If we want to be good

I thought it was a great conference, and I know I had a great time there. But there are dissenters registering their dissent.


Sara E. Mayhew @saramayhew

If we want to be good at popularising skepticism, orgs need to cut cheap imitation speakers; Myers, Watson, Benson, Szvan, Skepchick/FTB.

That’s how to popularize skepticism.


  1. says

    IANAP, and I don’t like to engage in armchair psychological diagnoses. But given the persistence and tenacity with which this woman has been spewing bile towards FreethoughtBlogs and the bloggers, it seems likely that she needs serious professional help, or some new hobby at the very least.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    The remedy for “cheap” doesn’t take much skull sweat, though it may limit your future conference opportunities.

    But – how does one imitate speaking?

    Did you mime or interpretive-dance your presentation?

  3. Anthony K says

    She’s not much of an environmentalist nor humanist, is she?

    Imitation speaker-flavoured pollock is less expensive, keeps better in transit, is much less destructive than traditional speaker harvesting, and costs a lot less in terms of lives lost. Speakers made of textured vegetable protein have even more benefits, especially for vegetarian and vegan conference attendees.

  4. Richard Smith says

    “Don’t settle for cheap imitation speakers, like Myers, Watson, or Benson! Hire Mayhew for an expensive imitation speaker!”

  5. rnilsson says

    From my armchair vantage, Sara mainly projects as a comic drama queen. Only read back-to-front: a pea-princess of boring tragedy.
    Second the motion she acquires an actual hobby to fill her days, in lieu of actual work. Or perhaps therapy/medication, although that’s even less of my skill center.
    Glad you had such a good time, Ophelia.

  6. Anthony K says

    I guess she just has really good intuition.

    Now, let’s not be snipey. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that an exceptional skeptic like Sara Mayhew has actual data supporting her claim that having cheap, imitation speakers hinders the popularizing of skepticism. The peer-reviewed paper citations are probably in a forthcoming tweet.

  7. says

    But there are two claims in her tweet, one of which is that cheap imitation speakers=Myers, Watson, Benson, “Szvan”, Skepchick/FTB. It’s not clear if her list is exhaustive or exemplary. I would need to see the paper to know that.

  8. Anthony K says

    But there are two claims in her tweet, one of which is that cheap imitation speakers=Myers, Watson, Benson, “Szvan”, Skepchick/FTB. It’s not clear if her list is exhaustive or exemplary. I would need to see the paper to know that.

    As a popularizer of skepticism par excellence, SEM was probably just simplifying the results of the research for easy digestion by a lay audience. The methodology the researchers used to assess what constitutes a cheap imitation speaker is no doubt well thought out and rigorous.

  9. A Hermit says

    Speakers made of textured vegetable protein have even more benefits, especially for vegetarian and vegan conference attendees.

    Made me snort my organic soy mocha latte all over the keyboard…again…

  10. miraxpath says

    Yikes! This woman is totally lacking in self-awareness. Does she not realise how immature and graceless she looks carrying on this high school farce of a vendetta?

  11. ludicrous says

    miraxpath @ 16,

    If there are high schoolers who read FTBlogs, you have just done a Mayhew on them.

  12. noxiousnan says

    With a lineup like that I’m surprised she went…oh, right she didn’t.

    It must take an enormous effort to consider oneself a skeptic given the methods employed by the anti-FTBers. Do they never self assess?

  13. Heather says

    Has anyone else ever heard Sara Mayhew speak? I have, and in my opinion (this was the first time I ever encountered her, so it’s not like I was predisposed to disliking her) she was among the most boring and pointless speakers I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through a lecture by. And she has the stage presence of a compost pile. So anyway… who is a better alternative to those people she listed? Certainly not Sara Mayhew.

  14. says

    Self-assessment is too much like religion — you know, all that examining one’s conscience and motivations and confessing one’s sins and stuff. But like many other things, just because religion does it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong (though the specific ways it’s done in many traditions is toxic), and religion shouldn’t be left with a monopoly on the idea.

  15. says

    I have begun to cringe with an at once conflicted and familiar sort of sympathy for the self-disgracing every time I see that little screen cap at the top of the post, and the Sara E. Mayhew next to the tiny, blurry headshot…

    True story: I could never really watch The Office. It was the same thing. Even knowing it was fiction, I just couldn’t stomach watching Gervais’ character so utterly embarrassing himself. Yes, even knowing it was fiction, knowing the whole thing was perfectly deliberate, that he’d written this role, this whole scenario, it was still too much. I felt bad for the guy. Just felt no one deserves to look that loserly. Even watching how full of himself he was, and you might think somehow that might make it seem fair enough, but no, it was still, c’mon, he’s also so oblivious. He just doesn’t know what this looks like, from outside. And no one can (or will) even tell him, apparently… It’s just cruel, putting this on TV.

    Got the same problem with most such situations, oddly. I think I can stand watching people in intense physical pain or emotional distress more than I can watching them so fatally embarrassing themselves. Mourning your parent or your lifetime lover, ouch, yes, but it’s probably not your fault, and sure, it hurts, but you’ll probably live, and may even again someday be happy. Bullet through the meat of a major muscle? Multiple broken bones from a motor vehicle collision? I expect both hurt like hell, but hey, if they can keep you from bleeding out and get you to the ER in time, you’ll eventually walk away, and it’ll be one more colourful story you can tell whoever might ask…

    This stuff, on the other hand, it probably never quite washes out. If you ever get a look at what it looks like from outside, you’ll be able to revisit it again and again and again and again, and I’ll bet you’ll wish every single time you could just forget it happened, and no, you won’t be able to do that. Me, I almost wish for her she’d just remain safely oblivious, the rest of her life… Let the rest of us cringe; it’s better that way, if still hardly any fun for us, exactly.

    And seriously, Mayhew, yes, she’s a piece of work. I should be enjoying this, I guess…

    But no, honestly, I don’t, and sometimes I almost hope this is somehow just fiction… Like maybe this actually is a mockumentary, or she’s in one, anyway, and this is just part of the role… Like there’s a director standing there telling her, listen, be hopelessly petty and vindictive on the net, again, please; it’s in character, and we need more cringes for next week’s episode.

    And then reality intrudes, and I realize, um, no, this is unlikely. She’s had some things go pretty okay in her life, but she really is saying all this stuff, no directors, no cameras. And she really is this oblivious. And like all things net, there will be a record, and she will take it to her grave.

  16. Anthony K says

    I should be enjoying this, I guess…

    You don’t have to. I don’t really enjoy watching the Sara Mayhew Disaster Show all that much, and I’m a way worse person than you.

  17. Anthony K says


    And she has the stage presence of a compost pile.

    I object to that comparison. As an avid composter, I can tell you that compost piles are warm.

  18. says

    Andrew – oh, man, me too about watching other people’s embarrassment or humiliation. I HATE that. (That, of course, is the real reason I don’t snap at people who approach me to tell me how much they hate the photo of me in the list of speakers [unless they obviously do it out of malice as opposed to clumsiness]. I really DON’T want to see the scarlet of shame flood them. That’s why things like the shaming of the school bus monitor, and that guy on the bus who yelled “lay off the doughnuts” at a departing passenger that time, make me so upset.)

    But as far as I can tell this isn’t like that. Mayhew is trying very hard to make other people feel like that, not the other way around. She’s the exception in the brackets above – she’s doing what she’s doing out of malice, not clumsiness, so she wouldn’t be embarrassed or humiliated if she finally realized what she was doing.

  19. says

    And for me, the same thing applies to David Brent in The Office. He’s not just loserly, he’s cruel. The first thing we see him do is make Dawn cry by accusing her of petty theft in front of an outsider…as a “joke.” She’s shamed and humiliated. Yes he feels bad when she cries, but not as bad as she does.

    Then again, he is loserly too…and that’s why Tim will sigh inwardly and agree to have a pint with him: because no one else will.

    The worst moment in the whole series for me was when David was waiting for his blind date to show up, and a pretty but plump middle-aged woman came along and spoke to him and then it turned out she was meeting someone else, and he said “Oh, whew, I thought you were my date!!” She looked as if he’d punched her. Ow. I didn’t feel bad for him, I felt bad for her. All due deference to the fact that it’s fiction; as we all know, it’s not really fiction.

  20. Jenora Feuer says

    I think I’ve said it here before, but Sara’s sort of comment always reminds me of an observation I had back in University over twenty years ago, to do mostly with SF fandom at the time:

    There are people out there for whom it seems their sole purpose in life is to find a small enough pond that they can be a big fish in it.

    (And really, having met some of you at Eschaton in Ottawa, there’s no real way to say that PZ at least is an ‘imitation’ speaker; his session at the museum was quite well done.)

  21. says

    @31: ….and I’m wondering how Sara survived that weekend, stuck in a hotel with a bunch of cheap imitation speakers. Especially the “cheap” part. (What, you think we had a budget for speaker fees?)

  22. says


    Yeah, the Dawn thing is pretty hard to watch. I had seen it before, and just rewatched it, now, tried to get the sense of it again (the things I do to try to get things right; that’s the last time, I say)… And I don’t so much feel sympathy there–or even pity–for him…

    But I’m not sure it’s quite anger, either–I think I find the whole thing so incredible, it’s hard to process that far. And I find him also almost a cipher, there, besides the whole thing just being so hard to imagine. Like what was he even thinking? I could imagine someone doing that cruelly, but it’s not even totally obvious he was, not totally obvious he just didn’t see how badly it might go… What was he? Was he thinking? What manner of brain does that?

    Later, also, I think there’s less of that cipher: later, he seems more obviously oblivious when he screws up, makes everyone cringe, and it does seem far more clear he’s just too stupid to get what he’s doing, and we see him as more pathetic, more needy, more desperate for admiration, even; I don’t find myself so suspicious of malice. There, yeah, he’s a bit of a cipher. There’s a moment especially when he looks at the camera as it’s drawing to its awkward conclusion, and looks almost evil. Like he was really pretty okay with hurting her, or might have been. So possibly not just stupid. Possibly, indeed, malicious.

    Didn’t see the date thing. Gave up long before, I guess. Might look in a bit. Maybe I’ve had enough for a bit. And maybe it’s a bit off topic, anyway. As I don’t know I really buy Mayhew’s the same sort of animal, exactly, anyway, and odds of malice may be pretty incredibly different there. And not in her favour.

  23. latsot says

    I saw this tweet and had a mixture of feelings. I felt embarrassed for Mayhew and – for some reason – even more so for the usual suspects who gleefully retweeted it. I guess it’s always hard to examine ourselves, but if there’s one thing humans are good at, it’s seeing failings in others. It’s hard to believe that the retweeters can’t see that tweet as spiteful and childish…. and then choose to ignore that either because it suits whatever it is that they consider a goal or because doing otherwise would force them to examine their own childish spite. Or – very likely – both.

    But more than that I felt just a little bit sad at the (unnecessary) reminder that there’s a bunch of people who spend vast amounts of their time trying to make people feel bad for reasons I doubt they themselves even know.

    The FTBullies thing is a fiction. Well, obviously, but it seems fairly clear to me that its proponents know it’s fiction and that doesn’t concern them in the slightest because their actual goals lie elsewhere.

    It’s hard to think of a more futile way to live a life.


    There are people out there for whom it seems their sole purpose in life is to find a small enough pond that they can be a big fish in it.

    Beautifully put and right on the money, I think.

  24. Graculus says

    It’s hard to find a smaller pond than Kirkland Lake.

    In fact, everything about her is explained by the fact that she lives in Kirkland Lake…..

  25. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    Oddly, the people listed by Miss Mayhew are all people that I’d go to out of choice because I know that their presentations are reliably thoughtful, interesting, engaging, and full of substance for thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *