Is the Skeptic Empire dying?

A new employee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has already started receiving death threats and harassment just for mentioning feminism.

A quote from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that’s relevant to what we’re seeing right now. We call ourselves rationalists but we devolve into hyperskepticism and denialism about real, demonstrable problems in our community. Problems like irrational hatred of feminism to the point of excusing harassment, death threats, rape threats et cetera as “trolling”. To the point of being unable to criticize our leaders for their well-evidenced transgressions.

Ezri Dax: I think that the situation with Gowron is a symptom of a bigger problem. The Klingon Empire is dying; and I think it deserves to die. I tend to look at the Empire with a little more skepticism than Curzon and Jadzia did. I see a society that is in deep denial about itself. We’re talking about a warrior culture that prides itself on maintaining centuries-old traditions of honor and integrity. But in reality, it’s willing to accept corruption at the highest levels.

Worf: You are overstating your case.

Dax: Am I? Who was the last leader of the High Council that you respected? Has there even been one? And how many times have you had to cover up the crimes of Klingon leaders because you were told that it was for the good of the Empire? I… I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is, you have been willing to accept a government that you know is corrupt. Gowron’s just the latest example. Worf, you are the most honorable and decent man that I’ve ever met. And if *you* are willing to tolerate men like Gowron, then what hope is there for the Empire?

What kinds of rationalists are we? What claim do we have to being decent human beings without our dogmas if we act like this?How can anyone take us as a movement seriously if we can’t clean our houses? How the hell do we even drain this swamp?

Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events

In the vein of the harassment policies campaign timeline, wherein the major players in the movement fought hard for harassment policies at secular events and largely won the day despite monumental pushback, I felt it prudent to get ahead of people trying to misinterpret the timeline of events and twist the timeline to their own ends. That harassment policies campaign actually contains a significant amount of back-story for a lot of these issues. It also includes a number of charges with regard to assaults that had been reported but not dealt with by the organizations in question. Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with that timeline before returning here, please.

As a result of the community reaching a tipping point, with many prominent voices having been subjected to harassment for years on end, these past few weeks have become something of a watershed moment for our movements. It is important that the actions are documented, even where legal threats have removed the original claims. I will be updating this on the fly, as a living document, much as I did with the previous timeline. At the bottom is a list of links I’m already planning on including, that will be put into their proper positions as I go.

Please feel free to add important events in the comments, though I am not going back as far as WiS2 and documenting the controversy surrounding it unless it’s extremely relevant to this timeline. I am also not linking every single blog commentary unless it has important or unique events or pieces of context, though I am not against comments containing links to said less-directly-relevant commentary even if it doesn’t make it into the body of the post.
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Ben Radford and CFI: A point of contention

Center For Inquiry’s Ben Radford, whom you might remember as the skeptic who took on a four year old over evolutionary reasons little girls might like pink, among numerous other terrible bits of skepticism and anti-science, has been accused of sexually harassing and assaulting Karen Stollznow serially over a period of four years. The story was told anonymously, but a number of independent sources on Twitter and elsewhere blew the whistle and named Radford. PZ received many emails to that effect. And Stollznow has since given her blessing to the people naming him.

An investigation was apparently undertaken by CFI, hiring a third party contractor; the investigators may or may not have found him guilty. That appears to be a point of contention presently in the narrative. From Stollznow’s post:

Five months after I lodged my complaint I received a letter that was riddled with legalese but acknowledged the guilt of this individual. They had found evidence of “inappropriate communications” and “inappropriate” conduct at conferences. However, they greatly reduced the severity of my claims. When I asked for clarification and a copy of the report they treated me like a nuisance. In response to my unanswered phone calls they sent a second letter that refused to allow me to view the report because they couldn’t release it to “the public”. They assured me they were disciplining the harasser but this turned out to be a mere slap on the wrist. He was suspended, while he was on vacation overseas. They offered no apology, that would be an admission of guilt, but they thanked me for bringing this serious matter to their attention. Then they asked me to not discuss this with anyone. This confidentiality served me at first; I wanted to retain my dignity and remain professional. Then I realized that they are trying to silence me, and this silence only keeps up appearances for them and protects the harasser.

Emphasis mine.

They had enough evidence that he was serially harassing someone in order to “suspend” him — while he was already on vacation overseas. When it would have no impact on his job, and would serve as nothing but a note in his file.
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#FtBCon: Mission Creep (with text)

FtBConscience banner

My talk for FtBConscience! Hooray!

Comments are disabled there, but are enabled here. The video should hopefully also helpfully direct would-be commenters here via the description.

Full text of my speech below the fold. It doesn’t contain any of the verbal burrs or slight tangents I took but it’s largely intact. I hope some kind soul is good enough to transcribe the Q&A portion, but if not, I’ll do so myself eventually. Richard Carrier asked a question about libertarianism, and I was forced to answer honestly rather than hedging. I’m sure I’ll incur some wrath!

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Help provide shelter to a fellow heathen

Daniel Samuelson, a disabled atheist steampunk author whom you might know as Luarian on comments or Teh Tweeters, is in a bit of a bind with regard to making his rent. I’ve long said that we atheists need to be far better at taking care of our own when each of us finds ourselves in need.

As you can see in the video, I’m kind of between being homeless and not being homeless right now. I paid rent to live in the place I’m in this month and it’s the first time I’ve had a room in over two years. I am also disabled, as you can hear, and I am unable to work anymore. This leaves me with very few options for doing anything to support myself. While I have applied to Social Security for support, I still haven’t heard back on this decision and, even if it’s successful, it could be months before I get my benefits and it could be over a year before they could find a place for me to live. The HUD lines are, essentially, closed in Orange County and there are no other systems for disabled people to get rental support here.

Except for you. That’s why I’m reaching out – with a little bit of help, I can pay this deposit and no longer be homeless. My partner is paying for my rent but she can’t afford the deposit being asked for. I already have a fifth of my goal met by a variety of awesome people, but it will take more. It’ll take more donations to be sure, but it’ll also take more sharing, more conversations, and more discussion. It’ll take all of us working together to pitch in a little bit to do a big thing. My health and wellbeing suffer every day since as my disability has grown to affect me more, I have been unable to deal with it effectively due to being homeless. With a little bit of help, you could make my life infinitely better.

Please, consider pitching in $5, and please share with your friends on your favorite social networks. I need all the help I can get, and I appreciate everything everyone has, and will do, for me.

~ Danny

If you have some spare scratch, consider throwing it Daniel’s way.

I have a full schedule!

I have a busy bunch of days ahead of me! Sorry if the blog goes slightly quieter for a bit.

Tomorrow I’ll be starting the set-up for CONvergence’s Freethought Blogs room (and I might even pitch in on the Skepchick room too… perhaps, if they ask nicely enough). The full convention schedule is ridiculously jam-packed with geekery and science. The Skepchickcon track is where all the skepticism and sciencey goodness is located, and it’s where I’ll be spending most of my weekend.

I made the cut on these panels:

Worldbusters!
Worldbuilders, you think you have a crackerjack rationale for how zombies work, or how the entire galaxy is populated with humanoids, or how your spaceships can travel faster than light…bounce those ideas off our critical panel of scientists. Panelists: Laura Okagaki, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers, Jason Thibeault (mod)
Thursday July 4, 2013 10:00pm – 11:00pm

The Gods of Geekdom
The Avengers movie had several gods, atheists, agnostics, and Christians all mingled together- we comfortably mix up multiple pantheons and a hard-nosed scientific attitudes in comics and SF literature. How do nerds do that without their heads exploding? Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Ryan Consell, Fionnuala Murphy, Nick Glover
Saturday July 6, 2013 12:30pm – 1:30pm

The Real World vs. the Internet
A line is a blurring and a distinction is fading: social networking and online communities are becoming just as real as face-to-face engagements. Panelists: Jason Thibeault, PZ Myers, Lux Pickel, Stephanie Zvan (mod), Jamie Bernstein
Saturday July 6, 2013 8:30pm – 9:30pm

There were two other panels I was on in the first draft, that I guess got overbooked, and I’m not particularly fighting to get back onto. I’m more than happy with these ones, especially Gods of Geekdom. Though I do sort of wish I could have made Fight the Trolls, I would have been moderator on that — and Stephanie’s therefore a far better choice for that particular panel for two reasons.

I also look forward to having a terrible cold after this weekend as is tradition, and then the week after, I’ll be doing FtBCONscience! The full schedule is not yet finalized, and I expect there will be some fluidity to the panels (as there will be with when you folks decide to watch them), but I’m at least doing a panel on Saturday morning at 9am CT (subject to change), with Desiree Schell, Debbie Goddard, James Croft, and I’m wrangling a fourth guest. The panel is called Atheism Is Not Enough (named after my post), and we’re going to talk about atheism as a gateway into the wider world of social justice activism.

My organizer line is pretty packed, in fact, so it looks like I’ll be getting my fill of moderating panels (read: herding cats) after all.

Look forward to seeing you all! Both in person, and virtually.

Pattern recognition

It’s not a secret that I like JT Eberhard. I think he’s a generally savvy guy. He’s good at atheist activism. He is good FOR atheist activism. He is very much pro-equality, and he generally doesn’t take any nonsense that is directed at him.

He’s got a serious feminism problem, though. Not that he’s anti-feminist — on the contrary. Just ask him. The problem is, he is not good at feminist activism. And he is not good FOR feminist activism. And when feminists tell him so, he is apparently turning, one at a time, against them. In this, I see JT going very, very wrong, despite all his claimed good intentions. I am remiss if I do not attempt to help him right this wrong, even if it takes some frank observations and tough words and hurt feelings.
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Anatomy of another apology

So, Ron Lindsay apologized. That’s good. Not superlative good, but it’s not bad, in any respect.

Someone pointed out privately the timing between my post on Friday dissecting the Kickstarter apology, and this apology. I chuckled, and said that I only wish I had that level of influence. But this does put me in a position where I have to parse the apology in light of what I wrote on Friday, and despite the fact that I do find this apology somewhat wanting, I also know how difficult it must have been to do, and that wins from me a lot of (provisional) goodwill.

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Two takes on CFI’s non-statement you should read

Kaoru Nigisa at Reasonable Conversation discusses the non-statement made by CFI, including this about the mythologizing that the antifeminist quarters have included in their “Skeptic Women” petition in support of Ron Lindsay’s strawmanning and lack of comprehension about the conference and conversations he was hosting:

We are aware of a campaign, headed by Amanda Marcotte and others, to remove Ronald A. Lindsay from his position as CEO of the Center for Inquiry. We do not support this effort.

Where? Where has anybody, Amanda Marcotte or otherwise, lead a “campaign” for Ron Lindsay to be fired? Everybody I have read has asked for an apology, either from him or on his behalf. And who is calling to interfere with the careers of people? This is completely made up nonsense, a collection of hyperbolic ghost stories told by anti-feminists to justify their harassment tactics. The point of this letter is just to tell the world that the undersigned don’t have any problems with people treating others horribly. They’re fine, so why should they give a shit about anybody else?

Basically, this is weapons grade projection.

And at CFI On Campus, Seth Kurtenbach channels his inner fifth grader to explain why the statement by CFI is less than adequate:

In the second paragraph, we learn that the CFI Board has a wish. A wish is a want, or a desire. Some people believe wishes come true under certain circumstances. For instance, some people believe a genie can make a wish come true. Other people believe wishing upon a star makes your wishes come true. I don’t believe in those things, but maybe the Board does.

The CFI Board’s wish is to express unhappiness. Unhappiness is a lot like sadness. This is a very sad wish. Why is the Board sad? Because of a controversy about their women’s conference. I wonder who did this to them? Whoever did controversy to them must be pretty mean, because it makes the Board wish to express unhappiness. The people who made this controversy must have a problem with women. I hope the Board’s wish comes true, so that they can express this unhappiness, and the people behind this controversy can feel ashamed! Maybe I will wish upon a star that their wish will come true.

People are rightfully upset that the CEO of CFI, Ron Lindsay, brought the feminism conversation’s equivalent of a creationist accusation that evolution is undercut by Piltdown Man to a convention where everyone damn well knew it was a fallacious argument on a number of grounds. They are upset that Lindsay had the temerity to bring up falsehoods and straw dummies in the opening speech for a convention he was holding, in order to chastise the participants over things that are patently wrong. They are upset that he left a fundraising dinner to call one of the speakers comparable to a totalitarian fascist country. They are upset that his lack of professionalism, not to mention his lack of knowledge on the topic, overshadowed the speakers that everyone was there to hear. They are upset that the CFI board’s statement threw the conference itself under the bus by saying that there was controversy surrounding the conference, rather than surrounding their CEO’s actions.

If it takes a fifth grader’s explanation to make that plainer than everyone has made it so far, I more than welcome this contribution to the dialogue.