Skeptic and atheist organizations suffer a failure of leadership

In a total coincidence, I woke up this morning and notice a box of old magazines by the bedside that my wife was planning to throw out, and on the very top was the back cover of Free Inquiry, with this advertisement:

And then, this morning, this article appears: Science Organizations Cancel Lawrence Krauss Events After Sexual Harassment Allegations. Like lightning, within days of the big, thoroughly-sourced article documenting Krauss’s shenanigans, the speaking engagements are sublimating away, leaving nothing but a greasy smear on floor of his reputation. He’s lost the odd event with Sam Harris last night, NECSS has announced that they don’t plan to invite him to future events, MIT cancelled an event, the American Physical Society has dropped him from their annual meeting — he has been Harvey Weinsteined practically overnight.

There are a few exceptions. That infamous cruise:

The BuzzFeed piece also cites an alleged incident in 2011 involving Krauss that I previously detailed in a 2013 post I wrote for the Heresy Club, a now-defunct blog network of young writers in the skeptic community. The blog post, which was removed shortly after its publication following legal threats from Krauss, described a 2011 incident in which Krauss allegedly propositioned a woman to engage in a threesome with himself and another woman (the request was reportedly turned down). The woman was at the time a guest on a cruise sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, where Krauss was one of the featured speakers. I also wrote in my 2013 blog post—and the BuzzFeed article reiterates—that at least one CFI employee implored the then-president of CFI, Ron Lindsay, to not invite Krauss on a planned 2014 cruise, citing the “report of unwanted sexual attention” she had received from the woman and other past offensive behavior. The CFI nevertheless invited him.

CFI has known about these problems as long or longer than other organizations. Nevertheless, CFI has long supported him.

Once, Krauss was barred from making contact with an undergraduate student by his university or from entering the campus without permission, following her harassment complaint, the BuzzFeed article reports. In another instance, the article says, a prominent research institute placed Krauss on its do-not-invite list, following a complaint made during a 2009 event where he guest-spoke. The article also reported that another prominent secular and skeptical organization, the Center for Inquiry (CFI), continued to invite Krauss to events even after having been made aware of several allegations against him and CFI employees requesting that he not attend in light of them.

Universities, like Case Western Reserve, apparently dealt with him effectively after due process (universities are notoriously slow at handling these internal matters). Professional scientific organizations cut him off with remarkable swiftness. CFI, on the other hand, is still struggling to figure out how to cope at least 7 years after the problem first raised its ugly head. The Center for Inquiry doesn’t even have a comment on the matter on their website; neither does the Richard Dawkins Foundation, despite their long association with him.

It’s dismaying that the skeptical/atheist organizations still have their heads stuck up their butts while the rest of the world passes them by. It’s especially troubling because I know there are good people at CFI who are seething about all this, but management has them locked down.

Time for some Secular Social Justice

I’ve managed to eke out enough frequent flyer miles that I can afford to fly off to Secular Social Justice on 7 April. Also, as usual, all it takes is reading a little Sikivu Hutchinson to get me fired up for it.

In April, the American Humanist Association is sponsoring the semi-annual Secular Social Justice (SSJ) conference in Washington, D.C. This first of its kind conference is designed to spotlight the intersectional, anti-racist organizing, activism and cultural work of secular people of color. When my comrade Donald Wright (founder of the National Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers) and I organized the first SSJ conference two years ago at Rice University in Houston, non-believers of color were struggling with the very same visibility and platform issues that they grapple with today. The majority often navigate between a white mainstream atheist world that has been hostile to intersectionality, black feminism and people of color, and socially conservative religious communities of color that view atheism as inauthentically black or tantamount to devil worship.

Sincere Kirabo, lead organizer for this year’s SSJ conference notes that SSJ “was developed as a direct response to pervasive complacency within the secular community that considers focus on matters of social justice issues unnecessary or a “distraction.” Countering that view, the conference will feature speakers and presenters from racial justice, law, public policy, queer, trans and immigrant rights activism, educational equity and humanist activism.

Finally, SSJ also speaks to a critical leadership vacuum in the mainstream atheist, humanist and secular movements. There are currently few to no people of color in executive management positions in major secular organizations (i.e., the Center for Inquiry, Secular Student Alliance, American Humanist Association, etc.). As a result, it is precisely because of anti-atheist religious bigotry, white atheist racism and the lack of culturally responsive secular organizations that the vast majority of non-believers of color do not feel comfortable openly identifying as atheist. And, until this shifts, the much-ballyhooed rise of the nones will only be a footnote for segregated communities of color.

This is the direction movement atheism has to take if it wants to survive and be meaningful. If I can help in any way, that’s where I want to make my contributions.

Now, one other little thing: the conference is taking place at All-Souls Unitarian Church, but does anyone know if there is an associated hotel for the event? Otherwise, I’m just going to book the nearest, cheapest hotel in the area.

I guess it’ll be another IMDB credit for me

I was informed yesterday that I am the ☆STAR☆ of yet another movie, a movie that I was not told about and just sort of stumbled into. I’m losing all respect for movie celebrities, though: apparently, the way a movie star works is to have some guy with a camera record you talking for a bit, and then they all go away, and you don’t even think about it for five years, and then suddenly this thing is available online and you see it and say “Oh crap, I was in that piece of shit?” and you never get paid. I’m beginning to wonder how those other movie stars can afford their beach houses in Malibu.

So here, you can watch my fabulous movie, Origins of the Universe: The Great Debate on Amazon Prime.

Oh, yeah, they also misspell my name, because of course they always do.

You don’t really want to watch it.

As I was watching it, I remembered the circumstances. I think it was a conference in Winnipeg; this guy asked me nicely if I’d answer some questions on camera, and I said sure, so I end up in this oddly lit hotel room with a stranger (I hate how that happens) and he starts firing questions at me, for about an hour. I had no idea it was a debate, but I guess that after the fact, it was. And then I literally went away and completely forgot about it.

The interviewer, Todd Cantelon, then spliced me in with other footage of such luminaries as Ken Ham and Terry Mortenson and David Menton and Jason Lisle and Georgia Purdom and PZ Meyers (oh, wait, that was me). It’s weird to be retroactively ganged up on, but I’m unconcerned, they were all idiots.

There’s also a woman named Mary P. Winsor who was interviewed, so I wasn’t alone on my side. She’s a historian of biology, and has written criticisms of Mayr’s claims about pre-Darwinian essentialism. I don’t know much about her work, but if she’s been opposing some of the ahistorical BS that Ernst Mayr spent a long lifetime injecting into the discourse, she and I are on the same side.

Anyway, it’s a long boring set of spliced-together clips of me saying a sentence or two, then Ken Ham babbling out his fallacious canned spiel about “observational science” and then more creationists talking, then another sentence or two by me or Mary Winsor followed by more nonsense from creationists.

Also, to spice it up, the creationists were recorded at the Creation “Museum” in some place where dinosaur roars and honks occasionally drown them out. Todd Cantelon pretends to be a moderator, but all of his segments were filmed in some spectacular red rock canyon somewhere. It’s kind of unfair that all I got was a grey Winnipeg hotel room.

Doing the right thing

Lawrence Krauss was scheduled to speak at an event with Harris and Dillahunty tonight: Krauss has withdrawn from it, which is rather interesting. This is part of a series of events assembled by this impresario I never heard of before named Travis Pangburn, who mainly seems to be focused on pandering to the old guard regressive atheists, pushing Sam Harris at every opportunity, so you’d think this would have been the friendliest possible venue for Krauss to push back. I guess he doesn’t think he can.

It is nice to see someone lose status within the atheist movement for being an asshole to women. It’s usually the other way around.

Also note that the American Humanists have spoken out.

“As humanists, we positively affirm a woman’s bodily autonomy and support those women who speak up and hold men accountable for misogyny and bad behavior. We encourage women to be empowered,” said Rebecca Hale, president of the AHA. “Sexual misconduct violates humanist concerns for equality and compassion.”

“Many have voiced concern that there will be little response to these allegations within our movement, and I want to assure them as a leader of the humanist community, that the AHA will not ignore these assertions,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA.

The AHA works actively for gender equality and against harassment through its advocacy programs and with a special emphasis from the AHA’s Feminist Humanist Alliance. “Men benefit from a patriarchal culture that encourages male entitlement and predatory behavior,” said Sincere Kirabo, social justice coordinator at AHA. “Atheists aren’t exempt. It’s our job to work against this programming, to divest from it, and to actively challenge it.”

That’s the right tone. Now let’s see it applied to all the abusers.

And now…another Krauss cancellation.

Do you really want to give me a gun?

It suddenly sunk in with all this talk about arming school teachers to prevent mass shootings — hey, that’s me! I teach! What kind of gun do I get? A big one? I want something intimidating, you know, like that monster handgun Dirty Harry waves around.

Then I want to know the rules of engagement here. Do I get to shoot students for just carrying a gun, or do I have to wait for them to kill someone first? Do I get the same benefit of the doubt that cops get –like, if I see a student reach inside their coat, or move their hand down towards their belt, is it OK if I shoot them? Just in case?

Also important: if I aim to shoot a suspicious-looking student, and miss and kill some other student in the crowd, I won’t be blamed for it, will I? It’s just collateral damage to protect our precious students, these things happen, it’s just part of the cost of maintaining the peace.

If I murder a student while teaching, I would like to have at least 30 days paid leave, so that I can recover from the emotional trauma. A medal for bravery would be nice, too. I think we should add a section to our yearly tenure and promotion review in which we tally up our confirmed kills, and all the faculty applaud our brave teachers who have shot someone in the performance of their teaching duties.

You can trust me! For sure, I wouldn’t be like that Utah teacher who shot herself by accident. I’d be safe. I’d have the safety on at all time, and no bullets in the chamber, until, that is, it was time for me to intentionally shoot a student, a responsibility I would take very, very seriously.

I am concerned, though, that we have a 14:1 student:faculty ratio here, and I see a lot of my colleagues in the community spaces with students milling about. There’s going to be some intense competition to bag students, and I’m going to have to be quick on the draw if I want to be first. Maybe I need a bigger gun? Or two guns? Or maybe a hand grenade? I wouldn’t want the chemistry department to get a higher score than the biology department, you know.