Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Guest post: Methods for dealing with “teasing”

Aug 10th, 2013 9:37 am | By

Guest post by Kevin Kirkpatrick, originally a comment on Hiss point hiss hiss.

When I read Emily Dietle’s defense of Shermer’s “NAUGHTY-NAUGHTY” comment, I see a direct parallel in how parents might choose to deal with sibling in-fighting, teasing, and bullying.  I have direct experience with three methodologies: that which my mother applied to my siblings and me; that which my father applied, and that which my wife and I apply for our own children.

My mother’s approach to dealing with teasing was “rule based”.  She simply had a set of rules which determined what behavior was teasing and what behavior was not.  Rules included but weren’t limited to: no unwanted touching, no name-calling, no finger-pointing, no ‘copying’, and so on.  And the result?  The older siblings were savvy enough to identify behaviors which sidestepped these rules and allowed them to torment and bully the younger siblings “at will”.  Acronyms were invented to give normal words derogatory meanings;  a younger sibling might  be called a “G.I.R.L.” after having been told what that “really” meant.  Pointing/staring at something near the younger sibling was very popular. Almost but not quite touching (“I’m not touching her!”).  And so on.  The rule-based approach required my mom to interview both sides and figure out who broke a rule.  And boy, did the elder siblings get good at “gaslighting” (amazing to find such a perfect term for something 30 years after the fact): “We didn’t call her a name, we just called her a girl, she’s crazy and just trying to get us in trouble.”

My father’s approach was authoritative and emphasized peace and quiet: punish/scold whoever is disrupting the peace so the peace is not disturbed.  This was a gold mine of opportunity for the older siblings: tease quietly/surreptitiously, and when the younger siblings loudly retaliated or complained, there’d be the added delight of seeing that sibling both get upset and reprimanded.

As a middle child growing up in the above household, I walked away with a pretty good feel of how ineffectual those strategies were.  Frankly, up until adulthood (at which our own maturity allowed us to work through and mend things), we children basically resented one another.  We rarely got along, never sought opportunities to do things together, and ultimately lived completely independent lives through to college age.

And as a parent, I resolved to handle things differently with our children.  Our approach to teasing is 100% empathy based and victim-supporting.  If one of our kids is upset based on what the other is doing, that behavior is directed to STOP immediately (with direct consequences if merited).  The “worst” backlash the victim can expect is, if the behavior is innocuous enough and/or plausibly non-malicious, we ensure that the victim first directly asked the transgressor to stop the behavior.   If the teasing continues (in any capacity), the “teasor” is removed from the social situation completely; timed out until they’re ready to behave kindly and respectfully.  Much emphasis is put on empathy training: the consequence is usually some form of the teasor working out and explaining to us how the teasing makes the other sibling feel, and understanding how they wouldn’t like to feel that way themselves.

Suffice it to say, the different approach to teasing has yielded astonishingly different results.  Our kids, now 7 and 5, are and have always been best buds.  As I write this, they’ve literally been at imaginative play for going on 3 hours (and that’s the norm).  Sibling fighting still occurs from time to time (mostly when the kids are over-tired/hungry/etc.), but it simply does not exist in any significant way in our household.

Emily Dietle’s defense of Shermer 100% rings of the rule-based approach my mother used, and I’m mostly stunned that my 7 and 5 year old children seem to have already developed a better grasp of how to respectfully engage others than she seems to advocate.  The CFI culture seems more in line with my father’s authoritative attitude: punish and shame the noise-maker, with the end-goal of “peace and quiet” being the measure of success.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hiss point hiss hiss

Aug 9th, 2013 3:36 pm | By

Emily Dietle just dropped in to leave a comment promoting a blog post of hers. She left it on Items, a post from two days ago that ended with a link to a Twitter conversation I had with her.

On Twitter we’re being told that “we are sexual beings” and that flirtation out of nowhere is fine.

Her comment included some extra material.

Hey folks, it’s your friendly neighborhood misogynist here! Ophelia has highlighted my chill-girl attitudes in a way so few can. Maybe you’d like to see the rest for yourself:

Compare the two. Note that I did not call her a misogynist or a chill girl, and that I didn’t even name her*. Her comment contains falsehoods about me.

I took a look at her post and found that the comment is simply quoting from the post – so the falsehoods are there, too.


Hey folks, it’s your friendly neighborhood misogynist here! In one of several opinion pieces put out recently on the serious matter of harassment and assault, Ophelia Benson has highlighted my chill-girl attitudes in a way few others can.  As a woman who has experienced rape and other forms of abuse, I am not amused, but let’s have a few laughs anyway.

No, I’m not amused either. As a woman who has experienced years of online abuse, I’m not amused by Emily Dietle pretending I said things I didn’t say.

I’ve asked her to remove the falsehoods.

She spread them on Twitter too, naturally, with the predictable results.


 Nice work, Emily.

*Update Aug. 11 – as a commenter points out, I did name her by linking to the tweet. I meant I didn’t include her name in the post itself, but the commenter is right that that doesn’t equal not naming her at all.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 9th, 2013 1:16 pm | By

Al Stefanelli has posted (or “rage blogged,” as the saying goes) a characteristically vulgar and belligerent response to PZ’s post.

On 08 August 2013, Paul Zachary Myers posted about being handed a ‘grenade‘ with the pin pulled out. Basically, he wrote that a woman told him she was raped by Michael Shermer at a conference a while ago.

That Myers chose to ‘reprint‘ this shows not only a complete lack of common sense, but is also indicative of the incredibly spurious depths to which he will sink to garner a few blog hits.

That’s the first two paragraphs, and there’s not much need to read more, is there. What a fucking stupid thing to say. For one thing, Stefanelli was part of this network for a year or so, which means he had access to the stats, which means he must know perfectly well that PZ doesn’t need to “sink” to anything to get a few blog hits. For a second thing, it’s very obvious that PZ didn’t enjoy holding that grenade with the pin pulled out. For a third thing, that “they do it for the blog hits!!1″ is just a trashy lie that trashy people tell each other ninety million times a day no matter what we post.

This is not ‘bringing to light‘ a problem in the skeptic community. It is not an attempt to reveal some sort of dark underbelly of rampant sexual abuse that permeates the skeptic conference circuit. It is yellow journalism, if I even dare to use the word ‘journalism‘ in connection to anything that has come out of Pharyngula for quite some time.

He knows that how? He doesn’t say. Of course not, because he doesn’t know that, and it’s not true.

If Mr. Shermer is guilty of sexual assault, then Mr. Shermer should be made to answer for it. This is a given for anyone. However, these are issues for the courts to decide, and there are protocols in place that address these issues. Are there problems with the system? Yeah, no doubt. Does that have anything to do with the drek that Myers posted? No.

“Yeah, no doubt” – his concern is touching. Does he know what he says in the last two sentences? No. He doesn’t know that and it’s not true.

We have all come to expect little more from these sources than libelous, slimy pieces consisting of sensationalist bullshit, devoid of any modicum of integrity, value or credibility that serve no other purpose than to advance the agenda of the collective purveyors we know as attention whores.

No further comment necessary.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Skip that challenge

Aug 9th, 2013 12:56 pm | By

Oh dear. Richard Dawkins has been getting pushback about some tweets, so he’s written a piece for RDF to explain things. Maybe that should be a sign to him that tweets aren’t the right medium for complicated thoughts.

Twitter’s 140 character limit always presents a tough challenge, but I tried to rise to it.

Ah, no, it wasn’t a sign to him then.

No; don’t try to rise to the challenge. That’s not what it’s good for. It’s not a game of “try to say something useful about what’s wrong with Islam in 140 characters without being simplistic or banal and without setting off a noisy brawl.” People use it that way, yes, but it’s silly.

He summarizes several main strands of criticism and replies to them one at a time; the bold is his summary of a strand:

Race is not a biological concept at all but a socially constructed one. In the sociological sense you can convert to a race because race is a social construction.

There may be sociologists who choose to redefine words to their own purpose, in which case we have a simple semantic disagreement. I have a right to choose to interpret “race” (and hence “racism”) according to the dictionary definition: “A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor”.  Sociologists are entitled to redefine words in technical senses that they find useful, but they are not entitled to impose their new definitions on those of us who prefer common or dictionary usage.

Aw come on – that’s no good. That’s just vulgar and anti-intellectual. “Race” is the kind of concept that benefits from careful thought and definition, and it’s the kind of thing that sociologists study. It’s not a matter of “imposing” definitions, but of saying the dictionary definition is not useful for the purposes of a thoughtful discussion that turns on the meaning of race.

I don’t even have a firm opinion about whether he was wrong or right in the Twitter discussion, because I haven’t followed it closely (though I’ve read some of the commentary on it). But I think the article is unfortunately crude.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Lolita defense

Aug 9th, 2013 12:04 pm | By

Fortunately, though, it’s always easy and safe for women to report rape.


Anti-sexual abuse campaigners, among them the author who successfully put Jane Austen on the £10 note before having to fend off the resulting torrent of online rape threats have reacted angrily after it emerged that a man who admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl walked free from court; while his victim was described by the judge and prosecution as sexually “predatory”.

Neil Wilson, 41, faces having his eight-month suspended jail sentence reviewed after the Attorney General Dominic Grieve agreed to look into the case yesterday. And the Crown Prosecution Service was forced to admit that its own prosecutor acted “inappropriately” when he placed a portion of the responsibility upon the victim in court.

Imagine what the judge would have said about her if she’d been 15. And if she’d been 25 – there would probably not have been a prosecution at all.

Their anger followed the comments made by prosecution lawyer Robert Colover. In sentencing, Judge Nigel Peters apparently accepted the suggestions that Wilson’s teenage victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was complicit in the abuse; despite her being well below the age of consent.

The girl was accused in court of “egging her abuser on” and was described as “looking older” than her thirteen years, something the judge said he would consider in Wilson’s favour. But anti-rape campaigners railed at the accusation that the young victim was promiscuous. They argued that it helped facilitate the sexual abuse of children.

The support group Rape Crisis (England and Wales) said it was “appalled and bitterly disappointed” at what it called “shocking and entirely unacceptable treatment of a 13-year-old sexual violence victim in court”.

So reporting rape isn’t all that easy or safe after all? Huh. How about that.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How many shoes are there?

Aug 9th, 2013 9:39 am | By

And now there’s another grenade: PZ’s post about being told something by a woman who doesn’t want to go public with it.

She’s torn up about it. It’s been a few years, so no law agency is going to do anything about it now; she reported it to an organization at the time, and it was dismissed. Swept under the rug. Ignored. I can imagine her sense of futility. She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.

But at the same time, she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else, so she’d like to get the word out there. So she hands the information to me. Oh, thanks.

It seems unfair, doesn’t it. But then her situation is also unfair. It’s all unfair.

What is the something?

With that, I cast this grenade away from me…

At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way. But I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening. I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.


Holy shit.

I knew he was on the list that women warned women about. But I didn’t know it was that bad.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Blair Megalodon project

Aug 8th, 2013 6:31 pm | By

Wil Wheaton has a nicely outraged post on the Discovery Channel and its dereliction of duty.

So last night, I tuned in to watch the first entry in this year’s sharkstravaganza: a documentary about one of the coolest megasharks ever, the prehistoric Megalodon. This thing was freaking huge, with teeth the size of an adult human’s hand, and it is very, very extinct. Discovery’s special started out with what appeared to be “found footage” of some people on a fishing boat that gets hit and sunk by something huge … and I immediately knew something was amiss. The “found footage” was shot the way a professional photographer shoots things, not the way a vacationer holds their video camera. There was no logical way the camera could survive the salt water for the footage to be found. The footage was alleged to have been found in April … but then it got so much worse: Discovery Channel started Shark Week with a completely fake, completely made-up, completely bullshit “documentary” and they lied to their audience about it. They presented it as real.

Well he’s right to be outraged – that’s disgusting.

I realized why I was (and am) so angry: I care about education. I care about science. I care about inspiring people to learn about the world and universe around us. Sharks are fascinating, and megalodon was an absolutely incredible creature! Discovery had a chance to get its audience thinking about what the oceans were like when megalodon roamed and hunted in them. It had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience.

An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!

Sing it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

High-end cutting-edge research

Aug 8th, 2013 2:07 pm | By

Gosh – a whole big sciencey conference with sciencey people in sciencey clothes and sciencey glasses, using sciencey words and sciencey concepts, to talk about…


What a lot of effort for such a futile activity.

The Homeopathy Research Institute’s International Research Conference, ‘Cutting Edge Research in Homeopathy’, took place in Barcelona in May-June 2013. With a programme dedicated solely to high-end, robust scientific research, this was the first gathering of its kind in a decade. After 18 months of preparation and anticipation, it was a pleasure to witness the event being hailed as a resounding success by respected peers from around the world.

“High end” research? Who says that? That’s a word from advertising, not science. They might as well call it prestigious, or bijou, or exclusive, or glamorous.

Headline speaker, Dr Stephan Baumgartner (University of Bern, Switzerland), summarised the state of play and way forward for basic research (i.e. establishing fundamental principles about the properties and action of homeopathic dilutions).

Yes…it really is more than time to establish fundamental principles about the properties and action of homeopathic dilutions, because so far nobody has the faintest idea how “homeopathic dilutions” could possibly have any curative properties.

Discussions of new findings defined the ‘cutting edge’ theme of the conference and were typified by a plenary session looking at possible mechanisms of action of homeopathic medicines. Prof Iris Bell (University of Arizona College of Medicine) joining the conference live online from the US, shared her theory that nanoparticles play a key role in the mechanism of action – an appealing hypothesis as it potentially brings homeopathy into the realms of conventional nanomedicine.

How exciting! Someone has a theory – and that’s appealing because if it works out it could being homeopathy into the real world. It’s only a pity that it’s taken them so many centuries to get around to it.

It’s also fun that they have no idea what the “possible mechanisms of action of homeopathic medicines” might be, and that that doesn’t stop them taking homeopathic medicines seriously and prescribing them to people as medicine.

Dr Gustavo Bracho (Finlay Institute, Cuba), proposed a scheme to integrate homeopathy in hospitals as a first line of defense against epidemics, suggesting that homeopathy could be used prophylactically to treat infected patients as they come in to hospitals, thereby shortening their stay and the risks of further contamination.


I’ll assume that “integrate” means “add to existing, evidence-based treatments.” In which case: why? Why waste money and time on this footling conference and talk about adding water to genuine medical treatments? Why make a career out of this stupid bullshit?

Homeopathy remains controversial because of debate around its mechanism of action. However, the strong scientific presentations at this event demonstrate that high caliber academics, medics and practitioners are engaged in robust research in homeopathy worldwide, pushing this field forward.

It’s not research, it’s “research”; it’s just people wearing the costumes and talking the jargon while doing nothing real. They’re all playing dress-up and let’s pretend. It’s kind of embarrassing.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Displacement behavior

Aug 8th, 2013 12:24 pm | By

I’ve been wondering how the Antis would respond, if at all. I couldn’t think of any way to do it – I have a terrible deficiency of imagination that way. I never can figure out how people are going to defend assholitude ahead of time, then when they do it it all seems so obvious. Stupid, banal, completely wrongheaded…but obvious.

A quick survey of Twitter shows some of how it’s going to go now. The vocabulary to be deployed includes

  • Drama
  • Blog hits
  • Due process
  • Slander
  • Lawsuits

There is complete silence about Carrie Poppy. Carrie Who? Never heard of her.

I also haven’t seen any response to Sasha Pixlee’s account of his encounter with DJ Grothe.

I actually first met DJ Grothe about a year before at Dragon*Con in 2010. I had admired his work on Point of Inquiry and when he became president of the JREF I thought it would be a great thing. When I got a chance to meet him that year I was excited. We encountered one another at a Skepchick party (one that had to be moved to the lobby because of noise complaints as soon as it started). He was drunk, but it was a social occasion and I’d had a couple cocktails as well. No big deal. I was fairly surprised though, when DJ turned to me and said that the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they “want pussy”.

Sums it all up, doesn’t it. Ignore the substance of what a group of women does, and reduce all the women in the group to their genitalia, while reducing any possible reason for paying attention to them to the desire to put your penis (note that DJ’s “everybody” omits some people) into said genitalia. Remember what Carrie said?

The list of problems that I sent to the board was so long that my pasting it here would be comical at best, but it is relevant to note that although I didn’t list it, Mr. Grothe’s prejudice toward women was one undeniable factor. My predecessor, Sadie Crabtree, had warned me about D.J.’s misogyny and disrespect for women coworkers (she even advised me not to take the position, due to this issue), but I thought myself strong enough to endure it. I underestimated the degree to which such constant mistreatment can beat a person down. As I mentioned, I only lasted six months.

The two accounts are consistent with each other. That’s an issue. Misogyny is an issue. There are a lot of people who want to pretend it isn’t, but it is. If atheists and skeptics want a big, powerful movement, then misogyny is an issue. Blathering about “drama” and “blog hits” does absolutely nothing to change that fact.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The things people dream up!

Aug 8th, 2013 10:01 am | By

A comment by Jadehawk on PZ’s post containing Carrie Poppy’s account of why she quit the JREF cites a post I did on the subject last November. The subject matter was pretty funny then, and it looks even funnier now, so I’m reposting it.

November 26, 2012

Anyone else reckon?

Now that’s really funny. The things people dream up!

Anyone else reckon @CarriePoppyYES resigned from #JREF because of the abuse from #FTBullies?


What abuse? And if there were any abuse, why would it prompt Carrie to resign from JREF? It would be like resigning from your job at NASA because someone tailgated you on the Evergreen Point bridge. It would be like quitting a job at The Mayo Clinic because the counter person got your order mixed up at an Albuquerque McDonalds. It would be random, dude.

It’s like the #FTBullies hijacking all over again. Let’s just blame #FTBullies for everything – the weather, food we don’t like, bad movies, traffic, Rush Limbaugh, everything.

Also – seriously – Carrie hasn’t had any “abuse” from Freethought bloggers. Really.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To cleanse the palate

Aug 7th, 2013 4:20 pm | By

You can look at some anti-suffragette cartoons from the early 20th century, courtesy of Therese Oneill at The Week.

One of the most notable things about the arguments put forth by the anti-suffragette movement was how weak its position was. Anti-suffragette arguments relied heavily on emotional manipulation and downright hateful nastiness. Humor was a much-used weapon against suffragettes. They were easy to depict as embittered old maids, brutal scolds, and cigar-smoking transvestites.

(20th Century London)

Yep. You have your graceful pretty women who don’t want no stinkin voice and then you have your ugly gawky women running around messing everything up. Pretty obvious which one is the right choice, isn’t it!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The lid is well and truly off

Aug 7th, 2013 3:33 pm | By

Holy shit.

Now Carrie’s gone public. Carrie Poppy, former head of communications for JREF.

I knew about most of what she says. I knew about it while people were trashing me, photoshopping me, calling me names, threatening me, lying about me – partly for being a big meany to DJ Grothe.

Carrie was still at JREF when I got the two bizarre emails and decided not to speak at TAM after all. She was there when DJ replied to my email about this by blaming me for blogging about his nasty comments about women who object to harassment. She knew what a crock of shit that was but she couldn’t tell me so – not until later, not until she quit.

Some of what she said on PZ’s blog:

Most of these details have to do with my former employer, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). I left the JREF in November 2012, after only six months there. I quit in protest of a number of ethical issues; foremost was what I perceived as the president, D.J. Grothe’s constant duplicity, dishonesty, and manipulation. I did not believe he had the best interests of the organization or community he “served” at heart. This was difficult for me, as Mr. Grothe and I had been friends prior to my joining the staff. Yet, it was very clear by the time I left that my continuing to work there was being complicit in unethical behavior, including the kind of behavior of which Dr. Stollznow is now on the receiving end. I have not spoken very publicly about my experience at the JREF, for various personal reasons, but one of them was cowardice. I simply didn’t want to have to defend myself, relive the six months of misery I’d already endured, or be branded as on one “side” or another of an ongoing debate. I simply wanted to move on. But as Dr. Stollznow’s story, and others, came to light, I knew I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. Dr. Stollznow’s experience is too much like so many women’s in skepticism.

Then she details his dealings with Karen Stollznow. They are not good dealings.

In my time at the JREF, I witnessed continuous unethical behavior, much of which I reported to the Board of Directors. I was assured on more than one occasion by James Randi that D.J. Grothe would be fired (I hear Randi denies this now, though he repeatedly promised it to another staff member as well, and that staff member and I represented the entirety of JREF full-time staff other than D.J. and his husband, Thomas), but after several months of waiting and being asked to wait, it became clear that D.J. was not going to be fired. The list of problems that I sent to the board was so long that my pasting it here would be comical at best, but it is relevant to note that although I didn’t list it, Mr. Grothe’s prejudice toward women was one undeniable factor. My predecessor, Sadie Crabtree, had warned me about D.J.’s misogyny and disrespect for women coworkers (she even advised me not to take the position, due to this issue), but I thought myself strong enough to endure it. I underestimated the degree to which such constant mistreatment can beat a person down. As I mentioned, I only lasted six months.

The final straw, for me, was that Mr. Grothe attempted to remove me as a speaker from the Women in Secularism 2 conference, going above my head (and Melody Hensley’s head) to her male boss, Ron Lindsay, and telling him that it would be bad for the JREF’s image if I attended a “feminist conference.” In defending his actions to me, D.J. told me he didn’t trust me to handle the event, saying I would be asked if he was a sexist (an unanswerable question in his mind, apparently) and that I might break down in tears crying about my own sexual assault, if the issue of rape arose. I was given no credit for the fact that I am a professional spokesperson with almost a decade of experience, that I have a successful skeptical podcast, am a published author, and that my personal assault experience makes my opinions on assault more relevant, not less. To him, I was a hysterical woman, nothing more.

So now you know.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Aug 7th, 2013 12:01 pm | By

Too much incoming today.

Rebecca on Ben Radford Accused of Sexual Harassment.

I’ve heard of several other “big name” skeptics who loudly argue online against any and all anti-harassment measures who are known for actually sexually harassing women in the meatspace. I’m hesitant to name them for legal reasons, because none have ever sexually harassed me personally and the women who told me about them haven’t gone on record. I’m very glad that Radford’s name was leaked, because it’s extraordinarily important that women know who to watch out for and for conference organizers to know who they’re putting on stage.

If you’ve been seriously harassed by a member of the skeptic/atheist community, I hope that you consider publicizing the name.


There’s a post at Jezebel.Amanda Marcotte has a post at Slate.

Most mainstream media stories about women in the growing skeptic/secularist/science education movement (the boundaries between the three are pretty porous), it’s usually with articles and videos asking, “where are all the women?” But people within these circles know that there are actually a lot of female leaders, and the real woman problem is sexual harassment.

As Rebecca Watson, a major writer and speaker on the skeptic/atheist circuit wrote in Slate last year, the amount of sexual harassment aimed at women over even the tiniest suggestions of how to make the movement more female-friendly is absolutely stunning. Watson herself has been subject to two years of non-stop online harassment because she made a video where she casually suggested that cornering women in elevators in the middle of the night is not best practices for making them feel safe. When the Center for Inquiry, a major free thought organization, held a conference titled Women in Secularism (full disclosure: I was a speaker at this conference), angry anti-feminists in the movement deluged the Twitter hashtag for the conference with so much misogynist garbage that it became unreadable.

And that experience was repeated, though I think with less intensity, at the Empowering Women Through Secularism conference six week later.

This sort of thing isn’t just a problem because women deserve better than this, though that alone is reason enough for leaders in the skeptic community to do more to combat sexual harassment within their ranks. This is also a problem because this movement, despite what the haters may think, needs women. Feminism and secularism are tightly entwined movements, as they share a common foe: the religious right. To deny the importance of feminism means ignoring some of the biggest fights to defend science and religious freedom, such as the battle over reproductive rights. Additionally, this kind of tolerance for sexual harassment undermines larger efforts to get more women into the sciences. Interest in skepticism and science education is a gateway for a lot of women into careers in science, but if that gateway is littered with trolls shouting sexual abuse at you, a lot of women are understandably going to turn away. (Though maybe the humanities could benefit.)

Unfortunately that’s exactly what some people want – to drive most women away.

CFI issued a rather cryptic statement.

On Twitter we’re being told that “we are sexual beings” and that flirtation out of nowhere is fine.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Talking about it

Aug 7th, 2013 9:53 am | By

So I did this yesterday – a live discussion thing at the Huffington Post, with Rebecca and Sikivu. It was about the atheism-women issue.

It was an interesting day to have such a discussion.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Is that Bugs Bunny?

Aug 6th, 2013 5:33 pm | By

Good old politics – it’s not a sport for sissies! And it’s even less a sport for the politically correct, amirite?

A Republican PAC had this funny idea…

A Republican Super PAC has put out a new online “game” where they ask their supporters to virtually slap Hillary Clinton across the face.

The Super PAC is known as The Hillary Project and is an anti-Hillary Clinton group that lists Christopher Marston–a Republican campaign consultant and a former member of the Bush administration–as its treasurer.

Geddit? Funny, right? It’s like that so so funny game where people could beat the shit out of Anita Sarkeesian. Gaming isn’t for the politically correct either. Nor is philosophy, or scifi, or skepticism…

Violence against women is not a joke.

It’s disgusting, it’s outrageous and–regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum–it has no place in our politics. Can you sign the petition demanding The Hillary Project pull down this game and apologize for advocating violence against women? 

Sign the petition.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

600 lashes

Aug 6th, 2013 3:40 pm | By

There’s the liberal Saudi blogger sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam” and being liberal and disobeying his daddy and god knows what other horseshit. The usual Saudi horseshit.

The Criminal Court found Raif Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, guilty of insulting Islam through his website and in comments he made on television, and added three months to his term for “parental disobedience.”

The charges against Badawi were based solely on his peaceful exercise of his right to free expression, Human Rights Watch said. Badawi established his online platform in 2008, to encourage debate on religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.

Well, Saudi Arabia’s attitude to that is that it merits 7 years in prison and being lashed to death. (Do they do the 600 lashes at the end of the sentence, so that they get both thrills?)

[Badawi’s lawyer Waleed] Abu al-Khair said that the judge sentenced Badawi to five years in prison for insulting Islam and violating provisions of Saudi Arabia’s 2007 anti-cybercrime law through his liberal website, affirming that liberalism is akin to unbelief. The judge ordered the closure of the website and added two years to Badawi’s sentence for insulting both Islam and Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or religious police, in comments during television interviews.

Insulting Islam, liberalism, unbelief, insulting Islam again, insulting the religious police – all things he should be given a reward for doing.

On March 18, 2012, the well-known cleric Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak issued a religious ruling declaring Badawi an “unbeliever… and apostate who must be tried and sentenced according to what his words require.” Al-Barrak claimed that Badawi had said “that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists are all equal,” and that even if these were not Badawi’s own opinions but “an account of the words of others, this is not allowed unless accompanied by a repudiation” of such words.

Because any fule kno that Muslims are better than all those other listed people (as well as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, agnostics, pagans, Wiccans, Scientologists, and people who read Harry Potter books). And that refusal to say so is a terrible crime.

Reporters Without Borders has condemned this dog’s breakfast of a prosecution and sentence.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Holy holy

Aug 6th, 2013 2:52 pm | By

Time for a laugh, again. Via American Atheists on Facebook.

Photo: :)</p>
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(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“Maybe you misread him?”

Aug 6th, 2013 11:30 am | By

Update: Ok I knew this when I wrote the post but I refrained from saying so (for the time being), but PZ posted about it a little before I did and he got a ton of emails all saying is it ___? and saying the same name. The guy in this account is Ben Radford.


Oh gosh, sexual harassment again. Again? Yes, again. (Also, still.)

Karen Stollznow reports on hers at the SciAm blog.

“I was sexually harassed for four years,” I admitted to  a colleague recently. “That’s awful!” he bellowed in outrage and  genuine concern, before he promptly changed the subject. Sexual harassment  is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with colleagues, especially when you’re the victim.

Well sure. You might start talking about a buddy of theirs.

Sometimes we don’t even know how to identify sexual  harassment because its methods are changing. Today, sexual harassment  is not always as bold, brazen and blatant as the boss who slaps his  secretary’s ass. It doesn’t have to involve leering or groping. It happens in a virtual work environment as much as it happens around the water cooler. More people are telecommuting although physical distance doesn’t prevent staff from being targeted by a harasser. Harassment from afar can include sending unwanted communication of a sexual nature, including emails, texts, instant messages, mail, tweets, phone calls, images, Facebook “pokes”, and stalking on networking sites.

Yes. Yes it can.

Confronted with these stereotypes and influenced by  the various forces of social conditioning, we often don’t know how  to react to sexual harassment anymore. Here are some of the attitudes  and opinions expressed to me, both directly and indirectly, when I began speaking out about my situation.

When they didn’t know the details, some people reacted with  concern that was tempered with cautiousness. “Could you be overreacting?”  or “Maybe you misread him?” There was suspicion over the delay in  reporting the incidents, “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”  and, “Why did you continue to work with him for so long?” Not observing  the harassment was a cause for doubt. “I couldn’t tell there was  anything wrong!” Some were prejudiced by their positive personal experiences  with the harasser, “I know him. He’s a good guy. He wouldn’t do  that!” My claims were also dismissed with the old adage that boys will  be boys. “It’s a guy thing,” and, “That’s just how men behave.”  One man offered a backhanded compliment, “Hey, what guy wouldn’t be interested in you!?”

So what you’re saying is, people haven’t learned anything over the past thirty or forty years.

As often happens in these situations, the blame is  shifted to the victim. Like the woman in The Drew Carey Show, the victim  may be labeled a prude or “uptight”. She lacks a sense of humor.  She’s crazy. She may be portrayed as a troublemaker by the accused  and his supporters. To undermine her claims, she might be branded a  serial complainer, where sexism and sexual harassment are often confused,  “You know, she’s accused other men of sexism before.” The case  may be demonized as a witch-hunt, and become a cautionary tale told  by those who fear that they too could be branded a “harasser” over  the slightest comment or glance. “Watch out, or she’ll accuse you  too!” I was held up to scrutiny in this way too. According to gossip  about me, I gave him mixed-signals, I led him on, I’m flirtatious,  and I’m a dirty little slut.

Demonized as a witch-hunt? Surely no one would go that far!

Alternatively, both the accused and accuser are blamed  for the situation. Those who didn’t know the extent of the harassment  reacted as though we simply don’t play well together in the sandbox.  “Why don’t you two just get over it and move on!” The matter was  misconstrued as a lover’s tiff, or that we were a couple in an on again, off again relationship. Others didn’t have time for my problems,  “I have my own worries.” One person was surprised that I confided  in him, saying, “It’s none of my business.” A number of people  commiserated but then moaned, “I’m sick of talking about sexual  harassment!”

Some were sympathetic, but from a safe distance. They  chose to stay out of it, because they “hate drama.” I didn’t ask  to become involved in a real-life soap either. I feel stigmatized by those who feel too awkward to face the situation, or me. I had a mutual friend who barely contacts me anymore, as he is unable to take a “side”.

All familiar.

From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal  communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related.  Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for  me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but  only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary  position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer,  but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment  previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”.

Uh huh. Aren’t they always.

Sometimes an organization under-reacts to the claims.  This was my experience. Following “Elevatorgate”, the company introduced  a “zero tolerance policy for hostile and harassing conduct”. When  I approached them with my accusations they appeared to be compassionate  initially. I spent many hours explaining my story over the phone and  days submitting evidence. Then they hired an attorney to collect the  facts and I had to repeat the process. I provided access to my email  account. I also devoted two days to face-to-face discussions about my  ordeal. This “fact collector” also collected a lot of hearsay from  my harasser, about how I’m a slut and “batshit crazy”. This tactic  of the accused is so common it’s known as the “nut and slut” strategy.  I soon learned that the attorney was there to protect them, not me.

Five months after I lodged my complaint I received  a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of  this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications”  and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly  reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and  a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to  my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to  allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the  public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this  turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he  was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an  admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter  to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone.  This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity  and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence  me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects  the harasser.

The situation has disadvantaged me greatly. I have  lost a project I once worked on, I have had to disclose highly personal  information to colleagues, and I don’t think that I’ll be offered  work anymore from this company. Perhaps that’s for the best considering  the way they have treated me. I have since discovered that this company  has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record  of disciplining these harassers lightly, and then closing ranks like  good ol’ boys. Another colleague assured me this was better than their  previous custom of simply ignoring claims of sexual harassment.

Maybe in a century or so companies will do better than this…if they’re not all under water by then.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

I love how

Aug 5th, 2013 6:04 pm | By

Meta meta meta. Discussion of discussion of discussion.

Discussion of discussion of Tim Farley’s post on oolon’s block bot.


The stupid burns, says Travis Roy. Tim Farley comments:

I love how the follow-on blogs are all entirely focused on one section, about 10% of the 4,300 word post. Principle of Charity? What’s a principle of charity?

That’s annoying. That’s very annoying.

There is no rule that says you’re not allowed to disagree with one part of an essay or blog post. That rule does not exist. Now if an essay or blog post is one argument and nothing else, such that it’s not possible to address only a part of it, then fine. But that was far from the case with Farley’s post. The part about the list of credentialed people who, in his view, should not be on the block bot list, is separable from the rest of the post, which is much more technical. And people have told Farley that – I’ve told him that, and I’ve seen other people tell him that. It’s not hard to figure out, in any case. The principle of charity has nothing to do with not disputing one part of a long piece of writing unless you address all of it.

He could have used the time he spent complaining that people were focusing on part of the post, to reply to what people said about that part of the post, instead of just repeating that people were focusing on part of the post. I don’t know what the name of that principle is, but it’s a good one.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When talking to a woman, be sure to add gratuitous insults

Aug 5th, 2013 12:52 pm | By

That seems to be the policy of Willis Eschenbach, who wrote An Open Letter to Dr. Marcia McNutt, new Editor-In-Chief, Science Magazine. He found a picture of her, too, which confirmed that she is indeed a woman, just as her name would suggest.

Eschenbach’s open letter is about the tragic decline of Science mag due to its move from science to advocacy, specifically on climate change. Nothing to do with the fact that McNutt is a woman, one would think, yet Eschenbach drags that in anyway, for the sake of gratuitously insulting and patronizing her, as if that really were written down in a real book of rules.

He patronizes her from the outset, patronizingly congratulating her and including the picture of her for no apparent reason. Then later he gets down to the real thing.

With a new Editor-In-Chief, I’ve been hoping that might all be in the past. Unfortunately, after taking over at the helm, you’ve chosen to reveal your … umm … well, let me describe it as your newness to the concept of “scientific journal editor” by following in the foolishly activist footsteps of your immediate predecessors. I’d hoped you might be smarter than they were, and indeed you might still show yourself to be. But to jump into the middle of the climate debate and stake out a position for Science magazine? Why? That’s suicide for the magazine. Science magazine should never have an editorial stance on the science it is discussing and overseeing. Leave that to Mother Jones magazine, or to National Geographic, or Popular Science. Your magazine taking a strong activist position on climate science is just evidence that you have abandoned all pretense of being concerned with climate science itself. When the science is strong it doesn’t need defenders … and if the Editor-In-Chief of Science feels it’s necessary to defend some part of science, that simply proves that the “science” involved must be of the weakest.

And regarding you personally taking a position? Well, that’s interesting. The problem is that you are extremely well educated, strong, strikingly good looking, and a wickedly-smart woman by all accounts … and while those are all good things, that’s a scary combination. One downside of that particular melange is that as a result, it’s very possible that people, particularly men, haven’t told you the unvarnished truth in years. So some of what I have to say may be a surprise to you.

Persuasive? You be the judge.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)