How to Moderate a Panel

So you’re thinking about running a session for FtBCon, but you haven’t moderated a panel discussion before. Or you ran one, but you didn’t feel that you knew quite how to make it go the way you wanted it to. We’re here to help.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Moderating a panel discussion, like most complex skills, looks effortless when done by someone with experience. It’s easy to underestimate how much work it is until you’re the person expected to keep things moving, on topic, interesting, and interactive all at once. Here’s a guide to make it easier when you find yourself in that position with no idea what to do. [Read more…]

Find Me at CONvergence

I’m not sure why everyone is so excited to get their CONvergence/SkepchickCon schedules up. I mean, the con is a whole week away! (Eek, it’s only a week away!) (Yay, only one more week to CONvergence!)

All right. Here’s where I can be found over the Fourth of July weekend:

Thursday, July 3

When Science Isn’t Your Friend 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When has science hurt people in reality and what has that taught us about how science should be practiced? We’ll discuss everything from the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks to continuing issues like surgery on intersex babies. Panelists: Stephanie Zvan (mod), Caleph Wilson, PZ Myers, Mary Brock, Debbie Goddard

Saberhagen’s Dracula10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Atrium 3

Fred Saberhagen wrote a series of books from Dracula’s point of view, including The Dracula Tape, Old Friend of the Family, and more. We’ll discuss his work, particularly the more complicated moral portrayal of vampires. Panelists: Paul Weimer, Stephanie Zvan

Saturday, July 5

Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down? 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Edina

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done? Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6

I’m starting Sunday morning at 9 a.m. by interviewing Dr. Rubidium for Atheists Talk radio about, among other things, using pop culture to communicate science.

Evaluating Scientific Claims 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Plaza 1

You’ve just heard or read about an amazing scientific claim. Where do you go to start vetting the claim or the study, especially if you’re not a scientist? What are the signs that it might be hyped, misleading, or false? Panelists: Caleph Wilson (mod), Siouxsie Wiles, Stephanie Zvan, Shawn Otto, Heina Dadabhoy

Science of Group Differences 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Atrium 6

Men are from Sirius; women are from the Pleiades. Am I right? Let’s talk about all that research on sex and racial differences and what it means in day-to-day life. Is there any significance beyond the statistical? Panelists: Will Robertson, Stephanie Zvan, Betsy Lundsten, Desiree Schell (mod)

Science ‘Fiction’ Journalism 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When more and more news outlets are dropping their dedicated science staff, what happens to the quality of the news coverage? How much of what we read is just plain wrong, and what can we do about it? Panelists: Rob Callahan, Shawn Otto, Debbie Goddard, Stephanie Zvan

I’ll also be in the FtB party room each evening.

Then I collapse and hope I haven’t gotten con crud or can get over it before the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference the next weekend.

Tell Us What You Want to See at FtBCon3

In case you haven’t already seen the news, July 22 is the deadline to submit your panel proposals for FtBConscience3.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Don’t want to run a panel but you still have ideas about what you want to see? That’s okay too. While proposals that come with a moderator and participants baked in save us time and energy and are viewed with gratitude, your con runners are happy to do some recruiting for topics you particularly want to see. [Read more…]

Meeting Creepy

Kate Leth did another great comic for Comics Alliance. This one is for those fans who are afraid of being creepy in expressing their admiration for the creators of the content they love. Here’s a quick taste of the dilemma.

Two panels of cartoon. Panel one: Fan says, "Hi! Um, I'm a huge fan. I've read all your work!" Artist says, "Thank you!" Panel 2: Fan looks stressed and says, "Oh, God, that must sound so CREEPY!"

This comic sparked a discussion between a few of us who are relatively new to speaking and conferences about what we are and aren’t comfortable with at conferences. With Women in Secularism this weekend, this seemed like a good time to talk about where my boundaries fall for meeting creepy with fans. [Read more…]

So You’ve Got Yourself a Policy. Now What?

I talk to a lot of people about anti-harassment policies. For a long time, those discussions were mostly about why we should have them for our events. After that, figuring out what to put in them predominated. Much discussion has gone into how to treat people who come forward to report abuse and how and whether to share information with people who might have a legitimate interest.

Those are all good discussions to have. I think they’ve generally been productive. Some of them, like sharing information, will be ongoing for a while as we make good decisions and bad in these uncharted waters. Lately, however, a different topic has been surfacing.

We know from situations in which they’ve failed that “zero-tolerance” policies, policies in which any act that is deemed to be unacceptable results in expulsion and exclusion, don’t work well. They fail in three main ways. People who are against harassment policies in general are quick to point out that they leave no room for honest mistakes. They are correct when talking about zero-tolerance policies, even if they make the same criticism about all policies.

These policies also fail because they discourage reporting. People who experience undesirable behavior under zero-tolerance policies know that reporting may well lead to expulsion. That frequently isn’t what they’re looking for. They just want the behavior to stop. This means that much undesirable behavior goes unreported. Even people who have experienced significant harassment won’t always report if reporting means taking responsibility for someone being expelled and excluded.

Finally, zero-tolerance policies fail because they’re difficult for organizers to follow. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. When there’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy, it gets harder for organizers to determine they’re making the right choice. Patterns of behavior are easier to work with than a single incident. Except in blatant cases, a single incident may be ambiguous where a pattern of behavior won’t be. This can lead to very high standards of evidence being required for action because the only action allowed is drastic.

It’s little wonder that we avoid zero-tolerance policies. At the same time, however, we haven’t talked much about how event organizers should deal with behavior that, on its own, may not merit expulsion. And if organizers don’t feel they have the knowledge to do more than expel or ignore, we end up with de facto zero-tolerance policies. [Read more…]

Skeptech Is Over

My weekend started at 8 a.m. Thursday morning and finished just a few hours ago. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in that time. I’ve tweeted a ridiculous amount, took a shift overseeing a conference safe space, and moderated two panels, one with very little notice. I’ve had a house full of people, who all decided to congregate in the living room for some reason. I’ve seen people drool over our kitchen knives and our dog. I’ve had several conversations about what the skeptical and secular movements need and how to make those things happen. And I’ve heard more people griping about the snow….

Now, Skeptech is over. People have made dates to talk about planning for next year, then caught planes or collapsed in their respective corners. I’m too tired to really think about the conference, though I swear I had IDEAS up until the time I stopped moving. But here are some scattered thoughts. [Read more…]

What I’m Really Doing at Skeptech

No, I’m not interviewing Rebecca Watson at Skeptech, on destroying movements or anything else. I am, however, moderating a panel at 11 on Sunday morning.

Do read the comments; creating a constructive online community
How to we go beyond the trolls in our online spaces? Preventing malicious comments is fine, but the goal of many online communities is to exhibit robust and nuanced discussion in the comments. How do we reach this goal? What are the effective techniques used? What is the role of moderation, whether used too little, too much, or just used badly?

Panelists:
Heina Dadabhoy (of Skepchick)
Arif Hasan (of the Daily Norseman, editor in chief of Vikings Territory)
Beth Ann Erickson (of Skeptic Ink)
Miri Mogilevsky (of Freethought Blogs)

I don’t think I’ve never met Arif, but I already know there are some very different approaches to moderating comments and goals for comment sections among the panelists. That’s good. It should be an interesting discussion.

Rebecca Watson Interview at Skeptech

You might have heard me mention (oh, once or twice before) that this weekend is Skeptech. It’s a cool conference with a great set of speakers. They could still very much use some funds to make this an ongoing concern. But I’ve told you all that.

What I haven’t mentioned is that I’m playing a role on stage as well. I haven’t mentioned it because we weren’t sure it was going to happen. Rebecca Watson has graciously agreed, however, to get up early Saturday morning so we can fit one more session into the schedule. (We promised her really good coffee from Open Book, just down the road.) So the morning’s opening remarks will start at 9, and as soon as they’re done, I will interview Rebecca to get her tips on single-handedly destroying a movement.

Here are a few of the topics I expect to ask her about:

  • How did she manage to limit American Atheists to running two special capital campaigns of $100,000 and $50,000 with a 1-for-1 match, down from the multimillion-dollar campaigns with triple matches they were running just a few years ago?
  • How did she undermine the Secular Student Alliance so thoroughly that they’ve been forced to rely on unpaid, untrained interns for key positions?
  • How did she so thoroughly sap and demoralize the Center for Inquiry that they’ve stopped taking on new, important projects?
  • How did she work with Meetup.com to halt the spread of new atheist groups in the U.S.?
  • When will she be rerunning her special seminar on community dismantling that we heard such rave reviews on from D.J. Grothe, Michael Shermer, Ben Radford, and Lawrence Krauss?

So get up early on Saturday and bring your coffee. You won’t want to miss this event.

Skeptech: Updating a Harassment Policy

Last year, Skeptech asked me to join their Safe(r) Spaces committee. I said, “Yes”, as I try to do whenever a student group asks me for help, and I’m really glad I did. One of the tasks of this committee was revising Skeptech’s harassment policy after having it in place for one conference. They started with the Geek Feminism Wiki’s sample policy, which worked well enough but wasn’t perfect, as templates almost never are.

I’ve been asked to comment on policies in the past, but this was the first time I had a hand in shaping a policy to meet specific needs. I learned a good deal. With the permission of Skeptech organizers, I want to give you a little peek into how the process went. [Read more…]