“The baying witch-hunt”

Richard Dawkins is at it again and still – he is still at it, and he has produced another specific instance of it. The “it” in question is his determined, condescending, angry, vindictive attack on feminism. (Why “vindictive”? Because to all appearances it started with Dear Muslima, and he’s made it very obvious that he’s deeply pissed off at all of us who pushed back against Dear Muslima.)

We saw him at it just a few days ago, in a pair of tweets he sent on Sunday, perhaps while still at the CFI Reason for Change conference. Maybe he sent them Sunday morning while listening to Stephen Law’s talk – I know he was there because he was the first to ask a question at the end. I was there too. If only I’d known I could have flung myself at him and knocked the phone or tablet from his hands, thus saving him from yet another self-exposure as a raging anti-feminist bully. (Yes, bully. He’s using his fame and star status to do what he can to repress feminism and incite his fans to do even more of that. I know he knows that because I fucking told him so.)

Those tweets again:

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins Jun 14
“A moment to savour”? Really? Please, Guardian, could we just lighten up on the witch-hunts? #ReinstateTimHunt. http://reason.com/archives/2015/06/13/the-illiberal-persecution-of-tim

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins Jun 14
@SquashedLumps I didn’t like Tim Hunt’s joke. But I loathe and detest mob rule and witch hunts and politically correct feeding frenzies.

Now he’s sent the content of the tweets to The Times. Yes really: he sent a letter to The Times complaining of a “baying witch hunt.” He actually did that.

Let me pause before quoting the whole letter to point out what he’s doing here. He’s blowing a deeply disgusting dog whistle by using the word “witch” in this context. It’s interesting, in an emetic way, that he can’t seem to stop himself using the word “witch” whenever he gets in a rage at feminist women. Remember “I promise you I’m not exaggerating” last summer? And now again. He’s invoking both the inquisitorial mindset that triggers witch hunts, and the link between women and perceived witches. It’s a filthy business, and he needs to stop.

Now his letter to the Times:

Sir, Along with many others, I didn’t like Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, but “disproportionate” would be a huge underestimate of the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness. A writer in The Guardian even described it as “a moment to savour.” To “savour” a moment of human misery — to “savour” the hounding of one of our most distinguished scientists — goes beyond schadenfreude and spills over into cruelty.

Professor Richard Dawkins, FRS


To repeat what I’ve said before:

This wasn’t some private “joke” at a dinner table. This was something Hunt said in a talk at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea. It was something he said in his official capacity as a Top scientist. It was patronizing and dismissive of women.

This is not some small gaffe. It’s not for other Top male white scientists to blow it off, because male white scientists have never had to face that particular kind of patronizing dismissal from people who are of the “superior” sex and/or race to them. Dawkins doesn’t know anything about the way patronizing dismissal impedes people of “inferior” race and/or sex, because that kind of patronizing dismissal has never impeded him. That’s very pleasant for him, and he’s made excellent use of it as an educator until recently, but it still means he should not weigh in to call us witches or witch-hunters when we fight back. He should stop.

Last Friday evening I watched him receive a lifetime achievement award at the CFI Reason for Change conference. I didn’t enjoy it much, because he has made so much of his achievement lately be about bullying feminist women. I think it’s very sad that he’s so determined to add that to his CV and thus to put a big ugly blot on it. I also think it’s shameful of him.

When he made his remarks on receiving the award, he made some tiresome quip about the Judean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judea haw haw because he’s never made that joke before, sigh. But he also said he was very sorry about the divisions among us. He said it quickly and without elaborating and then moved on, but he said it.

But he clearly didn’t mean a word of it.

I’m disgusted. I know that’s obvious, but I want to spell it out anyway. I think his campaign against feminism is disgusting and contemptible and I think he should stop.


  1. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    So many tells. Addressing a newspaper editorial department as “Sir.” Making sure that the readers know we’re talking about Sir Tim Hunt.

    Dawkins would be right at home on Mad Men. Yeah. Really. He’s not a progressive at all, he’s a reactionary.

  2. kellym says

    I can’t imagine supporting the Center for Inquiry until they knock off the anti-feminist stuff. Giving a Lifetime Achievement award to a man who has become renowned over the past three years for his anti-feminism, contempt for women who were raped while drunk, and minimization of “mild pedophilia”, to name just a few concerns, says to me that CFI leadership do not share values with me.

  3. David B. says

    So Dawkins thinks people objecting to and ridiculing Tim Hunt’s comments is a “baying witch-hunt [by] academic thought police [and] a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.”

    And they are the disproportionate ones?!

    I’ve seen comments defending Tim Hunt talk of a “toxic police state” and claim we are “regressing into the hysteria and mob rule of medieval times”. Who exactly needs a better sense of proportion here?

  4. says

    kelly @ 2 – I get what you mean, but I know that much (or perhaps all) of the CFI leadership does share values with you. It’s not anti-feminist, despite the award to Dawkins.

    I wish the award had been given a few years ago, before Dear Muslima, so that it wouldn’t be linked with RD’s anti-feminist phase…but it wasn’t given as an endorsement of that.

    Keep in mind Michael De Dora’s work at the UN and in Congress. Keep in mind that they’re helping Taslima and Asif and others. Keep in mind Bill Cooke’s international work.

    For that matter, keep in mind that they invited me!

  5. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Ophelia, it’s CFI’s job to keep those things in mind for us. It’s not our job to keep acknowledging all the good they do. This is their PR problem. They made this decision. This is on them.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    But he also said he was very sorry about the divisions among us. He said it quickly and without elaborating and then moved on, but he said it.
    But he clearly didn’t mean a word of it.

    Oh, I think he did mean it. If only people would always agree with him, the world would be a much nicer place, for him and people like him, i.e., old, white, financially comfortable men who are mostly coasting on their reputations these days. If people who are young, female, and/or not white get an equal seat at the dinner table, that just hastens his inevitable slide out of the limelight.

  7. ludicrous says

    Guys like Dawkins make me wonder how it is that some are able to get of that that hole and others not. Does it just come down to a level of boneheadedness? Is it outside influences that one encounters by chancel? Is it just luck? Is there some person who takes the time and trouble to come to the rescue? How do other men do it? I only know of my own, I guess you could say liberation, which was having a feminist partner early on and later group work on racism, sexism. all the isms. Are there any relevant surveys?

    He may live out his whole life unaware of the world beyond the narrow vision of his privileged white male eyes.

  8. doubtthat says

    I now read very little Dawkins. Has he, at any point, given us a blueprint for what a proper response looks like?

    I mean, all people did was point out that it was an offensive joke and place it in the context of the broader issue of such behavior cooling women on STEM fields. I can’t think of a less aggressive response that would in any way be coherent.

    Just frown, shake your head, and let him continue saying such things? I don’t get it.

  9. mildlymagnificent says

    I saw that reported in The Guardian. Given the despondency induced by the rest of today’s news, I simply could not summon the gumption to read the damned thing. The man seems unable to help himself … willful blindness is a sad thing to see.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    doubtthat @ # 9: I can’t think of a less aggressive response that would in any way be coherent.

    How ’bout, “Guys, don’t do that.”?

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    Hunt certainly EARNED a witch hunt. But what he got was a collective groan and eye-rolling. Really very mild and polite.

    And appropriately funny, unlike him.

    I suspect Dawkins’ arteries may have hardened to some critical degree. There is a fuddy-ness in a lot of his current output. Not limited to issues around women’s rights, sexism etc.

    I think he is out of his depth in social media and just doesn’t grasp that his reactive posts and grumps are ‘out there’ permanently.

  12. deepak shetty says

    @Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    He’s not a progressive at all, he’s a reactionary.


  13. Maureen Brian says

    ludicrous @ 8,

    You may be onto something! How is it that some of us in our 70s remember the negative attitudes and casual use of demeaning language which were around us in our youth but managed, mostly, to avoid following that pattern? How do the retired professors get to the age they are without learning anything?

  14. David Evans says

    Just a minor point. I don’t think he necessarily chose the phrase “witch hunt” because the story is about women. He’s about the same age as me, and “witch hunt” for me is automatic shorthand for “irrational pursuit of an individual by a crowd”. Bad writing, maybe, but I don’t think necessarily sexist.

  15. says

    I know it’s a standard metaphor, but since it’s always women and specifically feminist women he’s raging at when he uses it, I think he should use his Oh So Big Brain and notice what he’s doing.

  16. Malachite says

    Not just a journalists’ conference, but the remarks were made at a luncheon concerned with women in science. A doubly-bad location to make such remarks!!

  17. Silentbob says

    Dawkins doesn’t know anything about the way patronizing dismissal impedes people of “inferior” race and/or sex, because that kind of patronizing dismissal has never impeded him.

    I’m reminded again of that time Dawkins was sitting right next to Neil DeGrasse Tyson while he explained that very thing, responding to a “where are the women” question. You would think coming from Tyson something would have sunk in.

  18. Lady Mondegreen says

    You would think coming from Tyson something would have sunk in.

    No doubt Tyson is just another quaint outsider, to Dawkins. He’s happy enough to welcome such into his club, as long as they’re properly quiet and grateful. He obviously doesn’t care about their plebeian struggles.

  19. says

    But he clearly didn’t mean a word of it.

    Oh, I’m sure he meant it. I’m sure he’s very sorry that we foolish people can’t see his obvious brilliance, but insist on creating divisions. I’m sure he’d much prefer it if we would just shut up and agree with everything he says. If everyone just agreed with Dawkins, there’d be no more divisions.

  20. Silentbob says

    Hey, come on. He’s “a passionate feminist”. It’s just, you know, sometimes he can “get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler”.


  21. says

    Oh god you guys. Oh god oh god oh god.

    Wow, a bunch of guys.

    Sounds like a bad hill to fight a last-ditch defense of manliness and free speech on, to me.

  22. delphi.ote says

    All this concern over witch hunts in academia from reactionaries lately, but they were silent during the Salaita affair. That fact gives away the game. They don’t actually care about academic freedom. When an academic is really literally fired over Twitter posts, people like Dawkins don’t give a fuck. It’s the CONTENT of what is said that concerns them. They only seem to get upset when people complain about a certain kind of speech… speech I suspect they probably agree with behind closed doors. They don’t give a damn about academic freedom.

  23. says

    It’s easy to think of Dawkins as a well meaning but slightly naive advocate of free speech, who promotes a “say what you like without consequence” attitude, and genuinely doesn’t appreciate that making speech consequence free amounts to curtailing other people’s freedoms. (I once thought that of him myself.) But don’t believe it for a minute. Dawkins is a blatant hypocrite, who not only believes in consequences for free speech, but actively seeks to punish those who say things he doesn’t like. Far from defending livelihoods, he has deliberately tried to damage other people’s careers, most notably by using his influence to blackball Rebecca Watson.

  24. says

    Adding to the above:

    Dawkins also denounces “no platforming” as censorship. Once again, it’s possible to think of this as a naive defence of free speech, which doesn’t properly consider property rights and the right to lobby. But once again, this is total hypocrisy on Dawkins’s part. He has openly called for no-platforming, most notably with Ben Stein. (His calls to drop Stein were perfectly reasonable. It’s the hypocrisy I’m condemning.)

  25. says

    Delphi Ote@26: exactly.

    As I’ve commented elsewhere, I believe Dawkins’ actions are simply proxy warfare. He’s complaining about the people who criticized Hunt because they are the same people (and made similar criticisms) of him. So he can counter-attack without appearing to be grinding his own axe.

  26. John Morales says

    Nothing sinks in. Really, he seems to be on automatic pilot.

    Me, I think it’s something like Morton’s demon.

    I think this is sardonically unfortunate; I’m pretty sure Dawkins is not unaware of the concept.

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