Speaking of coddled white guys…

The usual suspects are currently howling and thrashing and having temper tantrums over Steve Shives, another white guy who thinks we ought to welcome diversity, but they’re also taking the opportunity to fling accusations of hypocrisy my way. It’s simply amazing how triumphantly they are spamming my email and twitter account with this irrefutable proof that I lied.


Gosh. They got me now…oh, wait. Read that last comment. It might help.

No, I have never been accused of sexual harassment. If you were to have access to my employment record, you’d find it was completely clean — I simply do not harass women (or men, for that matter), and never have. It’s also not that I have been exonerated of charges — I’ve never been charged with harassment, because I’ve never done it (note that this does not imply that being accused means you are guilty), and I’ve scrupulously avoided circumstances where there is even an opportunity for such an accusation.

They love to make much of that incident in the 1990s — in which a young woman thought she could get a better grade by extortion. I responded by immediately removing myself from the situation and making the situation open to investigation by authorities. She did not accuse me because she couldn’t.

So I have been threatened with extortion, but no extortion took place. Similarly, I get weekly murder threats, but I have not been murdered. I am conscious of the distinction, but these wackaloons apparently are not.

By the way, these loons have also sent wild accusations of harassment to my university employers…who have treated their baseless bullshit with the respect they deserve. Those also are not credible accusations.


  1. Christopher says

    Having some jerk on the internet use pathetically weak quotemining to build a strawman that is used to slander you as a terrible person sure does suck doesn’t it.

  2. Holms says

    Yes but then, [random shitheads on the internet that hate you accused you of something] and [pattern of accusations from friends and colleagues going back years] are completely equivalent in the minds of said shitheads that hate you.

  3. Holms says

    I take it Christopher is annoyed at some quoted statement of his being used to indict him. Was it gun apologetics perchance?

  4. Dreaming of an Atheistic Newtopia says

    I suspect cristopher is refering to quotes from Harris, rather than their own. Either way, a magnificent fail on their part.

  5. Cartimandua says

    PZ, I am glad in this instance you avoided what would have been a terrible situation and obviously, given your opinions, the claims are ludicrous.

    If I set you aside from the account though I am troubled.

    The claims were made when the pair were were alone? And there was concern this “he said, she said” would be a problem? So the male professor had the female student held in some form of detention while he shaped the response of the institutional power structure? And no claim was subsequently made?

    I am seriously glad you got no fallout from this. But it sends cold shivers down my spine to imagine Shermer and Krauss having access to a similar containment option.

  6. skybluskyblue says

    Jerry Seinfeld has admitted to being “mildly autistic” [even then parents of autistic kids got angry at him with the way he said it]. As a fellow autistic, we often have trouble groking people and situations. Then after realizing our mistakes, we have trouble communicating our response. I was lucky because the first person that really helped me understand autism [Rachel Cohen Rottenberg] was studying in the social justice fields and slowly introduced me to the reasoning behind each subtopic and people in each sub topic. Autistics with the bighead-syndrome [technical term] can think they don’t need to keep an open mind because ego-based strategies seemed to always work for them in the past, I guess. Anyone can be affected with bighead syndrome, but autistics with it are likely to misunderstand social situations. The other bigheads involved in these articles need to grok subtopics too. [The cause of their jerk-ery is not apparent to me.]

    None of these syndromes are excuses not “get out of jail free” cards for their purposeful or inadvertent assholery, however. All sorts of cognitive biases and pretty common human emotional self-protection strategies can be fought and won even if by baby-steps.

    Lydia Brown is also a good person to read if you are coming from an autistic POV: http://autistichoya.net/ . No one has an excuse anymore with the advent of the internet. Learning resources are everywhere nowadays. Just correct one-self, real-apologize and be mindful from this point on. Anonymity is the jerks’ enabler for both paths.

  7. skybluskyblue says

    Wrong thread!! This is for the Solnit sings thread! I’ll post it there now. After going through the process of getting a new password I took the wrong path to it.

  8. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    So the male professor had the female student held in some form of detention while he shaped the response of the institutional power structure?

    Where does it say the accuser was detained? “Sit with” and “detain” are not even in the same ball-park. Not even the same galaxy.

  9. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    Besides, she clearly wanted something to happen and if she wanted to take it up further, then that avenue was not denied to her by PZ’s actions to remove himself from any further contact until impartial parties (including the investigators) could determine the veracity of the claims.

    Sorry, Cartimandua, but I’d have no problem if Krauss or Shermer or anyone took these actions.

  10. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    So the male professor had the female student held in some form of detention while he shaped the response of the institutional power structure? And no claim was subsequently made?

    Sounds like you are looking for trouble where it doesn’t exist. A third party female student was present after PZ left. A fair witness, if necessary. Not allowing somebody to leave is kidnapping, so that didn’t happen. I expect the would-be accuser was embarrassed when the ploy didn’t work as planned, meaning kept private, and officials were notified of the potential extortion.
    What else could PZ have done? Be specific.

  11. says

    She was not detained in any way. She was free to leave. I asked the student to sit with her because I was leaving, and she was distraught — she was there because she was failing the course, was very upset, and the conversation suddenly turned from me trying to help her map out a plan to pass, to her desperate attempt to force me to give her a passing grade.

    All the second guessing, though…I’ll ask you what you think I should have done.

    — Continue talking with her alone in my office, as if nothing had been said? Or possibly arguing with her? That would have just left me wide open for later accusations, and she was already flailing.

    — I could have just told her to leave my office, and then failed her in my course. That would have been entirely reasonable to do, but I was in the state of mind of trying to help her pass, so that wasn’t something I would have been comfortable doing.

    — The way to shape “the response of the institutional power structure” was straightforward: I could have filed formal misconduct charges against the student, involved university counsel, and dragged us both through a somewhat elaborate set of actions that would have, at best for her, ended with her denying everything and claiming I was making a false accusation, or worst, she would have been kicked out of the university. I had so many ways to make hell for her!

  12. Cartimandua says

    I am not troubled by PZ in the slightest and I am obviously glad his reputation was not sullied. He is family.

    The princple concerns me on a broader front.

    The incident took place in private so there were no witnesses. His word vs hers. A sadly all too common scenario. The authority figure had the student in one way or another taken out of the equation until he had set the narrative with the system. And there was no consequent complaint.

    Set neutrally, is this in anyway a comfortable story? Is this a reassuring indication of how things may run at universities in general?

    So I read the account on two levels – a disturbing personal accedote by PZ for which he has my full sympathies AND an implicit warning to woman on the risks of mismatched privilege. The latter theme resonated for me because therein lies my experience.

    And yes, I was upset when Shermer tried to use his privilage in the conference environment at TAM. His poorly executed attempts to control the narrative only failed because the cat was let out of the bag before he sprang into action and Jeff Wagg was no DJ.

  13. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The incident took place in private so there were no witnesses. His word vs hers. A sadly all too common scenario. The authority figure had the student in one way or another taken out of the equation until he had set the narrative with the system. And there was no consequent complaint.

    This accusation was repeated. Now, tell us what PZ should have done to avoid this accusation. Can it even be done?

  14. Solomon Steltzer says

    I can also understand Cartimandua’s initial confusion/concern. I had traces of it myself, reading PZ’s 2010 post. There’s certainly surface similarities to the kind of ‘institutional cover-up and denial’ that sometimes occur in the much more grounded/likely cases of sexual harrassment/etc. There’s a little bit of vagueness surrounding “going public with a story about a completely nonexistant sexual encounter”, where the alleged ‘story’ could be simply ‘I had consensual sex with my professor’ and the resulting scandal is the threat, or the story could be ‘I was sexually harassed/assaulted/etc by my professor’, and the threat is the danger of criminal charges (although I believe there’s statutory stuff attached to consenual student-professor encounters).

    For instance, PZ’s story could presumably be read by an unfriendly or pre-biased eye (or even a more neutral one, given a potential to misunderstand the wording) to be a case of post-hoc explanation of a potentially entirely different situation. I don’t doubt that PZ’s account is accurate, but if there /had/ been something to this student’s claim, I could easily see it going like this:


    1) Student (who is also failing) has a non-consensual sexual encounter with PZ. Perhaps said sexual encounter and the resulting distress causes their grades to fall, or perhaps it is incidental.

    2) Student confronts PZ alone about this.

    3)PZ leaves hurriedly, appointing another student to ‘guard’ the first in the lab.

    4)PZ approaches the chair of the department, and explains the situation as the student attempting to extort themselves a better grade via a fabricated claim. PZ thus primes the chair and other staff to discount the student’s story.

    5)PZ doesn’t request any sort of counter-investigation because of the risk of the “truth” coming out, explaining that the student is simply casting around for some way to prevent from failing, and that he prefers to help them, rather than vindictively going after them for their false claim.

    6)Years later, PZ brings up the incident as an example of the dangers of meeting privately with students (and if you’re asking why someone would bring up a “true” incident of sexual harrassment from years earlier just to make a point, and risk bringing attention back to it – pretty sure real harrassers do this all the time, bemoaning their “fake” accusers long after they’ve gotten away with it). In his example, he rewrites history to support his initial cover-up, claiming that the student was simply unhappy, was threatening him, and repeating that the accusation was false, and that he had succesfully defeated it via immediately addressing it.


    Like I said, I don’t think at all that the above occurred. In my initial reading, my discomfort was more with the sort of language used (and no, I can’t think how better to describe /truly/ false claims), that brought to mind similar things said by /actual/ harrassers and abusers. The above hypothetical is just an example of what I think the thought process of a biased or even neutral observer /could/ be.
    Obviously the biased person would work harder to find ‘evidence’ of PZ’s coverup and guilt, picking apart various sentences to discover the ‘hidden truth’. The neutral observer (or even, like myself/Cartimandua and possibly others, one predisposed to believe PZ) could still be unsettled by the associations with other similar accounts, without picking through it for ammunition to use.

    Finally, like Cartimandua mentioned, I could see myself having an even stronger sense of unease if I saw the same words, with the professor in the story changed to one of who I’d never heard. That sort of thing, coming from someone I didn’t already have some reason to trust/support (and whose whole personality seemed incongruent with the allegations), would leave me wary, and somewhat concerned that behind the words could potentially lie an injustice.

    Hopefully I communicated all that clearly! So, to recap:

    1)I believe PZ’s account.
    2)The associations of the wording left me slightly uneasy, at first.
    3) I don’t know how you could describe the same situation in a way that /wouldn’t/ make me uneasy.
    4)Someone with reason to dislike PZ/with a flawed idea of his character /could/ potentially see evidence of a speedy ‘cover-up’ and an attempt to predispose authorities to disbelieve the student’s claims.

  15. Solomon Steltzer says

    Sigh :P. Something I’ve got running on my browser (amongst the various script-disabling, tracker-blocking, etc etc software) prevented me from using the Preview button (but not the Post Comment one, so ???), so naturally my attempt at bbcode was failure, and the spacing is not what I expected. Darn. Doesn’t seem to be an edit button, either.

  16. Solomon Steltzer says

    Yeah, I figured that (or something similar) was the case, since my bbcode was NATURALLY perfect and flawless in every way. Ah well.

  17. cedrus says

    @21: I’ve seen people who I could believe might try this (the “she said she’d accuse me of [whatever I did] unless I changed her grade” defense)…but I’ve yet to meet someone with that level of sociopathy *plus* the self-control required to do this only once per career. It would be truly impressive.

  18. Cartimandua says

    Nerd #20

    The professor obviously needs to alert but not in such a way that it could be construed as exercising privilage. The university needs an impartial investigative board and policies that ensure both parties feel empowered and neither feels rolled in any way. Given the imbalance of power, the student should actually get extra consideration and security in order to feel identically enabled (compared to the tenured staff member).

    It is not obvious that this was the case either here or in general practice.

    As far as what PZ ‘should’ have done. Firstly I have been clear in my support of him in this specific instance. More than that? Well I guess anything that helped address the structural issues I identified above. But given he “knew” he was innocent that was probably not top of mind. But unilaterally “zooming” to lock the situation down probably doesn’t represent best practice.


  19. Solomon Steltzer says

    @25 Ah, that’s an interesting point. It does seem like the sort of thing where, if you’d do it once, you’d do it again. Reminds me of…some book/movie/whatever that hypothesied that most criminals who commit robbery/murder/etc wouldn’t have been caught, if they hadn’t committed more crimes subsequently. As in, they could have gotten away with it /once/, but the more times you do it, the more evidence builds up, the more chances there are to be caught, etc.
    I think it was in the context of someone who planned a murder (or suspected something of having commited a murder), with enough foresight and self control to basically say “I can murder (this) one person, so long as I take all possible precautions to hide my involvement, dispose of all evidence, and never do anything similar again. If they I’ve never commited a crime before or since that would let police gain my fingerprints/DNA/etc, they’ll never catch me.”

    There’s probably even real-life examples, of suspected killers who, after (presumably, if they weren’t ever caught) committing their one single crime, never did anything again, so all possible leads dried up and disappeared. And, similarly, those killers who go undetected for years or decades, until an incredibly chance event like a traffic ticket leads to chance connection after chance connection, and eventually leads to them, whereupon they confess/are searched and investigated thoroughly and are caught.

    In the context of this potential conspiracy theory, I imagine the conspiracists thinking/response to you would be something like: “How do we know it only happened once? Maybe only one person ever tried to come forward. Maybe others tried to come forward, but were similarly stopped (just not mentioned by PZ). Perhaps it wasn’t self-control so much as ‘having almost been exposed, he stopped with harrassing students’ or ‘having almost been exposed, he refined his methods of suppression/harrassment’.

    Again, there’s plenty of flawed thinking in all of these avenues, but it’s not exactly /rare/ flawed thinking. After all, once a conspiracy is alleged, it’s easy to claim that any lack of evidence is in fact “evidence of suppression”. (see http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theory#Denial)

  20. cedrus says

    But for this M.O., there’s an inherent paper trail – you’d have to report to the relevant administrators every time. And there would be paperwork, and presumably the target’s furious denials and threats of lawyering up (I certainly would!), and you’d be the topic of water-cooler conversation in the admin offices for years.

    The first one you might get away with, but by the second or third incident, absolutely no one is going to believe you. It’s not a sustainable strategy.

  21. brucegee1962 says

    I normally keep the door of my office closed, because it’s near the end of a hallway and it’s cold. But when a student comes to see me, i will immediately prop the door open, and leave it open until well after the student leaves.

    It’s simply the responsibility of the person with the power to never be sequestered alone with a student. That’s what PZ was saying about lab work as well. In fact, this is so well known that, if I ever heard of a professor and a student together in an unobservable location for any lenghth of time, I would automatically wonder if something was up.

  22. brucegee1962 says

    BTW, to make clear, afaik PZ did everything right — I’m just speaking in general terms.

  23. warney says


    You’re right.

    I was involved in the drafting of a procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints in a large company in the UK back in the 80s.

    He had repeated meetings over a period of fifteen months involving all (wait for that dread word) stakeholders. Management, union reps, Legal people,Human Resources etc were all involved, along – most importantly – with accounts from victims of harassment. Some of the latter were anonymous and some were prepared to be named. Amazingly – and to their minor credit – some harassers (reformed, it has to be said) were prepared to offer their perspective. We ended up with something like 18,000 pages of deliberations to chew over – all of which had to be distilled down to an accessible and easily understood process which was fair to everybody.

    In my naivete at the outset of the process I had thought that it should be a relatively simple issue, but it grew legs and ran.

    At the end of all that, can I say that PZ acted (and I’m no fanboy) in this instance in almost the perfect manner. I don’t know whether he had to make his decisions on the spot, whether there were fuzzy or strict guidelines or whatever, but as I’ve read them his reaction was absolutely the best for all concerned; for the putative victim, for the college, for himself. He took himself out of the discussion, left the accuser with a eer to metaphorically hold their hand and immediately reported the allegations to more senior authorities. He temporarily took himself out of the issue to allow room for the allegations to be examined. In our process there were specific trusted people to draw on to do the “hand-holding”, and the list would be offered to the allegor, with them having complete discretion as to selection. They were also allowed to go outside the list and choose *anyone* at all. A parent, a friend, a lawyer, anyone.

    I’ve heard of some refinements to the process since then , but any process isn’t perfect from the outset.

    It’s my firm belief that PZ handled this situation in an exceptionally sensitive and rigorous manner with respect to the person who made the allegations.

  24. warney says

    I should add to my previous that allegations of this type in the workplace are not generally made directly to the accused, but most often to a third (and probably trusted) party.

    We did consider the direct allegation and the process insisted that he or she self-report immediately. I’m not sure if that happened often, if ever.

  25. edrowland says

    Not really getting it.

    “I was also subject to accusations of harassment once upon a time.”.


    “No, I have never been accused of sexual harassment.”

    I don’t really follow the distinction between “being subject to accusations”, and “being accused”.

    I suspect, in retrospect that you probably meant to say “Somebody threatened to accuse me of sexual harassment, but never did”.

    What you actually said: “I was never charged with sexual harassment by university administrators”, which is a claim that’s so different it’s almost orthogonal. And as a counterargument it completely misses the narrative.

  26. says

    Just FYI, I suspect Cartimandua is a troll; more specifically, a well known Twitter troll by the name of Brive1987. Because they are using the same peculiar vocabulary and punctuation to describe what they are “concerned” about. If that’s the case, then they are feigning (also known as lying about) all their rigmarole about being a PZ supporter and just concerned about something. This looks like classic sock puppet concern trolling, pretending to be an ally who is just “concerned” about some things. When in fact they are an enemy with consistently vile opinions. (Brive is a regular defender of harassers and anti-feminist talking points…in other words, someone who in real life is very explicitly never really concerned about the women in these situations. He is also a regular Slimepit reader and ally, and an FTBullies camper.)

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Richard Carrier #34

    Just FYI, I suspect Cartimandua is a troll; more specifically, a well known Twitter troll by the name of Brive1987.

    Ah, the second ‘nym rings a bell as a MRA. And it explains a lot, about what I saw as mixed messages. Thanks.

  28. says

    I see how those two emphasised statements could be seen as contradictory. But because I have two brain cells to rub together I am capable of understanding that they are four years appart and the apparent contradiction lies in imprecise formulation in that first commentary, which is nonetheless explained in subsequent sentences.

    These people realy resemble creationists in their tactics.

  29. says

    Richard Carrier @ 34:

    Just FYI, I suspect Cartimandua is a troll; more specifically, a well known Twitter troll by the name of Brive1987.

    Anything is possible, but I remember Brive well, and I doubt Brive would have let matters rest with a ‘thanks for clearing that up’ to PZ. I also know Cartimandua here as a long time commenter, even though they don’t comment a great deal. Perhaps it would have been better to have contacted PZ so a check could be done.

  30. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 33:
    I read those two statements with implications. as in:

    I was also subject to threats of accusations of harassment once upon a time.”.
    “No, I have never been formally accused of sexual harassment.

    with the strikethroughs being the unvoiced implications.
    Not trying to speak for PZ, just sharing my read of the befuddling pair of statements.

  31. says

    Caine, I hear you. It would be remarkable for an actual supporter of PZ to be quoting Brive without attribution and repeating the same talking points without explaining they come from a slimer, but I concur it is possible. Though the sock puppet could be longstanding. So Brive could have been playing that alter ego for a while, so as not to be (yet again) banned from this blog. Hence their controlled behavior. PZ might be able to disconfirm the hypothesis. But he might not even have the data to do so. That’s the thing about sock puppets. They are hard to catch. Especially if they’ve been played a while to earn points in the rep game.

  32. emilybites says

    (I’m speaking generally about believing men we like, not whether I personally believe PZ about his experience, which obviously has no value as I don’t know him and only have a bit of information. However, I have always admired PZ, read Pharyngula daily, and do believe him.)

    I’ve had the same niggles as Cartimandua and Solomon Stelzer regarding the similarity of the narrative PZ describes to the classic ‘older male professor with power over younger female student’. I can imagine a female student relating a history in which her older professor offers her a good grade for sex. Then she refuses in horror and expresses outrage, upon which he realises she isn’t the easy target he’d thought and backs off, deciding to strengthen his position by running to the authorities and being the first to tell his side of things. I’m worried because all I know is what PZ has told us about the incident, and I like him and have previously found him honest, clever and trustworthy, ergo I think instinctively that he cannot be a sexual predator. But I shouldn’t think that straight away, because experience tells us that institutions are full of male professors who take advantage of their authority to hurt subordinates. It’s…difficult.

  33. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    But I shouldn’t think that straight away, because experience tells us that institutions are full of male professors who take advantage of their authority to hurt subordinates. It’s…difficult.

    No, not necessarily. Some of us (I left academia in the late 80’s) would have politely turned down any offer of sex for grades. And I never considered propositioning a female student for any reason. But anybody in the field does know of others who wouldn’t be so ethical.
    What keeps being missed here is the threat by the woman that she would accuse PZ of sexual harassment if he didn’t raise her grade. If PZ actually did sexually harass her, then PZ’s actions could have lead to complaints being filed. If it was all a poorly-thought-out attempt to keep from failing, the lack of filed complaint would be expected.

  34. says

    Cartimandua first posted here in June. There were no signs that they were one of the baddies in any of their comments. It is possible that a troll could be playing the long game, but in the absence of any other evidence…give them the benefit of the doubt.

  35. brendano says

    There is a cult operating in Australia and the U.K. called “Universal Medicine”. The leader/guru is an ex-bankrupt tennis coach who heard voices whilst sitting on the toilet one day, and has since set himself up as a visionary leader and claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci. He has recruited lots of female followers and promotes ‘esoteric breast massage’ as a healing therapy. One of his victims has spoken out and has been exposing this cult for what it is. The cult has responded with defamation and SLAPP actions in an attempt to silence her. A lot of Australian Skeptics are helping Esther (the victim) out by setting up crowdfunding her defence and getting the Steisand Effect happening.
    Details here:

  36. PatrickG says

    I got a weird vibe from the OP myself, and after re-reading it several times.. it was from this:

    I’ve never been charged with harassment, because I’ve never done it

    Obviously followed with qualifiers.

    Still — taken out of context, that fragment: Damn. How many other places has everybody here seen that kind of shit? To be very, very clear here: not saying anything against PZ or his actions. But Jeeezus, is that particular wording reminiscent of variants of “proved in a court” statements.

    Might be what’s tingling some spidey-senses?

    FWIW, I think part of my nonthinky reaction is due to the parenthetical directly after. It’s an interrupted thought, which causes me to read the previous portion as an independent thought. That’s even with the parenthetical content explicitly rejecting that reading! Some linguist could probably put it better than I can.

  37. Cartimandua says

    Firstly I want to apologise to everyone I have upset with the comments I made on this thread, or on FreeThought blogs in general. Of course this includes Nerd and Dr Carrier.

    Secondly, thank you Caine and PZ for your kind words / benefit of the doubt.

    To be clear, I’m keen to separate PZ’s experience from the general issue of the misuse of institutional privilege. I originally saw in PZ’s anecdote the potential for harm and in the university’s response a possible indication of wider structural problems. However the connection between anecdote and concern was weakened by PZ’s subsequent update – which I acknowledged. I hope it is clear that I don’t bear PZ ill feelings.

    In all honesty I was upset by both of Dr Carrier’s comments. Nonetheless these are his opinions and I accept responsibility for his feelings on the matter.

    I am curious as to whether my posts really reflect “Brive’s” talking points? It goes without saying that it’s not possible for me to have actually “quoted” someone I don’t know. But I guess it is possible in reverse. Given my point of view, I don’t see a troll benefiting – unless they were very selective or shared my views on privilege. Regardless, I do not intend visiting the Slimepit to find out.

    As Caine noted, my contributions have been sparse on FtB. I registered some months ago just before a difficult time in the FtB story. I took Tony’s sound advice to generally watch and learn.

    From memory I have engaged with this post, discussed the nasty logical smoke screens erected by Sam Harris and made a couple of posts about the media, especially the way it seeks to establish negative racial tropes and the outrageous extents it is prepared to go to in order to dissemble.

    In general I simply read and nod.

    I will end as I started by apologizing for the upset I have created. I will take some time now to re-evaluate my approach.

  38. John Morales says


    Cartimandua above:

    Nonetheless these are his [Richard Carrier’s] opinions and I accept responsibility for his feelings on the matter.

    Richard may be right or may be wrong — I certainly don’t know either way — but claiming responsibility for his feelings is just silly.

    The rest of your comment is fair enough.

  39. Bill Buckner says

    emilybites #40,

    But I shouldn’t think that straight away, because experience tells us that institutions are full of male professors who take advantage of their authority to hurt subordinates. It’s…difficult.

    Then your experience is wrong. Universities are not “full of” male professors taking advantage of their authority to hurt subordinates. That’s fucking nonsense.

  40. Cartimandua says

    John, I am actually very upset having a well known and respected blogger make these comments about me. It seems likely I have contributed to Dr Carrier forming his opinion. I need to own that, which is why I am reflecting on my approach. I hope Dr Carrier also considers less aggressive ways of exploring future suspicions. I really don’t know what else to say.

  41. says

    Depends on how you define “full of” — all it takes is one to wreck the educational experience. I can say that of the five institutions at which I’ve worked, three definitely had professors who had a reputation for ignoring boundaries, and the other two had whispers and rumors (as a man who is part of the establishment, I’d only hear the stories third-hand…). So I’d have to say that yes, universities are full of male professors taking advantage.

    My current place of employment is pretty clean in that regard, but it helps having a tiny faculty roster. I’ve heard stories of past professors who were terrors.

  42. says

    Cartimandua @ 49:

    John, I am actually very upset having a well known and respected blogger make these comments about me. It seems likely I have contributed to Dr Carrier forming his opinion. I need to own that, which is why I am reflecting on my approach. I hope Dr Carrier also considers less aggressive ways of exploring future suspicions. I really don’t know what else to say.

    Don’t concern yourself with John, he doesn’t view things the way most people do. I’d be upset if Richard Carrier aired suspicions about me, too. A lot of the ‘pit crowd chews on and on this particular incident in PZ’s past, often under the guise of being “concerned about his reputation / whatever” in an attempt to pull a gotcha! on PZ.

    You brought up things which are somewhat similar to the pretend concerns of the ‘pit crowd, which I imagine set some bells ringing, but looking over the thread, you are far from alone in your initial misunderstandings, or particular concerns. Seems to me your approach is fine, it’s not at all out of line with other commenters. Don’t worry over this too much, Cartimandua.

  43. Bill Buckner says


    Depends on how you define “full of” — all it takes is one to wreck the educational experience.

    Well I would not define “full of” as one or even a few. I suspect we all can agree that every campus contains some predators without saying they are “full of” them. I would define “full of” as, by any reasonable measure, a large number–a majority or sizable minority–a preponderance.

  44. says

    I can admit to feeling some unease at this as well.

    I’ve never been charged with harassment, because I’ve never done it.

    This is because it’s risky assuming that one has never done something that another would consider harassment in a context that relates to a characteristic that makes someone a minority. In the context of the piece, sexual harassment specifically against women, it’s more likely but that is still a statement that I would find too strong to make. But PZ is a less assertive personality than I am and that might color some of this for me. While nothing I ever did was intentional and so I had no trouble being willing to change things, I can blunder about too often in different contexts.

    Re: Cartimandua
    Cartimandua “pinged” on my “sensor’s too, but I became satisfied that they were not a troll eventually. It was what they focused on in the first comment and the general feeling of concern they had without fleshing out that concern in terms of what would have been a good alternative.

    It’s a tactic I have seen in social conflicts where one side takes a concept or situation that is more conceptually difficult due to perspective, education and practice needed to see it, and pressures them about it in a way that puts all of the effort on the person that wants to defend the concept of view of the situation. It’s like an “advanced concern troll” that specializes in burden of proof. After that it’s a matter of nitpicking and other things that exhaust the defender, and obfuscates the important issues.

    But Cartimandua did substantively engage on the issue after that first comment and displayed that they could reflect what PZ said in his replies which is how one tells the difference.

  45. says


    Good to hear!

    You had me seriously worried.

    In future, though done innocently in your case, just FYI, it looks devious when you quote and use content generated by slimepitters and don’t mention that you are. Possibly you didn’t know who Brive was or someone else was quoting him at you. But this is a common tactic they employ. So our guard is extremely up. That is not likely to change; because the threat is real. We all just have to be aware that this is the new normal (of their own monstrous creation), and navigate accordingly. Sadly.

  46. says


    And P.S. it could indeed be they rapidly used your words. I was pretty sure the timeline was the other way around, because this whole thing actually started on my blog. Long story, but a slimer troll posted a thing there about this (on a very specious use of my blog’s “relevance” rules), which I refuted, and that led them to change tactics and devise the new spam they started hitting PZ with, that PZ wrote this post about (having dropped their failed talking points, and attempting to float new ones). It was in between that I dealt with Brive’s “zoom” rhetoric. If they moved faster than I thought, possibly this post was already up before that. I’d have to dig through the timestamps in Brive’s bile feed to check. But if that’s what happened, I apologize!

  47. Cartimandua says

    Dr Carrier,

    I am dismayed that you continue to say that I “quote and use content generated by Slimepitters”. You will find that all my points are taken from the print screen provided in the OP and my focus was a general concern about power, not a criticism of PZ.

    I appeal to you to accept my apology and please stop repeating these things.

    With regard your other comments.

    I know nothing about the troubles on your blog and couldn’t begin to fathom how to use timelines or logs to defend myself from your criticism.

    You are concerned with my use of the word ‘zoom’ I used this in my very last comment, took it from the OP and wanted to describe privileged momentum. If you re-read #26 you will see I was very reticent to judge PZ’s actions – but had been called to do so by another user. I had hoped this post would not be seen as an attack.

    As promised I have reviewed my approach in this thread and realise I made several mistakes.

    I should not have imposed my general concern about institutional reporting structures and privilege into a discussion that was about the harassment campaign directed at PZ. These are separate conversations. I understand my efforts to separate them could look like ‘concern-trolling’ (a term I was not familiar with).

    Secondly, and in light of above, my use of the word ‘detained’ in comment #11 was very ill advised.

    Once again, and for a final time, I apologise.

  48. says


    I understand my efforts to separate them could look like ‘concern-trolling’ (a term I was not familiar with).

    You can find it explained at the wiki: http://pharyngula.wikia.com/wiki/Troll

    A concern troll pretends to be a general supporter of the site, but they have “concerns”. The idea is to undermine the consensus viewpoint by pointing out that other commenters or the site may be getting themselves in trouble in some way. They identify problems that don’t really exist and offer “helpful advice” – which, if acted upon, would actually work against the purpose of the site and general readership.

    Concern trolls are fairly easily identified, and because they are trying to disrupt surreptitiously will frequently depart the site when directly challenged.