Plasticity of Memory, Principles of Charity, and Pugilistic Punditry


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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54 Responses

  1. Avatar Pinky says:

    A few unrelated things:

    The Federalist is a really smart site.

    Tyson specifically denied and dismissed the criticisms for a long stretch. He admitted his mistake…eventually. If you’re a scientist giving speeches about how other people don’t think as well as you, you’ve got to do a better job of research.

    The NYT at best gave “critics” the win, pointedly not mentioning Domenech or The Federalist.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Pinky says:

      Yes, The Federalist is a really smart site. Or at least, it has been. Much more like this, though, and I’m going to give up on it: the horse is glue already and Tyson has now admitted he was in error.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

        From reading the links, it’s apparent that Tyson has been embroidering a few “joke quotes” to make other professions sound stupid. Has he changed those too?

        You’re allowed to make mistakes and fess up. But if lawyers are allowed to get ticked at lawyer jokes (I’m sure they do), then journalistas are allowed to get ticked at journalist jokes.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think it is probably impossible to stay above the partisan and going for the lowest common denominator fray on the Internet.

    What I’ve noticed about facebook and social media discussion is that it is pretty much a group of memes, political cartoons, and quotes, and sharing. These memes are usually developed by groups that anyone can start. The group names range from the general (Being Liberal, Conservative Americans) to the highly specific (We are the 53 percent, I Acknowledge that a War on Women Exists).

    My problem with most of these memes is that they often don’t stand up to analysis and can usually have holes poked into them. They might says something that is generally kind of true (or not) but is more about saying “If you make a quibble with this, you are worse than Stalin-Hitler combined.” No one is looking for honest debate, or reasonable people can disagree. People are looking for a world where their ideological enemies have been silenced and vanquished and utopia can be created.

    Dr. Tyson is very saavy at social media. He is also on a lot of memes I see. These memes tend to be generated by atheists and/or secular people Atheists might only make up a small of the American population but they seem to make a huge presence on social media (or I know a lot of atheists).

    I think the facts in the last paragraph make it hard for forgiveness in the never ending culture war. Dr. Tyson is being blamed for how he is used by atheists on social media.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      There is a lot of that stuff, but it’s fairly easy to not participate in it. This site, for example, has a very low level of sloganeering in both articles and comment threads.

      I had a thought recently: a back-in-context site, where people on one side of an issue can explain to people on the other side what a particular out-of-context quote really means. I just heard on the radio a Margaret Sanger quote out of context. It interests me, because while she said a lot of loathsome things, this particular quote doesn’t mean what it sounds like. I think that Snopes or some fact-checker sites can do a reasonable job of correcting this kind of thing, but a few rational people of different ideologies could do better.Report

  3. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I think this is pretty clearly one of the down-sides of an echo chamber. Any sane person can see that the examples that Domenech keeps referring to as “fabrications” are just typical aw-shucks stories that popular speakers put into their talks all the time. Tyson isn’t claiming that vaccines cause autism or forging his resume, he’s mangling some segue slides about how Arabic cultures made important scientific contributions. Sean Davis’ articles that started the whole thing are even worse, diluting what’s basically a paragraph of real gotchas into hundreds of variations on the sentence “so Mr. Big Scientist, who’s the big scientist now?” done with different funny voices.

    It’s unfortunate too because when The Fedralist was announced, I thought the idea of data journalism run by young conservatives was really cool and I was looking forward to migrating to their commenting community from my de facto home at NR. And then this set of articles was the first thing I saw and I never gave them a second look. Based on what you and Pinky are saying, I think it’s time to give them another shot and just avoid the petty attention grabs.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to trizzlor says:

      Interestingly, I first saw the first Domenech post (the one about the “half below average” quote) linked, with approval by “left-liberal” folks onTwitter. Not sure what that says about the echo-chamberyness of it all, but it wasn’t a strictly conservative echo chamber. Tyson has detractors on the “left” as well.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Here is a good example of how the Internet creates an echo chamber:

    Rolling Stone published a story about a huge amount of sexual abuse at UVA.

    Various sources on the left and the right have questioned some of the story from a journalistic standpoint. Reason went far enough to raise questions about it being a “hoax.” Even liberal publications like Talking Points Memo and Slate have raised questions about the Rolling Stone piece.

    I posted the TPM piece with a comment about how fabrications backfire and someone felt like this was a bit of an act of improper question raising. I never claimed that sexual assault on campus was a problem but it was somehow wrong to post the TPM article.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      That should read wasn’t a problem. Sexual Assault on campus is a huge problem.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I read the Slate article on the journalistic problems with the UVA article this morning. It was sickening. There is a certain segment of the population that believes a lie or fabrication can lead to a greater incident of truth or justice. It never really works this way. Lies become unraveled and damage gets done in the process.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

        There is a certain segment of the population that believes a lie or fabrication can lead to a greater incident of truth or justice. It never really works this way. Lies become unraveled and damage gets done in the process.

        Hmm… who is lying here? How do you know they’re lying?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I read that RS article last week and had two reactions.

      1.) If Jackie’s story is even partially true, goddammit, that is awful.
      2.) I was not sure if Jackie’s story was 100% true.

      Of course, #2 happens in part because #1 – I have difficulty believing something so horrible could go down largely-unnoticed, and I also just plain don’t want to believe it.

      It’s not about not wanting to believe the victim, exactly; more about not wanting to believe in such a world, if that makes any sense. Nobody at the party even noticed or remarked on seeing a person in such bad shape? Her friends talked her out of reporting this to police? I’m not saying it’s not possible; but it was definitely surprising.

      I wasn’t aware other publications were questioning the article now, but I definitely had a mixture of horror/disgust/skepticism going on as I read it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        I’d be surprised if it were 100% true, because our memories simply aren’t that good, particulrarly when talking about an extended traumatic event like that. However, the only important question is, was she raped? Whether there was glass, or what specifically “Drew” said before, or her friends said after, are ultimately unimportant questions. And so far the only “evidence” people have offered for doubting that she was raped is that her story is too horrible to be believed and the author didn’t follow certain journalistic guidelines. The latter is unfortunate, because anyone writing about rape has to know that questioning rape is part of how our society reacts to rape, it is deeply embeded in our culture (what some call “rape culture”). The former is not a real argument.

        I know you’re not making the argument, but I’ve seen it made as an argument that the entire story is false. It’s a variant of the, “This does not accord with my experience, therefore it couldn’t have happened” argument that is frequently used to dismiss claims we’re not comfortable with. I saw someone arguing that the table wouldn’t have shattered, because glass is tempered, or something to that effect, even, because people will come up with any excuse not to believe a rape victim.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Glyph says:

        Journalists from across the political spectrum have been noticing some rather glaring journalistic flaws in the article like the fact that there seems to be no effort to get in touch with the alleged perpatrators and get a statement from them. According to the Slate DoubleX article that when you are writing about accusations as serious as this than you at least need to make a good faith argument that you attempted to get in touch with the accused. A Washington Post interview with the writer of the article also produced rouse some questions.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

        Chris and Glyph,
        Judging by a bit of research (from the police side of things), she might be exaggerating on how drunk she was. And … maybe there were fewer people there.

        Her friends talking her out of reporting makes perfect sense. The campus police’s job is to shut you the fuck up, after all. Rapes are bad for a college’s safety, ya know? Say they already knew someone who went through it, didn’t get jack for support — better to keep the newbie out of it.

        If you think that someone looking a little frazzled, or stumbling out late out of a party is weird… No, it’s really not.

        We don’t have videotape of this particular atrocity (I don’t think). Plenty of atrocities of a similar nature are available online, for free.

        The writer of the article assumes a hell of a lot about “most people”. I’m pretty sure most frats know who is a “bad dude” and who isn’t. it just takes one girl coming crying to pin the tail on the donkey, so to speak. It doesn’t help, though, if your culture says it doesn’t matter.

        They don’t call the girls freshmeat without reason, ya know?

        Telling girls that “you’ll get him expelled” is a classic tactic — to guilt girls into carrying the bastard baby.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

        the quote from the journalist prof at the end is gold, though. I think that an effort has been made to preserve the boys’ privacy, in such a way that she doesn’t need to have talked with them. After all, she’s not really saying XYZ person did this, just a member of a particular frat. And she did talk to the frat.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Glyph says:

        However, the only important question is, was she raped?

        Yes and no. From a purely moral standpoint, you are right. Form the journalistic standpoint, however, the details matter. A woman raped by seven men as part of a fraternity initiation is a different story than a woman raped by one man acting alone. No difference morally, but to report the latter as the former is certainly bad from the standpoint of journalistic ethics.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        Yeah, that speaks to the “was she raped” question. Details line the glass don’t.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Glyph says:

        further details in the story make it unlikely that men are “acting alone” in the case of the numerous rapes on this campus. More likely, they are acting with the tacit permission of their mates, and potentially of the “gatekeeper girls” (the ones “in the know” enough to know where it’s a bad idea to go, particularly if they’re steering young and naive girls there).Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Glyph says:


        The further details of the story are the very thing that is in question.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      On the Rolling Stone piece in particular, this is a real issue. Given what I also know about rape and the difficulties about speaking out, I don’t think the reporter with the story did the wrong thing at all. But I do think the editors failed by not having another reporter at least attempt to get the other side of the story on record. Fair and balanced, in a single piece, is not always appropriate. But in overall coverage, it does matter; even if the other story is a small sidebar to the main story. (I’m also 100% sure that the lawyers advising the young men told them not to talk to the press.)

      There’s been a whole lot of questioning the credibility of the woman’s story; but look at any such rape tale. This seems to always happens; it’s why most women keep quiet.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to zic says:

        Yeah. It’s my general opinion, reading the piece, that the young woman may have declined to give actual names. That leaves the reporter in the position of needing to reach out to the fraternity, which she did. (got stonewalled, but that’s normal for an organization in this situation).Report

  5. Avatar Mo says:

    Compare and contrast NdGT’s apology to Domenech’s non-apologies for his rampant plagiarism.

    “Domenech said he thought his piece appeared first, but a database review found that Murray’s review was published three days earlier.”

    “[H]e believes the unattributed material was inserted by his editor”

    “Mr. Domenech said he never ‘purposefully’ plagiarized but admitted that some passages in his articles were identical to those previously published elsewhere.”

    “Frankly, if I had been less of a sloppy writer,” he said, “this wouldn’t be a problem.”

    “He explained the passage that appeared to be copied from Mr. O’Rourke’s book by saying that Mr. O’Rourke gave him permission. Contacted at his home in New Hampshire, Mr. O’Rourke said that he had never heard of Mr. Domenech and did not recall meeting him. ‘I wouldn’t want to swear in a court of law that I never met the guy,’ Mr. O’Rourke said of Mr. Domenech, ‘but I didn’t give him permission to use my words under his byline, no.'”


    • Avatar Mo in reply to Mo says:

      Hmm, my comment is in moderation for two links I suppose.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mo says:

      I wonder if this isn’t part of why Domenech just can’t let this go — the former sinner is oft become the strictest scold.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mo says:

      Domenech did much worse than falsely denying about his own misdeeds: he specifically accused the editors of his college paper of being the real plagiarists:

      Editors for Domenech’s college newspaper, The Flat Hat, denied allegations by Domenech that one instance of plagiarism was because the editors had “inserted a passage from the New Yorker in an article without his knowledge,” saying that “Mr. Domenech’s actions, if true, [were] deeply offensive.”

      It wasn’t until so many instances of plagiarism were found that Domenech had almost no defenders left that he finally admitted the truth and apologized.Report

  6. Avatar Pinky says:

    OK, first of all, I’m not accusing anyone of bad faith here. Nor am I implying it. I don’t believe there’s any bad faith here.

    As I look over this article and thread, I realized something. I read the original articles on The Federalist, but I didn’t remember the name Ben Domenech. So I just checked the website, and the articles were written by Sean Davis, not by Ben Domenech. Does that matter? Only a little. This thread included mention of Domenech’s past plagiarism, and some comments were dismissive of his operation.

    Here’s the vexing part. Didn’t we just pull an internet guilt-by-association move? I repeated Domenech’s name – didn’t I just pull an internet guilt-by-association move? In a thread about decency and accuracy? How messed up is that?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pinky says:

      I’m pretty sure that it was Ben Dominech. Why, I remembered thinking “that’s Ben Dominech” when I read the article.

      I do think it’s odd that they changed the byline…Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Pinky says:

      The Federalist is Domenech’s and Davis’ website; Domenech is its principal editor. The articles challenging Tyson do appear under several bylines, and Davis is the author of a majority of them including all of the early ones. It seems to me fair to say that the editor of a website has some control over how long authors can harp on a particular subject; perhaps that is less true in the case of Davis if Davis holds a proprietary interest in it. Also it seems fair to me to say that Domenech at least approves of the sustained criticism of Tyson, given that he authored the reply to the New York Times piece that they published at The Federalist only yesterday — which is why I say that he’s the one who isn’t giving up the ghost; even if Davis, who wrote the initial pieces, is ready to move on, Domenech’s most recent piece pretty strongly implies that he isn’t satisfied with the existing resolution of l’affaire d’Tyson.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Pinky says:

      Also, I’m not suggesting anyone, Domenech or anyone else, is a hypocrite. I am suggesting that this website is putting an unwarranted amount of effort into what is ultimately not a particularly important matter. I am suggesting that their motive for doing so is clickbaitery rather than intellectual inquiry, and expressing disappointment in that because this website in particular and these authors in particular seem to be capable of much better work than this.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

        NDT(or, at least, some of his fans) has a way of getting under some folks’ skin. So I can think of non-clickbait reasons for pursuing the story, especially given that Tysons was (in their view) smearing Bush by attributing a sentiment he went out of his way not to express.

        I thought it was overwrought, but it actually started gaining significance to me as the Tyson camp kept denying and denying and criticizing long past the point it became obvious they were right about the GWB quote.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This is a funny coincidence, @burt-likko , as I was contemplating writing an eerily similar post on a topic that had nothing to do with either the DeGrassi-Domenech falderal, nor the NYT article. (Neither of which I had been aware of until I read this post.)

    I was going to tie the concepts you speak of here with the calls I’ve heard on talk radio this week to bring perjury and/or criminal fraud charges against those who gave testimony to the grand jury in Ferguson that was less favorable to Off. Wilson’s case. The line of reasoning, as I understand it, is that the grand jury decided not to issue charges, therefore those who testified in a certain way must have been lying, and having people lie in courts of law for political gain is something that should be prosecuted.

    I don’t know that that post has to be written now,Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Huh? Wha-wha-what? People are actually suggesting perjury charges for pro-prosecution testimony in a grand jury that failed to issue an indictment? (??!!)

      Give me a second while I push my jaw back into the rest of my head because that is the most fishing ridiculous thing I’ve heard of all day and believe you me, there has been some serious competition for that honor, as we have three actions pending against attorneys and pro per litigants all of whom are suspected to be clinically schizophrenic.

      @tod-kelly , I think that post should get written. By all means dovetail it into this one.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      The idea that the Ferguson grand-jury decision fully exonerated Wilson and definitely proved Brown’s crime is quickly becoming the #1 lesson learned for many people:

      But nowhere in the long New York Times article on ongoing Ferguson-related protests is the reader informed that that “unarmed black teenager” had assaulted the officer without provocation and tried to grab his gun.

      Leaving out such a crucial element in the shooting is tantamount to willfully distorting the facts. There is no dispute about Brown’s felonious attack on Wilson; unambiguous forensic evidence supports eyewitness accounts detailing Brown’s attack. Knowing those facts is essential to understanding the shooting incident; they are now an integral part of the record.


      • Avatar j r in reply to trizzlor says:

        I’ve been thinking hard for the last few minutes on the work that the word “felonious” is doing in that paragraph. The last few minutes and I still cannot put into words precisely what I find so terrible about. I mention it in hopes that someone else is having similar difficulties.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to trizzlor says:

        I think I can take a stab at that. Aside from the breach of taboo regarding speaking ill of the dead who cannot raise voices in their own defense, the label “felonious” accuses the deceased Mr. Brown of both the commission of and conviction for a serious crime. The use of that word identifies him as a felon.

        Whether he initiated an assault on Officer Wilson and therefore in truth committed a felony is a matter that, to me at least, seems readily subject to question. (He likely did commit a misdemeanor when he stole those cigars.) I still think the “hands up” gesture is one of surrender, myself, and IIRC there are eyewitnesses who insist Mr. Brown was in that gesture and not a threat to Officer Wilson or anyone else. If nothing else, the existence of such witnesses raises a reasonable doubt as to what Mr. Brown was doing shortly before and at the time he was shot to death.

        But there is no doubt that Mr. Brown was never convicted of assaulting Officer Brown, that bearer of a trivial-to-minor discoloration on his cheek. If this was a criminal law affair against Mr. Brown, then Officer Wilson served the roles of victim, witness, apprehending officer, judge, jury, and executioner, all at once, and all in a few very short moments.

        To call someone a “felon,” to call someone’s actions “felonious,” is to imply that due process was afforded. Officer Wilson got his due process in a court of law after the fact, but Mr. Brown got shot to death in the street.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to trizzlor says:

        @j-r I think you’re looking for something more specific, but what I’m getting from it is the (depressing) notion that robbing a convenience store or messing with cop should be a death penalty offense.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to trizzlor says:

        It’s very clearly saying that some people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, while other people are the exact opposite.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to trizzlor says:

        That’s all part of it, but it’s something else as well. It’s not enough for the NRO writer to just state her opinion and her analysis and offer evidence in support of it. She has to go that extra step to imply that her position is so obviously true, so self-evident that no person who isn’t willfully misrepresenting the truth could come to any other conclusion.

        And to do that, she has to paint Brown as a felon. In her mind, he is a felon not because he has committed a felony, per se, but because a felonious Brown is the key to painting Wilson as just a cop doing his duty. It is just a perfect example of what it means to render someone as the other.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to trizzlor says:

        a felonious Brown is the key to painting Wilson as just a cop doing his duty.

        I think you’ve nailed it.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to trizzlor says:

        I don’t want to play grammar Nazi here, but since we’re focusing in on the word “felonious”, it has to be noted that the suffix -ious means “having the nature of”. A felonious act does not have to be an act that results in a felony conviction, it seems to me. In the same way a substance can be poisonous before it kills someone, an act can be felonious before a conviction.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

        What we need are Grammar Allies.

        In any case, there does seem to be a whole “innocent until proven guilty” gap between the two sides here. The felonious shooting was found to not warrant a true bill… but the acts that inspired the felonious shooting were never put before a court.

        Merely the 2014 version of Judge Dredd.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to trizzlor says:

        I don’t see evidence that the shooting had the nature of a felony.

        For an odd read, check out the origin of the word “felon”.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to trizzlor says:

        Would you like some evidence? I have some eyewitnesses who say that Michael Brown’s hands were up…Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to trizzlor says:

        You did yeoman duty in that comments section.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Ugh…And sometimes I wonder why I like 3 A.M. so much. I like it because it is quite.Report