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May 31 2012

Irresponsible messaging

So yesterday D. J. Grothe was worried about women not registering for TAM. He said people have been emailing him with wild claims such as “JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking” along with other less wild claims. He thinks the source of this is

irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

I think the source of at least claims like “JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking” are much more likely to come from sock puppets trying to make “a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics” look bad, but I don’t know. What I do know though is that TAM now looks vastly less fun and interesting to me than it did 24 hours ago. I’ve seen quite a few people saying the same thing since yesterday. Grothe himself seems to have created the very situation he was warning against, by his “irresponsible messaging.”

Is that irony?

29 comments

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  1. 1
    Jason Thibeault

    Best guess on the “supports sex trafficking” from other commenters elsewhere is Krauss supporting Epstein. http://skepchick.org/2011/04/lawrence-krauss-defends-a-sex-offender-embarrasses-scientists-everywhere/

  2. 2
    michaeld

    Whether they were sock puppets or not, for people wondering where these claims came/evolved from. It’s probably a reference to posts from earlier this January by Greta and Steph about some things DJG had said recently. I’ll include a link below so people have a place to start looking if they want more context.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/01/09/two-questions-for-dj-grothe/

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    (And JREF inviting Krauss, despite this. So DJ is lashing out at emails taking him to task over something completely unrelated.)

  4. 4
    Aratina Cage

    Grothe himself seems to have created the very situation he was warning against, by his “irresponsible messaging.”

    It is very possible that his messaging (more of a scapegoating, really) backfired. I do not remember hearing about TAM being so bad as it now looks with the several reports of harassment of women by men coming out. But Grothe should not have tried to pretend that such things had not happened. Maybe now that he has forced reports of harassment out into the open, he will finally be motivated to do even more to prevent those things from happening.

  5. 5
    Scote

    Whether there is irony or not doesn’t have any affect on whether this issue has gotten out of hand, with lots of emotional arguments coming from both sides and many people digging in their heels taking intransigent, black and white positions.

    I think folks can disagree with Grothe without calling for his resignation. If the skeptical movement is all about critical thinking one would hope we can exhibit a calm, reasoned approach on this rather than calling out mobs with figurative torches and pitchforks.

  6. 6
    Josh Slocum

    There are no torches or pitchforks. No one at Butterflies and Wheels has called for his resignation (no, whatever Greg Laden said on his blog is not germane to what is said here).

  7. 7
    Timid Atheist

    Ah yes, the old, “You’re too emotional thus your arguments aren’t vaild.”

    I was never planning to go to TAM this year, not enough money for food some days, let alone, skeptical meetings. But after seeing this, I’m not sure I want to go to any meeting where an organizer blames people advocating for safe conferences for a drop in registration from a certain demographic.

    I would say the result for DJ very much has a sting of irony for him.

  8. 8
    julian

    @Scote

    Pure curiosity on my part, do you guys get paid per time you use “both sides?”

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Scote – could you please explain what your comment has to do with my post? If you can’t (or won’t) I think I’ll shitcan it. I’m very tired of this “torches and pitchforks because someone completely different said X” shit.

  10. 10
    Scote

    Your post is about a situation that is sparking emotional responses. I think many people have jumped rather angrily on Grothe. I think your first post on this issue was pretty indignant, though I’m not claiming you are calling for a figurative mob.

    And as to the point about emotion. I believe that how people feel is important, and in this case people’s feelings are a key part of the issue at hand. But I think we can make reasoned arguments, look at real data where available. It is curious how the skeptical movement normally says anecdotes aren’t evidence, but that all falls apart when we are talking about incidents of sexism. I think anecdotes *are* evidence, they just aren’t necessarily reliable or objective–and, no, that doesn’t mean I dismiss the anecdotes. But I do think we can ask if the skeptics movement is better or worse than any other group of people–not to support the status quo if it is but so that we can address the issue rationally.

  11. 11
    Josh Slocum

    Move to strike as unresponsive.

  12. 12
    Jason Thibeault

    I put together a discussion of what things we as a community should do, at minimum in response to this conversation.

    If you’ll pardon the link spam, Ophelia. :)

    Second on the non-responsive. The whole “you’re being too emotional” gambit sticks in my craw. And the conflation of asking someone to resign with “pitchforks and torches”, and the conflation of that opinion with every other blogger at FtB when others clearly don’t agree (see Martin Wagner, among others), is just trying to paint a false picture of crowd mentality that simply isn’t there.

  13. 13
    Jason Thibeault

    Also, that’s assuming that people calling for his resignation AREN’T being calm, rational or measured in their response. I happen to think Greg makes some excellent points in the face of DJ’s intractability.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Crappy reply, Scote. Many people have responded angrily therefore it’s relevant to talk about torches and pitchforks on my post. Pffffft.

  15. 15
    Ophelia Benson

    I just re-read that first post you cited. You call that “pretty indignant”? Seriously?

    Pffft again.

  16. 16
    SAWells

    I know indignation. Indignation is a friend of mine. And you, Ophelia, are not indignant :)

  17. 17
    Dorothy

    I have just returned from a visit to my brother in Vancouver after the INR2 convention at Kamloops. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and thoroughly enjoyed the speakers. I left INR2 with the intention to find a way to attend TAM this summer in Las Vegas.
    As a 70 year old grandmother on a scooter, I naturally would not encounter much of the behaviour above noted. And, in any event, since I actually know very few in the community, and am a tad shy to boot, would be unlikely to have extensive social interaction in order to encounter it.
    This topic has me deeply questioning whether I should attend TAM. Not for fear for myself, but whether I should support an organization where this happens. It wasn’t really that long ago when I would have been a potential victim.
    I have attended conventions in the past, but in the Science Fiction community. They had their own way of dealing with it.
    I am posting this here because I would appreciate advice.
    I doubt I personally would be harassed, but I would be willing to act as a companion to any woman who felt worried about her personal security. And if I were to see harassment occurring, I could always run the harassor down with the scooter.

  18. 18
    Philip L

    Ophelia, it must be all of those reasonable posts suggesting that in light of the things that have been going on at conferences, anti-harassment policies are a sensible move that would help (albeit not cure) the chilly climate for women – which are possibly triggering the “pretty indignant” response?

    When I looked at yesterday’s kerfuffle (not to refer to the FTB poster), I immediately recalled that last year’s TAM was faced by a harassment issue even before the conference began, and thus was well aware the conference has an anti-harassment policy (all the better for them that they do). So it was rather startling to see DJ Grothe announce that no incidents of harassment had been reported (they had) and now for him to say ‘irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics’ – casting nasturtiums, huh DJ?

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    Dorothy, that’s great about INR2.

    I really don’t know about TAM. It’s looking drastically less appealing to me now, but I’ve never been to one. Anyone else? Advice?

  20. 20
    A. Noyd

    Scote (#10)

    It is curious how the skeptical movement normally says anecdotes aren’t evidence, but that all falls apart when we are talking about incidents of sexism.

    That’s because when the usual sorts of anecdotes are used as evidence, they make unwarranted assumptions and they are insufficiently extraordinary for the claim in question. “I know vaccines cause autism because my child got autism after being vaccinated.” “I saw a UFO, therefore aliens visit the earth.” “God exists because my mother recovered from cancer after I prayed.” “I do a tarot card reading every night. That’s evidence enough for me that psychic powers are real.” (That last one is a paraphrase of something a woman actually told me at the supermarket last night.)

    Anecdotes about sexist (or racist or homophobic or transphobic, etc.) experiences don’t run into these problems. Not only is sexism very real and all-too prevalent (ie. the opposite of extraordinary), the anecdotes don’t make assumptions and are nearly always sufficient for the claim being made. “I was sexually harassed, therefore sexual harassment happens.” “I know sexism is a factor in low numbers of women attending conferences because many women have told me that regularly getting ignored, harassed, talked down to, etc. puts them off from coming.”

    If you really find it curious for skeptics to accept anecdotes about sexism (or racism or homophobia or transphobia, etc.) but not about the vaccine-autism connection, aliens, god or psychic powers, then it would seem your approach to anecdotes is irrational and dogmatic.

  21. 21
    dirigible

    Scote – extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    Claims of harassment are, unfortunately, not extraordinary.

    Can you tell the difference? Please tell me you can. And don’t get angry or upset about it, obviously.

  22. 22
    hyperdeath

    Scote

    It is curious how the skeptical movement normally says anecdotes aren’t evidence, but that all falls apart when we are talking about incidents of sexism.

    Perhaps it’s because they actually understand notions of scientific evidence. Anecdotes only fail as evidence when they are used to justify conclusions for which they are insufficient. For example “I took the pill and my headache vanished, therefore the pill works” is invalid, as the anecdote is not sufficient to justify the conclusion. However, the statement “I took the pill and my headache vanished” is a perfectly valid statement of fact. Similarly, the statement “I took the pill and my headache vanished, therefore the pill does not cause permanent headaches in all patients” is valid, because the anecdote is sufficient to justify the conclusion.

    Similarly, “I went to this conference, and I was trailed by a pack of grubby little weirdos, pawing at me like untrained mongrels” is not sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion that sexual harassment is universal in the skeptical movement, but it is valid if merely presented as a case study. It is also sufficient evidence to establish a lower bound to the frequency of sexual harassment.

    Any sexual harassment is too much, and so any anecdote is sufficient to establish the presence of a problem.

  23. 23
    hyperdeath

    To add to the above, few things are more annoying than some gormless idiot bleating on about scientific evidence, when his grasp of the subject is one level above “my grandfather wasn’t a monkey”.

  24. 24
    Worldtraveller

    Scote:

    Your post is about a situation that is sparking emotional responses. I think many people have jumped rather angrily on Grothe. I think your first post on this issue was pretty indignant, though I’m not claiming you are calling for a figurative mob.

    Fuckin-a-right I am. If any of the things that have been described here happened to my wife at a conference, there would be likely be violence. Some things deserve an emotional and emotive response. You have no fucking clue how the smallest seeming action by a single callous asshole can trigger someone with past experience with harassment.

    Now run along and let the adults have a conversation.

  25. 25
    John D

    Thank you fastlane for at least admitting that you are not acting entirely rational about this topic. I appreciate your honesty. Perhaps the rest of the FTB group could use this as a lesson.

    Of course, it is seldom a good plan to accuse people of something because you are being irrational.

    I joke that this blog should be called Free-from Thought Blogs. I will continue to use this label.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    You do?! Wo, that’s really clever and original. I wonder why no one else has ever thought of that.

  27. 27
    Jason Thibeault

    Today I learned that if you act emotionally to being told that talking about harassment is the problem, then you’re not a good skeptic and free from thought.

  28. 28
    Rowan vet-tech

    @27, Oh? Well I’ve learned that as a woman, my feelings don’t matter at all compared to the evidence and that ‘feeling’ unsafe isn’t the same as… feeling unsafe.

    Still trying to wrap my brain around that one. But I’m a dumb blonde, so it might take me a decade or two.

  29. 29
    Rowan vet-tech

    Argh. end italics tag fail. It must be that dumb blonde thing again.

  1. 30
    I’m not sorry atheists are divided » Godlessness in Theory

    […] bloggers were blamed for lowering female attendance at a major event when they wrote about cases of conference harassment both – by speakers […]

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