I’ve been pony-fied

I had two My Little Ponies that I played with when I was about six years old, until their manes turned bright green from me bringing them to the swimming pool too many times. But I totally don’t get the whole My Little Pony reboot fandom thing. Bronies? What?

But I don’t care. Along with the other Skepticon speakers (here and here), I’ve been pony-fied, and it’s pretty damn cute:

I love it. My favorite color blue (nabbed from the Blag Hag logo, I assume), badass pegasus wings, a DNA symbol, a mane that accurately depicts my bushy brown hair, and a pony pun that PRONOUNCES MY LAST NAME CORRECTLY! Win.

Billboard company suddenly cancels atheist contract

The Mid Ohio Atheists, with support from American Atheists, were planning a billboard campaign with LIND Billboard Company. After months of discussion with the company, the following billboards were ready to go up tomorrow:

 That is until they received a letter the day before their billboard were going up, saying their contract had been canceled. Bewildered, MOA member Michael contacted the company, hoping there was some sort of explanation. There was an explanation alright: the ads were too offensive:

“The content of the proposed displays was supposed to have been approved beforehand by senior management at Lind, but unfortunately was not.  When the content of your proposed displays did recently come to the attention of senior management, it was felt that a legal opinion was needed as to whether the content of the proposed displays might constitute a violation of the terms and conditions of Lind’s lease agreements for the billboard structures at which the posters would be displayed.  Legal counsel determined that such displays could constitute a violation of such lease terms and conditions.  Moreover, the inflammatory nature of the proposed displays would no doubt be considered offensive to much of the community and would be harmful to Lind’s community reputation and goodwill.  Lind has always and will continue to reserve the right not to publish advertisements which, in its sole opinion, are obscene, unnecessarily offensive and/or not in the best interests of the community at large.  We regret any inconvenience this might have caused your organization and Lind will bear the costs it has already incurred in the production of the displays without charge.

Maura Siegenthaler
Vice President
Lind Media Company
North Main Street
Mansfield, Ohio 44902
            419.571.4286      (cell)”

Can you imagine a billboard company rejecting Christians because some people in the community find their opinions offensive? Nope, because LIND has posted multiple Christian billboards before, including ones that offend the part of me that is against stupidity. We’re not allowed to state our beliefs because it may offend someone. Boo fucking hoo.

That doesn’t surprise me, though. Atheist billboards are consistently controversial, even if they just say “We exist!” What’s special about this case is that the billboard company had plenty of time to reject the ads, but came up with some bullshit excuse (about their own incompetence, no less) in order to stonewall the ads. With such little warning, these ads will not be up for the holiday season like the group intended. Congratulations, bigots – you’ve silenced a minority.

An apology to Skepticon from Gelato Mio

I previously blogged about “Gelatogate” (really? does every kerfuffle have to end in “gate?”) and felt that the business’s apology seemed a little insincere. It came off more as “I’m sorry I offended you because now my reviews on yelp and urbanspoon are plummiting,” not “I’m sorry for what I did because I understand why it was wrong.”

Well, the owner of Gelato Mio just emailed me to let me know he had posted a lengthier apology on reddit. There he describes the situation in more detail:

To the World:

Hello, my name is Andy and I’m the owner of Gelato Mio, a gelato shop located in Springfield, Missouri. There has been quite a lot of buzz and discussion concerning a picture of the sign I briefly posted in my front window Saturday evening. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my story and offer a heartfelt apology to your community. I messed up, plain and simple. This is NOT an excuse, but how it happened from my perspective.

I decided to welcome the convention downtown by offering the attendees 10% off their purchases at my store. A lot of the group from the convention were stopping by, being very polite and enjoying my Gelato. Saturday night started out as a great night. Once the store slowed down, I decided to walk down the street to learn more about the convention, fully thinking it was something involving UFOs (“skeptics”). What I saw instead was a man conducting a mock sermon, reading the bible and cursing it. Instead of saying “Amen”, the phrase was “god damn”. Being a Christian, and expecting flying saucers, I was not only totally surprised but totally offended. I took it very personally and quickly decided in the heat of the moment that I had to take matters into my own hands and let people know how I felt at that moment in time.

So, I went quickly back to my business, grabbed the first piece of paper I could find, wrote the note and taped it in my front window. This was an impulsive response, which I fully acknowledge was completely wrong and unacceptable. The sign was posted for about 10 minutes or so before I calmed down, came to my senses, and took it down. For what it’s worth, nobody was turned away. I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to their beliefs. I’m not apologizing for my beliefs, but rather for my inexcusable actions. I was wrong.

Guys, I really don’t know what else I can do to express my apologies. I’ve received dozens of calls and hundreds of emails since the incident, and have done my best to reply to each and every one and express my regret for what happened. For the thousands of you whom I’ve offended, I sincerely apologize. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. This is me as a human being sincerely apologizing for my actions.

To those of you who accept my apology, Thank You; it means a lot. To those of you who haven’t, I hope you will. I’m just a 28 year old small business owner who made a big mistake. I hope you see that I have not made any excuses, I’ve owned up to what I did, and I apologize.

For what it’s worth, an Atheist reached out to me to help me work through all of this and contact your community directly. I graciously accepted his offer.

I will give everyone who comes to my store this week 10% off as a token of my apology. Really, what’s more universal than ice cream?

Sincerely, Andy

This seems like a sincere apology, and I personally will say apology accepted. Like I said before, admitting you were wrong is hard, and I respect people who do it.

What are atheists thankful for?

The Fellowship of Freethought Dallas was at Skepticon this weekend, where they asked a number of atheists, from speakers to attendees, what they were thankful for. I pop up with sleep deprived giggles at 10:50:

I think this video says a lot. For one, look at how normal a lot of our answers are. We’re thankful for our friends and family. We’re thankful for being healthy. We’re thankful for having jobs in this tough economy. One of the main ways to remove the stigma surrounding atheism is to show that we’re just normal folks with similar everyday concerns as the religious, not amoral psychopaths. I think this video does a great job of illustrating that.

But I’m also glad that they included a clip from one of the evangelical Christian protestors, because it highlights the differences between atheist and theists. The Christian spends his whole time praising Jesus and nothing else. The atheists talk about their thankfulness for being alive, for being able to experience all the wonderful things in the universe, for having the internet so we can communicate with each other, for freedom of expression without fear of persecution, for science, and for other humanist ideals. A jarring distinction.

No Gelato for Skepticon

This is the sign hanging in Gelato Mio, a gelato place right next to where Skepticon is currently taking place:

“Skepticon is NOT welcomed to my Christian Business

lol bigotry

Why am I laughing? Because it’s their loss. Other restaurants have been overflowing with Skepticon people buying their food. They don’t want our money? Fine by me.

UPDATE: The gelato place has offered a vague apology. Maybe it’s because they realized their urbanspoon ranking dropped by 60% and that the internet exists.

UPDATE 2: The apology has been updated to actually sound more like a real apology.

Religion is all about peace and love

For example, Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball wrote this about rape:

““In a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where this is no voluntary participation.It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

And what’s the result of such a statement? Mormons who say stuff like this about 18 year old girls who commit suicide after years of being sexually abused by her family members:

I don’t care what did or did not happen to her. First and foremost, I don’t believe rape exists. When there are incidents that are classified as “rape,” or names that are similar, what usually ends up happening is that the “victim” tends to “forget” to mention immodesty, flirty actions, or other conduct on their part that contributed to the matter. A woman who dresses immodestly must accept accountability for her choice of attire.

If, in fact, this girl was being molested or forced into prostitution as the media outlets say her tweets claimed, then it was her fault that it happened, and continued to happen.

My brain just exploded with rage. What a monument of evil. What’s even scarier is you don’t have to dig into fundamentalist Mormonism to see people blaming rape victims because of their immodesty, or flirtiness, or sexy clothes. Walk into a college bar. Browse reddit. Attend a Republican rally. Hell, select a random person on the street. That victim blaming is depressingly common.

If any post deserves the “I hate people” tag, it’s certainly this one.

(Via Pharyngula)

Admitting you’re wrong

It’s a hard thing to do – trust me, I know from experience. That’s why I respect people who are able to do it. Aaron Friel of UNIFI wrote an excellent post about why he was wrong about his previous opinion that you “don’t feel the trolls,” and why it’s important to admit when you’re wrong. This was prompted by the post written by his clubmate Keenan and my response (well, and a lot of introspection, of course). It’s long, but worth the read. I particularly relate to this back story:

I was the kid that teachers described as “precocious” and students described as “know-it-all”. That’s not a compliment to me, mind you. It took me most of my life to admit I was wrong. If I claimed knowledge I didn’t have, I rationalized it away later. This started to change in middle school, when surrounded by the bright students of Malcolm Price Lab, I had to articulate my beliefs and then actually defend them. I can easily say I’ve never cheated on a test, but I’ll admit now that I cheated on some arguments. When confronted with evidence to the contrary, I rarely relented. I’d rationalize away the flaws in my argument and persist.

I first admitted I was wrong privately, a small victory. It was after a mock debate on whether or not to allow a chemical plant to be built near a river. During that debate, I lied. I claimed knowledge I didn’t have to solidify my argument. I don’t even recall whether or not we won; the sting of realizing as I was saying something that I had no evidence whatsoever of its truth washed away the other memories of that day. I looked up my claim later online and I was … wrong.

Since first admitting I was wrong, I had a lot of catching up to do. At Cedar Falls High School, I opted to sit with people I didn’t know, and with whom I didn’t agree; once I sat with conservatives and people who quoted scripture in defense of their positions. I came away a better person for it. I learned better how to articulate an argument and to submit it to criticism. I also learned not to take personally some of the harsher remarks. Especially, I learned something akin to Hanlon’s razor and took it to heart. It became the one thing I would always fall back on in an argument. My preferred version goes a little like this:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by misunderstanding.

Sitting between Guy-That-Quotes-Scripture and Guy-That-Thinks-Iraq-Had-Nuclear-Weapons led to some very prideful arguments, if you’ll allow the understatement. Words were exchanged and the bell would sound and we’d return the next day, maybe with a printed off article or two to back up our positions. I’m not sure if we ever budged, but I learned not to interpret malice into their words. We didn’t see eye to eye, but there was no hate. I was often wrong even then, of course, but they’re no longer around to hear me admit it.

Learning to gracefully accept being wrong is my Moby Dick, I’m still working out the kinks.

At the same time, I think our community is, too. In the past six months we’ve had some prideful arguments. Unfortunately there’s no lunch bell to send us off to classes and give us time to think. We give ourselves no time to relax, and no room to recant our invectives before beginning another argument.

Our movement is predicated on the belief that we can and will be wrong. A lot. And that’s OK. When we admit we’re wrong, we grow as people, as a community.

Honestly, I went through the same thing. I was a precocious child. McCreights also tend to be tremendously stubborn – you should see our Thanksgiving dinner table “discussions” – which is a dangerous trait when coupled with smarts. It took me a long time to be able to admit I was wrong. I still have a hard time with it – ask any of my friends when we get into a debate about trivial stuff that I insist I’m correct about. I haven’t completely stopped (Jen’s friends: “Ha!”), but at least now I recognize that I’m being stupid.

And while the internet has the disadvantage of not having a lunch bell, I think it also has its perks. I would say learning about science is the most important thing that taught me how to be wrong – but blogging comes in close second. You’re constantly exposed to comments by people who disagree with you. Some of these comments are obviously incorrect or wildly silly, but plenty make me stop and think. I probably come off a lot more stubborn that I am, because a lot of my growth is behind the scenes. There are plenty of times where I start writing a post, stop, start, stop, and ultimately never post it because I know I’m unsure about what I’m saying. I also know I don’t necessarily agree with things I wrote when I first started blogging, and a couple of years from now I’ll probably disagree with some stuff I’m saying now.

And frequently, I am so thankful I didn’t start my blog sooner. I had some pretty ignorant or embarrassing opinions as recent as the beginning of college. I used to be adamantly anti-drugs and against underaged drinking. I thought sex was reserved for only when you’re madly in love, and casual sex was just for those “slutty” people. Even though I used the label “feminist,” I had some pretty backwards and frankly sexist views about women – especially feminine women. And I even used to be quite the tone troll when it came to atheism – I thought singing kumbaya was the only way of communicating. My first comment on Pharyngula was how PZ’s harshness was – if I remember correctly – “pointless dick-waving.” Stupid and sexist.

I don’t necessarily agree with Aaron 100% about the situation, specifically the part about “poisoning the well.” I think harshness has it’s place in communication – let’s not rehash the whole firebrand/diplomat debate all over again. And I think “tone trolling” is a real thing that distracts from the real issues being discussed. I have a feeling female bloggers are on the receiving end of tone trolling far more often since women are stereotyped as being nice and gentle, though it’s just speculation – I wish someone would do a scientific study of blog comments. And it’s also annoying how fellow atheists seem to employ arguments about “tone” when criticism is pointed within the group, rather than outside of it. Not as many people object to harsh words aimed at the religion (though obviously some do).

But while we’re admitting that we’re wrong, I will confess to one of my major weaknesses: I don’t always choose my words carefully when I’m angry. I get sloppy. When I point out someone is a “white male” or has “privilege,” I’m not trying to say that’s inherently bad. I’m not trying to say “You can’t weigh in on this discussion because of something you can’t control.” I’m trying to say that it’s patronizing when people try to tell minorities how they should feel and react to discrimination, even if they’re allies with the best of intentions. That sometimes you have to take a step back and think, “Maybe I don’t quite understand where they’re coming from.”

Trust me. There are times where I’ve read discussions about if something is racist, and I’ll have some pretty dumb opinions. I certainly don’t consider myself racist, but no one is perfect. I mean, come on, I’m from Indiana – my high school had 1400 students and you could count the number of black students on one hand. Lack of exposure breeds ignorance. But instead of writing an angry blog post about how black people are overreacting and should calm down, I recognize that I’m probably being dumb and that I should just sit and listen for a while longer.

And sitting and listening is the number one thing that’s made me eventually able to change my mind. This is especially true about feminism. Years ago I purposefully subscribed to lots of feminist blogs that I didn’t necessarily agree with. A lot of times they made me rage. But instead of unsubscribing, I kept reading and thinking. Eventually a lot of arguments won me over once I got over my stubbornness. And the things I still disagree about are now for real reasons that I can articulate, not ignorance.

Admitting you’re wrong is hard to do, but it’s also the sign of a good skeptic.

Herman Cain’s pizza divinations

If politics doesn’t work out for Herman Cain (lol), maybe he can get paid to do cheap parlor tricks. Like determining people’s personality based on the pizza they like:

When questioned on what he could tell about a man by the type of pizza he likes, Cain declared, “The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is.” After being asked to explain his reasoning, the presidential hopeful said, “Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance.”

Cain then went a step further, ripping the delicacy of choice for veggie-hungry pizza fans: “A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.”

Obviously I’m a little unusual because I like black olives, and a slut because I like sausage. See, it works!

It’s sad when my number one reaction to quotes from Republican Presidental candidates is consistently “Not sure if this is from the Onion or not…”

A bully, plain and simple


You know, I certainly understand the concept that not every stupid thing someone says is worth responding to. It’s the reason why I don’t devote a post to every time Ken Ham or Focus on the Family update their blogs. I also understand that sometimes people post terrible things with the sole intention of getting you riled up, and responding probably gives them some sort of smug satisfaction.

But sometimes, even the craziest of tirades deserved to be shared. Not because I think I’ll change the mind of the writer, but because people deserve to see what pure, unhinged, vitriol looks like.

This is a message to me from Abbie Smith of the blog ERV, with my response:

btw, my response to Jen:

Rebecca Watson is a loser. She leeches off the skeptical movement to exist. Its disgusting.

You have (had?) potential to be more. And you are flushing it down the toilet.

You are in graduate school. That is your job. You spend way too much time going to these stupid conferences (hey, like Skepticon this weekend), that are not even tangentially related to your job (contrary to what you wrote in the small portion of your proposal I read).

Indeed, graduate school is my job. It is not, however, slavery. I thought you would understand that since you’re also a biology graduate student, but maybe they’re particularly rough over at the University of Oklahoma. You see, people – even graduate students – are allowed to have free time. Yes, we’re allowed to unshackle ourselves from the lab bench and head home for dinner. Some of us will read books or watch movies. Some will head out for beers with friends and coworkers. Some will even – gasp! – take vacations. We are allowed to have lives, and hobbies.

It’s intriguing that you claim I spend way too much time at these conferences, since you don’t know my schedule at all. Like how I purposefully did not schedule any speaking engagements for August, September, October, and early November because I knew I would have to spend extra time preparing for my Research Reports departmental presentation and the NSF fellowship proposal. Or how I’m not scheduling anything January through February because I’m preparing for my committee meeting and have to, as my 2nd year PhD student duties, run graduate student recruitment weekends. Or how I never schedule speaking events in back to back weeks, because I wouldn’t have the time. Or how if I have to miss a half day or day of work for travel, that I make up the time earlier that week or while traveling (which I can do since my project is currently completely computational).

But I’m sure all of the graduate students who decide to attend skeptical conferences will be glad to know that you have deemed them to be a waste of time.

And as for them not being “even tangentially related to my job”… Are you really saying that communicating science is not related to being a scientist? Would you say the same thing to students who spend their weekends helping with science fairs, or giving talks to classrooms or the community? I, like many scientists, want to be more than a pipetting machine.

These speaking engagements have given me much more practical experience in public speaking than most graduate students ever get, and it shows. I am consistently told by multiple professors in my department how excellent my speaking abilities are, and how clearly I can communicate my research.

You are behaving in an utterly unprofessional manner, posting pics of seminars you attend making fun of them, accusing your professors and classmates of being anti-science. The portion of your proposal I read was horrible, to the point of being shockingly horrible for someone of your education and writing experience. It bears absolutely no resemblance to my NIH proposal (which was funded).

This is a drastic distortion of what I’ve talked about here. Yes, I giggled at some particularly horrendous slides from a single seminar (not seminars) that the department as a whole was publicly cracking up about. And I have never accused my professors and classmates of being anti-science. I explained how because of the religious culture surrounding creationism, even some evolution-accepting scientists become uneasy about aggressively supporting evolution.

And while your comments about my proposal were probably meant to hurt my feelings and pad your ego (you got funding, good for you), it just makes me laugh. For one, the NIH fellowships don’t require a personal statement at all, unlike the NSF fellowships. And I explicitly stated my excerpt was from my personal statement, where you are required to talk about your motivation for becoming a scientist and doing outreach.

Second of all, it’s ludicrous that you think you can judge a 6 page application from two paragraphs of a personal statement. A draft personal statement that I openly admitted still needed revision, nonetheless. Unless you’ve been hacking into my computer and reading my finished application, I’ll just assume you’re bitterly taking pot shots. Especially since multiple professors and classmates have told me my application is excellent and very well written.

Which brings me to the worst part of your behavior, and why I know you are well on your way to becoming a professional loser– your proposal sucked, and you blamed your critique on your colleagues supposed anti-science. Youve already said your proposal isnt going to get funded ‘because youre an atheist’ or something stupid like that. And do I remember right, you didnt get into Harvard ‘because youre an atheist’ too, right? When you were properly chastised for behaving inappropriately and unprofessionally, you declared that it was because they couldnt handle you speaking out. Poor you for fighting the system! Career suicide! Bitch, please. I killed a Godfather of Retrovirology, and Ive still got a career (technically, it opened up locked doors for me). Heaven forbid your brain entertain the thought, for a moment, that you just fucked up. You are too stuck up your own ass to take responsibility for your own actions. Youre too old for this kind of immaturity.

My brain almost exploded from the irony that the same person who’s writing an unprovoked diatribe and coined the phrase “Rebecca Twatson” is the one calling me immature.

I’ve never said my proposal isn’t going to get funded because I’m an atheist, or that I didn’t get into Harvard because I’m an atheist. I don’t know why I ultimately didn’t get accepted to Harvard after my interview. And if I don’t get the NSF, it’s probably going to be because they don’t always like discovery based research without clear alternative hypotheses. My point in writing those posts is that I hate that I even have the inkling in the back of my brain that it may be because I’m an atheist. Because sadly, that shit happens. I know people who have lost their jobs because they were atheists, so I can’t help but worry and wonder. It’s one of the reasons I’m an activist – because I don’t think people should ever have to wonder that, even for a fleeting second.

But you can continue thinking I’m a sucky scientist with no social skills who can never admit she’s wrong. I don’t care, because I know it’s not true, and I know the people around me know it’s not true. I’ve demonstrated multiple times on my blog that I’ll edit, clarify, or even remove posts when I find conflicting evidence. I’ve greatly changed my talks because of feedback people have given me when they dispute certain points. And hell, in grad school I’m excited when I’m actually right. Classes challenge the way you think and what you think you know, and professors and classmates constantly challenge your data and interpretations. It’s how science works.

Oh, but right, I suck at that. Moving on.

If you went to my uni and you were in my department, you would be kicked out this coming Spring. And it would have had jack shit to do with your atheism.

But I am not your mother and you are not my problem. If you want to bitch on the internet for a living, more power to you. But you need to deal with the fact that people are going to call you a loser if that is what you choose to do with your life. Because you will be.

If you want to grow the fuck up and be a professional scientist, I would be happy to have you and happy for you.

But I just dont think its going to happen.

The irony of someone bitching on the internet about how I shouldn’t bitch on the internet.

It’s great to know that you would fire me just because you dislike a couple of things I’ve said about feminism (even though you apparently used to think I was awesome), and that you would make that decision knowing literally nothing about my academic achievements. How about the NIH training grant that I’m currently on? How about my two published papers? My grades? Work ethic? Scientific ability at all?

Nope, you know nothing, but you’d be childish enough to fire me.

You’re worried about my ability to become a professional scientist? I’m worried that you will become a professional scientist. We don’t need people who are so divorced from reality that they go on public, outrageous, denigrating rants. I’ll be the first to say that sometimes I can be a bit blunt, or rude, or abrasive. I don’t mince words when I have something to say. But what I’ve never been described as is pointlessly mean. Mean to the point where it’s frankly scary.

But really, it just makes me sad. I used to love your blog, but after “Elevator-gate” you did a Jekyll and Hyde. I can forgive people for occasionally saying something dumb or sexist or mean. But your cruelty isn’t occasional – it’s become an unhealthy obsession, with you lashing out like this at many different people. It’s not my place to psychoanalyze you on my blog, but I sincerely hope you find peace somehow. It’s one thing to strongly disagree with someone, it’s another to say stuff like this.

Skepticon is nigh!

Are you ready for Skepticon 4 this weekend?!?!

I’m not. I still have to finish my talk. I had a nightmare last night about being too busy pubcrawling at Skepticon to make my slides. Those nightmares may not be too far off. I’ve never been to Skepticon before, but it has quite the reputation for its partying. When I told PZ I was coming, he said he was glad because they needed “more young people to soak up all the alcohol.”

I am scared.

Not wanting to be tagged as a bunch of wet blankets, Freethought Blogs is having its own little get together. It’ll be on Saturday at 9:30 at the Farmers Gastropub. PZ Myers, Greta Christina, JT Eberhard, Ed Brayton, Richard Carrier, and I will all be there. You know you want to be where all the cool kids are.

As for the actual conferemce, my talk will be about skepticism and genetics, focusing on how to spot silly genetic claims in advertisement and the media. Hurray for actually giving a talk related to my field! Of course, my talk is at 10am after our pub night, so maybe I won’t be as excited about it then.

At least they put me ahead of Richard Carrier and Hemant Mehta, who are, for some horrifying reason, giving back to back talks about math. Why do they torture me so?!