Let Blogathon begin!

It’s an unholy hour for me. Well, I guess technically each of my hours is unholy…but damn, it’s early. It’s not a problem though, because I’m ready for BLOGATHON!

That’s right. From 6am PST Saturday to 6am Sunday, I’ll be frantically writing a new post in order to raise money for the Secular Student Alliance. Just like you’d donate money to support a runner in a marathon, I’m asking you to donate to support my caffeine-fueled adventure. And you have options! Make a a flat donation, donate every time you read a post you really enjoy, donate every time a kitten photo appears, request a topic for me to write about…have fun with the process! And even if you can’t afford to donate (ever penny helps!) you can help by spreading the word via Facebook and Twitter, and you can comment along so I don’t feel totally alone. This is especially important from my international readers, so I don’t feel like  I’m blogging into the abyss at 4am PST.

The overall goal of SSAweek was to raise $100,000 for the SSA, and we’re almost there. We only have $15,000 left in our goal, and I want my blogathon to be what puts us over the edge. This is especially important since we have a matching offer going on right now, so ever dollar you donate is doubled! So donate now using the widget in the right sidebar or by clicking here.

And in case you get sick of me today, there are others who are blogathoning as well. The fantastic Natalie Reed will be typing away, and the lovable Sarah Moglia will be livestreaming. I won’t be livestreaming because I do most of Blogathon unkempt and pantless. Sorry for ruining the magic.

Anyway…let the games begin!

This is post 1 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Blogathon 2012: Bigger, Better, and more sleep deprived than ever!

It’s my favorite time of the year: Blogathon!

Blogathon is a blogging marathon for charity where I make a new post every 30 minutes for 24 hours, with no pre-writing or autoposting allowed. Just like someone can pledge money to support someone running in a marathon, people can pledge to support a caffeinated, deliriously sleep deprived, and (hopefully) entertaining blogger. Like the last three years, I’m raising money for the Secular Student Alliance. But this year there’s a twist:

I’m not alone.

This year Blogathon will include 18 other bloggers who have pledged to devote their time going just as crazy as I am. From June 9th to June 16th, at least one blogger will spend their day furiously typing away. Instead of me running this blogging marathon on my own, it’s a relay race! We’ll be passing the e-baton, or something. I don’t run, so these analogies are hard. The current schedule is here, including bloggers like Greta Christina, Dale McGowan, JT Eberhard, Ian Cromwell, Natalie Reed, Ed Brayton, and more! I’ll be blogging from 6am PST June 16th to 6am June 17th.

Even more exciting, Blogathon is the main player in of SSAweek, a larger campaign to fundraise for the SSA. The goal of SSA week is to raise $100,000 to support the Secular Student Alliance.

Unholy crap.

So why is this fundraising all for the SSA? As a founder of an SSA affiliate and current Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, I’ve seen that amazing work first hand. The SSA provides speakers or other funding for groups that are organizing events, and has successfully combated administrators who illegally stonewall high school students from starting SSA affiliates. But most importantly to me personally, our affiliates create a community that many non-theistic students lack – especially if they’re from religious households or areas. My group at Purdue kept me sane when faced with pervasive religious privilege and anti-atheist discrimination, and many members are now my closest friends.

That’s where you come in. In order to keep supporting these student leaders (and to keep outpacing groups like Campus Crusade for Christ), we all need to help out. To support Blogathon, you can donate here using the SSAweek widget (which will be on FtB before Blogathon starts). Every little bit helps. Forgo a fancy coffee or beer and pitch in 5 bucks. The SSA current has a $250,000 matching offer going on, so whatever fundraising Blogathon can accomplish will be effectively doubled. I can’t even explain how freaking excited that makes me – and you all know it takes a lot to leave me speechless.

I’ll even make a special offer. The top ten donors who donate before June 15th will get to choose a topic for me to write about. If you want your topic to be in the running, donate and email me (blaghagblog at gmail dot com) a topic. Last year the lowest donations that got to choose a topic were $100, just as a reference point.

Even if you can’t donate, you can still show your support. Share the news about Blogathon and SSAweek everywhere you can – facebook, twitter, semaphore – whatever. Email me or comment here with blogging ideas. Or at the very least, keep me company during the blogathon! It gets lonely when it’s 5am and I’m blogging into the void.

I’m super excited for this upcoming week, and I hope you are too! Let the sleep deprivation-fueled entertainment begin :)

Blag Hag Hipsters, rejoice!

If you’re one of those people I’ve caught saying “I read Blag Hag before boobquake,” then have I got news for you. An old friend is back: Pastor Tom Estes of the blog Hard Truth.

If you’ve forgotten Pastor T. Estes, don’t worry – I had to dig through the archives to remember why the name was familiar. Nearly three years ago, which is eons ago in the blogosphere, I poked fun at a dumb post he made about how atheists are taking over the internet. He made remarks about looking forward to personally finding me and meeting me when he found out I was going to the Creation Museum. I mentioned it was kinda creepy, he responded with threats of suing me for defamation of character, and I spent my Creation Museum trip slightly on edge. He referred to my blog as “Helga’s Battle Axe” because he thought it was clever. We continued to vaguely giggle in the direction of his blog until he packed up his toys and went home.

I honestly shouldn’t care that this random small town pastor decided to come back to blogging, but his first post was too hilariously bad to resist commenting on. What was one thing that encouraged him to return to blogging? He looked at Pharyngula’s traffic and saw that it has recently plummeted, presumably because Christians are awesome and winning. But of course he didn’t figure out that the traffic drop was because Pharyngula moved to Freethought Blogs, despite the giant box at the top of old Pharyngula informing him.

Pastor Tom did figure one thing out – if you want to be a Christian echo chamber without anyone to challenge your beliefs, turn off your comments. How predictable.


Sorry for the lack of posts

I just haven’t been feeling it recently. I can’t even muster up the will to create filler posts with geek news or atheist memes or kitten photos. Part of it is work related. My general exam is at the end of May, so I’m spending a lot of time preparing for that. I also just got a new huge load of data to analyze, so I’ve been excitedly poking that. Part of it is just that real life is actually appealing. I have a wonderful boyfriend that I can go do fun things with, especially now that the weather is getting warmer. We’ve been having a lot of fun planning our trip to Dublin and Paris.

And on the flip side, the blogosphere just isn’t…motivating for me at the moment. I’m burnt out. I don’t care about the newest atheist book or billboard or stupid sexist controversy. I don’t want to deal with the egos of some people in the atheist movement. I can’t even muster rage about legislators making terrible laws about women’s health. I’m just…burnt out from frustration. I objectively know these are important issues and worth writing about in the long run, but right now I just want to be selfish and obliviously ignore everything going on in the world for a little bit. I never get to do that.

I’m not quitting, don’t worry. I’m just in a funk. Writers block. Lack of inspiration. Something will hit me, but right now I’m more interested in research and sun and cuddles and Pottermore (got sorted into Gryffindor despite my love for Ravenclaw) and beer and doodles and traveling and concerts (Jeff Mangum tonight, Justice next week, woo).

It’s just… for the first time in a long time, I’m happier off the internet. And happiness is the number 1 way to kill my creativity. You should all keep hoping Jehova’s Witnesses move in next door or my apartment gets infested with spiders again.

Goodbye, Greta!

EDIT: Happy April Fools.

It’s official: Greta Christina will be leaving Freethought Blogs.

I know, it really surprised me too. Greta is one of the first atheist bloggers I read and was major motivation for me to start my own blog. Over my three years of blogging, we’ve become close friends. I wasn’t surprised when she texted me yesterday, but I was surprised with what it said:

“I’m done with blogging.”

At first I thought she was just mad about another dumb internet kerfuffle about sexism, or #mencallmethings. But when I asked her what was going on, I realized she was serious. This wasn’t a temporary desire – this was for real. I tried to talk her out of it because I love her writing so much, but her mind was made up. Because we’re such good friends, Greta let me interview her about her decision.

She wanted me to stress that she had no ill will toward Freethought Blogs – she’s loved the community it has provided, and it’s been a fun experience. But atheist blogging just isn’t in her future. “When I wrote Why Are You Atheists So Angry, I thought it would motivate people to join the movement and become just as enraged about religious atrocities as I was,” Greta said. “But I was surprised when it did the opposite. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I feel so much better. I’m just not that angry about religion anymore. Other people should definitely keep up the fight, but I’ve reached some sort of zen level. Well, except that zen is bullshit. You know what I mean.”

I asked her if this meant she was done with blogging for good. “That’s actually another exciting announcement!” she said. “A reader of mine has a connection with Vogue, and apparently they loved my Fashion Friday posts. I’m going to be contributing to their blog occasionally!”

How about her other atheist activism, like her talks? “It’s the same as the blog. I just don’t have the passion there now that I’ve been able to vent. I hope the atheist movement keeps going strong, but I’m just not interested in being a part of it anymore. I have better things I can be doing to make myself happy.”

How exactly does Greta plan to spend her newly acquired free time? “Spending more time with Ingrid. Snuggling with kittens. Project Runway marathons. There’s a tub of cardamom ice cream that has my name on it.”

…I awkwardly asked if that was it.

“I’ll probably squeeze in some Buffy or Harry Potter fanfiction if my schedule allows. The sky’s the limit.”

Well, as a friend I’m glad Greta’s doing what makes her happy. But I know we’ll all miss her wonderful writing. Maybe I’ll suck it up and read her posts at Vogue, even though I know nothing about fashion.

Goodbye, Greta!

Blag Hag Census is open again

I was obviously seeing red last night because I thought PZ purposefully tried to ruin my data. It ended up not being malicious in nature. I know it’s hard for some of you to believe, but I’m not an emotionless robot or Vulcan, and sometimes I get mad. PZ didn’t realize what he was doing, I overreacted, the end. Let’s just leave it at that and move on with our lives instead of overanalyzing apologies and motives and bullshit. Any comment speculating about this dumb situation will be deleted.

The survey is open again. I will keep all responses that were previously submitted except ones that were obviously trolling or mentioned pharyngulating the poll.

And yes, I know some questions are US-centric. I know I forgot an “Other” response for the “How do you keep updated” question. I know I suck at survey making. I guess I’ll just have to not publish my results in Science like I had originally planned.

Take the Blag Hag 2012 Census!

It’s my favorite time of the year – the Blag Hag Census! It’s a wonderful time where all of you get to fill out a survey, and then I am overwhelmed with glee as I crunch data, look for correlations, and make pretty graphs. Seriously, last year I had way too much fun writing a Python script to parse the data. The survey only takes a couple of minutes to fill out, and it helps me learn about the demographics and interests of my readers so I can make the blog more enjoyable for everyone. And, you know, I’m just curious about who all of you are.  I’m really curious to see if there are any trends in the answers, since this is the third census I’ve given. This time I’ve also included some fun optional bonus questions at the end for shits and giggles.

Fill out the Blag Hag 2012 Census here! – EDIT AGAIN: I was obviously seeing red last night because I thought PZ purposefully tried to ruin my data, which ended up not being the case. I know it’s hard for some of you to believe, but I’m not an emotionless robot or Vulcan, and sometimes I get mad. Let’s just leave it at that and move on with our lives instead of overanalyzing apologies and motives and bullshit. The survey is open again.

And here’s the standard disclaimer – I’m not selling any of this information or using it to stalk you. At most you’ll be a datapoint in a pretty graph, or a comment you leave will be posted anonymously.

Please take it ASAP. I’ll shut down the census once the response rate drops off, which will probably be around Thursday. So don’t delay, take it now!

Catch me on the radio tomorrow morning!

I know you’re all a bunch of godless heathens who have their Sunday mornings wide open, so you should tune into Atheist Talk tomorrow! I’ll be on with fellow Freethought Bloggers Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, and Brianne Bilyeu:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

The topic is blogging – does it make a difference, or is it just a giant internet circle jerk? It will be especially interesting because I’m going drinking tonight, and the show starts at what will feel like 7am my time. I might be extra loopy and caffeinated.

Blogging makes a difference

Blogging can be frustrating. A lot of the time it feels like we’re beating our heads against the wall, replying to the same misconceptions over, and over, and over again. I occasionally have a low day where I wonder why I’m spending my time doing this if no one is “getting it.” It also doesn’t help that a lot of people like to poo-poo blogs as being wastes of time or circle jerks (though I never quite understood why circle jerks get such a bad rap). I think this opinion exists because you don’t see the feedback that we get in personal emails or buried in giant comment threads. And that feedback is what keeps me motivated, know I’m changing minds about issues I’m passionate about.

I got such an email from a reader named Matt the other day, which I think many of you may relate to, and he gave me permission to share it:

This email is something that I’ve meant to write, lingering in the back of my mind for a few years. I’ve finally been spurred to action by writing my “why I am an atheist” email for Pharyngula, and by telling an idiot friend on Google+ why “he” is not a valid gender-neutral pronoun. I want to give you sincere thanks, from the very bottom of my heart. You are singlehandedly the reason I consider myself a feminist instead of a men’s rights activist.

I know that’s kind of an odd divide. Let me explain.

I grew up in an environment one might reasonably say had a Republican/libertarian bent to it. When I was growing up, and even now, my mom was the type who–repeatedly!–claimed that the young, upper-middle-class, white male is the most put-upon ethnic group in modern America (I wish I were exaggerating). Suffice it to say I was led to believe I was in an “oppressed” group. The fact that I went to an all-boys’ catholic high school, overflowing with its male bravado, did not help. Add to all that my complicated relationship with my mom, which would go from amicable to adversarial in a matter of hours, and the result was potentially dangerous.

By nature I am kind of a shy, awkward guy, so when I got to college, it was a challenge to engage with women. Rather than try talking to girls, making mistakes, learning, and growing as a human being, I basically withdrew from the real world into forums and the internet. Obviously this made engaging with women (and eventually even men) seemingly impossible. It was a textbook catch-22. However, just being out of my parents’ house did get me exposed to other viewpoints, and it did make me realize there was more to the world than libertarianism. I began to understand how I wasn’t the oppressed prole I was led to believe. I still had a low opinion of women, though. My feelings aped the same depressingly common comments seen on MRA and PUA forums: “Why are all these women hooking up with guys who are not me (and are therefore assholes)?! I’m such a Nice Guy ™! My inability to interact with women couldn’t possibly be my fault! It must be them, not me! Me me me!”

There are two events which brought about the turning point in this story. First, in May 2009 I reconnected with a friend from high school who sent me a PDF copy of the PUA book by Neil Strauss, The Game. This was the first exposure I had to actual, someone-paid-money-for-this-crap pick-up artist stuff. I finished the book in a week, hoping for a clue to what I was “doing wrong.” Instead, I learned about the sleazy world of pick-up-artistry. Eventually, I decided to try using pick-up techniques. In what is hopefully a surprise to no one, I failed spectacularly, since PUA is about preying on people with insecurities and low self-esteem, and I tried using the techniques on normal, even confident, women. I didn’t want to date or hook up with someone with low self-esteem. Rather than ask myself, “am I doing it wrong?”, I found myself asking, “is this PUA stuff wrong?”

Around that time was the second event: I started reading your blog. I was using Google Reader to follow a few blogs and a bunch of dumb webcomics, and I searched for “atheism,” hoping to find the blog of some biology professor from Minnesota whose website name I couldn’t remember. Instead I found Blag Hag. Reading your blog was crucial in stopping me from a Mad Max-style nightmare future only with PUA/MRA forums. It made me realize a simple truth: “This woman isn’t some unassailable mystery, or some video game that responds to a proper combination of insult, backhanded compliment, quarter-circle-forward-fierce-punch… She’s like me. She’s a normal human being.”

As embarrassing as it is to type now, back then that seemed like a revolutionary thought. By the way you write, you made me pick-up artists as the manipulative shits they really are. You made me see men’s rights activists as the misogynist sociopaths they really are. Most importantly, you made me see feminism as something approachable, understandable, and ultimately, the only logical choice there really is.

Never stop what you do. Ever.

And it’s not just feminism. I got this sweet comment the other day from Timid Atheist:


Your blog and Skepchick were the reason I finally admitted to myself that I’m an atheist. I enjoy reading what you and other ladies in the community have to say and the majority of Freethoughts Blogs as well.

When I see this kind of mindless hate and scorn for people come from someone who calls themselves an Atheist, it makes me not want to call myself that anymore and that really upsets me because I thought I’d finally found a place where I could be who I am and enjoy discussing things with like minded people.

I hope that anyone who defends TJ comes to their senses. But I most assuredly will never endorse someone like that. TJ and anyone who agrees with him has no place in any part of society.

Thank you for continuing to do what you do best. And perhaps someday, because of people like you, I won’t have to hide that I’m an Atheist from my family and friends in order to keep custody of my child.

To all the Matts and Timid Atheists out there who send me lovely things like this – and I do get them quite a lot – thank you. I try to reply though I occasionally get busy and forget, but know that I do read and cherish every one.

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.