Poe’s Law Gone Bad

September 24, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

There was a recent online tempest about an article posted by Roger Ebert outlining, nay promoting, the Creationist way of thinking. For a few days, many were arguing about whether his site was hacked, or had he lost his rational mind? I voted for “hacked”.

Turns out, he was attempting satire. He argues that anyone aware of his earlier writing should see the invisible quotes used to denote irony. He claims that anyone today should recognize that satire as easily as they did for Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” in the 1720’s.

But, as PZ Myers points out, had Parliament in Swift’s time been discussing recipes for Irish babies, and running candidates on a pro-baby eating platform, that satire would also have fallen flat.

Apparently, Poe’s Law needs some better distribution:

“… it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

Pharyngula suggests: “Maybe we need to rename Poe’s Law to Ebert’s Fallacy.”


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Category: American Culture, Communication, Current Events, ignorance, Religion, Writing

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    As a fellow fan of XKCD, you've probably already seen this: a variation on Poe's law from XKCD states that it is impossible to make a youtube comment so vacuous that it is actually recognized as sarcasm and not a legitimate comment.

    However, I think there may exist a way to reduce the Fundamentalist argument to (further) absurdity and make it clear to an educated reader that satire is taking place. Ebert missed the mark by sadly regurgitating what many fundies actually think. Don't these "teach the controversy" shirts do the job? I don't think anyone can miss the tongues firmly planted in the cheeks of those who printed these puppies.

  2. Hank says:

    To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think about this at first. Not knowing Ebert without Siskel or knowing Ebert's opinions off the topic of films at all, I wasn't sure what the point of the article was. It just seemed like a rote recital of the standard creo talking points with no real point to it and, even in the hindsight provided by Ebert's admission, very little to distinguish it from the real thing. I think PZ was spot-on, debunking the Swift comparison by viewing Ebert's piece in the context of today's baffling backslide into biblical literalism.

    Ebert's heart was in the right place though, even if his appreciation of the context wasn't all that acute. We need to have more visible people like Ebert lampooning creationism – a part of me feels that intelligent satire & blatant public ridicule can often be more powerful weapons than reasoned arguments.

    I hope Roger isn't discouraged by the confusion & misunderstanding. Hopefully it encourages him (and others) to attack, a bit more pointedly perhaps, the false prophets of creationism.

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