I've been blogging for ZD Net for several years, writing for ZD publications for almost 20 years. I've always found readers to be intelligent and thoughtful, which is why I continue to do this while doing other things as "work." My posting, A virus in your genes, think about that, yesterday elicited an interesting range of responses, most of which I'll reflect on below, but one email that echoes comments made over the years when I write about political issues raises an issue I'd like to discuss with you, dear readers. In a nutshell, it says "take your politics somewhere else." Here's the text for you to consider:
Subject: Your poliltical blog (sic) To: email@example.com ZDNET is not the place for politics, at least that is not the reason I subscribe to ZDNET. Your recent blog is in very bad taste and to place it in ZDNET is unseemly. We get enough politics in the news, tv, radio, and normal street conversations. We expect this site to be professional IT; if it is going to become political then what else follows? It appears to me that you can't afford to sponsor your own blog. If I were a sponsor of ZD I would object by cancellling my sponsorship over this political element you injected. IF I should come across another Political anything on ZD I will no longer allow it to be received on my system.
Many readers have replied to comments like this in TalkBack by pointing out that blogs are designed to sweep up many ideas and that anyone who doesn't want to read my postings, nor those by anyone else on ZD Net or about certain topics, can just ignore them. But I also don't want to do anything to wound ZD Net, which has been a kind of second home for my writing these many years. (See the survey below)
The simple fact is we are voting, among other things, about the approach the U.S. government takes to civilian and military research and development, which is one of the key engines of innovation, the benefits of which are shared by all the people of the United States and the world. Consider the amazing discoveries the Large Hadron Collider, going live next week in Switzerland (for an incredibly interesting report on the potential discoveries the LHC might produce, check out this great Times of London feature). That could have happened here, but it didn't, partly because the Superconducting Super Collider to be built in Texas, became a target of the far right's "anti-pork spending" campaigns in the early 90s because doing so also catered to the fundamentalist attack on science that is reaching its pinnacle with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
The note also ignores the fact that many postings on the site are not about professional IT, but more importantly, it reflects a closed-mindedness similar to a comment on yesterday's virus-Creationism posting that said:
[quoting my previous comment]'...then why don't you leave people to their own decisions rather than impose your beliefs on them?' So you wrote Mitch. Pardon? I no more do the above you charge me with, than you do. That's painfully obvious. If you can prate on, so can I.... By the way, who called and ordained you to cite these rather lofty concepts?
It's another form of "take it somewhere else." It is pretty common in the blogosphere and the political discourse in America to demand not that one's opponents argue their position clearly, but that they just get out of here. That's a feature of "patriotic" comments everywhere.
Who ordained me? I'm a citizen of the United States. The Founders ordained me, when, in the very same sentence they guaranteed free speech and prevented the establishment of religion. That's what is great about America, it laid the foundation for freedom of religion and conscience in a way no other country has. It also provided this particular commenter to post his testimony of faith as a result. More power to him, though I wasn't challenging his faith.
I am not preaching an atheist position, simply a secular one, because I believe in America. Creationism is completely irrelevant to public policy--that's what my posting was about. When it comes to teaching science, it's correct to argue the logic of Creationism as public policy, but nothing I wrote here is atheistic. In fact, if you read carefully, I haven't said anything about what I believe about religion, because that isn't the issue. Unlike those advocating the teaching of Creationism, I am taking no religious position, just a scientifically sound civil libertarian position about what should be taught in the public schools as science and with regard to funding of research and development by the U.S. government without regard to religious opinion.
We, the people of the United States, desperately need to debate public policy issues and, based on the energetic and refreshingly civil tone of this debate I think I found a good hook to start it and all of us have contributed admirably. I particularly appreciated the civil tone of several of the Creationist-oriented commenters.
I also think the tech community is obligated to lead this debate, since we have been the beneficiaries of decades of discovery that are threatened by continuing attacks on the scope of R&D in the United States. As the journal Nature pointed out today in an editorial about the LHC, scientists need to do a much better job of speaking plainly about their discoveries, because they are fascinating and useful, not just the theoretical and philosophical tricks they can appear to be when explained badly.
Some of you don't agree, so I want to put this question to all of you. I will take the results as advice rather than a decision. I'd like to know your opinion, because I also don't want to waste time for either you or me.
For the record, here's my response to the email above:
I'm sorry you feel that way. Rational Rants is about the relationship between technology and society, one element of which is politics. I have occasionally written about politics for ZD publications for many years, as well. If you choose not to read all of ZD Net because of my postings I think you will be missing a lot of value, but you are not required to read my stuff, either. That's one of the good things about living in the United States, we have choices. Those scope of those choices increase as the world progresses, because we are creating technologies and discovering so much about our world. Some of those discoveries challenge deeply held convictions, yet humanity has pressed on despite the discomfort it creates. And those choices need to be discussed, in all their dimensions, which may bother you but will not hold everyone back or silence contrary views. So, I hope you'll continue to read ZD, ignoring my work as you choose. I'll continue to write about what I believe needs to be discussed.