Why are YOU here?

I’ve had this question rattling around in my head for almost a year now: why am I here, in the skeptical and atheist communities? Why do I include the labels “skeptic” and “atheist” in bio blurbs, and why do I cover topics and follow discussions associated with those labels? Why, given how little commonality I have with many of the folks who work full-time in these communities, given that some of the causes I care about the most are derided by vast swathes of the people with whom I’m expected to break bread, should I spend my time and effort on parts of my identity that I don’t find assaulted on a daily basis?

And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?
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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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Carrie Poppy and the Nay-Sayers

In observing the way the skeptical and secular communities have melted down lately over the merest hint that some of its top members might have occasionally behaved in manners that are not beyond reproach, I’ve come to the realization that certain members of our community think that all this “rage blogging” about “drama” is about trying to steal power from other people; that the communities upper echelons are populated entirely by people who think they’re reliving a secular Game of Thrones. The political machinations, the people who are willing to sell out their principles, the people who have no such principles to begin with who rise to power, and all the toadies… toadies everywhere… who will swarm on anyone who dares scandalize someone’s scandalous behaviour. It’s all very tiresome to watch, especially when some players are willing to excuse every bad behaviour even while they’re admitting that behaviour actually happened as stated.

Carrie Poppy has been extraordinarily well-placed in some of the bigger scandals regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault recently, in having been employed as communications director for JREF and having resigned after six months due to, let’s say, philosophical differences with DJ Grothe, president of the organization. Well, if you can classify her stating her reasons for leaving as mere philosophy, being his “constant duplicity, dishonesty, and manipulation”.

So people rushed then to attack Carrie Poppy, to destroy her as an irrational harpy with a bone to grind and an axe to pick against Grothe. So when she recently decided to suggest that women should generally stay away from TAM because the JREF was unlikely to treat any incidents with any level of seriousness, people naturally resorted to the same trope — that she was trying to destroy TAM and JREF.

Only the strange thing is, the corroboration of her claims came from those very people that you’d least expect. The ones who have been trying to naysay the whole thing all along.

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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.
[…]
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.
[…]
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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I know where that January spike came from, and it had nothing to do with TAM

Shane Brady posted a quantitative analysis of web traffic for Skepchick and Freethought Blogs using Alexa’s daily reach statistics. While this data is certainly only a subset of the actual data — a sort of Nielsons ratings for the web — it’s probably pretty close to representative of the actual data we’ve collected via StatCounter. The traffic matches extremely closely to what we’ve seen ourselves on the Freethought Blogs end, though despite common misperceptions I have no access to Skepchick’s stats, not even through the hive mind uplink.

A screenshot Shane provides for Freethought Blogs’ (admittedly short) existence:

Shane says of this:

As you can see, FreethoughtBlogs is a relatively new blog network, so we don’t have the same history as with Skepchick.org. However, FreethoughtBlogs has substantially higher traffic than Skepchick.org and spikes might be harder to detect. That said, we can see some traffic increases that seem to correlate with some posts by Greta Christina that were heavily commented and cited. The trend for 2012, though, has primarily been flat. There was a slight increase during the days leading up to TAM2012, but nothing dramatic.

Emphasis mine.
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The campaign against Amy Davis Roth

I met Amy Davis Roth, also known as Surly Amy, two years ago at CONvergence 2010 – SkepchickCON 2. Jodi and I were on our honeymoon — yes, we spent our honeymoon at a geek convention. Couldn’t have picked a better venue. Amy had a table in the dealer’s room, selling her ceramic Surly necklaces, and I picked up a green atom necklace so I could wear science iconography where so many others wear their religious iconography. Her partner Surly Johnny was a bad influence on me and I drank too many Buzzed Aldrins. The experience was a bit of a whirlwind one, but I got a sense from everyone working the Skepchick party room that they were passionate, committed, and principled, even when they were doing their damnedest to make sure everyone had a good time.

My already favorable impression of Amy was redoubled when I found out that she’d nearly singlehandedly sent dozens of women to TAM over the years, organizing and running fundraisers and committing resources from her Surlys to that end. She had a great deal of help, but she was almost certainly the lynchpin. And she writes timely and important rallying cries when the movement needs them the most — and that’s what a leader does, even if they don’t necessarily want or accept that mantle.

I met her again at SkepchickCON 4 a month and a half ago, and her enthusiasm and pink Darth Vader costume put her over the top for me — I have a ton of respect for the lady. If we ever disagree, it’ll be on good terms. She’s earned quite a bit of goodwill with me.

So I guess it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that a mainstay of the skepto-atheistic blogosphere, who’s done so much to promote skepticism and atheism, and to foster inclusiveness of women in our communities, is under concerted attack.
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TAM’s harassment policy was secret. Why?

One of the biggest victories I was really, truly hoping for in the harassment policies campaign came to pass. But rather than crowing about it like I did with the American Atheists and CFI policies, I can barely fathom what’s going on and can’t bring myself to celebrate at all. TAM’s harassment policy appears to have come to pass in one of those strange “but you won’t like it” sort of ways, like we’d all been wishing on a Monkey’s Paw instead of making cogent arguments for these policies.

I honestly hoped that DJ Grothe and/or other powers-that-be at JREF would realize that the people DJ claimed are trying to hurt The Amazing Meeting by discussing the harassment they’d experienced, and proposing countermeasures, were instead trying to help TAM, and him, rectify the situation. I had hoped that DJ et al would come to understand that it was not about painting his specific convention as an “unsafe space“, but rather as a place that SHOULD be better than background levels of harassment but WASN’T.

But, until now, nobody has shown any indication that harassment was being taken seriously. In fact, it looked quite a bit like they’d decided harassment policies themselves were the problem, when they removed all mention of the weak-tea and toothless policy that had existed the year prior.

Then a tweet tipped us off.
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Doug Stanhope: more irresponsible messaging for DJ to rebuke

In his interview with Russia Times, Doug Stanhope, who will be part of The Amazing Meeting’s entertainment at 9pm Friday night, gives full-throated defense of Daniel Tosh’s right to make rape jokes — which right nobody has actually denied.

But not just rape jokes — also the right to suggest that it would be humorous if five men suddenly started raping an audience member who dared to say that rape jokes aren’t actually funny.


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The FtB Conversation about TAM: Transcript pt. 2

Here’s the second part of the transcript for the big FtB Conversation from this past weekend, done once again by the indefatiguable Kate Donovan. She’s the poor soul who did the transcript for the “PenisGate Debate”, who volunteered for this as I guess a sort of palate-cleanser.

If you’re just joining in, read these two posts first:

In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in
The harassment policy campaign timeline

Transcript pt. 1 is available here.

Transcript below the fold.

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