The Crossroads

Apparently I know the solar system very well?

I attended a lecture on Carl Sagan, hosted by the Atheist Society of Calgary, and part of the event was a trivia challenge. While I wasn’t the only person at my table offering answers, my answers seemed to be the ones most consistently endorsed by the group. Assisted by some technical issues, our team wound up with a massive lead over the second-place finisher. The organizer from ASC surprised us all by saying everyone at our table could pick up a free T-shirt. I wasn’t terribly keen on wearing their logo, but I wandered over to the merch table anyway.

Sitting among the other designs was one that stopped me cold.

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Rationality Rules is an Abusive Transphobe

Abuse comes in more forms than many people realize. Take financial abuse, where someone uses economic leverage to control you, or reproductive coercion, or this behaviour.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser intentionally manipulates the physical environment or mental state of the abusee, and then deflects responsibility by provoking the abusee to think that the changes reside in their imagination, thus constituting a weakened perception of reality (Akhtar, 2009; Barton & Whitehead, 1969; Dorpat, 1996; Smith & Sinanan, 1972). By repeatedly and convincingly offering explanations that depict the victim as unstable, the abuser can control the victim’s perception of reality while maintaining a position of truth-holder and authority.

Roberts, Tuesda, and Dorinda J. Carter Andrews. “A Critical Race Analysis of the Gaslighting against African American Teachers.” Contesting the Myth of a” Post Racial Era”: The Continued Significance of Race in US Education, 2013, 69–94.

A small but growing amount of the scientific literature considers gaslighting a form of abuse. It’s also worth knowing about a close cousin of gaslighting known as “DARVO.”

DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation. […]

In a 2017 peer-reviewed open-access research study, Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd reported that: “(1) DARVO was commonly used by individuals who were confronted; (2) women were more likely to be exposed to DARVO than men during confrontations; (3) the three components of DARVO were positively correlated, supporting the theoretical construction of DARVO; and (4) higher levels of exposure to DARVO during a confrontation were associated with increased perceptions of self-blame among the confronters. These results provide evidence for the existence of DARVO as a perpetrator strategy and establish a relationship between DARVO exposure and feelings of self-blame.

If DARVO seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s a popular tactic in the far-Right. Brett Kavanaugh used it during his Congressional hearing, this YouTuber encountered it quite a bit among the Proud Boys, and even RationalWiki’s explanation of it invokes the Christian far-Right. DARVO may be common among sexual abusers, but it’s important to stress that it’s not exclusive to them. It’s best to think of this solely as an abusive tactic to evade scrutiny, without that extra baggage. [Read more…]

The Crisis of the Mediocre Man

I was browsing YouTube videos on PyMC3, as one naturally does, when I happened to stumble on this gem.

Tech has spent millions of dollars in efforts to diversify workplaces. Despite this, it seems after each spell of progress, a series of retrograde events ensue. Anti-diversity manifestos, backlash to assertive hiring, and sexual misconduct scandals crop up every few months, sucking the air from every board room. This will be a digest of research, recent events, and pointers on women in STEM.

Lorena A. Barba really knows her stuff; the entire talk is a rapid-fire accounting of claims and counterclaims, aimed to directly appeal to the male techbros who need to hear it. There was a lot of new material in there, for me at least. I thought the only well-described matriarchies came from the African continent, but it turns out the Algonquin also fit that bill. Some digging turns up a rich mix of gender roles within First Nations peoples, most notably the Iroquois and Hopi. I was also depressed to hear that the R data analysis community is better at dealing with sexual harassment than the skeptic/atheist community.

But what really grabbed my ears was the section on gender quotas. I’ve long been a fan of them on logical grounds: if we truly believe the sexes are equal, then if we see unequal representation we know discrimination is happening. By forcing equality, we greatly reduce network effects where one gender can team up against the other. Worried about an increase in mediocrity? At worst that’s a temporary thing that disappears once the disadvantaged sex gets more experience, and at best the overall quality will actually go up. The research on quotas has advanced quite a bit since that old Skepchick post. Emphasis mine.

In 1993, Sweden’s Social Democratic Party centrally adopted a gender quota and imposed it on all the local branches of that party (…). Although their primary aim was to improve the representation of women, proponents of the quota observed that the reform had an impact on the competence of men. Inger Segelström (the chair of Social Democratic Women in Sweden (S-Kvinnor), 1995–2003) made this point succinctly in a personal communication:

At the time, our party’s quota policy of mandatory alternation of male and female names on all party lists became informally known as the crisis of the mediocre man

We study the selection of municipal politicians in Sweden with regard to their competence, both theoretically and empirically. Moreover, we exploit the Social Democratic quota as a shock to municipal politics and ask how it altered the competence of that party’s elected politicians, men as well as women, and leaders as well as followers.

Besley, Timothy. “Gender Quotas and the Crisis of the Mediocre Man: Theory and Evidence from Sweden.” THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW 107, no. 8 (2017): 39.

We can explain this with the benefit of hindsight: if men can rely on the “old boy’s network” to keep them in power, they can afford to slack off. If other sexes cannot, they have to fight to earn their place. These are all social effects, though; if no sex holds a monopoly on operational competence in reality, the net result is a handful of brilliant women among a sea of iffy men. Gender quotas severely limit the social effects, effectively kicking out the mediocre men to make way for average women, and thus increase the average competence.

As tidy as that picture is, it’s wrong in one crucial detail. Emphasis again mine.

These estimates show that the overall effect mainly reflects an improvement in the selection of men. The coefficient in column 4 means that a 10-percentage-point larger quota bite (just below the cross-sectional average for all municipalities) raised the proportion of competent men by 4.4 percentage points. Given an average of 50 percent competent politicians in the average municipality (by definition, from the normalization), this corresponds to a 9 percent increase in the share of competent men.

For women, we obtain a negative coefficient in the regression specification without municipality trends, but a positive coefficient with trends. In neither case, however, is the estimate significantly different from zero, suggesting that the quota neither raised nor cut the share of competent women. This is interesting in view of the meritocratic critique of gender quotas, namely that raising the share of women through a quota must necessarily come at the price of lower competence among women.

Increasing the number of women does not also increase the number of incompetent women. When you introduce a quota, apparently, everyone works harder to justify being there. The only people truly hurt by gender quotas are mediocre men who rely on the Peter Principle.

The like ratio for said talk. 47 likes, 55 dislikes, FYI.Alas, if that YouTube like ratio is any indication, there’s a lot of them out there.

The Death of the ACA

I’ve been catching up on YouTube videos, and this interview with John Iacoletti and Chelsea Rodriguez really hit me. It’s bad enough that some jerks threw transgender people under the bus to protect a bigoted YouTuber, but think about what else these people have done:

Almost every organization runs on trust. The exceptions, like the US Department of Defense and Facebook, can only get away with it because their “customers” have no alternative. People in need of a medium-sized atheist/skeptic non-profit have a number of good alternatives to pick from, in contrast.

At this point, would you trust the ACA enough to collaborate with them instead of another organization? Would you donate money to help keep them afloat? [Read more…]

Matt Dillahunty is Garbage

Here’s something weird. Listen to Matt Dillahunty talk about the recent hosts who had left the ACA:

[29:57] There are four people who were previously on The Atheist Experience, who have left The Atheist Experience. Some of them have left the ACA to go pursue their own interests, and other things, some of them are still involved in ACA or taking a break, or whatever else, and that would be Tracie, Jen, Phil, and John Iacoletti.

Wait, what about Clare Wuellner? She too was a former host, and she too left. She certainly didn’t host as often as Tracie or Jen, but she was a board member for six years, and responsible for both restarting Godless Bitches and starting Parenting Beyond Belief. Clare was no small part of the ACA, so her omission is odd. It’s possible Matt wasn’t too close to her, but they both hosted AXP at the same time within the last year, and when Matt wanted to complain during the livestream he messaged Clare.

Some evidence could explain the omission, though. [Read more…]

Cherry Picking

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see another omission from Rationality Rules’ latest transphobic video. In his citations, he cites two sporting bodies: the International Association of Athletics Federations and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority. He relies heavily on the former, which is strange. The World Medical Association has condemned the IAAF’s policies on intersex and transgender athletes as “contrary to international medical ethics and human rights standards.” The IAAF has defended itself, in part, by arguing this:

The IAAF is not a public authority, exercising state powers, but rather a private body exercising private (contractual) powers. Therefore, it is not subject to human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the European Convention on Human Rights.

Which is A) not a good look, and B) false. If you won’t take my word on that last one, maybe you’ll take the UN’s? [Read more…]

The Progressive Secular Alliance

I was a little amazed at how few people wanted the Atheist Experience blog to remain on FtB. I counted two people arguing for them to remain, one that was ignoring the contents of the original post, and the other had a history of transphobia themselves, before the thread inevitably descended into debating whether or not transgender women are women. The Atheist Community of Austin’s new board have trashed the organization’s prior reputation and destroyed people’s trust, and the odds of them rebuilding it are effectively zero thanks in part to Matt Dillahunty‘s shoddy leadership.

But I was also surprised that a name never came up. When any organization of that size undergoes this sort of scandal, it’s inevitable that some former members will branch off and form their own group. In this case, that group is the Progressive Secular Alliance. They currently have a YouTube channel and Facebook page. It’s still early days, but so far I’ve heard good feedback about them. If you’re an Austin-area atheist, give them a look, and even if you’re not remember that many of these people helped build and maintain the former ACA. Their content will likely be similar to that which drew you into being a fan of the ACA originally.


And the Beat Goes On

Essence of Thought has published a timeline of the Rationality Rules affair. If you’re missed any of the last five months, it’ll bring you up to speed.

Cripes, has it been that long already?! I had a look through my archives, and all but two of my posts over the last two months have been focused on Rationality Rules, and even those two were about transphobia. I know, I know, the constant drumbeat is getting a bit repetitive and boring. But there’s a reason for it.

[11:31] Now, some of the walkouts had formed a support group, which I was later added to, and reading through their accounts is truly horrifying. Many discussed the abuse they suffered thanks to Woodford and his audience. There are numerous discussions on how their sleep was impacted, about how they’re having to see psychiatrists and other specialists. I’ve even seen [a post?] discussing suicide in relation to what had occurred. That’s the level of severity we are talking about with this issue: people discussing suicide. That’s the damage Woodford and his supporters have caused this one group, this one organization.

I don’t have any way to verify this part, but some of it tracks with comments I’ve read elsewhere, the claims have remained consistent over time, and it would explain why ACA members seem willing to talk to Essence of Thought despite the ocean between them.

One thing I do know: the odds of anyone holding Rationality Rules responsible are basically zero. Some big names in the atheo-skeptic sphere, such as Matt Dillahunty and AronRa, either agree with RR or don’t care enough to do their homework. The ACA tried to do the right thing, but it appears RR supporters elected themselves into a majority on the ACA’s board, possibly breaking the rules in the process, and promptly started kissing their abuser’s ass.

In order to remove any ambiguity in the following statement, I wish to make clear that the ACA earnestly and sincerely apologizes to Stephen Woodford (Rationality Rules) for vilifying his character and insinuating that he is opposed to the LGBTQIA+ community. The Board of Directors has officially retracted our original statement.

Rationality Rules was so confident nobody would take him to task, his “improved” video contains the same arguments as his “flawed” one. And honestly, he was right; I’ve seen this scenario play out often enough within this community to know that we try to bury our skeletons, that we treat our minorities like shit, that we “skeptics” are just as prone to being blind followers as the religious/woo crowds we critique. And just like all those other times, I cope by writing words until I get sick of the topic. Sometimes, that takes a while.

This is one of those “a while” times. If it helps, I’m actively trying to avoid covering topics other people already have, and elevating the voices of others to break up the monotony.

Lies of Omission

In Rationality Rules’ latest transphobic video, one phrase in particular caught my ears.

[3:57] The way that the IAAF put it, was that double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius is ineligible to compete at the Beijing Olympics because his prosthetic racing legs give him a clear competitive advantage; or in other words, the IAAF ruled the Pistorius’ prosthetics disqualify him because they make him faster than what he would have been if he had not lost his legs. Now this reasoning is critical, as it embodies both the principle of “fair play” and the principle of therapeutic use exceptions, otherwise known as TUE’s.

[5:42] … a collection of experts criticized the cited study for only testing Pistorius’s biomechanics at full speed while running in a straight line, unlike a real 400 meter race, and for not accounting for the disadvantages that he suffers, such as having trouble leaving the starting block; and as a result, Pistorius is ineligible status was lifted. He was allowed to compete. … [6:24] as we move on to the transgender athletic debate, please keep in mind the principle of “fair play,” the principle of TUEs, and Pistorius’ case as a whole.

[20:02] I am not opposed to trans women who have experienced male puberty competing in the female category of SOME events because they’re trans. I am opposed because the attributes which are granted from male puberty that play a vital role in some events have not been shown to be sufficiently mitigated by HRT. It’s not about whether or not they’re women, it’s about whether or not “fair play” has been maintained.

Rationality Rules never details what “fair play” is, in fact you’ve just read every mention of the term in that video. At the same time, his argument strongly relies on it. That makes the lack of any definition a curious omission. [Read more…]