Some Helpful Tips for Those Institutions Wishing to Avoid Sexism and/or Racism

My dear friend and fellow science blogger Anne Jefferson has an excellent post up about sexism and racism in the scientific community. It deserves to be read in its entirety. However, I know many of you movers and shakers are quite busy, so here are her helpful tips, which you might wish to put somewhere easy to find for those times when you might be close to injecting more sexist and/or racist dreck into the community.

So here’s a few simple tips for publishers, funders, and other institutions that have megaphones and amplifiers in the scientific community. If you are part of an organization that’s been caught out on issues of sexism and racism in the past, or you think there’s a possibility it could happen in the future, you might consider printing these tips out and pinning them to your colleague’s cubicles.

1) If you receive racist or sexist material for publication, DON’T PUBLISH IT. Throw it out. Shake your head, laugh about the backwardness of the writer with your colleagues, but DON’T PUBLISH IT. It doesn’t deserve your printed or virtual space, and it’s not “contributing to the conversation.”

2) If you woman and/or person of color is describing problems with racism, sexism, or harassment, assume that what they are saying is true and do not attempt to silence or gaslight them. This is a general rule, but because apparently it needs to be said. Even if, especially if, the women and/or people of color are part of your organization or are accusing your organization of racism, sexism, or harassment, you should let their voices be heard.

3) If your organization is responsible in any way for selecting which voices get heard in science (you know, like publishers, funders, and think tanks do), make sure that women and people of color get representation, and that when you do, that you don’t do with a side helping of victim blaming or condescension.

There you go. All you need to begin the process of keeping sexist and racist dreck out of our spaces. This is how you make the community better.

And now, you have absolutely no excuse for getting it wrong.

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

STEM’s Harassment Problem Goes Well Beyond Field Work

D.N. Lee has a post up at Scientific American that needs to be read right now. Here’s a pull quote, but read the entire thing. Now. No excuses.

I know the SAFE research focused on field research experiences – mostly abroad, away from home institution – but many women are getting harassed out of science before field research opportunities become available to them. You don’t have to go far away to experience this pain, and too many divert their research interests to lab spaces to avoid it. You don’t need a New York Times Op-Ed or Huffington Post published piece to hear these stories. Just listen to your students/academic advisees, especially the ones who may suddenly stop coming/going  to class or students who refuse to go to office hours to see certain instructors or those that flake out on attending after hours social events or if you notice several students en masse avoid a certain instructor or adviser or section of a class/lab offering.  These scholarly environments that indeed do exist, that the royal we have not proactively and deliberately made safe — this is not fair to them or science, either. I wager we are losing some great minds.

The SAFE study was the very first of its kind to document and comment on abuse within field research sciences. When news of this research first hit I remember many critics claiming it wasn’t comprehensive enough, more detailed questions should have been asked, *exact* details of unwanted encounters should have been parsed. Like any ‘first of its kind study’ those comprehensive details are not included. Moreover, I say demanding this amount of detail from subjects is unethical and unnecessary. I have a problem with how easily and quickly fellow scientists can be to harm human subjects because of  ‘for the good of science notion’. No, what more detail do you need? I’m mad that we needed data in the first place in order to have a conversation about doing something. If you or our institutions demand this much research, detail and investment before half-way committing to doing something to establishing safe places and spaces for people, then it means they aren’t really, really interested in creating these safe places/spaces. It shouldn’t matter how often or intense the abuse is or when a ‘not who we expected’ victim speaks up that people in power finally create safe places and spaces. Period.

That second paragraph should be horribly familiar to those of us who have been combating sexual assault and harassment in skeptic and atheist circles. That second paragraph needs to be thrust under the noses of every single person in any community who has been hand-waving away reports of problems. And the ones who continue to hand-wave are the ones we’ll know we need to cull from our spaces.

unacceptable

I have no tolerance left. I’m tired of waiting for people to clue in. Either you recognize there’s a problem with the way women and minorities are treated, or you don’t. If you recognize the problem, help us fix it. If you don’t, get the fuck out of our way.

And go read D.N. Lee’s piece until it finally sinks in: you should be doing something to end this shit right now. You should have started doing it long ago.

No more silence.

Image shows a puma with its paws crossed and its ears flattened, gazing at the camera as if disappointed and annoyed. Caption says, "We expect better of you than this."

Puma photo by Beatrice Murch via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Sexism Starts Early and Is Reinforced Often: STEM Edition

Listen up, everyone who likes to babble about innate differences between the sexes (especially you, Sam Harris). Listen to Libby Anne, whose daughter Sally loves science. Listen to the story of Sally drawing equations on her dad’s office chalkboard, and a science colleague dude walking in, and asking a little girl who’s enthusiastically writing numbers-

(No, he didn’t ask her about her math stuff. Don’t be silly! Everybody knows girls don’t math, even when they’re happily scribbling numbers.)

(No, you weirdo, he didn’t ask her if she likes science. Of course not! Her dad and her two year-old brother can like science, but even if she’s doing sciencey stuff all on her own, that’s obviously not what she likes, because girls don’t science.)

(No, of course he didn’t ask what she was doing! She was obviously just doodling. It didn’t mean anything. Numbers don’t mean things to girls, duh.)

No, of course he asked her the only rational thing you could ask a girl who’s playing with numbers on a chalkboard:

“What’s your favorite princess?”

Image is an angry troll face with red eyes. Background has the letters FFFFFUUUU repeated in red.

Because that’s not reinforcing sexist stereotypes at all.

Libby Anne spoke to the gentleman about it, and you’ll be relieved to know he’s totes aware that women are under-represented in STEM fields, it’s just that his nieces like princesses, so of course that’s what you ask little girls who are playing with math about.

Then, y’know, when those little girls tell you they haven’t got a favorite princess, but they adore science, of course it’s fine to walk out while they’re in the midst of sharing that love, because you’re probably busy and don’t have a moment to listen to miniature females talk about science. She’s supposed to have a favorite princess, anyway, amirite, guys?

Image shows Puss in-Boots from Shrek holding something in his paw, with his mouth open in an angry O. Caption says, "You see this? You see this shit!"

Libby Anne has a message for us:

Many little girls are into princesses, yes, and that’s fine. But but others prefer legos, or art, or My Little Ponies—or science. I want a world where girls are treated as individuals first, a world where girls are allowed to fill in the blanks in their own stories. Is it so hard to ask a girl her interests instead of assuming them for her?

My son Bobby is two, and I’m interested to hear what people say to him as he grows so that I can compare. What do people lead off with with five-year-old boys? It will be gendered as well, I’m sure, and that’s the problem—this is part of the process of socializing children into specific gender roles. Girls are assumed to like sweet sparkly pretty girly things and boys are assumed to like strong manly messy boy things. And then we do studies on psychological differences between men and women or differences in occupational choice as though these things are wholly natural rather than largely the product of relentless cultural shaping during childhood.

Can we please stop doing this shit? It’s 20fucking14. Isn’t it time to stop shoving little kids into gendered boxes and let them love what they love? Can’t we please encourage kids to figure out for themselves what floats their boat?

And if you engage in stupid oblivious sexist shit like the above dude, you really need to take another look at your assumptions, and consider that your thoughtless actions are a major reason why women and men turn out differently. Hint: it ain’t all biology.

/rant. Sod this for a lark. I need a vat of tequila and a truckload of limes, now, please.

 

 

 

The Cataclysm: “The Path of Maximum Abrasion”

Back at my old high school in Arizona, some genius or set thereof had made two independent but intersecting decisions regarding physical education:

  1. They made shorts mandatory, and
  2. They decided we’d do tennis in March.

Now, neither decision is necessarily bad, at least not on its own, but there were critical components of meteorology, geography, geology, and architecture no one had factored in. Namely: March is the absolute windiest month in Northern Arizona, Page is covered in thick sand eroded from the magnificent Page Sandstone, and the tennis courts were outdoors. I often had occasion to reflect upon the fact my youngest uncle had stripped the old paint from our Datsun 240z by sandblasting it. I now knew how that car felt. My legs had never been so completely free of dead skin, which had been stripped off along with several layers of epidermis. If I’d known much about religion in those days, I may have converted to a variety with an extreme emphasis on modesty, just so I could’ve claimed a religious exemption and put on trousers. That wind-blown sand hurt like blazes.

And that was just the ordinary spring wind, carrying plain old sand, not a volcanic blast cloud carrying all sorts of super-sharp, sometimes large, and definitely hot fragments of rock and glassy ash. I can’t imagine how much worse that would be.

Fortunately, we’ve got science to tell us enough to fill in the blanks. Geologists James Moore and Thomas Sisson were all over the trees after Mount. St. Helens hit them with all she had. You might think it’s weird, how two science guys can crawl around trees and stumps measuring what’s not there (on account of it having been abraded away), but they managed – and thus wrote another chapter in the volcanic saga.

They were able to figure out how much of these poor trees was removed by a kind of forensic reconstruction of their original thickness, using the bits of their outer surfaces St. Helens had missed, plus growth rings. They relied mostly on stumps and small trees that hadn’t toppled. And those measurements tell a story that make me realize just how good I had it on those windy tennis courts.

 A nearer view of tree torn from base on Harry's Ridge, five miles north of Mount St. Helens crater. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

A nearer view of tree torn from base on Harry’s Ridge, five miles north of Mount St. Helens crater. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

If you were the side of the tree facing the volcano, you had it very bad indeed. Nearly equally, from bottom to top, you would have been completely sandblasted. Not even falling would protect you: it just meant that your roots got the brunt of it on the parts exposed to the volcano. The abrasive phase of the lateral blast may not have lasted long, but it was long enough to hit you both when you were up and when you were down. Yeow.

Moore and Sisson’s measurements show that all the bark was stripped on the side facing the blast. If you were a large tree, that was 1-2 centimeters (.4-.8 inches) of you ripped right away. If you were small, you’d lost an average of a millimeter – which may not sound like a lot, but it’s all relative. If you were close to the volcano, more than 180° of your trunk had its bark blasted off. If you were a stump, you’d end up more abraded than if you were a small tree thin enough to bend over in that searing, grit-filled wind. Stumps within 8 kilometers (5 miles) were actually abraded several centimeters deep. My near-microscopic layers of missing epidermis ain’t nothing compared to that.

Farther away wasn’t that much better. Small trees 14-20 kilometers (8.7-12.4 miles) distand (disregarding the southern margin) had 180° of bark removed. One of the eeriest things to see at the Johnston Ridge Observatory is a display of one of the trees where that’s happened.

Detail of the half-debarked tree at Johnston Ridge Observatory. The left side shows the side of the tree facing the volcano: it's stripped of bark and a bit polished. The right shows the side facing away, which still retains its thick bark.

Detail of the half-debarked tree at Johnston Ridge Observatory. The left side shows the side of the tree facing the volcano: it’s stripped of bark and a bit polished. The right shows the side facing away, which still retains its thick bark.

Further away, the near sides are roughed up but not completely debarked by the sandblasting they endured – my legs can sympathize.

USGS geologist Richard Waitt had a look at downed trees that had retained their branches, and found their former undersides, which faced the volcano after the trees toppled, were “debarked and abraded,” showing that even after the phase of the blast powerful enough to fell old giants where they stood, the blast was still hurling projectiles horizontally – a mind-boggling amount of force.

Abrasion decreased with distance; the patterns show there was a “simultaneous decrease in size, velocity, and number of fragments carried by the surge” the further away it got. It was losing energy and dropping its load; the debris it buried the trees in tells us even more about the complex phases of the blast. The trees had been sandblasted, felled, and scorched, but the volcano wasn’t quite through with them yet.

 The area devastated by Mount St. Helens and damaged tree stumps. Lithic fragments and scoriaceous gray dacite driven into upstream side of a splintered stump on ridge east of Studebaker Creek. Hammer for scale. Photo by S.W. Kieffer. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 220-D, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

The area devastated by Mount St. Helens and damaged tree stumps. Lithic fragments and scoriaceous gray dacite driven into upstream side of a splintered stump on ridge east of Studebaker Creek. Hammer for scale. Photo by S.W. Kieffer. Skamania County, Washington. 1980. Figure 220-D, U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 1250. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

 

Previous: The Cataclysm: “From Unbaked Fragments to Vitreous Charcoal”

Next: The Cataclysm: “Fully Down and Buried”

References:

Lipman, Peter W., and Mullineaux, Donal R., Editors (1981): The 1980 Eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Washington. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1250.

 

Previously published at Rosetta Stones.

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IVc: Wherein the Climate Heats Up

Onward, Christianist weather! We’re warming up with some global warming talk today. While SPC was content to devote a mere text box to climate change, basically blowing raspberries at anyone who gives a shit about it and waving off dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions by proclaiming hey, plants love carbon dioxide!, BJU’s Earth Science 4th Edition isn’t satisfied with blurting a few facts and moving on. No, there’s a whole chapter on the subject. And, people, they are the totes reasonable ones. They’re right in the middle. Look: they sneer at both sides!

They begin with a very telling couplet of sentences:

You’ve probably heard a lot about climate change. And you’re probably wondering what you should think about it.

This right here encapsulates exactly the attitude shared across all three Christianist curricula: they aren’t here to teach kids how to think. They’re telling them what to think. There’s only one way – God’s way – and they all have the direct line to the Almighty. Never mind they’re all hearing different things when they call. They have the answer (theirs God’s), there’s only one correct way to think about things (theirs God’s), and by God, you will think exactly what they God tells you to think. (Nevermind that God appears to have told the three textbook writers different things. I’m sure it’s just one of those ineffable mystery thingies, or the other two are delusional, or something.)

Image shows a white and orange cat bopping a gray and white tabby on the nose. Caption says, "BJU cat sez, "No, this what bible meanz."

Image courtesy Nathan Vaughn
via Flicker (CC BY 2.0). Caption by moi.

So let’s find out “what you should think,” per BJU’s God.

The first thing is not to think like those Christians.

Some Christians reject the principles of environmentalism because they associate them with the extreme views of people who worship nature and violently protect animal rights. These believers go in the other direction, polluting and consuming Earth’s resources with no concern about conservation. They may think, “God is going to burn up this world some day soon anyway and create a new one. So there’s no need to worry about using the earth and its resources wisely, right? This view is anti-environmentalism.

Well, that sure told them. Are you listening, A Beka and ACE? Herngh??? You’re not thinking right!

Now, I hope you were running low on straw, because ES4’s having a fire sale:

There are also radical environmentalists who view people as nature’s biggest problem. Man’s works are evil. Nature is good. Population growth is bad. Technology consumes Earth’s precious resources and pollutes. “Mother Earth” must be protected at all costs because we came from the earth through evolution.

Ah, how sweet of them to call everyone who thinks we should, maybe, y’know, save the planet we live on from our own predation because hey, we live here “radical environmentalists.” It’s kinda like how all the folks who think hey, mebbe we should stop being so shitty to women are “radical feminists.”

And, like MRAs, they want us to know that we are so wrong, you guys. We’re defying God! Humans are the bestest, He said so! And those other Christians are wrong, too, because we’re stewards! God said so!!

Oh, and the “climate change debate” is “a crusade of extreme environmentalists.”

Oy.

Well, at least they believe saving animals from our own stupidity like oil spills, doing some recycling, and engaging in some energy conservation glorifies God. Baby steps.

Image shows a swimming dog with bulging eyes, getting ready to bite a bottle floating in the pond with him. Caption says, "How many times do I have to tell you that this goes in the recycling bin???"

All that’s the first page of the chapter. Laying it on with a trowel, they are. Fortunately, aside from a not-funny cartoon about a teenage girl using global warming as an excuse to buy a new wardrobe, they dial back to just-the-facts mode. They do a fine job explaining things that affect climate, like latitude, ocean currents, topography, and so forth. No God talk ensues until we turn the page and run smack into a text box about the Canopy Theory. Yes, that canopy. Oh, dear.

We’re told to “imagine the rain pounding on the Ark’s roof,” and where did all that water come from? (And why doesn’t ES4 mention it would’ve been boiling?) We’re treated to vapor canopies and proof texts. There’s an illustration of the vapor canopy that looks like an orange wrapped in a coffee cup sleeve. They fuss over how the Hebrew word raqiya should translate. They dither with Russell Humphrey’s idea that God made a bunch of stuff with two different gobs of water, and hey, even though “we don’t know as a certainty how God actually created the universe,” that totally fits the Bible, right? Only to become shocked – shocked, I tell you – that actually modeling this canopy thing shows either a) Earth was broiling hot like Venus or b) you could hardly get your ankles wet with the rain resulting from the canopy collapse. And the authors conclude that the canopy’s probably a dud, because the dude who came up with the original vapor canopy theory was one of those freaks who believe in an Earth that’s millions of years old. Harrumph.

This would be adorable if it wasn’t in a book claiming to be an actual science textbook.

Following, we have a long section about climate zones, which could use a little more detail on their map, plus someone who knows what a saguaro cactus is (“Towering Sonora cactuses?” *snortle*) Otherwise, it’s not bad, and is a nice introduction to the concept of climate zones.

But we get a hefty dose of OMFG with the “Serving God as a Climatologist” box. They wax nearly lyrical over Lonnie Thompson, who “may have spent more time than anyone else in the world above an elevation above an elevation of 18,000 feet.” He is, they say, “trying to preserve history in the ice.” Now, you may get the impression that Dr. Thompson is a creationist, considering how these creationists are salivating over him. He is not. In fact, he is a pretty important scientist on the climate change front, and so the staff writing ES4 have a shiny-sharp knife for his parka’d back:

Dominion Opportunities

A secular climatologist’s work is impressive and can be difficult, but he is missing something big. His data is valuable and is needed by the climate change debate, but his interpretation is affected by his worldview. What he interprets as annual changes in ice over thousands of years may actually be a record of individual storms over a much shorter period of time. Secular, old earth views of history reject the authority of God’s Word.

Waal, that’s a fine fuck-you to Lonnie, innit?

The current controversy over climate change highlights how this science and the politics it drives can touch our daily lives. We need more Christians in this field to build solid scientific models based on the true history of the earth – the one found in the Bible.

So. These little ratfuckers want to infiltrate scientific fields, shit all over the data scientists like Lonny T have sweated blood and risked their lives to obtain, and force everyone to follow their fairy tales, which basically means allowing the world to broil to death because we can’t see reality for what it is.

I don’t like ‘em and can’t trust ‘em. Nor should anyone who works with one of these voluntarily delusional fuckwads.

I shall let Dr. Thompson have a stern word:

Thompson dismisses skeptics who contend that the current warming trend is due to a natural cycle. “Name one who has ever really studied climate or collected data,” he says. “I bet you can’t.” Glaciers, he adds, “have no political agenda. They don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Science is about what is, not what we believe or hope. And it shows that global warming is wiping out invaluable geological archives right before our eyes.”*

Image shows a man wearing a fur hat, sunglasses, an ice-goatee on his beard, and a black jacket with snow on it. He is looking into the camera with a no-nonsense attitude.

Lonnie G. Thompson during an Antarctic Expedition in 1974. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Yeah. Something tells me he’d have zero sympathy for BJU’s “but that’s not what God says” shenanigans.

You’d think, after a post this long, that we’re done with this chapter. But no! There’s a whole ‘nother half devoted specifically to climate change. Buckle in, kids, and be sure to wear your best crash helmets. I have a feeling the next post is gonna get wild and wooly.

 

*I believe that, my darlings, is the rhetorical equipment of bringing a howitzer to a knife fight. Lonnie is awesome.

Finally! The Perfect Book for Geology-Loving Comic Book Fans!

Have you dreamt of a richly-illustrated, geology-themed superhero comic for kids? One that not only gets the science right, but encourages great study habits, turns ordinary encounters into fantastical geologic adventures, models kindness and heart-warming family dynamics, and encourages creativity, all without talking down to kids for an instant? My darlings, your dreams just came true:

Image shows the cover of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

When I first got my hands on an advance copy of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, I squeed. I did. Because I am a nerd, people. I love geology, and I thoroughly enjoy superhero comics, and I adore media that put someone other than a generic white male in the spotlight for a change. And this comic book is written by Kanani K. M. Lee, an actual geophysicist whose specialty is the interior of the earth – and writing rocking great geologic comics. Illustrator Adam Wallenta brings her characters to vivid life, with blazing, bold color illustrations.

Our hero is George, a sweet and brilliant African-American boy who lives with his grandma and has a secret identity. He’s an ordinary boy worried about getting to school on time and passing his earth science test. But when cracks in the sidewalk menace, he transforms into Geo, a geologically-savvy superhero. His skateboard becomes a rocket-board, and his backpack becomes Rocky, his faithful robot dog. The sidewalk cracks morph into tectonic plates; an open manhole erupts as a raging volcano (from which he saves a visually-impaired woman). He encounters earthquakes and tsunamis, ties the geological drama to the lessons on the earth’s structure and plate tectonics taught by his science teacher, and after heroic feats of recall, aces his test.

Detail from The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic.

It’s a richly-imagined world that vividly shows the way the plates move, and how those movements are driven by titanic forces deep within our home planet. Using diagrams, analogies, and dramatic illustrations how the varied geologic phenomena Geo experienced can all be tied to those plate motions. Dr. Lee manages to pack a textbook-worth of information in, but paces it in such a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. And the characters she’s created are a delight.

This may not be a suitable comic for very young children (unless they’re the kind of kids who started using complex technical terms at the age of five), but you can feel quite comfortable getting a copy for anyone from grade school to senior citizen. Anyone who loves comics, science, or both will enjoy this tale. And the second half of the book is an excellent prose tutorial on plate tectonics, paleomagnetic reversals, the earth’s structure, seismology, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, and finishes with a primer on what geologists actually do that will help everyone realize there’s more to it than just rocks. The final section gives links to geology activities suitable for trying at home. Neat!

I can’t tell you what a relief The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic is after spending over a month buried in creationist textbooks that not only mutilate geoscience, but have severely stunted imaginations. This is the comic I’ll be slipping to kids who are stuck learning sham science. It shows the real thing, and in a gorgeous way. It’s the book I’ll be giving to kids who want to know more about geoscience, and the people who think rocks are boring, and the folks who care about diversity in STEM, and anyone who needs a gentle nudge to see how rewarding diversity can be. I can see this as the lovingly-battered book people slip off a shelf to show as the comic that got them in to science, or helped them understand the news when things like the Napa quake happen.

And I’m so thrilled we’ll be seeing Geo again – I’m told more adventures are already in the works. I can’t wait!

Go introduce yourself to Geo here, and reserve your copy here.

Image shows Misha asleep on the keyboard and my paper copy of the above review. I was supposed to be transcribing it, but she was so darned comfy...

Misha’s idea of helping me get this review online for ye.

This review was originally published at Rosetta Stones. But you guys are the only ones getting the bonus kitty pic!

So Much Wrong: James Randi’s Rape Culture Remarks

Interesting factoid: James Randi doesn’t think women are worth as much as men. Oh, I’m sure if I got hold of him on the phone, he’d deny that. Probably would have some wonderful words about how amazing women are and how much he respects them and equality and achievement and such. Problem is, if he spoke those words, I wouldn’t believe him. Neither does he, deep down.

Let’s look at the evidence, shall we? Here is what he told Mark Oppenheimer, who blew the lid off Shermer’s (alleged) career as a serial sexual harasser and assaulter.

But Shermer’s reputation really does precede him, and it predates the recent wave of attention given to sex crimes and sexual harassment. I reached the movement’s grand old man, 86-year-old James Randi, by telephone, at his house in Florida. Randi is no longer involved in his foundation’s daily operations, but he remains its chair, and he is a legend of the movement, famously not fooled by anybody. He seems not to be naïve about Shermer — although he’s not so troubled by him, either.

“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

Oh, my. Let’s stop right here a moment. James Randi knew Shermer was, in his words, being “a bad boy on occasion.” Generally, when men talk about other men being “bad boys” in the context of a discussion on sexual harassment and assault, they mean that those “bad boys” were harassing women. Hitting on them. Making them uncomfortable by pressing unwanted advances, or molesting them, or making unwelcome sexual comments, or possibly getting them too drunk to consent or protest and then raping them. Men say other men are being “bad boys” when they don’t think it’s a very big deal, except that those wimminz are sooo sensitive, amirite fellas? And Shermer’s behavior was bad enough for Randi to threaten to “limit his attendance at the conference,” so the behavior Randi was aware of was probably not limited to unwanted flirting.

Randi didn’t give a shit about those women. If he had, he would have limited Shermer’s attendance at the first credible report. But the complaints of however many women – and it seems that there must have been more than one, considering the “on occasion” and “many more complaints” wording – weren’t enough for Randi to throw out his golden boy. No, a few, or a handful, of women being victimized just weren’t enough. He needed more. And those had to be “from people I have reason to believe,” because apparently a woman’s word is kind of hard to swallow, so they had to be reallyreally believable.

How much would you like to bet Randi would put more weight on a man’s word than a woman’s, and not even necessarily realize he was doing it?

And I’ll bet you further that if the believable complaints hit the magic number, he wouldn’t ban Shermer from speaking and eject him permanently from TAM. Nonono, that would be too extreme. He would just have to limit his attendance, is all.

Right, let’s move on to why even this small bit of discipline was never administered.

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

I may have given Randi the benefit of the doubt, without that statement. I may have been all understanding, and generous, and allowed that yes, it can be hard to believe strangers telling you bad things about your friend, and sure, it’s hard to comprehend just how serious sexual harassment is when you’re not the one constantly subjected to it, and he’s an old white dude (see here for a magnificent rant by RQ on that), and excuses excuses, but that bit ruins him. Let’s look at it closely, shall we?

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember.

Oh, well, it was all Demon Rum’s fault, the poor man! Allowances must be made! He doesn’t remember assaulting people, so as long as he doesn’t do it too much while he’s blacked-out drunk, no problem, right?

“I haven’t seen him doing that.

And, of course, if a man has not personally witnessed another man doing horrible shit while drunk, there’s no reason to take complaints so damned seriously. Probably didn’t happen. Cuz I didn’t see it personally. Could not possibly be because a) Shermer wasn’t that drunk and b) was smart enough not to assault people right under the eyes of the man who could have him ejected from TAM for life.

“But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control.

People in your organization are telling you this giant jackass is not under control. And what’s everybody’s brilliant solution? Tell him he has to be under better control! Whee, problem solved, no harm no foul except to the women already victimized, but it’s not like they’re as important as this man who makes lots of money, and it’s definitely not like I, James Randi, am the head of this ship and can decide that Shermer needs to be under better control somewhere else.

Only, it is.

“If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately.

ORLY? He allegedly raped a woman in 2008 – that’s not violent enough for ya? Oh, right, unless he’s jumping from the bushes with a knife and beating her unconscious rather than merely drugging her into unconsciousness and then raping her, that’s totes not violent in your world. Riiight. I wonder how non-violent you’d think it was if you were the one waking up after being drugged (yes, alcohol’s a drug) with someone shoving their dick where you didn’t want it?

Limber your shouting voices, folks, it’s about to get far worse.

“I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Image on top is a My Little Pony looking upward in shock. Caption says, "WTF is that?" Bottom image shows her looking in a different direction, seeming angry. Caption says, "Srsly, WTF is that?"

I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Image shows Puss in-Boots from Shrek holding something in his paw, with his mouth open in an angry O. Caption says, "You see this? You see this shit!"

“I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.

Image shows an anime woman with pink hair screaming so hard she's spitting and her eyes look like they're exploding. Caption says, "What is this I don't even"

“I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Image is an angry troll face with red eyes. Background has the letters FFFFFUUUU repeated in red.

If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Image shows a man in a very tacky wizard's outfit, holding out his hand. Caption says, "Stand back. Shit's about to get real."

Image shows a nuclear bomb explosion.

Operation Castle – Bravo shot explosion. Image via Wikipedia Commons.

Excuse me. I seem to have exploded all over my part of the planet and must gather my remains. BRB.

Image shows an orange kitten hugging a broom handle. Caption says, "Yah, itz a big job, but somebudyz gotta do it."

How do these words come out of your mouth if you believe women are actual people with genuine autonomy, and not just objects for men, i.e. real people, to play with? How do you speak these words about a man who you have been told harasses women, causing them enough distress that you have actually confronted the harasser and advised him he is risking your limiting his presence at your conference, and think they are reasonable words, if you believe that women have the same value as men? HOW THE ACTUAL FUCK do you speak these words and believe they absolve you of your part in this, excuse your inaction, if you actually believe that sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious problems?

He doesn’t. I’m sure he’d say he does, but his own words and actions prove he doesn’t. Look at what he’s saying: guys will just “misbehave” around women when they are drunk. So it’s perfectly fine that all he did was sexually harass women. Grabbing their tits without consent isn’t violent. Getting them drunk and raping them when they are too incapacitated to refuse sex or give any sort of meaningful consent isn’t violent. To James Randi, anything short of Michael Shermer actually beating a woman right there on the convention floor is not worth fussing over. It’s boys-will-be-boys. It’s oh-well-that’s-what-dude’s-do-when-they’re-drunk. Whatevs. What are all you harridans on about? It’s not like he grabbed a man’s junk, or hit anybody, amirite?

This is rape culture. This is James Randi fully and enthusiastically participating in it, and seeing no real harm.

James Randi couldn’t take women’s complaints seriously. Now we have at least one woman saying she was sexually assaulted by Michael Shermer. And James fucking Randi doesn’t consider that violence. No, she was drunk, and he was drunk, and that’s what dudes do, force themselves on women while they’re drunk. It’s not like that’s real violence that warrants ejecting Michael Shermer from TAM. Not in James Randi’s world.

Hopefully, he’s going to read those words over to himself a few times, and do some hard thinking, and realize exactly what it is that he’s saying. And he’ll realize that what he is saying reduces women to third-rate beings rather than human beings with the right to not be molested, and he’ll apologize, and we’ll see him take a thorough look at the evidence again and maybe, just possibly, decide that the way Shermer “misbehaved” warrants expulsion.

But I will not hold my breath, any more than I am breathlessly anticipating Michael Shermer will become my bestie (newsflash: he never will). Too many male skeptics have proven they’re unable to examine their own sexist behavior and thought patterns, much less correct them.

I just hope that the people who nodded along with Randi’s odious statement are now doing a double-take, and will realize it’s time to confront and eradicate those attitudes, both within themselves and in the broader movement. I hope a lot of people have now realized that treating men’s “misbehavior” towards women, including trans women, as “boys will be boys” gets us nothing but a movement where women and LGBTQ folk aren’t safe, while rapists and harassers are allowed to prey on them with impunity.

If you love skepticism, you’re going to have to clean house. And you’re going to have to admit your heroes have some horrifically bad behaviors and attitudes, and change the culture so that it is made manifestly clear that this shit must and will stop.

You want skepticism to survive as a viable movement? Stop making it a safe haven for predators. Stop making excuses like Randi’s. Start holding everyone accountable for the damage they do. And start making it clear that this sort of shit will no longer be tolerated. At. All.

“Pew! Pew!” Adorable Woodland Critters Revealed

A rousing round of applause, please, for our own Onamission5, who identified our calling critters. Yep, them’s definitely Douglas Squirrels!

Image shows a small, gray-backed squirrel with a yellow-orange belly, clinging to a tree.

One of the Douglas Squirrels that was making so much racket.

And for once, I’m not squeeing all over an invasive species! These are Pacific Northwest natives. John Muir described them perfectly:

THE Douglas Squirrel is by far the most interesting and influential of the California sciuridæ, surpassing every other species in force of character, numbers, and extent of range, and in the amount of influence he brings to bear upon the health and distribution of the vast forests he inhabits.

Go where you will throughout the noble woods of the Sierra Nevada, among the giant pines and spruces of the lower zones, up through the towering Silver Firs to the storm-bent thickets of the summit peaks, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than even the huge bears that shuffle through the tangled underbrush beneath him. Every wind is fretted by his voice, almost every bole and branch feels the sting of his sharp feet. How much the growth of the trees is stimulated by this means it is not easy to learn, but his action in manipulating their seeds is more appreciable. Nature has made him master forester and committed most of her coniferous crops to his paws. Probably over fifty per cent. of all the cones ripened on the Sierra are cut off and handled by the Douglas alone, and of those of the Big Trees perhaps ninety per cent. pass through his hands: the greater portion is of course stored away for food to last during the winter and spring, but some of them are tucked separately into loosely covered holes, where some of the seeds germinate and become trees. But the Sierra is only one of the many provinces over which he holds sway, for his dominion extends over all the Redwood Belt of the Coast Mountains, and far northward throughout the majestic forests of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. I make haste to mention these facts, to show upon how substantial a foundation the importance I ascribe to him rests.

[snip]

From the nose to the root of the tail he measures about eight inches; and his tail, which he so effectively uses in interpreting his feelings, is about six inches in length. He wears dark bluish-gray over the back and half-way down the sides, bright buff on the belly, with a stripe of dark gray, nearly black, separating the upper and under colors; this dividing stripe, however, is not very sharply defined. He has long black whiskers, which gives him a rather fierce look when observed closely, strong claws, sharp as fish-hooks, and the brightest of bright eyes, full of telling speculation.

Yup. That’s our little fellas!

Here’s the video of one of our very own callers: brace yourselves for the adorableness as it tells all and sundry that this is its tree, thankeeverymuch, and no one is allowed to encroach.

And for more charming Douglas Squirrel action, plus a look at how the little ones battle:

Dawwww.

Pew! Pew! Another Clue

All right, so far, we’ve got two votes for squirrels with frickin’ laser beams on their heads in our cute woodland critters going “pew pew” thread. That describes them to a T. However! As generally accurate as those guesses are, they do not have the specificity I’m aiming for (see what I did there? Aiming? Hur hur). So it’s time for the patented blurry photo of a woodland critter for you to identify!

Image shows a small gray and orange squirrel staring at the camera from the tangle of branches around the trunk of a tree.

Unidentified Woodland Critter

I know you can identify this little guy, my darlings. Mostly because you’re brilliant, but also because I had an ident after thirty seconds on Google, and I am teh crap at this zoology stuff. I’m still throwing it out to you lot, because I know you enjoy this sort of thing. And then one of you will be named! In a post! As the Person Who Got the Ident!

I can think of many things more prestigious, but hey, I can’t give you those. I can give you this.

Another, far less blurry picture, and also a killer-cute video, to come once I’ve given you a chance to do your thing. Identify away, my darlings! And I like the laser beams idea – is there anyone here who can manufacture little helmets with lasers for me to strap to squirrel noggins? We’ll run a Kickstarter.