You have to rub your hands together like a nefarious villain

Kate Donovan reminded us of a certain transcript she did way back last June. It was that first Google+ hangout, run by PZ, with Ian and Stephanie and Dan and Rebecca and Jason and Greg and me and…Al Stefanelli. It’s why I’m always so surprised by the height and depth of his rage now – given how well concealed it was then.

Ian Cromwell: If you look at DJ’s record before this latest thing, there’s nothing to suggest he was looking for, or trying to encourage sexual harassment. In fact, my understanding is that it was quite the opposite. That he was trying his damndest to make TAM a more inclusive, diverse environment. His reaction is bad. But it is not uniquely bad. It is not atypically bad. This is what happens when you think there isn’t a problem, and people point out to you, hey look, you’ve got a bunch of problems. The first thing that anyone does is say you’re making it up, you’re exaggerating, it’s not a problem, you’re crazy. That’s a completely normal human stupidity thing to do.

Al Stefanelli: Ian, that might be normal, and I completely and totally agree with you. But we’re supposed to be men and women—people—of reason. And it doesn’t do well when one of us makes a statement, and we’ve all, at one time or another in our careers, made statements, printed things, said things, that turned out to be inaccurate, and when we were called on it, we retracted it. We came, on our blogs and our videos and our [couldn’t make it out], and said, you know, I said this, I wrote this, I was wrong, let’s move on.

Jason Thibeault: I’ve had to walk back things I’ve said that I didn’t intend the way they were said. And I’ve had to walk them back and correct them.

Al Stefanelli: Now, when you’ve got an individual who has as much influence as DJ does, when you get an individual like that, who was presented with evidence, it reminds me a lot of another demographic of our species who does the same thing, pretty much burying your head in the sand and saying ‘if I don’t say anything about it or if I ignore it, it will go away”. Problem is, we’re all skeptics. And it does not go away.

Gosh. He doesn’t sound like that now. I wonder what happened.

Al Stefanelli: Correct me if I’m wrong, Rebecca, but after DJ had said that there was no issue, or no problem, or however he stated it, didn’t he receive ample evidence or proof or accounts afterwards? That’s the point I’m was making, is that to deny that there was ever anything going on, after receiving reports… I don’t believe that there was any malice. I just think it’s poorly executed attempt to put a positive spin on something.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, DJ reported that there were—

Al Stefanelli: –acknowledge and apologize—

Stephanie Zvan: Well, he received the second report at TAM last year.

Al Stefanelli: So he knew about it prior to the fact, then, right, Stephanie?

Stephanie Zvan: Before he made these statements. He received the report last year at TAM.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah.

PZ Myers: It’s always the cover-up that gets you, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening here. You know, I don’t think any of us think that TAM is particularly awful, as far as sexual harassment. And as Rebecca mentioned, it’s always been the model convention for a lot of us as for how to handle diversity. And the problem is that here we’ve got a few incidents. They’re reported, and they’re swept under the rug and ignored, and that’s what’s bother people. Why can’t you just face up to the fact that yes, there has been a small amount of sexual harassment going on at TAM, you haven’t been very effective at treating it; we’d like to see you be better about it. That’s what we’re saying. That’s what we want. And DJ seems to be running away from this. That’s the annoying thing about it.

Rebecca Watson: Every, every conference has problems. Not just in the skeptic or atheist communities—every conference everywhere has problems. So when you tell us that there’s never any problem at this conference, first of all, that’s highly dubious. And then all these reports come in and show that it’s flat out wrong. However, there are other conferences that say yeah, things happen. Here is what we do to take care of them. Here is what’s happened in the past. Here’s how we do our best to keep you safe. That is what’s going to make people feel safe, and come out to your conferences.

Al Stefanelli: And it won’t throw up any red flags. Whenever someone says “never”, it always throws up a red flags, particularly in the skeptical community. Don’t tell us something never happens. Because somebody is going to find a report of something that happens, and they’re going to call you on it. It’s like when they find that misused comma in your blog.

But but but but I thought we were the bad guys here.

Jason Thibeault: And I think there’s a lot of misinformation going on in this entire fight, from the very get-go. Look at—first of all, DJ has been conflating TAM with the entirety, the totality, of the skeptic/atheist communities. It’s kind of ridiculous. And then come the trolls, who say that Rebecca and Stephanie are trying to ruin TAM. And there comes the troll who says Ophelia thinks TAM is like Nazi Germany. And there are so many instances where—

Ian Cromwell: Wait. Those aren’t true? [deadpan]

[everyone chuckles]

Ian Cromwell: I don’t know… I heard from a preeeeetty reliable source.

[more chuckling]

Rebecca Watson: Surely those trolls can’t think I’m trying to ruin TAM. I backed out of TAM, so I’m sure they think TAM is way better now, sooo

Jason Thibeault: Oh, but you’re trying to send women to TAM so that you can have them harassed, and then you can talk about it, and then take over the movement. That’s what I heard.

Rebecca Watson: Really? Like it’s entrapment? Oh, God.

Al Stefanelli: If you’re going to do that, you have to rub your hands together like a nefarious villain.

[more laughs. Ian and Jason recommend buying a fake mustache at the same time. Jason illustrates with his mustache. More laughing happens]

PZ Myers: So that’s it. When DJ said only 18% of the attendees were women, he wasn’t saying we need more women, he was saying we need to get rid of these women somehow.

[more laughs]

Rebecca Watson: Now it’s going to look really bad when it comes out that the uniform all of our grant attendees have to wear is just like a string bikini, and you know…

[more laughing]

Ian Cromwell: Can I get one of those?

Jason Thibeault: …uniform of the Galiban?

Al Stefanelli: I find it quite ironic that the people who are accusing The Powers That Be of trying to ruin TAM, are actually trying to make it better. Theyre trying to make it a better event. That’s disheartening to me. When people are trying to make a venue, you know, more attractive to everybody, to be accused of trying to make it worse. It’s mind-boggling.

That was then. This is now.



  1. Nathair says

    You see, my friends have been replaced by clever doubles
    Who are members of a spawn that come from deep dark outer-space
    They’re Body-Snatchers. Life is imitating art now
    And Donald Sutherland, I guess I’m playing his part, now

    …but that’s just a rough barstool hypothesis.

  2. stewart says

    I had been wondering about that, but didn’t find time to go back to the transcript. Al clearly feels personally hurt by certain individuals – that’s pretty explicit in the video – and he seems to be letting that colour a lot else.

  3. says

    As far as I can tell — and this is pure speculation, based on timing above all else and some sidelong comments Al made before departing — he realized his close friend Reap Paden had just launched a tirade about how much of a bitch Stephanie Zvan was for trying to ruin TAM. He knew that people might ask him to pick a side (though nobody did). And he preemptively left FtB because, apparently, of how nasty we all are — right then — right when he would have had to tell his close friend that Stephanie was just trying to make TAM better.

    Better to throw us all under the bus and absorb all the shitbaggery from his friend, than to throw his friend under the bus by mildly telling him to back off.

  4. Silentbob says

    @ 3 Jason Thibeault

    That makes sense, except, to me, it still doesn’t explain the “Voice of Reason” (heh) video. That’s not so much absorbing the shitbaggery as rebroadcasting it with the amp on eleven.

  5. says

    Yeah I really don’t know what happened. That video was all I really knew of Al before he decided to leave FtB. Kind of an abrupt change.

    OH! Maybe it was some sort of brilliant and well evidenced argument that changed his mind in a snap. Someday they’ll decide to share it with us perhaps?

  6. says

    Stewart – except he doesn’t have any reason to feel personally hurt by any of the people he listed. He got furious at us, not the other way around. I did post about his rage once it was in full flame, but I did nothing to trigger it. That’s what so bizarre. He shouts and roars as if we’d done something to him, but we didn’t. We just watched with our mouths open while he melted down.

  7. says

    Doesn’t have to be Paden could have been anyone and who said anything about charisma? I specifically mentioned all the wealth of evidence that proves us all wrong that just has yet to be presented for some inexplicable reason.

  8. Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

    Al took the “guilt by association” pill, hard.
    Conflating “associates with X who has terrible ideas and is a bit of an arse” with “guilt by association i.e. being white and male” and ran with it all the way down the rabbit hole dug by his own steam-powered shovel-o-matic X3000.

    That’s what I saw, anyway.

  9. stewart says

    Well, I was writing about the feeling that comes across, not about anything I know to have happened. He’s pretty unspecific (except about Greg Laden), so I have no reason not to take your word for it.

  10. Nicole Introvert says

    I’m glad you posted this transcripts. I’ve been racking my brain since Al left FtB trying to figure out why I read his blog, bought his book, and listened to him podcast… wondering if I missed something. I liked this guy… what the hell happened?

  11. melody says

    I’m glad you posted this transcripts. I’ve been racking my brain since Al left FtB trying to figure out why I read his blog, bought his book, and listened to him podcast… wondering if I missed something. I liked this guy… what the hell happened?

    It happened overnight and many of us were asking the same question. I was probably stunned for a good two weeks.

  12. Hamilton Jacobi says

    It’s mind-boggling.

    Yes indeed, Al. And I’m sending you the bill for having my mind unboggled. In an attempt to get the boggles out, I went back and re-read Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), but it didn’t help much. So I’m calling in the professionals and I hope you will do the honorable thing and foot the bill.

  13. Sili says

    ” Better to throw us all under the bus and absorb all the shitbaggery from his friend, than to throw his friend under the bus by mildly telling him to back off.”

    Friend? Or dealer?

    That at least would make some twisted sort of sense.

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