Man, this has been a banner year for demonstrating that atheist luminaries have feet of clay. Or, in some cases, manure. Case in point: Thunderf00t, an atheist science-vlogger whose YouTube videos about science, skepticism, atheism, and creationism have long been among my favorites. It’s been awhile since I diligently checked my YouTube feed, but it’s still subscribed to Thunderf00t’s channel. I’ve even used his video showing the difference in combustion speeds of different chemicals in my classroom. But I may be cancelling that subscription in light of the recent (to me, anyway. Some are less surprised) revelation that Thunderf00t is a colossal asshole.

I’m not going to get too deep into his strawmanning, goalpost-shifting, asinine post on Freethoughtblogs. Other people are covering that better. Instead, I’m going to address a little bit of side-assholery that came out this morning, in response to a request by Skepchick blogger Surly Amy. See, Thunderf00t’s post used this photo that Amy had taken for this great post. She asked that Thunderf00t either credit her for the image (TF’s post is strangely lacking in links, citations, or basic research of any kind) or take it down.

Thunderf00t decided to go for the “both” option, and put up this image instead:

Look at all the scare quotes!

Look at all the scare quotes!

First, this is some world-class douchebaggery on display right here. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the asinine argument presented by his revised image, I want to address the strawman it contains first. It’s not the ‘logic’ that’s copyrighted, it’s the fucking photograph. And there’s no scare-quote “copyright” about it; photographers have the rights to their photos. Ask anyone who’s hired a professional photographer to take pictures at a wedding or other event; you have to get licensure and so forth just to make copies. Posting without attribution? Unquestionably a violation of copyright.

I don’t think Thunderf00t, someone who’s been on the receiving end of lots of fraudulent copyright claims, is so stupid or ignorant as to think anyone was claiming the “logic” was “copyrighted.” I think he’s an asshole without a leg to stand on, so he makes this asshole strawman dig to make Amy look irrational. Because, you know, she’s a woman who dares to disagree with his uninformed knee-jerk opinion.

Now, as to Thunderf00t’s counter-‘logic’ (look, I can use scare-quotes too! Or do the Brits call them scare-inverted-commas?), I’d like to direct your attention to the subtle change TF00t made in the phrasing. Clearly, “sexism” in the first example is equated with “fire” in the second. So his additional bit of “when there isn’t one [a fire]” suggests that he thinks/claims/demonstrates that there is no sexism.

Except that’s not what he’s claiming, at least, not in the portion of his post that I could stomach reading. It’s all “*THIS REALLY ISN’T A BIG PROBLEM*” and “Put simply if your primary focus is on the conference scene, then in the internet age, it’s probably misplaced” and “If I want to chew on some womans leg in a bar, I don’t want to have to consult the conference handbook to see if this classes as acceptable behavior!”

To put it in Thunderf00t’s metaphor, there’s a group of people “screaming fire” and one asshole saying “That fire’s not even that big! In fact, that fire’s happening in a really small building that only a few people occupy, and most of the people are in this building, so why worry about that fire? In my experience, the fire in that building is among the least hot ever! That fire is no worse than the fires you’d encounter at your average campsite or bonfire! I think you’ll find that most people aren’t arsonists or pyromaniacs. What’s next? Will I have to fill out a form in triplicate if I want to light a cigarette? If someone wants me to light their fireplace, I should be able to do that? And if I want to light a fireplace in someone’s house, I don’t want to have to consult the safety guidelines to see if it classes as acceptable behavior!”

And in the meantime, the building is burning. Granted, the Conferences Building is rather small compared to the Internet Complex, and yet the Internet Complex is ablaze in a towering inferno. In fact, temperature in the YouTube Office Suite, which Thunderf00t occupies, is hot enough to forge steel weapons. Stories keep cropping up, where one person talks about how they were given a hot foot, or how someone waved a lit match at them in an elevator. People are getting e-mails helpfully telling them that they ought to wear suits made of asbestos and carry around big buckets of water. Crowds chase after people with torches. People slinking around with jugs of gasoline and boxes of matches, who keep threatening to set fires, who have recorded histories of describing their interest in fires and posting pictures of fires are dismissed as harmless, that suspicions of such individuals are overblown and unreasonable.

And while Thunderf00t’s in his burning office suite screaming that the fire next door is nothing to worry about, people in both buildings are getting burned.

I’d say that Thunderf00t should find better things to do with his time than stack up giant Jenga towers of anecdotes and accusations and text formatting that would make Gene Ray blush, but he’s obviously got bigger things to worry about.

I mean, he just set himself on fire.

9 Responses to Thunderf00t-in-mouth

  1. Bronze Dog says:

    I canceled my subscription to his channel earlier today. He’s just not the same guy I used to watch.

  2. Well said. As if one can’t think and protect their own images. The phrase “spend more time ____ and less time ____ generally comes with it’s own straw man. Time is generally not a factor in things like “thinking” and “standing up to internet bullies.”

    Have a good one.

    -John with an H.

  3. dannybloom says:

    Who’s afraid of a silly old ‘scare quote’?

    by Danny Bloom Tufts 1971, –

    Tom McGerevan says that if he ever sees an OpEd piece about scare
    quotes in the New York Times he will eat his hat. Mark Reed says it’s
    called a “scare quote” because it connotes that the quoted item is
    somehow “scary” — nonstandard, abnormal, different in a somewhat
    threatening way, and that social activists might call it ”lexical
    Othering”. John Lawler says popular phrases are rarely “coined” by a
    single person and nobody ”knows” who the first person to say or
    write ”scare quotes” was. Stan Carey says that scare quotes are
    placed around words or phrases from which writers want to distance
    themselves. Geoff Pullum in Britain calls them mendacity quotes and
    says he has also heard the term “Greengrocer’s quotes”. Stan Carey
    says that usage may be colloquial, slang, technical, inaccurate,
    euphemistic, misleading or inappropriate, and that the writer usually
    wants to distance himself or herself from it, or, perhaps to suggest
    irony, skepticism, distaste or outright derision. Jameela Lares says
    good luck on trying to tracking down the origins and ”first coiner”
    of the ”scare quotes” term. Jon Stewart says he calls them “dick
    quotes”. Ellen Markette says that anyone continuing to investigate who
    coined the term ‘scare quotes’ (and when, 1956? 1945? 1883?) is not
    engaging in a productive query since it has no answer. Arnold Zwicky
    says he found two references to scare quotes online that date as far
    back as 1956 and 1960. The Chicago Style Manual says not to overuse
    them, noting: ‘Like any such device, scare quotes lose their force and
    irritate readers if overused.” Adam Levin says they are devices,
    instruments, Safirian markups. Sotaro Shibahara says he calls them
    “rabbit ear quotes.” Other people say they call them sneer quotes,

    horror quotes, queer quotes, air quotes and quote-unquote quotes.
    Colin Fine says it’s rare to be able to pinpoint the individual who
    first used a word in a particular meaning, and equally rare to be able
    to do more than speculate about exactly what mental picture or
    association they had when they made that innovation. Stan Carey says
    he has heard them referred to as hedge quotes. Mark Bauerlein says he
    used to use the term often in talking about the language of literary
    criticism. Ana Marie Cox says she used the term when she was a
    graduate student. Hugo says the term ”appears” to have originated
    amongst British logical philosophers in the late 1950s and early 1960s
    and notes that according to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest
    known use is from Mind 65 in 1956. Hugo says that from 1965 to 1970,
    some 20 other books, spreading from logical philosophy to ethics,
    theology, political and legal philosophy, political science, language
    and metaphysics, and that the term spread out from Britain to America
    and Australia. Hugo says that the term continued to be used in
    academia in the 1980s but was on the whole restricted to the above and
    related fields, and in the 1990s seems to have spread further within
    academia, but not much outside, adding that the earliest news source
    he found using the term was a 1994 Newsweek article with other media
    outlets using it once each in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Greil Marcus says
    that he used to think the use of ”scare quotes” was a matter of
    writers being too lazy to find the words that would say precisely what
    the writer meant, but that he learned that the real question was fear:
    people afraid of their own words, of opening themselves up to attack.
    Katy Steinmetz says that scare quotes, like their cousins of air
    quotes, are sarcastic-y marks that imply doubt about the meaning of
    words. Angela Wu says that in Kenneth King’s book titled “Germs Gone
    Wild” — which reads like a rant, in her opinion — outrage reigns,
    with nuance lacking and with entire pages of snark and “scare quotes.”
    Michael Joseph says he remembers coming across the term for the first
    time about seven or eight years ago and that the first thing he
    thought about was the phonological similarity to scarecrows, which are
    also not what they seem (at least to crows). Burt Johannsen says he
    wonders if their use or the scholarly discourse has changed in a way
    that makes the term opaque now. Eric Shackle in Australia says that he
    thinks anyone trying to find out who coined the term ”scare quotes”
    — and why and when — is flogging a dead horse: ”Who cares?” Arlen
    Baden says ”az di bobe volt gehat beytsim volt zi geven mayn zeyde!”
    meaning “If my grandmother had testicles she would be my grandfather.”
    Martyn Cornell says there is a subset of scare quote called ”claim
    quotes”, an unofficial journalistic shorthand way of saying “someone
    is making this claim and we neither give it authority nor dismiss it,
    we’re just reporting it” and that frequently what is inside these
    sorts of claim quotes is a paraphrase of what was actually said, to
    make it fit inside the headline space of the newspaper or website
    page. Jonathan Chait at the New Republic says the scare quote is the
    perfect device for making an insinuation

    without proving it, or even necessarily making clear what you’re

    insinuating. An editorial writer for a liberal magazine in Washington
    says he has had a long-standing fascination with rightwing,
    conservative The Wall Street Journal editorial page and specifically
    with its inexplicable

    habit of placing ”scare quotes” around any noun that the author
    happens to disapprove of. Todd Mangen says the National Catholic
    Register uses scare quotes around “parents” when referring to same-sex
    parents. Art Blum says some writers use scare quotes because they save
    people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Pam Lions says
    the opposing attorney had this habit of using scare quotes in his
    letters, she thinks as an alternative to undescore or italics.
    Virginia Love says that because she had never heard the term ‘scare
    quotes’ until she read this blog the other day, she really can’t throw
    any light on our queries, but advise us to ask the bloggers at
    Language Log for their opinions. Rupert Murduke says he thinks it is
    funny that some people call them ‘greengrocer quotes’ in England and
    wonders if it is endemic to fruiterers. David Cameroon says that
    maybe greengrocers are the most likely people who don’t have English
    as their first language and therefore make frequent written public
    notices with quotation marks all over the place. Robin Clegg says
    mendacity quotes would be a term for when the writer is implying that
    the quoted person is wrong. Ellen Clegg says that while greengrocer
    quotes are amusing to people who know how to punctuate properly, such
    greengrocer quotse look as if they are ”mendacity quotes”, meaning
    the opposite of what they say, but of course they are not. Jean Vilna
    says that ‘Air quotes’ are something quite different again – not even
    related to the ‘scare/greengrocer/mendacity’ variety – because they
    are not written, they’re made with the fingers in the air in
    conversation. Sarah Boxer says in the New York Times (1999) taht users
    call them ”scare quotes”, suggesting Jack Derrida’s idea that the
    words quoted are “under erasure.” A professor at Harvard says in
    response that the phrase Derrida used, ”sous rature” in French, was
    not ”in” quotation marks or ”about” quotation marks, as is his
    French translation of a phrase in Hegel which is also not about, or
    in, quotation marks. Another Harvard professor says that there’s no
    indication at all that Derrida would have coined the English term of
    ”scare quotes” — ”le quote eprenant”? in French? — especially in
    or prior to 1956, many years before he emerged as a prominent
    theorist. A Bennington professor says that Derrida wrote a good deal
    about an “Eighteenth Century” that he typically put in scare-quotes.
    Mark Bauerlein says he has sometimes used the term sneer quotes”
    noting that the point of “scare” is to tell people NOT to take the
    word at face value while the point of “sneer” is to add the speaker’s
    mockery to the usage. The Capital New York newspaper website runs a
    headline that reads: ”Square Quotes Return for ‘Rape Cop’ story.”
    Virginia Love in Australia says that she would be really pleased if
    the scare quotes term comes in there since she had never heard of it
    before an that if it is used in popular magazines, etc., it might get
    through to (especially) greengrocers who think inverted commas just
    mean giving emphasis. An Australian writer says she used to go into
    greengrocer shops and try to explain to them that ‘”Fresh” peaches!’
    meant something quite different to ‘Fresh peaches,’ and that ‘”Free”
    delivery’ was different to ‘Free delivery’ and that it’s a
    surprisingly difficult concept to get across, especially to people who
    do not have English as their first language. Tom McGeveran says that
    he spent some time thinking about our ”initially-charming request”
    to write about the use of scare quotes in his newspaper but that as
    the day progressed he felt that it was perhaps not a worthy endeavor
    for someone overseas who has no home or office “internet access” to
    attempt a web research project on an etymological question. The
    Capital New York newspaper website runs a headline that reads “Sequels
    to Sex Scandals, With or Without Scare Quotes.” Tom McGeveran says
    that a small detail in a recent newspaper headline in New York
    interested him because of the so-called ”coverline” that read “COP
    ‘RAPE’ VICTIM TELLS: ‘The verdict brought me to my knees'” and notes
    that the return of the scare-quotes around the word “rape,” picked up
    and dropped several times in coverlines during the trial, might or
    might not be significant, adding that it would be difficult for a
    newspaper to continue to just call officers Mata and Moreno “rape
    cops” without the scare quotes after they’d been found not guilty
    beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury. This website called Meta English
    Stack Exchange once discussed ”square quotes” but deleted the entire
    files for “unknown reasons.” Martin Robbins in Britain says that in
    his Guardian piece headlined ”This is a news website article about a
    scientific paper,” he will state the main claim that the research
    makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s
    clear that he have no opinion about this research whatsoever. Martin
    Robbins says in an Guardian piece headlined “Charlie Brooks’s
    kriotherapy leaves me cold” that buried in the torrent of revelations
    about News International is the interesting fact that Rebekah Brooks’s
    husband, Charlie, runs a “kriotherapy” centre at Champneys, the spa
    that played a part in Sir Paul Stephenson’s demise after revelations
    that he enjoyed a free five-week stay there and wonders out loud if
    “kriotherapy” is legitimate enough to be allowed out without its
    “scare quotes” on unless the Brooks family are backing another
    less-than-reputable product. Bethany Keeley-Jonker who runs a an
    awesome website devoted to humorous scare quotes (with photos on
    notices on bulletin boards and store signs) says she suspects based on
    early citations that “scare quotes” began being used among groups of
    philosophers, maybe in a graduate program or something like that and
    that she understands that some scholars she spends time with have used
    the term to imply the author is “scared” to be associated with the
    typical meaning of the term. The MLA style guide says that emphasis
    can be added to a word or phrase by placing it in italics or quotation
    marks and that this is done only once — once! under penalty of death
    if more! — when the word or phrase is first introduced, noting that
    “scare quotes” is the term coined by someone or other long ago in the
    mists of Time perhaps in the 1950s to add emphasis by placing a word
    or phrase in quotation marks and that these so-called scare quotes
    indicate that the phrase is being used ironically, or in a nonstandard
    sense. Bethany Keeley says she runs a blog founded in 2005 and titled
    ‘The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks’ about the “misuse” of
    English quotation marks and that she carries a camera phone around
    Athens, Georgia, taking photographs of signs, notes and advertisements
    that misuse quotation marks, usually intended as emphasis and that her
    blog has seven other official authors, with readers often “sending in”
    their photos of unnecessary quotation marks, along with a humorous
    comment that intentionally misinterprets the depicted sign, with a
    book well published as well in 2010. Jocelyn Noveck at the Associated
    Press says that ”scare quotes” blogger Bethany Keeley ”`exposes’
    Annoying Quote Abuse” with her blog and quotes Keeley as saying

    she never thought when she was a small child that she’d be ”a
    punctuation celebrity,” but apparently she got her ”15 minutes of
    fame” when her blog link when viral via Yahoo! Peter Choffer

    says he has no idea what a scare quote is, noting “I’m still lost.
    What exactly is a “scare quote”? A visitor to Tom Barlett’s blog at
    the Chronicle of Higher Education in the USA says that in his
    understanding a scare quote is typically an “irony marker.” Another
    visitor to the CHE site says maybe they should be called ”irony
    quotes” since there is nothing very “scary” about them. J.F. Foster
    says he uses such ”double quotes” to indicate that is someone else’s
    term but not necessarily his and that he uses single quotes for
    translations of citation forms in other languages which forms he gives
    in italics where technically possible and that there’s nothing “scare”
    about them. Lex Alexancer says writers have picked up the term “scare
    quotes” in the context of political blogs, at least, because bloggers
    sometimes use them to imply that a term being used by a political
    opponent doesn’t actdually mean what the opponent says it means, while
    the opponent naturally claims that the term ”does too” mean what he
    says it means and that the blogger is just trying to ”scare” people
    and thus the term ”scare quotes”. Tom Barlett asks

    What’s ‘Scary’ About Scare Quotes?

    Erin McKean at Wordnik says that she is afraid that she doesn’t know
    who coined the term ”scare quotes” but to please let her know if we
    find anything out. David Silbey says he could not resist using ”scare
    quotes” in a CHE blog post titled ”Why Historians Never Trust Their
    ‘Sources’ ”,

    noting that a ”source” may be a source, or it might be ”a practical
    joke”. Danny Bloom says it’s just a matter of time before the old
    term “scare quotes” gets retired and replaced by a better and more
    meaningful phrase, such as “call out quotes” or “quote-unquote quotes”
    or even the simple yet easily-understood by both intellectuals and the
    reading public “air quotes.” Nury Vittachi in Hong Kong says that
    experience has shown him that one can often find the individual who
    coined a quote if it is witty and clever, say, for example, a blend
    between two words, but if the phrase is (a) little used and (b)
    unclear or imprecise, then it is likely to tough to find the
    originator and indeed an originator may not exist. Erin O’Keefe says
    that “air quotes” before it became a cliche would probably have been
    traceable but “scare quotes” seems impossible now to trace now in
    2012. Megan Garber at the Atlantic says

    that among other things, scientists theorize, “the man from Planet X”
    most likely breathes air; eats both plants and meat; is approximately
    the same size as a human, weighing “at least 40 pounds, and probably
    more”; has a skull or a skull-like structure; has two eyes and two
    ears, both of them located near the brain; walks upright; and has —
    ”scare quotes” theirs — “hands” and “feet.” The Christian Science
    Monitor says it is thinking about publishing an oped soon about
    ”scare quotes” but that it cannot “afford” to pay the author any
    ”real money” as it is their policy to get as many free stories from
    their contributors as they can without having to ”fork over” any
    real cash. Adrienne LaFrance at the Nieman Lab says that while Megan
    Garber’s no longer working at the Lab one may follow her current
    writings over at The Atlantic magazine’s website regarding her
    spirited and insightful observations about the use of scare quotes in
    American media outlets. Keane Bhatt says

    could one even imagine the New York Times’ use of scare-quotes for
    mundane yet highly controversial ”Beltway” parlance and wonders out
    loud in print if U.S. leaders ever receive such treatment from the
    “august” ”New” York Times when employing phrases like “defense,”
    “War on Drugs,” “militant,” “national security,” “terrorism,” or even
    “free trade agreement”. Marc Abrahams of the Ignobel Prize Committee,
    when asked by this blog if he uses “scare quotes” very often in his
    work as writer and editor, says ”I try not to” and he said we could
    quote on that! A comedian commenter at the Chronicle of Higher
    Education says, or rather asks, after reading this long scrolling
    seemingly never-ending infoblogment post here if we could maybe please
    perhaps make room for some ”paragraph breaks” (scare quotes, his).
    Tom Bartlett says he writes a lot about social science and ideas, and
    other stuff, like baby pageants, toasters, the bible, beards, murder,
    milk, cheating, lawn chairs, and ”scare quotes”.

  4. Doubting Tom says:

    BD: Yeah, I cancelled mine this morning. Blergh.

    JCPS: Strawman or not, it’s an unnecessary, mean-spirited dig, and one that only makes him look like more of an ass. Then again, with that much straw around, it’s no wonder he’d act like a farm animal.

    DB: That is some impressive off-topic copypasta. Are you, like, a comment bot that shows up whenever someone posts about scare quotes? Like the Twitterbot that says “I’d buy that for a dollar” if you tweet about Robocop?

  5. OurSally says:

    What’s with the leg-chewing? Does he actually do this – I mean, regularly, in public?

  6. hendrix says:

    Nah man, thundef00t is the best. Circlejerking about your moral superiority takes a lot of dogma to make it work right and he is really throwing a wrench in it. :D

  7. Pingback: Lost in the Shuffle « Dubito Ergo Sum

  8. Skeptico says:

    You can usually refute an argument from analogy by pointing out where the analogy breaks down. Sometimes this requires a bit of work, but here Thunderf00t refutes his own argument by adding “when there isn’t one” to one side of the analogy. By doing that he’s just demonstrated that they’re not analogs. It’s astonishing that he didn’t notice that.

  9. Arthur says:

    Bullseye. Great article. Thanks

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