Processing: The Sexual Harassment And Abuse Floodgates In General… And CFI In Particular (UPDATED AND CORRECTED)

FINAL UPDATE (I hope): There is now a timeline of the major events in these accusations, and the responses to them, on Jason Thibeault’s Lousy Canuck blog. It includes several additional reports of harassment and sexual assault, and several additional pieces of corroboration of these reports. It is being updated as new information comes in and as new events unfold. Rather than continuing to update this post as new reports come in or get taken down or whatever, please follow Jason’s post for an updated timeline.

Updated again, to include the anonymous report made to PZ Myers about Michael Shermer. (CORRECTION: PZ wasn’t told this account anonymously. He know the person’s name. He posted the account without revealing it.)

(Updated and corrected, as noted below.)

In case you’ve been on Mars, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears: The floodgates have started to burst. Reports about sexual harassment and abuse in the atheist and skeptical community are starting to come out… and prominent names are being named. This is kind of a big fucking deal.

A quick recap, pulling some of these together in one place for those who haven’t seen them:

Ashley Paramore released a video describing being sexual assaulted at The Amazing Meeting. She did not name her assailant.

Skeptical writer and speaker Dr. Karen Stollznow, research fellow for JREF and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has written a piece for the Scientific American blog, “I’m Sick of Talking about Sexual Harassment!”, recounting her years-long experience with on-the-job sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has since been reported that the workplace in question was CFI, and the alleged harasser/ assailant in question is Ben Radford, deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer and host of Monster Talk — both projects of the Center for Inquiry. (CORRECTION: Monster Talk is not a CFI project.) (UPDATE: Forgot to mention that CFI has issued a response to this matter. On which I will almost certainly be commenting.) (UPDATE: Scientific American has taken down Karen Stollznow’s blog post. Here is a cached version.

Carrie Poppy, former communication director for the JREF, has written a post confirming that Stollznow told her about these incidents, and describing how this information was… handled by D.J. Grothe and Chip Denman at JREF. This piece also reports a pattern of misogyny and disrespect for women at JREF. It also — very importantly, in my view — includes copies of correspondence between Karen Stollznow and JREF, informing JREF that CFI “have admitted that Ben has behaved inappropriately at conferences and harassed me with unwanted correspondence.”

Sasha at More Than Men has reported on an incident in which D.J. Grothe “made an hilarious horrendous “joke” about how I should pay him a visit down in Los Angeles so that he could drug me and let some of his friends have some fun with me.” His post details other troubling incidents, including Grothe saying that “the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they ‘want pussy.'”

Ed Cara at The Heresy Club has posted about a widely-discussed-behind-the-scenes incident on a CFI cruise, in which special guest speaker Lawrence Krauss sexually propositioned an attendee — an incident that Cara describes as inappropriate, but which he points out did not qualify as harassment or assault. (UPDATE: This post has now been taken down. The bulk of it has been preserved at Lousy Canuck.)

Jen McCreight at BlagHag has reported — among other things — that “When women come to me to warn me about what speakers to avoid at conferences or confide in me sexual harassment they’ve experienced, Lawrence Krauss is by far the most common name I hear.” She has also reported that Ron Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI, knew about this — because she’s the one who told him, at the first Women in Secularism conference in March May 2012. Before the cruise that was discussed by Ed Cara. (CORRECTION: Women in Secularism 1 was in May 2012, not March; the CFI cruise in question was in May 2011, after and not before before and not after Women in Secularism 1.) (UPDATE: This post has been edited, after McCreight was threatened with a lawsuit. She is currently getting legal advice.)

UPDATE: PZ Myers on Pharyngula posts this, told to him anonymously (CORRECTION: PZ wasn’t told this account anonymously, he know the person’s name, and posted the account without revealing it): “At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way. But I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening. I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.” (UPDATE: PZ’s post now includes corroboration of this story from other sources.)

Is there anything I’m missing? I’m going to try to keep updating this if and when new reports are made.


I know that I need to say something about this. Other than just, “This is serious as a heart attack, CFI needs to do the right thing, stat,” which I’ve already said. And other than just a huge “Thank You” to everyone who has been speaking out and telling their stories. It’s hard to do — it typically gets you targeted with a huge load of denialism, trivialization, and outright hostility and hatred, and speaking out against powerful people can have serious consequences — and I want to voice my immense gratitude to the women and men who have had the courage to do it anyway.

I know I need to say something else. I know that many people are expecting me to say something about this: especially after the part I played in the recent CFI controversy. And yes, right now I am thinking very carefully indeed about my future with CFI. (I haven’t had any kind of relationship with JREF in a long time, so that’s a non-issue.)

But I think I need to hold off on any extensive comment for at least a day or two. New reports about all of this are coming in thick and fast; new information is coming out very quickly. I want to hold off on coming to any important conclusions, or making any big, irrevocable decisions, while things are changing so rapidly.

Also… it’s kind of ridiculous that this random thing should be in the mix, but I’m about to undergo this medical procedure, a capsule endoscopy to look at the inside of my stomach. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong (we don’t think), this is a precautionary test being done because of my Lynch Syndrome.) But the prep for the procedure is stressful and unpleasant, plus it’s required me to eat nothing but clear liquids all day, and nothing at all for another day. I’m stressed, I’m hungry, I’m going to be even more stressed and hungry tomorrow, and I know I’m not thinking clearly right now. So because I try to be a good skeptic, I try not to come to important conclusions, or make big, irrevocable decisions, when I know that my mind isn’t working at its best.

This is serious as a heart attack. Processing. Processing.


  1. ludicrous says

    “I know I need to say something else. I know that many people are expecting me to say something about this: especially after the part I played in the recent CFI controversy.”

    I, for one, am not expecting, you have already done so much,

    Please take the time you need for your health care.

  2. rq says

    Good luck with the procedure!
    (When you write about the floodgates, well, then you’ll write about them.)

  3. smhll says

    I think it’s pretty reasonable that you don’t want to blog if you are having to spend most of your day in the bathroom. (Or for any other reason.) (I also agree that giving the people involved time to review all of the information and think before responding is an understandable choice.)

  4. llewelly says

    Take care of your health, please.

    I don’t even know what to say, about all this harassment that is being revealed – I can only think about how many women have been hurt by it, and pushed away from the topic they loved, by people they much admired.

    No one could be blamed for wanting to spend a week under a weighted blanket after that!

  5. busterggi says

    “This is serious as a heart attack. Processing. Processing.”

    No shit, I’m still in shock. Horrbile cynic that I am I’d still have expected better.

  6. Holms says

    Have you seen the CFI response yet? Holy shit. They may as well have just said “Karen is totes wrong / borderline libellous on all points, we are not budging on this, fuck off if you disagree.”

    Ugh. It puts their nopology for Ron Lindsey to shame.

  7. PatrickG says

    But you’re part of the hivemind! Clearly you must have made up your mind already and are hiding such for nefarious reasons because #FTBBULLY!!!

    On a less snarky note, best wishes for your medical procedure.

  8. PDX_Greg says

    Thanks for weighing in ans sharing on the starting and troubling revelations in the movement. The more voices, the better.

    Good luck with your procedure. That’s one thing I can relate to directy. I hate drinking that liquid stuff — it’s basically drinking a gallon of dishsoap.

  9. johnthedrunkard says

    First things first regarding the medical stuff.

    In a way, this is what should have happened from the very beginning. At least as soon as the elevator doors opened. While I’m sure there MAY be a few accusations based on spite, or aimed at behavior that wasn’t reeeeally ‘that bad.’ That is no excuse for a pattern of putting more effort into protecting the accused than the victims.

    This also gives a chance to demonstrate how personal pathology and ill-will can poison an entire organization. So long as misconduct is protected by anonymity, it is MUCH too easy to minimize the scale of the problem and assume that the incidents (vaguely and euphemistically) described, are just extensions of normal behavior.

    Abuse is not ‘flirting.’ Harassment is not ‘normal boy-girl interaction.’ etc. etc. No ‘real’ man should feel any solidarity with creeps and sociopaths.

    How do we stop ‘walking by’ unless we know there is someone doint something that should never be ‘walked by.’

  10. Silentbob says

    Um, sorry, I think the correction needs a correction:

    (CORRECTION: Women in Secularism 1 was in May 2012, not March; the CFI cruise in question was in May 2011, after and not before Women in Secularism 1.)

    Surely that should read “before and not after”.

    Take care.

  11. rory says

    This makes me ill. As someone who’s not deeply involved in the skeptical movement apart from my online presence here, hearing this makes me want to avoid the whole organized movement like the plague. I hope the groups involved take these reports seriously and come down on the perpetrators like a hammer.

  12. smhll says

    “Harassment is not ‘normal boy-girl interaction…

    You make good points. However, I think there are some patterns of harassment in our culture (in social events where alcohol is served) that our culture “normalizes” even though they ARE harassment.

  13. b. - Order of Lagomorpha says

    Who knew that, “We want to encourage people to come forward with their complaints so we can give them the serious attention they warrant.” (bolding added) translates as, “”Serious attention” means “two-week suspension coinciding with their vacation time”? What’s the next level of punishment–cookies without milk? You can only play video games for 6 hours and not 7? You grabbed her breast this time, but someone else’s ass last time, so there’s no pattern of misbehavior? What. the. holy. hell?

  14. Greta Christina says

    Actually, I wasn’t told that account anonymously: I know the person’s name. I posted it without revealing it.

    PZ Myers @ #15: Correction noted. Thanks.

  15. says

    I say “it’s about time” the genie was let out of the bottle.

    And I think this shows how quickly the “rules” — written or otherwise — can change.

    Conferences don’t need harassment policies anymore — because harassers are going to be publicly outed on the spot. Shamed. Ostracized. Fired. Arrested. Oh, the policies will be there — but they’ll be meaningless. The real policy will be that names will be named — right now, on the spot. Every time.

    I think the very next step in this process is that someone is going to think that the laws against sexual predation don’t really apply to them in this situation. And they’ll be wrong. And then they’ll find out that orange jumpsuits aren’t a very good fashion statement.

    People who protect “high profile” predators (yes, that’s what they are) are going to have to learn the Joe Paterno lessons all over again. If you don’t want your own reputation smeared beyond redemption, don’t wallow in the mud with predators. Don’t look the other way. Don’t minimize complaints. Take complaints seriously to the absolute highest level of concern — instead of the lowest level of concern as is done now. It’s better to over-react than under-react. Be public rather than private. Open. Visible.

    We’ll be better off. Certainly women will be safer.

    I think many women need to thank the braveheroines who have come forward. I thank them. And I’m sorry that they had to suffer in silence or to have their experiences dismissed/minimized for so long.

  16. Holms says

    Conferences don’t need harassment policies anymore — because harassers are going to be publicly outed on the spot. Shamed. Ostracized. Fired. Arrested. Oh, the policies will be there — but they’ll be meaningless. The real policy will be that names will be named — right now, on the spot. Every time.

    I wish I could share your optimism. I strongly suspect harassment will continue at almost the same pace, and the shaming of anyone thinking of ‘outing’ an incident will too. People will still have heavy reluctance to rock the boat, even if it is already leaking.

    Progress is being made, but I doubt this is going to be a quick revolution.

  17. playonwords says

    Take care of yourself.

    P Z Myers post “What do you do when someone pulls the pin and hands you a grenade?” has as of 21:15 GMT had 918 comments the vast majority supportive of the victim and her anonymity – it’s about time that more credence was given to the victim.

  18. johnmarley says

    From the CFI response:

    There have been blog posts recently that have commented on public allegations made by Karen Stollznow regarding harassment she suffered and what she considered a less than adequate response by the organization employing the harasser. These posts have named CFI as the organization in question and one of CFI’s employees as the accused harasser.

    Followed by, basically, “we don’t want to talk about it, so stop asking”.

    Way to weasel around, CFI. Stay classy.

  19. says

    Just wanted to say that including DJ Grothe’s blue humor on a list of sex crime shockers is a bit unfortunate. And, in fact, doesn’t including a bad joke on a list of accusations of sexual harassment, assaults, and rapes kind of diminish the seriousness of the latter? I mean, a little? I know you’re just cataloging this weeks disturbing news, but goddamn, eh?

  20. Greta Christina says

    Conferences don’t need harassment policies anymore — because harassers are going to be publicly outed on the spot. Shamed. Ostracized. Fired. Arrested. Oh, the policies will be there — but they’ll be meaningless. The real policy will be that names will be named — right now, on the spot. Every time.

    Kevin @ #20: Are you kidding?

    First, I think your prognosis is incredibly optimistic. There are still plenty of forces at work protecting harassers and assailants — especially when they’re powerful, high-profile public figures.

    Second: Harassment policies are a HUGE part of the process of this getting better. They are a major part of what sends a message to potential harassers and assailants that this behavior is not socially acceptable, and will not be tolerated. We need them now, every bit as much as we ever did.

  21. beezlebubby says

    First of all, best wishes on your health, Greta. I just want to say how very disappointed and disillusioned I am over the conduct of my fellow male skeptics. I would expect better of people plying their trade in challenging religious privilege. It boggles the mind that they don’t extend the same basic principal to gender relations. I am relieved to see the abused and assaulted speaking out, and naming names. People with great ideas aren’t always people with great morals.

  22. Alisa says

    Don’t forget PZ Myers also mentioned someone he knows being sexually assaulted by Krauss (comment 244 in the Carrie thread).

  23. illdoittomorrow says

    Just a note: I clicked the link to the Heresy Club story, and got this:

    “The post titled ‘Storytime.’ has been removed by The Heresy Club admin as it was found to be in breach of Guidelines for all of our writers’. More details will be available soon.”


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