Another of the casualties of the various schisms within skepticism and atheism speaks out. Hayley Stevens has long been exasperated with movement skepticism, and she explains why.
Nothing is ever going to change because Skepticism has several large problems that it will fail to ever address effectively:
- the movement often allows irrational people to be elevated to positions of power from which they’re almost untouchable when it comes to criticism
- the skeptic movement is full of creepy men who don’t know how to behave appropriately around other people and they won’t go away.
- the skeptic movement is full of the kind of people who support these bad people unquestioningly.
- the skeptic movement is full of echo-chambers in which specific versions of truth are created and from which any information that counters this is shot down and, sometimes, even censored.
That first problem is a common one in new institutions. The skill set to be a good charismatic public representative rarely involves the skill set that is required to be a good, fair manager. Most college professors, myself included, would be totally incompetent in the role of university chancellor…but academia at least has a career path through administration that leads to better training in administrative roles. If you’re a skeptic/atheist who writes a best-selling book, presto, you’re the head of a foundation. That’s often a recipe for catastrophe.
Her second point is true of everything. I can’t single out skepticism for that at all…although the habit of these movements in promoting people well above their competence means the creepy guys get power and never learn to restrain themselves.
The third point…oh, boy is that true. Take a look at the promotional materials for far too many cons and presentations: all any impresario has to do is make a poster with the name of one of the handful of popular speakers in a gigantic bold font, with the date, time, and place below, and the audience will appear. They don’t even care what he (note: they’re all “he”) will say, what the purpose of the talk is about, what issues will be discussed. It doesn’t even need a title anymore. Lesser beings within the movement still have to announce a subject for their talks, but we’ve built a movement around personalities rather than ideas lately.
As for the fourth point, Stevens expands on it herself.
That final point is why I started this article by mentioning Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia — the self-appointed information masters of Wikipedia who operate from within a private internet forum and seem to focus on two things:
- working exhaustively to edit paranormal/supernatural related articles
- working exhaustively to edit the Wikipedia profiles of Skeptic celebrities, including people who are terrible people and criminals.
It is my opinion that their brand of skepticism is not the good kind. Recently, the Centre for Inquiry (CFI) appointed the head of the ‘Guerrilla Skepticism’ group, Susan Gerbic, as a Fellow which shocked me for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I don’t think Gerbic and her team of editors are very good champions of the skeptic movement. Secondly, when Dr Karen Stollznow spoke out about her experiences of harassment at the hands of a colleague at CFI, Gerbic’s son wore a t-shirt which stated he was on the “team” of the accused, to a lecture that Stollznow was delivering at an event. Secondly, it was Gerbic who added the photo to Wikipedia of Harriett Hall wearing an anti-skepchick t-shirt at TAM.
It’s a good thing to have motivated people monitoring Wikipedia for supernatural nonsense, demanding some empirical rigor in articles. I approve of that. I’m not at all keen on the idea of a group of people who feel it is their mission in life to scrub all the blemishes off of their favorite skeptic celebrities, or worse, to slant articles to favor their preferred regressive skeptics.
For example, the “team” Gerbic’s son favored was “Team Radford” — there was quite a conflict within the movement over Radford’s contemptible behavior towards Karen Stollznow, and his lawsuit to silence her. He’s also been a denialist of the existence of the influence of stereotyping of the sexes, and a champion of the most trivial claims of evolutionary psychology.
But take a look at Radford’s wikipedia page. It’s huge. Every minor accomplishment is a triumph.
Did you know he “solved the mystery of the ‘Santa Fe Courthouse Ghost'”? He debunked the White Witch of Rose Hall! He’s also the world’s foremost expert on the Chupacabra. Yay. These feats of ‘brilliance’ are described at tedious length.
That he’s a serial harasser, that he once posted photos of himself in bed with a woman so he could leverage a lawsuit, that he pressured that woman to surrender and settle a suit in his favor by threatening to hound her through her pregnancy and labor, that he threatened to sue me unless I released evidence of a conspiracy (I did!), that he threatened to sue Rebecca Watson, that he belittles rape statistics, that thinks girls have a biological preference for pink, that he likes to bully four-year-old girls (and loses) — none of that is anywhere in his Wikipedia page. The guy is a toxic mess, but his wiki entry has been buffed to a high gloss.
That kind of willful blindness is one reason I am so over the skeptic movement.
It’s great that we have a dedicated group of watchmen keeping an eye on wikipedia to prevent supernatural crap from leaking in, but who watches the watchmen? They’ve got some strong biases, but they don’t have the discipline to prevent that from dribbling in.