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Creeper Shitstorms Continue, This Time Among Rationalists

“It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.”

Neal Stephenson

I’m not an atheist or agnostic, although I suppose I’m arguably a skeptic (for certain values of ‘skeptic’).  At the very least, I’m a Christian who loves science and values critical thinking.  But because there’s a lot of cross-over between sci-fi fandom and the atheist/agnostic/skeptic communities, I get to hear about it, peripherally, whenever there’s a blow-up in that community.

Back in September, prominent Skeptics Karen Stollznow* and Carrie Poppy came forward with their experiences of harassment while working at the Center for Inquiry and the James Randi Educational Foundation, respectively.   Stollznow published an article on Scientific American‘s website detailing her experiences.

English: Latest JREF fellows. Tim Farley, Kare...

English: Latest JREF fellows. Tim Farley, Karen Stollznow, Steven Novella & Ray Hall. Portrait taken at The Amaz!ng Meeting TAM9 from Outer Space July 16, 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After they came forward, other women stepped forward, and eventually names started to be named.  For example, Ashley Paramore (aka healthyaddict, a long-time atheist/skeptic vlogger) posted a video talking about how she’s been harassed at conferences, including The Amazing Meeting.   Someone else has alleged that Michael Shermer (Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, and columnist for Scientific American) sexually assaulted her, and P Z Meyers has publicized the accusation because he knows and trusts the person who made it (Shermer has responded with legal threats).

English: Historian of science and Skeptics Soc...

English: Historian of science and Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This all comes on the heels of author Elise Mattson’s recent public account of her encounter with a well-known individual in the sci-fi community whose pattern of harassing behavior, it turns out, was also fairly well known.

It’s no secret that sci-fi/fantasy fandom has a sexual harassment problem.  But boy howdy, at least we’re addressing it!   The amount of harassment among the atheists, and the responses to it from members of that community, is simply jaw-dropping.  Rebecca Watson, whom I don’t know from Adam’s housecat but who apparently is a big name in those circles, has had to put up with online harassment for two solid years ever since she dared suggest that propositioning a woman alone in an elevator in the middle of the night doesn’t make her feel at all safe.  (And she was mocked by none other than Richard Dawkins, probably the most prominent voice in the New Atheist movement right now). Another woman, Amy Davis Roth, moved after her home address was posted on a forum dedicated to hating feminist skeptics.

Here’s a recap/roundup of some of the harassment incidents, by the way, that have occurred in atheist circles.  These are the ones we know about, the ones where women have bravely told their stories.  And they call out some of the biggest names in community.

I get called out, sometimes, for my faith and my love of science, because there are those who believe that the two are completely incompatible (and who have no idea of the role certain churches have played in promoting science).  So frankly, I just LOVE seeing the complete and utter FAIL of  logic and critical thinking by those who claim to be motivated by rationality whenever misogyny in the skeptic community gets pointed out.

There’s a flavor of atheist out there–obviously not all of them, but certain more than enough of them–who’s got the attitude of, hey, religion isn’t true, the scales have fallen from my eyes, hooray.  Then s/he immediately follows it up with, I am now  SO ENLIGHTENED and therefore am one of the very few people out there with a truly “objective” view of the world!   Then that mindset is coupled with the fact that s/he gets so good at arguing for/against things, that s/he began to believe his own hype, and assumes that anything that makes him feel bad just needs more and better arguments to rationalize it.

It’s those atheists that are now trying to rationalize away the experiences of Poppy, Stollznow, and other women.   Along with the usual strawmen arguments about Awkward Dudes (honestly, shouldn’t all these logical folks know a strawman when they hear it?), there are calls of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  Right.  Because pointing out sexual harassment is exactly like saying you were abducted by aliens.  I expect that kind of crap from creationists, not skeptics.

It will be interesting to watch over the next several years as the atheist/skeptic community grapples with this issue.   Right now, at least, they’re where the sci-fi/fantasy community was a few years ago in terms of dealing with the reality of the sexism.  Hopefully they’ll embrace true logic and understand that sexism simply isn’t rational.  But I fear too many of them are too self-satisfied to see past their supposed superior reasoning ability to accept the criticism of the skeptic community.

*Per her twitter feed, Dr. Stollznow reports that CFI issued a legal challenge to Scientific American, which prompted them to remove the article she wrote.  CFI denies that they issued such a challenge.  A copy of Stollznow’s article is preserved on Scrible.

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