The following is a guest blog and has been posted with the full permission of the author.
February 22, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — A spokesman for the Minnesota Farmers Union is concerned about a shortage of straw and
hay available for agricultural purposes around the state—and he is blaming PZ
Myers for the problem.
Myers, a prolific blogger and professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris, has been accused of hoarding hay and straw for use in constructing his straw man arguments and logical fallacies. While some of the larger organizations such as the Minnesota Farm Network have been reluctant to criticize Myers out of fear of being targeted on his often-vitriolic blog, others are speaking out.
“Every time he writes something outside of his field [of biology], Myers uses all of the available straw for miles around” to craft his arguments, said Farmer’s Union representative Mike Helms. “I’m not saying he doesn’t have a right to buy straw and hay—it’s a free country and all that. But the fact is our farmers and horses need it. He can’t use that much straw [an estimated 3,000 bales per month last year] and not expect it to affect our local ecology and economy. We use straw for feeding our livestock and horses, bedding, and fuel. He’s just using it to make faulty arguments. Where’s the justice in that?”
Helms added that other quasi-famous pundits have been drawn to the area in search of straw for their own arguments (conservative writer Ann Coulter and creationist William Dembksi are
frequent customers), but that Myers is by far the most active.
Hardest hit are the farming communities southwest of Minneapolis and those north of St. Cloud. The regional shortage has caused the price of hay to triple, and additional straw is being brought in from as far away as Nebraska. One area man said he was making $500 per week hauling hay from Omaha and reselling it. But many farming families can’t afford to pay a premium for straw, and grouse that Myers is unfairly cornering the market for his personal projects while their horses and cows go hungry.
Myers, once known for his work as a biologist, has in recent years become most prominent for his strident criticism of religion, skepticism, and almost anything else he disagrees with. In a famous incident in 2009, Myers overheard a young woman mention that she was a staunch vegetarian, to which he immediately responded: “You know, Hitler was a vegetarian… What other Nazi policies do you agree with?” Myers’s blatant logical fallacies have been cataloged by dozens of people including scientist-and-best-selling authors Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins—and most recently by a bored fifth-grader in Duluth who happened to be skimming Myers’s “Pharyngula” blog for a school project.
Despite his dismissive tone and having yet to publish a single book, PZ Myers has attracted legions of fans. In an article in the September 2008 print issue of Movieline magazine, screenwriter Ed Naha acknowledged Myers as an important inspiration for his film Troll and its later sequels. “The special effects may have been kind of cheesy, but the script was so strong because it came from real life,” Naha said. “I’d read PZ’s stuff, and the script wrote itself, it was pure gold. He was one of the biggest trolls, even back then.” Indeed, Myers earned the distinction of being named the “shepherd of Internet trolls” by Sam Harris earlier this year.
Republican political strategists—themselves well versed in straw man fallacies—have long expressed admiration for Myers’s uncanny ability to fabricate controversy from thin air and grossly mischaracterize his opponents. Wilson Moot, a protégé of Karl Rove and the chief writer of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign ads, is a particular fan. One of Moot’s best-known ads took President Obama’s statement “You didn’t build that” out of context (he was clearly referring to national infrastructure including roads and bridges) and claimed that it was instead
an attack on small business owners. “Myers’s ability to twist and spin the facts and misinterpret otherwise clear arguments by others is unparalleled,” Moot said in a recent Washington Weekly interview. “I’m good, but let’s be honest: Myers is in his own class. Up is down, black is white, night is day—if he says it is. If we’d had him on our campaign I really think we could have nailed Obama on that Muslim thing and won the White House.”
Myers could not be reached for comment; a spokesman said he was in Chicago, negotiating the purchase of industrial cranes to assist with assembling even larger straw man arguments later this year. “His goal,” the spokesman said, “is to make a straw man so big and glorious that it blots out the sun.”