Oh, those secular ethics

In case you’re interested, DJ Grothe will be speaking at the Midwest Philosophy Colloquium on the University of Minnesota Morris campus next week. I can’t attend; it’s scheduled at the same time as one of our HHMI student research events.

He’s speaking on secular ethics.

By the way, of no possible relevance at all, I’m sure, Grothe is threatening legal action against Women Thinking, Inc., and is holding up publication of a survey on vaccination outreach, because he doesn’t like that someone reported a bad joke that he made. Which he denies.

Secular ethics in action!

Man, am I glad I have a good excuse to not attend that talk. I’m going to enjoy celebrating students’ summer research instead.


Oh, yay! More examples of secular ethics!

Comments

  1. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    DJ Grothe should remember the first rule of holes and stop digging. Why is life-saving research less important to him than his ego? The picture that has emerged already is consistent with DJ Grothe making sleazy jokes about raping someone. Stalling the JREF-funded vaccine research won’t help.

    When people get old, like Randi, sometimes they get unreasonably trusting of someone and won’t listen to a word against them. They can be disillusioned and saddened or angry by revelations about that person’s behavior but then they forget about it. It’s the basis of the “sweetheart scam” among other things. Look it up.

  2. pHred says

    That is just vile. Is there any way that they could do a kickstart to raise the 5k to pay JREF back and then find another partner to help with publishing ? There have to be better options.

  3. screechymonkey says

    Markita@2:

    When people get old, like Randi, sometimes they get unreasonably trusting of someone and won’t listen to a word against them

    Can we please not do this? I’m getting tired of every discussion of Dawkins or Randi veering into speculations about aging and mental capabilities. Aside from the implicit ageism, it also lets them off the hook for their own actions or inactions.

  4. PDX_Greg says

    When Phil Plait resigned his post at JREF to pursue other things, I never dreamed it would lead to the end of JREF as a respectable organization. Such a shame to have Randi’s name still attached to it, although he has lacked the will (or maybe the desire?) to do anything about it.

  5. says

    pHred:

    That is just vile.

    Behold my privilege, fear my roar!

    screechymonkey:

    Can we please not do this? I’m getting tired of every discussion of Dawkins or Randi veering into speculations about aging and mental capabilities. Aside from the implicit ageism, it also lets them off the hook for their own actions or inactions.

    Seconded. Randi trusts DJ, that is the only relevancy. The focus should be on DJ’s behaviour and actions, so it’s best to keep it there.

  6. says

    Maybe he’ll take some time to talk about ethical methods of assigning blame for serious problems and handling incidents and reports of harassment. At the very least, he’ll certainly be talking about how important honesty is, right?

    I dearly hope that soon UMM will book Ben Radford and Richard Dawkins for a speech on how important it is not to speak too far outside your field of expertise, or to let emotions and anecdotal reasoning guide you on complicated, controversial topics. That’d be a blast.

    Incidentally, I’d forgotten about this post at Lousy Canuck, where Jason proposes a totally absurd scenario so over-the-top that no one could disagree that it’s harassment:

    Let’s say that this person suggested, entirely jokingly, that you were just tasty enough to eat and that they should taze you, stuff you in the back of a van, drive you to their home and lock you in their basement so they can rape you whenever they wanted. Let’s further say that this person appears to have the physical means to do it, and makes a point of being near enough to you the rest of the evening and tries to catch your eye and smile a toothy, evil grin every now and again.

    Wait, what did Grothe say again?

    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.

    Either Jason was heavily hinting at this incident a year and a half ago, or he’s a shoe-in for the million dollar prize.

  7. diego says

    I saw him speak at DragonCon and was really upset by how he could on the one hand mouth political platitudes about inclusivity and at the same time be completely dismissive about the sort of concerns that Dr. Pamela Gay was bringing up. When she talked about how uncomfortable she felt about some of the sexist treatment she has received he gave the most perfect mansplaining belittling responses I’ve had the misfortune to witness live.

  8. says

    Tom Foss:

    Either Jason was heavily hinting at this incident a year and a half ago, or he’s a shoe-in for the million dollar prize.

    Or it’s simply common behaviour on the part of many.

  9. Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy says

    And of course there’s somebody over there arguing that because it’s possible that Grothe rather than Pixlee is telling the truth, it’s reasonable for Grothe to delay publishing of the vaccine information. Somehow the people at Women Thinking should have known that he might be so offended at being libeled that he would risk innocent strangers’ lives, and not said anything, or at least not backed Pixlee, until after the study was published. This even though that poster agrees that whether Grothe was libeled, and whether JREF has the legal right to delay publication, are separate issues.

    Of course, the point isn’t primarily whether Grothe has the legal or contractual right to block publication of that study. The point is whether he should even be trying. Ethics goes beyond “I have a contract here that says I can get away with this.”

    I just noticed that the comment defending Grothe’s actions implies that Women Thinking should have known that Grothe was the sort of person who would block the publication of the study in order to get revenge. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the commenter that her claim is not helping Grothe’s reputation. (Or maybe in her world it’s normal polite behavior to hold potentially life-saving medical studies hostage to people’s reputation.)

  10. pHred says

    If I was following this correctly the study has been blocked for a year now, starting well before Pixlee’s post. It was also stated that $10,000 had originally been promised.

  11. says

    pHred:

    If I was following this correctly the study has been blocked for a year now

    Yes, which really makes me think that pouncing on Sasha’s post is a cover, it’s all smacking of “oh look, a convenient excuse to bury the study!” I’d like to know why it has been held up.

  12. says

    Vicki:

    I just noticed that the comment defending Grothe’s actions implies that Women Thinking should have known that Grothe was the sort of person who would block the publication of the study in order to get revenge.

    !

    Maybe I’ll just go bang my head into something…

  13. Trebuchet says

    I’m going out a very long way on a very small limb here. Please don’t hurt me, but:

    When is it time to say “Gay guys, don’t do that?” Groethe, as a gay man, should and undoubtedly does know the effects of threats and marginalization. Why the hell does he keep doing it himself? Why the hell is he so hostile to women (and even straight men)?

    Note: I’m an old, white, cis, straight, privileged male. I can’t possibly understand what’s going through his head but it just seems…wrong.

    @6: Like you, I was sorry when Phil Plait resigned as president of JREF to do his failed TV show. I suspect there was more to do with it than the TV show.

  14. says

    Trebuchet:

    Groethe, as a gay man, should and undoubtedly does know the effects of threats and marginalization.

    Not necessarily. He may have been in a highly privileged position for most of his life, and be like those who think X doesn’t exist because “I don’t see it”. It’s quite easy for any of us to be blind to things, even when we’re inside those things.

  15. says

    Jason @19: I thought that might be the case. Seems like it lends credibility to Pixlee’s story (not that it’s necessary) that it seems to have been quite similar for the last 18 months or so.

  16. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    For what it’s worth, y’all may want to check out the rest of the recent posts at More Than Men. We’re trying, even if DJ and the bro-splainers hate the shit out of us.

    And they do.

  17. says

    Tom: it’s basically identical to how he told the story to me. My “version” of it was a very slight change of what he said, in hopes of maybe cluing DJ in that what he was saying was preposterous. In terms he might understand.

    Evidently he didn’t read it, or didn’t get it. Or he got it and it gave him a tiny frisson that Sasha wasn’t exactly quiet about what was said to him.

  18. Rob says

    So, cut funding to project by 50% part way through. Delay publication for a year. Then blame delay on something someone only vaguely connected to the project has said in the last month while making mutterings about legal action. Right.

    Still, in defence of DJ it has to be said….

    …um…
    …er…
    …aahh…

    Shit, I got nothing.

  19. Trebuchet says

    @ Caine & Josh: Thanks for the support, or at least what I interpreted as such. I was really nervous about posting that.

  20. kamsly... says

    Jason: Based on my experiences of being at parties with DJ, I’d bet he doesn’t even remember saying it. Further, based on my experiences of being at parties with DJ, I have zero doubt that what Sasha said is true.

  21. says

    Trebuchet:

    @ Caine & Josh: Thanks for the support, or at least what I interpreted as such. I was really nervous about posting that.

    No worries, Trebuchet. You were right to say it. A lot of people belong to a minority group, and yet live and breathe denial, and wallow about in privilege. DJ should know better.

    Kamsly:

    Based on my experiences of being at parties with DJ, I’d bet he doesn’t even remember saying it. Further, based on my experiences of being at parties with DJ, I have zero doubt that what Sasha said is true.

    Hearsay! You didn’t report it to…uh, someone, so it didn’t happen! Pardon, but the standard douchebro response is still ringing in my brain.

  22. hjhornbeck says

    Ugh, SkepChick’s login system is horrendous (or psychic?) and refuses to let me sign in over there. Hope no-one minds if I dump my comment here and run.

    Mmmmmm…. I spy something veeeery telling:

    He also believes there is a demonstrable history of Sasha showing ill will towards him, which would show a “pattern of malice”

    A quick refresher on the legal side of things. In order to prove defamation, Groethe would have to show either:

    1. Pixlee’s statement was false, or
    2. Pixlee’s statement demonstrated “actual malice.”

    Note the similarities between what I quote and whoever wrote to WTinc. My term, however, is a legal term of art with a very specific meaning. To fulfill it, Sasha would have to possess a reasonable (or “actual”) doubt about the truth of his claim, but to state it anyway with intent to harm (“malice”).

    Note the differences, too. Showing a pattern of behavior is irrelevant to defamation: Sasha could have a wall full of DJ Goethe dolls which he tortures in wildly creative ways on live Google Hangouts, and the judge would wave that away as inapplicable. All that matters is evidence relating to that statement, as it affects either of the two points.

    These are basic, trivial aspects of legal defamation in the United States, which should known by anyone libel lawyer. The fact that Groethe doesn’t know them points to one thing: he hasn’t consulted a lawyer.

    How did he muck this up so badly, though? I can speculate. The confusion over “actual malice” mirrors a SlymePit talking point. When I tangled with steersman over this one, he ignored all my legal links and kept pushing a definition of “actual malice” much closer to “pattern of malice,” and a quick scan of SlymePitter blogs confirms he’s not alone in this.

    Groethe follows a half dozen or more SlymePitters on Twitter. Has he been picking up advice from them? Or at a more basic level, has he been listening to them?

    If so, that could explain a few things.

    [runs away]

  23. says

    hjhornbeck @ 29, it all comes down to: free speech is definitely for them, they may say anything they like, however, no free speech for anyone else, that’s malice, hearsay, and like, wrong.

  24. ck says

    Is it that important that DJ prove that he’s right? If I were in his position, I’d probably state that I don’t remember making that joke, agree that it’s in extremely poor taste, and apologize to anyone who was offended or hurt by it. I simply don’t think being right it worth burning potentially valuable bridges, but what do I know? I’m not a management/leader type.

  25. Trebuchet says

    @31, Al Dente:

    What is it about skeptical organizations that makes the CEOs turn into asshats?

    FTFY. Big company CEO’s, small-town mayors, church deacons, it seems to happen to all, or at least a great many, of them.

  26. says

    ck:

    If I were in his position, I’d probably state that I don’t remember making that joke, agree that it’s in extremely poor taste, and apologize to anyone who was offended or hurt by it.

    That is how any decent human being would act in this position. Very stupid things are often said during parties, especially when people are drinking. It’s not the end of the world, and all that needs to be done is just what you said.

  27. Lofty says

    Organisations attract asshats seeking power and prestige from being in charge. It’s a bit difficult to avoid asshat CEOs when your organisation needs a new strong leader. They worm their way in and suddenly it’s too late, you’re screwed.

  28. yubal says

    #30, Caine

    In my opinion, free speech includes the obligation to think about what you are saying before you say it, else you’re babbling away.

  29. says

    Yubal:

    In my opinion, free speech includes the obligation to think about what you are saying before you say it, else you’re babbling away.

    I agree, unfortunately, that’s not how a lot of people see things.

  30. Keren Raiter says

    Dear PZ,

    Thank you for such an interesting blog, and apologies for commenting here where my comment actually relates to a different blog post. I tried to comment on the relevant post but found that comments had closed.

    let me introduce myself, I am a PhD student in Perth, Western Australia, researching the regional impacts of mining and exploration in south-western Australia’s Great Western Woodlands. As part of my research I have been writing a paper which I hope to publish in the journal ‘Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment’, together with my supervisors and co-authors Hugh Possingham, Suzanne Prober and Richard Hobbs. The paper reviews ecological impacts that tend to pass under the radar of environmental impact assessments, and I have used as one example the impacts of low-frequency sounds on marine cephalopods (i direct you to the relevant paper if you are interested). I would very much like to illustrate this example with the image that you have on your website at: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/04/26/friday-cephalopod-bffs/, with appropriate credits.

    Would you be agreeable to me using this image, and if so, would it be possible for you to supply me with a higher resolution version of the image? I have been informed that to be included, images must have a minimum resolution of 300dpi at a width of 6 inches (15cm), with a file size of 2–5 MB. Also, please let me know how most appropriately I should credit the source of the image?

    I look forward to hearing back from you,
    Yours sincerely,
    Keren Raiter
    [email protected]

    Keren Raiter | PhD candidate | University of Western Australia
    Ecosystem Restoration and Intervention Ecology, Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions & National Environmental Research Program – Environmental Decisions Hub
    0401681752 | [email protected] | Room G34 Botany Building, UWA | sustainingecology.com/research

  31. Alex says

    Keren, why would you do this request and post all your contact details including your work email in an internet forum in an completely unrelated thread? That just doesn’t sound like a wise thing to do and should maybe deleted…

  32. says

    Alex @ 41, I’ve alerted PZ about Keren’s post. It will be taken care of, there’s little point in pondering whether or not it was wise, as it is done, and only PZ can edit or remove a post.

  33. says

    @theoreticalgrrrl, #38:

    CEOs are four times more likely than the general population to have sociopathic tendencies.

    Strictly speaking, what we’re objecting to — in this case and the other recent “leader turns out to be horrible” stories — isn’t even necessarily sociopathic tendencies. I may not speak for everyone else, but part of the difficulty in filtering out sociopaths is that they can mimic non-sociopaths so well. And, honestly, it wouldn’t matter whether a given CEO/leader/whatever were a sociopath as long as they were able to pretend not to be in their interactions as representative of a larger organization, and somehow not let their role be compromised. If Grothe is going to act like a sociopath, a rape apologist, a trans-phobe, or whatever other unpleasant possibilities you might name, on his own time, then we can all classify him as a jerk and avoid situations where we have to be in the same room with him. What makes his behavior appalling is that he is letting his private feuds and personal preoccupations interfere with the business of the JREF.

    It’s like artificial intelligences: for the most part, do you even care whether the computer is “really” thinking, as long as it acts sufficiently as though it is?

  34. Alex says

    Alex @ 41, I’ve alerted PZ about Keren’s post. It will be taken care of, there’s little point in pondering whether or not it was wise, as it is done, and only PZ can edit or remove a post.

    Very good.

    The comment re wisdom was directed to the auther, I was just sharing my concern :D

  35. Alex says

    It’s like artificial intelligences: for the most part, do you even care whether the computer is “really” thinking, as long as it acts sufficiently as though it is?

    Yes I do care, it’s essential for AI ethics discussions.

    But concerning your main point, it is kind of the reverse of the “intent isn’t magic” thing. If you are CEO of an organization, just act according to certain ethical+professional standards while acting as officer, period.

  36. Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC) says

    The more I read of Grothe, the more he sounds like a raging arsehole.

  37. says

    Another of Grothe’s “achievements” is TAM London. It started under Plait’s leadership, and was one of the most successful things that JREF has ever done, with tickets selling out within hours. It happened once more under Grothe, but never again. From what I’ve heard, Grothe is so toxic, that he drove the organisers away. I’d like to attend TAM London, and I look forward to the day when Grothe is driven out, and it can resume.

    To any of Grothe’s defenders: If I am wrong, what happened to TAM London? Why did it disappear? Where did it go? What destroyed it? You can’t blame Rebecca Watson this time. (Then again, you’re so delusional, that perhaps you can.)

    pHred:

    That is just vile. Is there any way that they could do a kickstart to raise the 5k to pay JREF back and then find another partner to help with publishing ? There have to be better options.

    I doubt that would work. He’d just stonewall any attempt to transfer the money. We’re not dealing with someone who has JREF’s interests at heart. We’re dealing with a high functioning sociopath who deliberately harms the causes he pretends to represent, in order to pursue personal grudges.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Why is life-saving research less important to him than his ego?

    Seconded through three-hundredthed.

    Christ, what an asshole!

    Based on my experiences of being at parties with DJ, I’d bet he doesn’t even remember saying it.

    Wow. That sounds like he should stop going to parties altogether!

    The comment re wisdom was directed to the auther, I was just sharing my concern :D

    That’s the point – authors can’t delete their own comments either, unless they’re PZ.

  39. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Trebuchet I absolutely meant to indicate support for what you wrote. Discovering the depth of douchebaggery among my fellow gay men has made me sick. I’m trying to corral them.

  40. says

    Can we please not do this? I’m getting tired of every discussion of Dawkins or Randi veering into speculations about aging and mental capabilities. Aside from the implicit ageism, it also lets them off the hook for their own actions or inactions.

    yeah for real.

    from what I recall randi promised grothe would be gone to another employee, but then it became apparant that someone on the board would not tolerate grothe’s firing so he stayed. I could be remembering wrong, of course.

  41. says

    If I were in his position, I’d probably state that I don’t remember making that joke, agree that it’s in extremely poor taste, and apologize to anyone who was offended or hurt by it.

    That would be the smart thing to do, but I suspect that grothe has basically no tolerance for criticism so such a solution would be intolerable. People like that want total compliance from others instead of focusing on damage control. Watching him respond poorly to virtually every criticism made against him or the JREF has led me to this conclusion. It must be very difficult for him to tolerate being a public figure, considering.

  42. says

    I have to wonder, though, if TAM London was profitable. It may have sold out quickly, but it was certainly far more expensive to put on than an event in an off-the-strip hotel in Las Vegas. Since these events are fundraisers for the JREF, they may have made a decision to discontinue simply because they weren’t cost-effective.

    Also, people here already complain about the high price of TAM (so much so that the JREF has taken to making up fantasy figures about how much it costs), and I know that people in the UK really complained bitterly about the cost of TAM London. It might have also been bad PR…and if it wasn’t sufficiently profitable, I think they got the message loud and clear that they can’t raise ticket prices anymore, they’re already at the ceiling.

  43. David Marjanović says

    Yep, London is stunningly expensive.

    I suspect that grothe has basically no tolerance for criticism

    …That would, as it happens, make him totally and utterly unsuited for membership in a skeptic/rationalist organization.

    FFS.

  44. sarah00 says

    London is really expensive, but why must a British TAM be held in London? Not that I’m particularly interested in going to a TAM any more, but even when I was, the cost of getting to London and staying there was one of the factors that put me off. The Merseyside Skeptics have put on successful conferences the last couple of years with reasonable ticket prices. While it may be that the JREF don’t want to compete with them (and fair enough if that’s the case), saying ‘oh, London’s too expensive therefore lets never do the UK again’ is a pretty poor excuse.

  45. Funny Diva says

    Seconding Josh, Official Spokesgay that More Than Men is a very worthwhile read.

    Thanks for the reminder, Josh!

  46. says

    I have to wonder, though, if TAM London was profitable. It may have sold out quickly, but it was certainly far more expensive to put on than an event in an off-the-strip hotel in Las Vegas. Since these events are fundraisers for the JREF, they may have made a decision to discontinue simply because they weren’t cost-effective.

    This does nothing to address the question of “why was the event held in London, which is the most expensive possible location in Britain?” Why was it not held in an off-the-high-street inn in [fill in the blank because I'm not going to insult any British town by comparing it to Las Vegas]? It’s not like Britain is so huge and so lacking in transportation that they had only one choice because it was the only place near an airport. And, for that matter, conventions are never just fundraising events; they are also a way to publicize your organization and encourage members to view the group as, you know, a group, rather than a shadowy voice from afar. A convention which breaks even, provided you have enough labor (even volunteer labor, to which it sounds like JREF once had more than sufficient access) to undertake the event.

    What all of this — tossing in some of the other facts, such as the way Grothe has already put his foot in his mouth repeatedly but JREF hasn’t let him go — suggests is that Grothe and certain others in the JREF never really wanted the JREF to expand into a large organization, and are trying to find ways to turn it into their own little club, one without all those whiny women and minorities. I’m not sure we should even object; if they want to marginalize themselves by excluding 99% of the population, that’s probably good for everyone concerned (except possibly James Randi, assuming he really isn’t a party to Grothe’s bad behavior, but that’s the price you pay for attaching your name to something not totally in your control).

  47. kellym says

    More DJ Grothe ethics: Jamie Bernstein tweeted how DJ tricked her into doing work for the JREF that he never had any intention of paying her for. DJ had agreed to pay her $3000 to create and administrate a survey of TAM attendees, then DJ changed his mind after it was completed. According to Jamie, there was no contract, but she says she has the emails. I hope the emails are published so others can be warned not to trust DJ Grothe, the JREF, or Randi. The JREF is continuing to use the survey that it obtained for free from Jamie.

    I’m fascinated that it is DJ Grothe who is wrecking James Randi’s reputation. Could he be a Uri Geller plant?

  48. scimaths says

    London is really expensive, but why must a British TAM be held in London?

    Absolutely. London is not especially accessible, and there are good transport links and conference facilities in other cities. Manchester or Sheffield for example, and they would be at least half the cost.

  49. robertschenck says

    Why is a ‘former magician’ even speaking at a Philosophy Symposium? He has no qualifications/history of study on the topic, and is obviously an unethical person to boot.
    Just look at the other speaker:”Robert Audi is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame…author of 16 books & 200 papers on the topic….and served as general editor of the 1st & 2nd Editions of “The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy”.
    compare that to:
    “DJ Grothe has been on SyFy’s Joe Rogan Questions Everything, and Spike TV’s 1000 Ways To Die, and Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum.”

    I’m not trying to say that non-degree holding people have nothing interesting to say, but between Grothe and Shermer and all the rest, the ‘there’s no such thing as bigfoot’ people seem to be given waaaaaay to much credence.

  50. robertschenck says

    PDX_Greg:”Who the hell was in charge of that speaker invitation?”

    Usually students will solicit and select speakers at a colloquium. It’s difficult to speculate on their motivations, but they probably thought it’d be a ‘fun’ speaker to have, to ‘liven up’ the usually more serious talks.

    Al Dente:”What is it about skeptical organizations that makes the CEOs turn into asshats?”

    I think it shows the vast gulf between ‘skepticism’ and rational organizations. Skepticism has simply degenerated into bigfoot hunting and UFO debunking. It’s entertainment, like those old ‘psychic hotlines’ that claimed to be able to determine your future, but only for ‘entertainment purposes’. Not /all/ organizations have ridiculous people like Grothe heading them.

    On James Randi, everyone seems to hold him up in such high regard that they force themselves to assume he’s going crazy in his old age, that there’s just no way he’d accept this sort of ‘bs’, but there’s really no reason to assume any of that. It’s sad, but Grothe is the president of /his/ organization, he obviously thinks highly of him and doesn’t give a crap about the sex assault allegations and all the rest.

  51. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I’m just waiting for the FTBullies Gang (Jason as Fred, Greta as Daphne, Ophelia as Velma, PZ as Shaggy, and someone can volunteer for Scooby Doo) to pull the mask off DJ Grothe to discover he’s really Old Man Krinkle who would have gotten away with destroying the JREF if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

  52. David Marjanović says

    According to Jamie, there was no contract, but she says she has the emails.

    …Where I come from, even oral contracts are legally binding. In reality, the existence of oral ones is rather hard to prove, but when there are e-mails…

    Sue Grothe’s ass, and then sue the rest of him.

  53. says

    Robert Schenck:

    I’m not trying to say that non-degree holding people have nothing interesting to say, but between Grothe and Shermer and all the rest, the ‘there’s no such thing as bigfoot’ people seem to be given waaaaaay to much credence.

    Yet according to skeptic dudebros, Rebecca Watson has no place in the movement because she’s not a scientist.