Radford / Stollznow defamation case: What we know and what we can infer or extrapolate reasonably

I’ve noticed a trend in amongst the so-called “skeptics” who have, from the get-go, denied every single claim of harassment in the community. That trend is denialism masquerading as skepticism, and a willingness to lie about who said what, when. That’s why I’ve been fighting that trend by building timelines. Someone needs to document what was actually said, and what can be reasonably inferred from these events. It also helps to document the attacks launched by certain people against certain other people, because it helps define the tribal lines against which these denialists are aligning.

[pullquote align="right" textalign="right" width="30%"]“I didn’t write it, I never agreed to it, I never signed it, and I’m not the liar here.”
–Karen Stollznow, Twitter, March 25th, 2014[/pullquote]

One of these big accusations of harassment has resurfaced in the past few weeks, with new movements occurring for the first time in months. As a refresher, here’s all the points from my sexual harassment accusations timeline.

I don’t claim to know for certain that these allegations are true, but I can certainly develop a narrative that, I think, accounts for all the actual points we apparently do know, as well as what we could reasonably extrapolate.
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Body-shaming in a progressive movement in 2013? Color me shocked.

Melody Hensley is deciding whether or not to get a nose piercing. Like you do with all grave decisions about body modification, she asked friends on a social media service what people thought.

Turns out that a number of people in the freethought community have some decidedly backward views on the matter — not that, at this point, you should be surprised that we as a group are prone to every one of the foibles of society as a whole. In this specific case, not just as a matter of giving their opinion of “yes” or “no”, or making some lame joke about it. I’m talking full-on body modification shaming, occasionally veering straight into body-shaming, the likes of which I almost never see leveled at men.
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More names are named.

Ed Cara at Heresy Club has shared a story that a number of us might have heard before, but this time with a name attached:

And on that trip in 2011, everyone had a great time, I’m told. Well, there was this one moment that was…off. See, one of these very special guests of the CFI was a bit rambunctious the whole time, there with a female guest he brought along. At some point during the trip, this very special guest of the CFI propositioned a female Friend of the Center to join him and his guest in his hotel room, an offer the woman turned down.

Sometime later, this woman mentioned the encounter to another friend who then mentioned it to one of the CFI staff members onboard at the time. No official report of the event was made at that point, or at any point. For accuracy’s sake, it’s worth noting that the woman’s (and her friend’s) reaction was not one of outrage, but annoyance, and she never expressed the desire to file a report. For more accuracy’s sake, it was a very special guest invited by the CFI to act in the capacity of a speaker sexually propositioning an attendee of a CFI event. Is that harassment? Legally, maybe not. Is it creepy and inappropriate? Undoubtedly.
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I am told of other incidents where the speaker in question – while functioning as a speaker – made people uncomfortable with his sexual advances, including a specific case six years back. I am told by CFI members that there will be a followup with that specific case and that if only Lindsay had been aware of it at the time, this situation might have ended differently. I am told there had been and will be substantial steps taken. I choose to hold back on discussing any of this publicly at the time, believing things should be given the chance to work out. I now feel stupid for believing that.
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By the way, that very special guest’s name was Lawrence Krauss, and he’ll be attending the CFI’s travel expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 2014.

I had heard this story a dozen times over the past few years, and Krauss’ name also comes up every time I’m privy to the informal network of information about who-to-avoid. I am glad a primary source came out.

Update: Heresy Club took down the post, citing lack of evidence. Krauss has further threatened to sue Jen McCreight for stating she knows two people who’d been personally harassed by him, and so she is no longer naming him explicitly at her blog, referring to him as Famous Skeptic instead. I feel moderately secure in reporting on these events insofar as I am aware that there are some people slavering at the bit for a lawsuit against Jen and Ed Cara, and all the evidence has already been gathered via Freezepages so even if every mention was scrubbed from our servers, the damage is already done. Any such lawsuit by Krauss, additionally, would certainly make Krauss’ name known by far and away more than this blog post reporting on these actions, and furthermore, I am not speculating on whether or not the stories are TRUE. My motto with regard to victims coming forward is, “trust, but verify”. That’s all I’ve ever advocated, and all I ever will.

But another story I had heard long ago, directly from Sasha Pixlee, creeps me out even more. He shared his encounter with DJ Grothe on More Than Men:

We encountered one another at a Skepchick party (one that had to be moved to the lobby because of noise complaints as soon as it started). He was drunk, but it was a social occasion and I’d had a couple cocktails as well. No big deal. I was fairly surprised though, when DJ turned to me and said that the reason everyone loved the Skepchicks was because they “want pussy”. That seemed to be a rather dismissive and insultingly sexist way to dismiss the work of your professional colleagues (not to mention the people whose booze you were at that moment drinking.

I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was still a bit fame-struck and too shocked to really process it. I didn’t do what I should have done, and told him how rude, insulting, and unprofessional it was to say something like that, even while drunk. Even in a casual social setting. But then it got more bizarre and incredible. I’m a tall guy, chubby (fat, honestly) and bearded. If I were gay I would definitely be a bear. This was discussed and DJ then 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. You know, in other words so that I could be gang raped.

I never felt like he was serious when he made that joke about having me raped. I never felt like I was in actual danger. I am a straight cis man. I’m not as likely to have to worry about those things as someone else. I know he was drunk. I also know that those two stories from the night I met DJ Grothe have put into context every unprofessional, sneaky, sexist, callous, victim-blaming, self serving, and morally ambiguous thing I’ve seen him do since. Whenever I read or hear someone hopeful for something approaching sensitivity or progress on issues of sexism, sexual harassment, or even assault coming out of Mr. Grothe’s JREF, I just think of the first time I met him and wait for the inevitable horrendous actions that will follow.

Understand that every time I’ve talked about DJ Grothe in the past two years, I’ve thought about Sasha’s story as well. With Sasha’s permission, I even alluded to it once when I was at peak rage. I was speaking in that blog post directly to DJ. I really wanted him to recognize the analogy I used. I really wanted him to understand what kind of a hypocritical, self-serving and offensive jackass he was being by acting the way he was at the time.

I am disgusted by the culture we apparently have created where people committing actions like these are defended regularly. Why are we skeptics so evidently prone to the Halo Effect? I am further disgusted that these actions were covered up instead of loudly decried, and further disgusted by the inevitable cries that those of us shining light on these actions are just trying to “ruin” the organizations that helped minimize and enable them.

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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Point of Inquiry disbanding and joining Mother Jones over CFI/WiS debacle

I’m sure this will be reprinted on one of their blogs very soon, but I was just sent this press release by Adam Isaak. I’ll link as soon as possible.

Point of Inquiry Team Resigns, Launches New Show with Mother Jones

On Friday, Point of Inquiry’s two co-hosts—Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney—resigned from their positions at the Center for Inquiry. On Monday, Point of Inquiry producer Adam Isaak followed suit. This note is to explain our reasons for departing CFI and our future plans.

In May of 2013, when the Women in Secularism II conference took place in Washington, D.C., Point of Inquiry—the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry—was more successful that it has ever been. Following a format change in 2010, our audience has increased by 60 percent and our growth rate has doubled in the last year and a half. We’d recently done a highly successful live show featuring Steven Pinker before a packed room at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, and interviewed guests like Oliver Sacks, Jared Diamond, Paul Krugman, and Mary Roach. We had started to incorporate new, successful video content. 2013 featured our most listened-to show ever and we were averaging well over 2 million total downloads per year.

Then came the events at that conference—including a widely criticized speech by Center for Inquiry President & CEO Ronald Lindsay. Lindsay then went further, writing a blog post which referred to a post by one of his critics—Rebecca Watson—as follows: “It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.”

In response to public criticism of Lindsay’s speech and blog post, CFI’s Board of Directors issued an ambiguous statement regretting the controversy, but going no further than that.

These actions have generated much discussion, criticism and polarization within our community. In addition, they created an environment at CFI that made it very difficult for our producer, Adam Isaak, to continue working there.

We, like others, welcome Lindsay’s recent apology. That apology, however, was not followed by any direct effort to retain Chris or Indre, nor did it make up for the very real toll this controversy has taken upon our podcast and our ability to produce it.

The actions of Lindsay and the Board have made it overwhelmingly difficult for us to continue in our goal to provide thoughtful and compelling content, including coverage of feminist issues, as in past interviews with guests like Amanda Marcotte, Katha Pollitt, MG Lord, and Carol Tavris.

The Center for Inquiry has supported us in the past and has asked Chris and Indre to speak at many of its conferences. We are thankful for that.  But we’re a team and we do this together. We believe that this controversy has impaired our ability to produce the highest quality podcast under the auspices of CFI and that our talents will be put to better use elsewhere.

To that end, we are in the process of formalizing a new podcast that will allow us to continue to provide the in-depth interviews with leading intellectuals that made Point of Inquiry such a success. We’ll announce the name and more details about the new podcast shortly but as of right now, we can already announce something we’re all incredibly excited about: the new show will be produced in collaboration with the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones. You can follow @MotherJones on Twitter to get the latest updates on the show’s official launch. We all look forward to turning our attention to the work at hand, and leaving this controversy behind.

Adam Isaak, Indre Viskontas, and Chris Mooney

For more information or to schedule an interview with Chris Mooney or Indre Viskontas, please contact Adam Isaak at [email protected] or at 701-540-5855.

This document can also be found at: http://goo.gl/FMQHd

The Google shortcode is to a Google Drive document hosting the original release.

I can testify as to its legitimacy from at least one of the participants. I’ll link elsewhere as soon as they are posted.

(Why’s the world gots to go blow up when I’m so sleeeeepy!?)

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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Anatomy of an apology

People are talking a lot lately about what qualities a genuine apology might take — what sort of apology, for instance, Ron Lindsay might be expected to make if many of the feminists he’s so undercut with his opening speech are going to actually accept it and thereafter find it in their hearts to resume their support of CFI, given that most of us have explicitly ASKED for such an apology.

Kickstarter gave us a great example that we can dissect, even where it has a few rough edges yet. They even did it in exactly the right order.

The backstory: a really horrid pick-up artist manual with first draft material including passages like:

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

In the context of a relationship where you’re not particularly familiar with a person, there’s good reason why there was an outcry against this rape-culture-steeped, utterly empathy-free, deep-fried nonsense, and why Kickstarter has apologized for not acting in time to shut it down. The Kickstarter was fully funded, and they were made aware with only two hours left before it closed. They were not able to stop the automated processes from finishing, and so this pick-up artist’s manual on how to input Konami codes into women to unlock Sex Mode will probably come into being.

(Then again, it probably would anyway — I have no idea what the kickstarter would actually fund, short of vanity press publishing.)

So, despite the damage that was done, why does Kickstarter’s apology work?
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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.

CFI’s board statement re Women In Secularism 2 #wiscfi

I’m pretty super-busy right now, and can’t really fully respond myself, but I wanted you all to know that CFI has released a statement about Women In Secularism 2 and the controversy surrounding Ron Lindsay’s complete lack of understanding of the movement, feminism, or the place where the actual conversation was at. It’s here, and since they’ve disabled comments (as is their undeniable right), I’m copying it here so you can feel free to weigh in on what you think about it.

The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women’s issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.

CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.

That’s it.

No mention of any sort of disapprobation for said CEO’s actions in creating the controversy ex nihilo. Just unhappiness.

We’re unhappy too. That’s why we’d like an apology that acknowledges what exactly was done, by whom, and to whom, to cause this “controversy”. That’s what we asked for — an apology, and assurance that WiS3 will happen. That’s it. That’s not too fucking difficult is it?

(I can hear the howls from the haters now: “GOD, THEY SAID THEY WERE UNHAPPY, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM THEM? YOU FEMINISTS ARE NEVER HAPPY WITH ANYTHING!!”)

Miri posts longer “in brief” thoughts here.

My letter to CFI re Women In Secularism #wiscfi

I have sent the following letter to Tom Flynn, who is receiving letters for Center For Inquiry to be shown to the board members when they meet about Ron Lindsay this Friday. It is structured off of a letter that Miriam wrote intending to collect signatures and deliver with multiple names attached. I sponsor her letter in full, but I absolutely had to expand on much of what was said.

To the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry:

As an attendee of the recent Women in Secularism conference, I write to register my disappointment and sense of betrayal with regard to Dr. Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks and his subsequent behavior. I support the recent letter written and signed by thirteen of the conference speakers and would like to add my voice to theirs.

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