Connect the dots

Start here. Andrew Breibart attended a white nationalist conference in 2006, with panels by Jared Taylor and John Derbyshire.

He was attending with his protege, James O’Keefe.

O’Keefe has acquired some notoriety for dishonest stunts in the name of far right wingnuttiness. Among them was the Landrieu break-in.

According to reports, on January 25, 2010, O’Keefe and his friends Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan visited the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu. Basel and Flanagan disguised themselves as repairmen, and attempted to access the office’s telephone system by saying there was something wrong with the phone lines. O’Keefe was in the office and videotaped the some of the events with his cell phone camera. Office workers smelled a rat and called the authorities. The three of them were arrested, along with a fourth man Stan Dai, and charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony.

okeefeandcrew

Notice the guy on the right? That’s Joe Basel. It’s a bit embarrassing, but he attended UMM a few years ago — we did not get along. I do find it amusing that one of his complaints was that the university ought to remove all reference to me from its website, because I offended him. So if O’Keefe was Breitbart’s protege, Basel was O’Keefe’s — I guess he’s kind of a third rate Breibart imitator, which is not something to be proud of.

Basel previously was the editor (or some such role) at the Counterweight, the conservative alternative newspaper here at Morris a few years ago. He is now the CEO of something called the American Phoenix Foundation, which is yet another wingnut ‘thinktank’ with a mission.

The mission of the American Phoenix Foundation is to protect the American Republic through ethical, innovative, and technologically driven journalism.

A descendant of Breitbart/O’Keefe/Basel is protecting ethical journalism? OK. I’m laughing, but OK.

Thankfully, Basel is now gone from UMM, and the Counterweight is defunct. Unfortunately, its successor is that rather nasty racist rag, The North Star. It’s editor, John Geiger, was named a Phoenix Fellow by the foundation last year.

Breitbart → O’Keefe → Basel → Geiger, all with a nice infusion of racism throughout. It’s all kind of ugly and incestuous, isn’t it?

When will this situation improve?

Maybe never. I know a lot of you hate facebook (with good reason), so I’ll just copy this straight from facebook so you can read it here.

From former JREF Outreach Coordinator Brian Thompson:

“Let me explain why I’m supporting Karen Stollznow’s legal defense fund. Maybe some of my Facebook friends don’t know who she is or what this is all about. Karen is a linguist, writer, and investigator who looks into claims of the paranormal, the supernatural, and the outrageous with a skeptical eye. Skeptics like her do a lot of good for the world in ways large and small. They’re the ones fighting against the kind of scientific ignorance that keeps people from vaccinating their kids, for example. And if it weren’t for skeptical investigators, I might still be cowered in fear every night thinking aliens were going to abduct me or ghosts were going to throw things around my bedroom. Now I’m just cowered in fear thinking that I might never be on one of those interior design makeover shows. This is progress.

I believe so strongly in the good work these skeptics do that several years ago I started hanging out with them, working on activism projects with them, and drinking lots and lots of booze with them. I went to their conferences and meetings and pre-swingers’ parties, and for a couple of years I even worked in an official capacity with one of the world’s most well-known skeptical activism nonprofits, the James Randi Educational Foundation.

In that time I got to know a lot of great people. I’m not going to name them all, because I know I’ll leave out Christian Walters, and then our lovemaking will take a passive-aggressive turn. But a lot of people who share this common interest in making the world a better place through rationalism are kind, honest, funny, talented, and valuable friends. Then there are people like Christian who are maybe just two or three of those.

But I no longer identify with this community of benevolent know-it-alls, because not all of them are the best folks in the world. In fact, a good percentage of the top ten worst humans I’ve ever met are prominent members of the skeptics’ club. They’re dishonest, mean-spirited, narcissistic, misogynistic. Pick a personality flaw, and I can probably point you to someone who epitomizes it. And that person has probably had a speaking slot at a major skeptical conference.

I grew particularly disgusted with the boys’ club attitude I saw among skeptical leaders and luminaries. The kind of attitude that’s dismissive of women, sexually predatory, and downright gross. When I first started going to skeptical conferences as a fresh-faced know-it-all, I started hearing things about people I once admired. Then I started seeing things myself. Then I got a job with the JREF, and the pattern continued.

There’s a particular guy popular with the skeptical crowd who writes books, gives talks, and wears bicycle shorts. What’s not to love? Well, a female friend of mine told me she didn’t like it very much when he locked eyes with her from across a room and pointed to his dick. When I started working for the JREF, my boss described this same guy as an “old school misogynist”. Then a friend told me this same skeptical celebrity had groped another speaker at a conference. Grabbed her breast without invitation. Sexually assaulted her. Then my boss told me that not only did this assault happen, but that he witnessed it and intervened. The woman who was assaulted won’t name names for fear of being dragged through the mud. Another woman I know has told me that this same guy assaulted her. Others have confirmed her story to me. I believe her. But she’s remained anonymous for much the same reasons.

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of hearing about sexual predators like Mr. Bicycle Shorts, who has yet again been invited to speak at the JREF’s annual conference. I’m tired of hearing things like what I’ve heard from [redacted]. That my old boss grabbed his junk in a car and said he would be “presidentially displeased” if [redacted] didn’t give my old boss a kiss.

I’m tired of people like Richard Dawkins, whose lashing out at my friend Rebecca Watson for having the nerve to talk about what kind of male attention makes her uncomfortable has led to years of the most heinous abuse being flung at her and her colleagues. Heinous, woman-hating abuse from enthusiastic members of this broken little community of freethinkers.

Pardon my Yiddish, but oy, that shit’s fucked. And it’s also fucked that people are afraid to speak out about their stories for fear that it will become the focus of their careers or that their privacy will be destroyed or that they’ll be sued or that they’ll somehow damage organizations that do a lot of good work.

This makes me sick, and it makes me mad. So of course I’m going to help Karen speak up and fight back.

Here’s the situation in a nutshell: Karen used to work with another writer and investigator named Ben Radford at an organization called CFI. Karen says Radford continually harassed and abused her. She brought the situation to CFI, which found Radford guilty of some of Karen’s charges. Then they let him off with a slap on the wrist. Karen blogged about this. Radford sued her for defamation.

Based on the evidence I’ve seen, my own experience with Radford’s dishonest and creepy behavior, and the assurances from friends of mine who know more about this situation than I do, I’m willing to believe Karen. And more than that, I’m willing to put my money behind her efforts to fight back in court. Because she deserves the chance to make her case instead of having to fold under insurmountable financial pressure. Defending yourself in court isn’t cheap.

Also, I don’t like bullies or creeps. Especially the kinds of bullies and creeps who have been protected by their peers and allies in a community that places pseudo-celebrity and books about how lake monsters aren’t real above the well-being of women who are at least as vital to fighting the good fight. A fight, by the way, that’s about the righteousness of the truth.

So I’ve given to Karen’s fund. You can do the same here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/give-a-voice-to-harassment-victims/x/6875853

As long as atheism is about nothing but disbelieving in gods, and as long as skepticism is about nothing but demanding evidence, as long as there is no human heart behind the goals of these organizations, this behavior will continue. We must have secular values beyond simply rejecting claims; we must recognize the import and implications of living in a material, natural world; there must be secular values that give us purpose.

It’s been a good day

I’ve spent a long day in a dark quiet room with a red pen in my hand slogging through a mountain of grading, but at least you got something significant accomplished — it only took you 8 hours to completely meet Karen Stollznow’s initial legal fees. Don’t stop now, keep on going! This ink-stained wretch looked up from his labors and felt a twinge of hope, like that there really are good people in this movement.

There was also a bit of schadenfreude. Adam Lee has posted some of the slymey comments he’d been getting after Ben Radford’s premature ejaculation — you know, where some of the gullible haters who succumbed to some motivated reasoning, saw the unsigned ‘apology’ written by Radford in Stollznow’s name, decided the whole thing was over now, and started sniping about, demanding immediate apologies, claiming that they had the confession in hand, etc. I have some of the same noise in my spam queue, so I thought I should share it, too.

Do you think that retraction letter was a fake? Are you a birther as well? Was 911 an “inside job”?

Yeah, they went there, claiming that rejecting the ‘apology’ was equivalent to being a conspiracy nut and denialist. Of course, I was sitting here with inside information — I knew that Stollznow hadn’t signed it.

Guess what, annoying troll? The retraction letter was a fake. Stollznow had nothing to do with it.

For PZ’s rabble: Carrie Poppy, what a piece of work. I bet Herr Myers is regretting ever trusting that ditzy bítch.

Carrie Poppy has been doing good work sharing her knowledge of what happened. Turns out she was right. No regrets, I think I’ll keep trusting her.

This message from Amy Stoker on Ben Radford’s facebook, regarding the retraction letter.

“It’s signed by Karen and notarized. Ben was over at my house tonight. I’m sure Ben will address this in the morning or at some point. For tonight he wanted to focus on those family and friends that have been by his side.
about an hour ago ”

I’m not sure who Amy Stoker is, but I’d believe her over anything that lying sack of crap PZ Myers says.

But…the letter wasn’t signed and notarized. That comment from Stoker has since been curiously memory-holed. I don’t think I’ll trust her at all — but that’s OK, I’ve still got Carrie Poppy.

Are you going to apologize to Ben Radford now, PZ? You witch hunting moron. Always believe the accuser, right? Hahahaha.

No.

There’s a lot more, but it gets old fast, and I think my point is made. These loons were just making stuff up and were utterly convinced by a ginned-up, unsigned document. Skeptics. Yeah, right.

The kind of thing that would give me nightmares

Laboratory sabotoge. Magdalena Koziol was baffled about why her zebrafish experiments were all failing: the fish were all dying, every time. So she did a simple experiment, setting up some fish labeled with her initials, and others without the label. The fish with her initials all died, the others were fine, proving that the initials “MK” carry a curse.

No, wait, that’s not it. She put in hidden cameras and revealed the true cause of the dead fish.

The experiment was a key step in proving that someone was tampering with her experiments, according to a lawsuit Koziol filed with the Superior Court in New Haven on 7 February. When hidden cameras were installed in the lab, they revealed a fellow postdoc poisoning her fish, the complaint says. Now, Koziol is suing the alleged perpetrator, Polloneal Jymmiel Ocbina. According to the complaint, he left Yale after he was caught on video.

Ocbina is now working at a communications company in New York. He was clearly ethically unsuited to work in biology, that’s for sure. Heck, he shouldn’t be working in science, period.

All’s well now, though, right? Villain caught, sent shuffling off in disgrace, etc.? Nope. Her advisor seems to have resented losing the rascally Ocbina.

From then on, Koziol’s relationship with her boss deteriorated. The complaint says he refused to provide her with a letter about the sabotage, which presumably would have helped explain her lack of data to future employers. Koziol alleges that he criticized her work and character, didn’t help her make up for the lost time, gave her "angry looks when passing in the lab," didn’t list her as a contributor to a Nature article, and threatened to fire and "destroy" her. Koziol became depressed, suffered from sleeplessness, and gained weight; when she and Giraldez talked for 3 hours in August 2012, Koziol "cried throughout the meeting," the complaint says.

Koziol filed a grievance procedure against Giraldez, which she lost; Yale, in its statement to Science, calls her allegations against Giraldez and the university "factually distorted and legally baseless."

It would have been so easy to do the right thing here — Koziol was the victim, and she was treated like the bad guy.

But some good things have come out of it; she’s left Yale, she’s gone back to the UK, and she has an appointment in the lab of John Gurdon (The John Gurdon, I should say, and definitely a step upwards), who is wonderfully supportive.

Koziol left Yale in March 2013 and returned to the lab of Nobel laureate John Gurdon in Cambridge, where she had done her doctoral work. “I was very happy to have her back,” Gurdon says, “because her work is excellent. She was a model student.” Gurdon helped secure a small grant for Koziol and donated some of his personal money to keep her going. He’s optimistic about her chances against Yale. “They wrote her a letter promising her circumstances in which she could conduct her research,” he says. “And they quite clearly did not provide even remotely adequate circumstances.”

We can tell who the good guys are in this story, at least.

I’m just wondering how Ocbina could escape so lightly. Any student in my lab who dared to both do harm to a colleague and to do willful harm to laboratory animals would face some fearsome wrath. There would be criminal proceedings, not mere expulsion.

Spreading Christian hypocrisy world-wide!

The Nkhoma Synod in Malawi has recently sent out a letter telling all their church-goers who to vote for. It’s an interesting document with some revealing wording.

The Church continues to note with great concern the levels at which moral values are being eroded in the name of civilization, human and minority rights.

Cases of lack of respect for the elders, lack of decency in the dressing, promotion of secular humanism, homosexuality, abortion, prostitution and pornography are all acts that our Lord does not condone.

According to the Pastoral Letter, any nation that promotes these ‘immoral’ values faces judgment from God.

Notice what stands in opposition to their “moral values”: Civilization. Human rights. Minority rights. When you have to acknowledge that civilization and basic humanity are against you, shouldn’t that be a warning sign that maybe you ought to rethink your values?

I like the fact that secular humanism is noted as one of their enemies (and, presumably, one of those forces aided and abetted by civilization and human rights), and that they include a laundry list of other social concerns, like abortion and homosexuality that are all rightfully tangled together with our godlessness.

And, oh yeah, Jesus and the prostitutes. Luke 7.

44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.

45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.

46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.

49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?

50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

So this Jesus legend blesses the prostitutes, and says nothing about homosexuals, but does rage at the moneylenders in the temple…what was it that he doesn’t condone, again, and what are the immoral values that face a rude smackdown from a god?

I’m so sorry, Malawi, I see you’re also regurgitating the poison spread by the likes of Scott Lively.

Oh, lord, the stupid…

In the expected counterattack from sexists defending Ben Radford’s obtuse sexism, there are now demented dingbats accusing me of being a veritable MRA and implying that I’m some kind of hypocrite, because I have in the past been subject to an abortive false accusation. I mentioned this in a comment four years ago (some people are obsessive in following my every word, and I should be flattered, I suppose — I must be very interesting). Here’s the dry account of the event that I gave then:

I won’t meet privately with students either — I always keep my office door wide open, and when I’m working with students in the lab, I find excuses to move out and let them work on their own if it turns into a one-on-one event. I just can’t afford the risk.

I was also subject to accusations of harassment, once upon a time. A female student came into my lab when I was alone, unhappy about an exam grade, and openly threatened me — by going public with a story about a completely nonexistent sexual encounter right there.

Zoom, I was right out the door at that instant; asked a female grad student in the lab next door to sit with the student for a bit, and went straight to the chair of the department to explain the situation. I had to work fast, because I knew that if it turned into a he-said-she-said story, it wouldn’t matter that she was lying, it could get dragged out into an investigation that would easily destroy my career, no matter that I was innocent.

I was in a total panic, knowing full well how damaging that kind of accusation can be. Fortunately, I’d done the right thing by blowing it all wide open at the first hint of a threat, and getting witnesses on the spot.

There is nothing inconsistent about this. False accusations do happen, and they can have extremely damaging consequences (which I said previously: “Yes, they happen…rarely. They’re important to detect.”) Obviously, I had just explained that I certainly do know of at least one case in which a desperate student tried to cheat her way to a better grade with an accusation. It happens.

How I responded to that instance is just part of a protocol for how people should work together. Here’s what I do:

  • I don’t harass women, or anyone for that matter.

  • I maintain complete transparency. Not only do I not harass women, but any accusation that I do founders on the implausibility of the circumstance.

  • I deal with any potential situation by defusing it immediately. Not arguing, not protesting my innocence, not begging the person to refrain from hurting my reputation, but going straight to departmental authorities and explaining the situation. Again, transparency: the slander isn’t going to stick.

  • I bring in witnesses, preferably women too, who can testify to my innocence. And I don’t just mean people who will say I’m a nice guy, but witnesses to the incident who can describe all the details of the event.

  • I keep myself protected against false claims, which also means that I’m keeping my students protected from any harm. We all work just fine together, with nothing to hide.

  • I don’t sexually harass my students or colleagues. Period.

Not only is my reputation spotless, and honestly so, but there’s no way to even realistically bring such a charge against me. And of course the great majority of my interactions with students bear no risk of any such problems — we can trust each other.

But then, there are always people like those slimy ones, that minority of nasty untrustworthy liars commenting on Radford’s thread, who are happy to distort and make false accusations, and I deal with them in the same way that I did that earlier incident: with transparency and honesty and frank admission of what actually happened. I don’t deny that such unpleasant people exist, especially when so many of them are already populating that thread and the existence of contemptible liars is so apparent. But when one has no interest in harassing people, it turns out to be relatively easy to maintain one’s integrity — I don’t have years of stalkerish behavior and complaints and administrative disciplinary actions to make excuses for, unlike some people.

Demonstrate calmly for pro-science

Brianne writes fairly frequently about her experiences as a clinic escort, dealing with shrieking fanatics who stand on sidewalks harassing people going into family planning clinics. They’re hideous and awful and have lost all sense of perspective and humanity, and they’re also remarkably ineffective…unless, of course, their goals are to make other people miserable and to expose their own obsessive inhumanity.

They have a lot in common with another group, animal rights protesters. Sanctimonious assholes, all of them. They’re all over UCLA, and they’re busy protesting researchers’ homes, at least when they’re not too busy planting bombs around the neighborhood or setting cars on fire or vandalizing people’s property.

Look at that person comparing animal experimentation to the Holocaust; it makes me wonder, do they intend to elevated monkeys to the status of Jews, or are they simply equating Jews and monkeys? Can we please not trivialize the murder of humans by pretending it has the same moral equivalency as biomedical research?

I think they, like clinic protesters, have forgotten the difference between expressing an idea/protesting against another idea, and harassment. They also lose all right to put themselves on the side of right in the Holocaust comparison when they say things like this, about UCLA researcher David Jentsch:

And later, the leader of the group whispers to the reporter:

“Wasn’t Jentsch’s car burned or something?” Then, above the din of chants, she adds, “I don’t know how to put this—I only wish he were in it.”

How can they compare researchers to Mengele when this is what they advocate?

I’ll be watching that asshole; I don’t want that piece of garbage and his family living in this neighborhood. He ought to be experimented on.

This weekend, there will be a counter-protest on the UCLA campus. If you value scientific research, you should go. If you believe in ethical research conduct and think these bloody-minded lunatics are actively undermining the responsible monitoring of research, you should go. If you’re just a decent human being who has had enough of idiot fanaticism, you should go.

They’re meeting at 10:15am on 15 February at the Franz Hall lobby on the UCLA campus. Go there, be civil and intelligent, and show people how ideas should be argued — don’t set any cars on fire, don’t harass your opponents’ children, don’t destroy their homes. Not that I’d expect anything less than rational behavior from the science side.