Can I Skip My Own Conference?

Center for Inquiry has just announced their second African Americans for Humanism conference, and I’m badly torn. On one hand, look at this speaker list:

  • Ronnelle Adams author of Aching and Praying
  • Jamila Bey host of “Sex Politics and Religion Hour” at Voice of Russia radio
  • Debbie Goddard director of African Americans for Humanism and director of outreach for CFI 
  • Aisha Goss deputy director at the Secular Coalition for America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
  • Mark Hatcher founder and president of Secular Students at Howard University
  • Sikivu Hutchinson author, activist, teacher, and founder of Black Skeptics Group
  • Anti_Intellect educator, activist, essayist
  • Alix Jules activist, historian
  • Anthony Pinn author, professor at Rice University

Five of them I’ve already heard speak, and they’re all great. People have been raving about Mark Hatcher’s talk at the CFI Summit this weekend. And Anti_Intellect?! Plus, of course, the folks I don’t know are great yet.

Then there’s the other hand. That’s the weekend of the second FtBCon. So I’m already committed for that weekend.

This schedule crowding is a good sort of problem for a movement to have, right?

You, SMBC Style

Skeptech will be held again in April 2014 (I guess I won’t save my taxes for that weekend), and to help pay for it, they’re doing something very cool.

We don’t ask for a lot, the organizers of the SkepTech conference. We’re people of simple needs; food, drink, warmth, kittens, puppies, the occasional maniacal cackle as we contemplate tossing it all and start trying to take over the world instead of trying to brainstorm at 4 AM. Our delusions of grandeur aside, we’d like to ask you for something now; your financial support as we ramp up for Skeptech 2, which will take place April 11th-13th, 2014, in Minneapolis, MN.

But wait, you ask. Why on earth should I donate to ANOTHER conference? Are there not enough of the things already? Well, we’ve got a lot of reasons why you should. You’re going to find out a lot about them over the coming weeks, in addition to a roster of speakers and panelists that we think will rock your world. We’re organizing a program of such diversity and amazingness that has rarely been seen in these fields.

Before we say too much, we would like, here and now, to offer you the first of those reasons to support us. What we are offering you today is the opportunity to bid on a digital portrait of your dashing visage, executed by the one and only Zach Weinersmith, the author and illustrator of the wildly famous [Saturday] Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic. This is an incredibly rare opportunity, not available since the days of Veláquez in the court of Philip IV, to have yourself preserved for all time, a masterpiece that future collectors will vie for to display on the walls of their own palaces. Needless to say, this is not something you’ll want to miss out on.

All proceeds of the auction will go to Skeptech to help us put on the most fabulous conference that we possibly can. You’re gonna want to be there.

Skeptech is an annual conference, organized by members and alumni of the Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists student group at the University of Minnesota (CASH), the Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud State University (SSA@SCSU), and the Secular Student Alliance at St. Olaf College (SSASTO). It explores the intersections of science, critical thinking, and innovation in addressing some of the most pressing societal and environmental problems humanity faces today. Held at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities – a hotbed of technological research and innovation in the heart of the Twin Cities Metropolitan area – the three-day conference aims to spark ideas, foster questions, and start conversations on the role of technology in improving, and ensuring there is, tomorrow.”

If you ask very nicely, you might even persuade him to draw you in a salacious posture, just to stick it to the now-defunct Comics Code Authority. Don’t know what I’m talking about? This is why you don’t want to miss Skeptech.

Dealing with Public Criticism

We’re coming up on Skepticon again soon. Not only will I be there, but I will be running another Friday workshop. This year’s topic: dealing with public criticism. You know you want to see that–or the reactions to that on the conference hashtag.

I kid, but it’s true that most people have only a rough idea how to handle criticism from friends, much less criticism that turns the public eye on them. People who handle public criticism really well are rare enough that they get our attention. Still, criticism isn’t going to stop coming from the religious, from people whose other ideas we debunk, or from each other. So we’ll take an hour and work through some of the considerations and skills needed to deal with it.

Preparing for the workshop, I found that there aren’t a lot of good resources out there on the topic. There are a bunch of link- and SEO-bait short articles. There are a couple good, longer articles aimed at businesses. There are what appear to be a couple of good chapters in Online Reputation Management for Dummies, but they aren’t comprehensive, and again, the book is mostly aimed at businesses. So between now and Skepticon, I’ll be putting a lot of my writing time and energy into doing a brain dump on the topic. If it turns out to be good, it may become something more formal after the conference.

Either way, come to Skepticon! Register if you haven’t already. Donate if you can. Donate now and double your donation through two matching grants that have have just been announced. Buy some of their custom dinosaur chocolates, perfect gifts for all those fall birthdays.

Then show up for my workshop, and we’ll talk about criticism. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.

Defending Dawkins, or How Many Standards Do We Need?

Sarah Moglia, no longer of the Secular Student Alliance and newly of Skepchick, has written a piece about how starting to work for the secular movement was the start of the end of her trust in that movement. She was hired to accompany Richard Dawkins on tour.

At this time (September of 2011), Dave Silverman was heading up the Reason Rally Committee. There was still quite a bit of planning and promotion that needed to be done, so Dave asked Richard, Elizabeth, and Sean to make videos to promote the Reason Rally. (The video Richard ended up making is still viewable.) Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

The question has come up whether Sarah’s story should be trusted. I do trust it, and here’s why. [Read more…]


Have a little video from the Mr. Paul Aints game a couple of weeks ago. The first minute or so is interview/discussion. Then we see some of our speakers for the next day’s conference. Then…

Anybody else catch themselves thinking that miffing it after that was going to be extra embarassing?

Now I wonder whether anyone took video of Dave Silverman the previous year. Hey, Amanda…?

Shermer Speaks

Note to self: Self, if you ever want to keep something quiet, and you see an email–hell, any kind of communication–from Ian Murphy, delete it unread. Unplug the phone. Smother the pigeon. Whatever.

I’m just going to point you to the interview and let you read for yourself how Murphy got Michael Shermer to comment on the current situation (and, oh, you should read it), but here’s the relevant quote:

I haven’t been charged with anything. An anonymous woman told another anonymous woman to tell PZ Myers that I raped her at some unspecified time in the past at some unspecified conference which was alleged reported to unspecified persons who allegedly covered up whatever it is I allegedly did. You print that and you are party to defamation along with Myers. My attorneys are keeping track of everything that could amount to damages to my reputation, and in the court of public opinion it doesn’t matter if the claim is completely made up, people will just believe it. That’s why we have laws against libel and defamation and why no good editor at Salon or anywhere else you would submit such a story would ever run it because they would then open themselves up to libel. In any case, any publication of any substance would have it vetted by an attorney first, who would remind them and you of the ethics of journalism and the law against defamation.

Well, no. A woman PZ has met and finds trustworthy asked Carrie Poppy for a reintroduction by email to PZ. Carrie did that and bowed out. Then this woman, whose identity is being shielded by PZ (from someone who, as we can see, doesn’t have the strongest dedication to getting the details right) told PZ her story of being raped by Michael Shermer. PZ published the story as is. You can read it in her own words.

So that’s Shermer’s take on things. I just have to wonder, does it really matter to Shermer that the conference isn’t specified? How many different places does he think stories like this could have come from?

Updated to add a second bit of musing: How hard is it, really, to say “I’ve never done any such thing and I resent the living hell out of the accusation”?

Thoughts on a Conference

Yesterday was Minnesota Atheists’ regional conference, the first conference our group has run on its own. (Though American Atheists provided some sponsorship for this conference, they did not get involved in the planning as they did last year.) Friday night was the Mr. Paul Aints game. Although I can’t yet say how they did financially, because we worked hard to keep prices down, I hereby declare both big successes as events.

Some thoughts from the two days: [Read more…]

If You Won’t Shut Up… (Update)

Update: The terms of service portion of this post has been updated below.

I mean, when it’s one person speaking out about being harassed and assaulted and receiving no satisfaction for reporting it, that you can ignore. It will blow over soon, right? But man, what a day–for you.

When another person comes out and reveals serious problems at the top of an organization asked to deal with the assault? Maybe you chatter a bit more about unrelated things. I mean, really, how long can this last? AND WHY WON’T PEOPLE IGNORE THIS LIKE THEY USED TO?

But when this stuff keeps coming out, when people keep telling us they’ve been ignored when they tried to report abuse? Well, then there’s only one thing to do: attack. Yep. Ad hominem for the…win? [Read more…]

Gender Equality in the Secular Movement

More video out from Women in Secularism 2! This one even includes me. I don’t remember very much of what I said. Shortly before the panel started, I’d been lying down in a quiet room hoping the migraine meds would kick in. What I do remember is that this is the panel that had Richard Dawkins subtweeting about the meaning of the word “cranky”. So there’s that.

If that’s not enough of a tease for you, this panel was also moderated by Greta Christina and featured Ophelia Benson, Elizabeth Cornwell, and Debbie Goddard.