.

  13. Dr X says:

    Unrelated and maybe James could post something if interested, what you all think about the MO legislature poised to nullify all federal gun laws? Federal agents attempt to make arrests for violation of gun laws can be arrested by state authorities and sued by those arrested. The bill went before the governor who vetoed it, but now it looks like the legislature is poised to override.

    IIANL, but this seems clearly unconstitutional, but how does it end up before the courts to be challenged? Must there be a showdown and an arrest of a federal agent, or a lawsuit against an arresting agent. I would also think that if a state authority attempted an arrest of federal agent, it would be grounds for arrest of the state agent.

  14. pierrecorneille says:

    Dr. X,

    I’m not a lawyer either, and this is also the first I’ve heard of the law. (My initial response was to say, “well, would they want to nullify the 2nd amendment along with all the other federal laws?”)

    I imagine that if the executive branch in Missouri really wants to enforce this nullification (i.e., it’s not just bluster that everyone knows is unenforceable and no one will try to enforce), their best bet would probably be to get an injunction of some sort, serve it on the local U.S. District Attorney(s), who would then challenge the injunction. This assumes the state executive can find a court to issue one, which would be hard, because I imagine a US attorney would be inclined to obey only a federal court on something of that nature, and I doubt a federal court would issue such an injunction.

    I should repeat: I’m not a lawyer and this is just speculation. If you happen to actually be a member of Missouri’s executive branch and not a therapist/part-time photographer in the Chicago area, please do not interpret the above as legal advice. Consult your own legal counsel.

  15. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Well, there’s this thing in the Constitution that these conservatives all claim to love so much called the Supremacy Clause, which states that the Constitution and all laws pursuant to it are the supreme law of the land. That being so, they trump state laws. “Pursuant” means “actually constitutional,” so I can see a claim that the federal gun laws aren’t, so they’re definitionally not the supreme saw of the land. But we’ve tried this state nullification business before and it always turns out to be bullshit. The Supreme Court is the ultimate judge of whether laws, both state and federal, are pursuant to the Constitution. So if states don’t think so, the proper route is to challenge the laws in the federal court, not declare them void by an act of the state legislature.

    But this type of conservative doesn’t really love and revere the Constitution. They love and revere their mythical image of it. And in fact they really really hate that Supremacy Clause business. Too fucking bad for them. They’ll lose, as they always lose.

    But at least Missouri’s governor has some sense.

  16. lancifer666 says:

    Dr X,

    Don’t feel bad. I (as you no doubt know) am married to a “black” African woman and the clown police at FTB routinely call me a racist. They are a little clique of thought police trying to one up each other to prove how “progressive” they are.

    I agree with your assessment that the PZ Myers effect has spread throughout the FTB blogosphere. Also, your observation that most of these strident gatekeepers are on the shy side of twenty rings true with my recent experience.

  17. Matty says:

    Yes Lance but you dared to suggest that their preferred policies for combating racial inequality might not be perfect. Isn’t that the same thing as racism?

    More seriously and at the risk of taking this thread way off point I do think there are some valuable points buried in the “progressive” rhetoric, mainly about how such inequality can be an unintended consequence rather than direct malice and what this does to our options for dealing with it, but good luck explaining the finer points to people who think “privileged” is an insult.

  18. pierrecorneille says:

    I’m not familiar with Brayton or FTB (Freethought blog?). But from what people are describing, it sounds to me a lot like Lawyers, Guns, and Money, which is a blog I really wanted to like when I first came across it. And most of the authors, as long as their last name doesn’t end in “oomis,” are not necessarily bad, but they seem a bit too eager to resort to “Shorter X, ‘I hate poor people'” formulas that get old and strawmanny very fast. And the comment culture is, in my opinion, very echo chamber. I remember, shortly after the Newtown shooting, raising the possibility that we ought to be wary before we lower standards for civil commitment, and somehow that translated into me being someone who doesn’t care that some dangerous people with mental challenges might potentially hurt someone. It also somehow translated into me being a guns rights absolutist (I’m not sure how they made the connection).

    On some level, I think it’s more that I’m just a bad fit for that crowd, and not that the commentariat there is necessarily bad.

    Sorry for the rant. I always get on my high horse when I have a chance to complain about the LGM’ers.

  19. pierrecorneille says:

    “that he doesn’t take critique of his argument well, at least in certain domains, including not only abortion but his romantic ideas about the religious and idealistic founding of America. ”

    That’s certainly true of me, too, on some subjects. I try to control for it, but I do so only imperfectly.

  20. J@m3z Aitch says:

    It also somehow translated into me being a guns rights absolutist (I’m not sure how they made the connection).

    Well, I heard you threw a huge party in Chicago to celebrate the outcome of the McDonald case.

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