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.


  1. says

    Ben Radford I never liked, but Michael Shermer has been especially disappointing. His book, Denying History, is one of the main reasons I majored in history in college. This why we don’t have an atheist pope.

  2. piegasm says

    Color me completely and totally not surprised about Michael Shermer.

    Also, CFI has developed a real talent for using lots and lots of words to say absolutely nothing.

  3. A Hermit says

    How did you come across that CFI statement? Without the link from this blog I can’t find any trace of it on their website…

    Not that it says much that’s of any use…

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    … who are known for actually sexually harassing women in the meatspace.

    I think this was a poor choice of words for the context.

  5. jaynorth says

    Are Michael Shermer’s talks still as creeptastic as this one from 2011?

    I was there and whether or not it was an interesting talk was quite overshadowed by the sexist weirdness of it all. And I also remember talking about it with people afterwards, that it was weird and kind of creepy. Not the most inclusive approach to science communication.

  6. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I wish I could hold out hope that JREF and CFI’s boards would move to correct these issues, but their record up to now suggest they’re going to stick fingers in ears and sing “Lalalalalalalalalalalacan’thearyou!”

  7. kevinkirkpatrick says

    I want a 100% purge of the sleezy, harassing scum from all ranks of the atheist and skeptic movements. Let’s clean house. What can I, a privileged, white dude, do to help make that happen? Feel free to speak in terms of dollars.

  8. says

    jaynorth – well that’s certainly very interesting.

    I took a lot of shit for criticizing Shermer for saying something sexist in a video panel discussion. It’s interesting to learn that people have thought he’d said or done something sexist in the past.

  9. says

    Most of the shit, by the way, came from Shermer himself. He doesn’t take criticism well. He doesn’t hesitate to use all his fame and prestige to wallop a mouthy inferior.

  10. Gordon Willis says

    I have said this several times, and I feel I have to say it again. One cannot be a sceptic if one is not sceptical about oneself. We are all a mishmash of evasions and hypocrisies and needs, and the really hard work in learning to be a halfway-decent human being necessitates actually seeing what a mess one is. The trouble with some high-profile sceptics is that they have spent so long being publicly brilliant that they easily forget that honesty is more valuable than reputation, and that justice must be at the centre of any effort to be clear about personal issues.

    I also suspect that there is a tendency among sceptics (there is a parallel tendency amongst “atheists”) to assume that if one is a real true echt honest-to-… sceptic then one is personally invulnerable, on account of having no faults except those of the laughing-away variety. It’s easy to see “scepticism” as a matter of bringing calm reason to bear on other people’s beliefs, but when personal wants (they all form beliefs) come into the firing-line it becomes much harder to see the target at all, hidden as it is behind a cloud of undefined unease and resentment. While I pity the poor buggers I have to insist that to lose a sense of responsibility, which is what I am talking about, is to lose everything. For example, Y must protect his image, or his “needs”, so X must suffer untold misery. No difference from the usual human egotistical mayhem, and utter loss on every side.

  11. freemage says

    Ugh. It just gets worse. I had been holding out hope that Shermer, for all the creepiness and sexism, was merely ignorant. Instead, he was quite obviously, now, actively seeking to protect his hunting grounds.

  12. says

    Emily? I didn’t call you a misogynist or a chill girl. I didn’t even say your name. I linked to a tweet. What’s with all the dishonest loaded language?

  13. says

    Oh, and I see you actually said that about me on that blog post. Would you please withdraw that falsehood? I did not call you a misogynist or a chill girl.

  14. says

    “I didn’t even say your name. I linked to a tweet.” A tweet that was mine, and referencing it came fully loaded; talk about dishonesty.

    My entire post is rife with sarcasm and flamboyant language, and I do not claim that you called me either of those things, Ophelia. What you did, however, lump me in with “some people” who want “to drive most women away.” and I responded with humor. Laughter is the only way to address vitriol.

  15. says

    No, it’s not dishonesty. Linking to something is a level below naming, because not everyone will bother to see where the tweet goes. I don’t check every link in every post I read; do you? Does anyone?

    Don’t play dumb, Emily. You didn’t directly say I called you misogynist or chill girl but you certainly did imply it.

    Laughter is not the only way to address vitriol. There are lots of ways.

  16. noxiousnan says

    Come now Ophelia, Emily didn’t say you called her a chill girl, and who would mistake her “humor” and flamboyant language as actually being something you might have said? Who would do that?

    “• EllenBeth Wachs
    Welcome to the “chill girl” club. We have more fun.”

    I guess there weren’t enough club members using the old criteria: asserting one has been called a chill girl when one’s behavior is questioned as such: “…and you’re playing chill girl? Is that it?” (EllenBeth Wachs, Yes I’m Going There)

    To boost membership, now one need only refer to oneself as a chill girl: “Ophelia has highlighted my chill-girl attitudes.” (comment 12 above)


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