This is good. I’d hoped you might act as a go-between in such an exchange, Steve, and I think it’s extremely helpful — to all of us — that Harriet and Amy agreed to make this opening conversation public.
Steve, Thanks for sharing that very encouraging exchange. Together with the continuous education I receive from Neurologica and SBM blogs, your wisdom, caring, and respectful approach to everyone, especially those blog responders who lack the same, are key elements in why I find your blogs especially worth reading without fail. This was an excellent example of how productive such an approach can be.
They make images of her crying. Interesting, I thought the responsibility of one’s actions laid with the actor, not with the the satirist who depicts them or with the reporter who comments on them. Alas, never let objectivity and personal responsibility impinge on the narrative of victimhood feminism.
I’m not aware of any photoshopped porn and certainly none which was produced by the many skeptical satirists who took an interest at this drama. I follow them on Twitter and most appear to gather and publish at the slymepit. I wonder why these ugly pieces always manage to elude my attention.
Rape and death threats are also nowhere to be found, with both sides strongly united in condemnation and disdain. But, together with sexism and misogyny, they keep on being pinned – by one side – on the community at large and mischaracterized as a widespread internal problem.
I find these manipulations despicable and unless the slander and libel cease, I don’t see a good reason for “peace talks”.
Thank you so much for acting as a mediator in this and using your blog to help remedy this situation. I have felt so conflicted being a fan of both Skepchick/SGU and SBM and again, am very thankful that you are using your position in being involved in multiple areas of skepticism for the better of the entire community.
“…I thought the responsibility of one’s actions laid with the actor, not with the the satirist who depicts them or with the reporter who comments on them.”
It does indeed, but it is also the responsibility of the commentator to depict the issues in context and not to sensationalise or deliberately misrepresent the “actor”.
As for the rest of your post, I am not going to engage you as you clearly come from a different place to where I do, there are other commentators on this blog who will say it much more concisely. Suffice it to say, I think you are misguided.
Dr. Novella, it is with much regret that this post addressing what some consider to be sexism in the skeptical movement is absent of discussion of women using sexist language to describe other women (‘kissa**es, ‘gender traitors,’ chill girls,’ trying to preserve token status, or implying that women speak and write to gain the attention of men, etc.) and women using language unfairly calling men ‘rape apologists,’ ‘misogynists,’ ‘women haters,’ ‘anti-woman leader,’ etc. It’s probably not worth going into specific examples here, but I can if you would like me to in a follow-up comment.
Second, what are these rape threats and threats of violence you [and Amy] speak of? Who is saying these things? Where can I find these comments? Day in and day out I hear these claims and see no evidence attesting to them; I see only troll-like comments like ‘go die in a fire’ and ‘go kill yourself’ which — although unacceptable — are not at all ‘rape threats’ or ‘threats of violence.’
Many who are veterans of the internet and share controversial opinions — especially if they engage in character assassination campaigns against others in a ‘call out culture’ of social blogging/networking — will receive less than charitable pushback. This is not something women exclusively face. This is not something that happens because people are women (how someone would demonstrate this, anyway, is beyond me). I’d like to think, too, that this sort of negative criticism follows certain behaviors of certain individuals and can see — in many cases — why certain people are targeted by negative criticism and others are not. Individuals who are professional, respectful, charitable, etc. — I would venture — are far less likely to receive negative criticism while those who are unprofessional, disrespectful, and uncharitable are far more likely to receive negative criticism.
The principle of charity you speak of is an ideal and something many should consider/adhere to. Unfortunately, though, you have one ‘camp’ of people — those complaining about these alleged ‘threats’ — failing to adhere to the principle of charity constantly quotemining, unfairly assigning the worst possible motives to others, and smearing respected figures in skepticism (again, I won’t go into detail on this, but can if you’d like in a follow-up).
It’s nice that Dr. Hall and Amy could come to a sort of understanding through private messaging. Perhaps this can be a future standard, but what about the attacks on Dr. Hall and the misrepresentation by people like Amanda Marcotte — to just provide one example — who suggest Dr. Hall is trying to ‘preserve a position as a token?’ This comment is most offensive and egregious…and the accompanying article is trumpeted by many friends of Amy. I won’t say Amy is guilty by association, though, but it hardly seems to be the case that there can be ‘ceasefires’ or mutual respect and comments like these linger and are trumpeted by those under the banner of feminism. Perhaps there is some hope…
The thing is, Murmur, despite your poisoning-the-well dismissive rhetoric, I would be more than just appalled to be part of a community that not only harbours misogynists, sexists and people who issue death threats, but ignores the signs of its malady.
The evidence for this to be the case, though, is hardly compelling. Instead embellishing and outright fabrications have been incontrovertibly exposed more than once.
Furthermore, when disagreement or mild criticism are immediately equated with sexism, and outstanding members of the community are routinely labelled as “chill-girls” or “sister punishers” for no good discernible reason, it is sure sign that ideology has hijacked the discourse.
“It has struck me throughout that many of the people involved, steeped in critical thinking, firmly believe they are correct and are being reasonable and yet are in such heated conflict with other critical thinkers who also believe they are correct and being reasonable.”
Do you think this a problem that is particularly true for people within the skeptical movement, or is what we see in the skeptical movement on par with the general population? What I am referring to is an excessive level of certainty, perhaps an intellectual overconfidence, which can interfere with being open to the idea that that person is mistaken. In some ways, I think that its easier to convince people who identify as skeptics of a fact that they didn’t know (or thought otherwise), but once that person is intellectually or emotionally committed, it becomes nearly impossible (at least in the short to medium term).
I’m glad to see a little light shining out in this tempest–bravo for facilitating it. I believe one of the major problems is that people get so used to argument that they forget the other side are people who share the same complex inner state they enjoy and just immediately attack. The internet echo chamber reinforces their decision because their followers applaud their “courage.” I used to, for instance, follow professor Myers on a daily basis, but he’s just so SURE of everything that I can’t take him any more. Extreme certainty is plausible in some cases, but not ALL of them. (Your observation about the professional trolls can’t be overlooked, either–they’re a major reason it’s tempting to model the opposition as uniform asshats).
I don’t know how you avoid such a thing, either–it’s natural for groups to sort themselves out on the basis of mutual agreement. It seems like it would take a fearless commitment to intellectual honesty that would be difficult to maintain in the long run. Certainly you couldn’t allow the kind of dogpile that you see in comment threads on various popular blogs, where incivility is the rule. And that incivility guarantees that the only opposing viewpoints will be the tribe across the river running past flinging poo, which reinforces the assessment of them as one-note jerks.
Perhaps you missed the comment about the principle of charity. You criticism in your first comment seems to be based upon (a lack) your own personal knowledge, and I’m not sure why this is relevant:
“I’m not aware of any photoshopped porn and certainly none which was produced by the many skeptical satirists who took an interest at this drama. I follow them on Twitter and most appear to gather and publish at the slymepit. I wonder why these ugly pieces always manage to elude my attention. Rape and death threats are also nowhere to be found”
OK, well you are unaware of photopshopped porn, and you wonder why they ‘elude your attention,’ and you cannot find rape and death threats? Umm… ok. So the obvious implication here is that if you are unaware of something, it probably doesn’t exist or is exaggerated. Perhaps you are ‘just asking questions?’
“Furthermore, when disagreement or mild criticism are immediately equated with sexism, and outstanding members of the community are routinely labelled as “chill-girls” or “sister punishers” for no good discernible reason, it is sure sign that ideology has hijacked the discourse.”
If ideology has “hijacked” a person’s perspective away from skepticism then that person should be called out for that, but it appears you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Resolving misunderstandings through direct communication is commendable. However, this post leaves out the background to the misunderstanding between Dr. Hall and Surly Amy. That is understandable for a first step, but moving further, are there any plans to address the misinformation and smears on JREF and TAM that preceded Dr Hall’s decision to wear the shirt? The message on the front of the shirt seems more salient to identifying real differences.
Murmur, apologies for forgetting to address the meat of your post.
“It does indeed, but it is also the responsibility of the commentator to depict the issues in context and not to sensationalise or deliberately misrepresent the “actor”.”
What was misrepresented and how, in your opinion?
If calls to “ban the fake jewellery” and turning on the waterworks at the sign of printed t-shirt cannot be parodied in an adult, what can?
If I were engaging in that sort of censorious and capricious behaviour, I’d fully expect my mates to make light of it until I regain composure.
ccbowers, I’ve discussed this in a previous thread, so forgive me for not rehashing the entire argument.
Lot of material get shared and offered as evidence for harassment or even crime, only for the claims not to withstand scrutiny (I previously offered an example in another thread, but feel free to visit the places where the arguments are dissected without intervening censorship). Therefore, I would fully expect the most serious items to be made public as well in order to silence the doubters.
Also, I’ve just been reliably informed that, in the US, it is a federal crime to issue death threats via correspondence. Declaring that authorities wouldn’t get involved in the absence of physical violence is an extraordinary claim per se. I’d go with the more parsimonious interpretation that the narrative looks like an overblown caricature of reality, as soon as independent observers look at it.
To clarify, I wasn’t implying that this blog is censored – FTB and Skepchick are.
But I don’t feel comfortable to hijack the thread with specific examples, with so many other dedicated places in existence.
I have been cc’d on e-mails to Rebecca that were outright sexist or misogynist. She has certainly made public numerous others with statements to the effect – you should be raped in some horrible manner. She has also reported actual threats to the FBI and police.
Just use your Google skills and you will find many sites dedicated to cyberstalking everything coming from Skepchick and those who tend to agree with them, and taking an incredibly unfair and harsh critical approach. They take the principle of charity and turn it on it’s head, taking a maximally negative and nitpicky interpretation of everything they write or say. It’s all incredibly counterproductive, it is anathema to logical discourse, and a lot of it is hateful trolling.
But of course, there is a spectrum. They do latch onto legitimate criticisms and run with those as well.
Amy made it clear above that she does not equate criticism with hate or sexism. Moving forward is not about obsessing over perceived past slights, but acknowledging when people accept common-ground principles.
Decius – your denial and uncharitability seems to be transparent to the other commenters here.
Rebecca Watson made a post on Skepchick no more than three weeks ago with a specific, graphic, and horrifying example of the abuse she receives on a regular basis. That these instances have eluded you suggests either an unwillingness to make even a small effort to find them, or, and perhaps as well as, a willful blindness towards them.
My observation on this is that the trouble makers in this battle are on high alert to be offended,and have their confirmation bias turned up to 11.
Steve’s recommendation to employ the principle of charity,should be a no brainer for a a person who claims to be a critical thinker. It seems like people who forget this are focusing on the ‘critical’,and completely forgot about the ‘thinking’ bit.
The only poisoning of any well I see is your assumptions that Amy Davis Roth is making up her allegations. You are clearly hijacking the spirit of this post in order to further your own agenda. If you feel she is fabricating anything I would ask you to challenge her directly and not via a 3rd or even 4th party on the comments of a blog that is commenting on her recent disagreement.
justin – “less than charitable feedback” does not begin to cover it. Please Google “Rebecca Watson” and see what you find. Really try to imagine that you were the target of such attacks. Do you imagine that any online activist, blogger, etc. could stand up to this level of obsessive negative scrutiny?
In any case – this post is not about assigning blame, cataloguing past transgressions, and pointing fingers. I only singled out certain trolling behavior that is truly hateful and counterproductive. I also pointed out that this has tended to heat up discussion and radicalize all those concerned.
Now is the time to step back, focus on the positive and on common ground, and begin (emphasis on begin) a process of better understanding where everyone is coming from.
I agree that the principle of charity needs to be spread to all sides.
Steven, what I always liked about scientific skepticism was its respect for the integrity of lexicon and ease with which one could parse a paragraph without falling into semantic traps.
This feature has quickly vanished as soon as politicised rhetoric made its appearance.
Having heard your type of criticism elsewhere before, I must ask. When you say cyberstalking, you mean “The use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It may include the making of false accusations or statements of fact (as in defamation), making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information that may be used to harrass”.
Or is the feminist Newspeak’s definition which runs something like “take public statements made on social media and public internet sites and dissect, ridicule them and expose real or perceived errors”? Because, as uncharitable as the second process may be, it actually meets the original definition of cyberstalking by making false accusations (of cyberstalking) to critics.
Assuming the first case be true, then I already declared my shared disgust for professional troll and sleaze sites, which are nevertheless – and contrary to a certain narrative – not associated with skeptical movement in any shape or form. Their sole mission is to feed internet drama, upon which they prey and thrive. They smell controversy and act like vultures, like everyone who’s been on internet longer than a week knows.
This leads me to Zhankfor’s objection. As I pointed out in another occasion, the picture you mentioned originated with Encyclopedia Dramatica (removed since) and is still available on another sleaze site, where the file properties reveal that it was posted there one full day before it was emailed to Rebecca.
This situation was pointed out to her, together with reassuring remarks, but she chose to delet the comments and ban those who dared challenge the official hyperbole.
I happen to be counted among the ever-increasing ranks of those who find it unacceptable that the result of anonymous troll activity be laid at the doorstep of fellow skeptics and atheists, under the barely concealed agenda of gaining political capital.
The aforementioned example is just precisely that. Nothing really seems to check out and you people should be worried, but in a more neutral manner than what’s on display here.
In conclusion, far from wanting to engage in denialism, I would appreciate all solid evidence thrown my way helping to prove the case for misogyny and sexism infecting the movement in any appreciable measure.
So far, I’ve seen the reputation of good people being thrashed for no good reason whatsoever.
Unless of course, one is so gullible to believe preposterous unevidenced notions, such as the act of carrying a monopod around is per se an indication of sexually-deviant behaviour.
Steve, thanks for starting a mediation process. Your skills at communicating are a gift to the skeptic community. I know it isn’t the point of this post, but I think a more nuanced discussion on free speech and taking offense would be a good topic for the future. I can sympathize with freedom of speech concerns, but also think some speech isn’t without harmful consequences.
“A second source of conflict are those who have chosen cyberstalking and daily harassment as their chosen mechanism of activism.”
Another source of conflict is that legitimate criticism, including satire, of public figures is being cast as harassment. The people calling Rebecca Watson rude names are not the same people sending her the rape-wish emails. The former are crude, probably misguided, and usually not as funny as they think they are; the latter should be on an fbi watch list. Stop conflating the two groups, there is a big difference.
And speaking of grossly offensive language, didn’t your SGU co-host once wish Mike Huckabee would “go f*** a blender?” I don’t like Mike Huckabee, either, but I’m content to leave his genitals intact. She’s also mocked her critics for being virgins, which must be some kind of new sex-positive feminist statement. I’m not sure. I don’t really mind that she does these things. I just think, if you’re going to preach civility and charity, you should start in-house.
Here’s my theory: we should try to like each other, but we shouldn’t always repress our passionate disagreements. Sometimes, full-throated criticism needs to cross some lines. I feel like there’s one side that thinks we need to always be offensive, and another side that thinks we need to always bottle everything up. What we really need is some balance. Sometimes you have to be offensive to shock people out of their complacency. Sometimes you need to be patient with people. Sometimes you need to be forgiving of other people’s faults and missteps (Amy Roth and Harriet Hall both give a great example of doing this.) Charity is usually nice, but it can make you a pushover sometimes.
Above all, what we really need is free and open dialogue to express ourselves. To get the bad feelings out and move on. In this regard, one “side” is clearly deficient, and until they address this problem, the conflict will continue.
I am a fairly casual reader of this blog…and I listen to SGU when I can….I am also aware vaguely about all the sexism controversy and such.
It just seems to me that folks on both sides get too damn inflamed. People when they feel so strongly that they are right can indeed lose the ability to imagine their opponents as having good intention but just diagreeing….and if I may…it would seem that is the root of this…I think steve you pointed this out with your comments about needing to be charitable.
I am happy to see that some prominent actors in such a debate are finding ways to disagree with more tact.
I am not at all an expert on the subject of feminism…so I will claim total ignorance on the subject….but from that standpoint in being a casual observer…it makes most of these folks arguing from both sides look like raving lunatics…the audience effect from my standpoint is as such…my 2 cents….
I will say that I think the subject deserves some attention and it is a reasonable dialogue to have….some feel it is overblown, some feel it is under-appreciated…I have no frickin clue…but if I am to be swayed one way or the other it will be based on the merits of various arguments, the reason, the logic, and the evidence….hard to get to that with all the drama…
Glad that it looks like we are getting past it in part?
I did not conflate anything. That is a straw man of your making. What you are calling the labeling of legitimate criticism as harassment is filed under “misunderstanding.”
You then commit a false dichotomy and straw man by blaming “one side” – there are not such simple “sides” in this and you appear to be conflating a lot of individuals and groups as one “side.”
And again, you appear to want to go backwards by focusing on past perceived transgressions. There have been many mistakes all around. Amy and Harriet have admitted some of theirs and wish to make this into a learning experience.
That’s heartening, thank you for posting that and for facilitating the reconciliation.
I reacted very negatively towards the t-shirt at first. I didn’t see it as specifically attacking Amy or the skepchick group, but when one group of women says that they are getting threats, the statement “I don’t feel threatened” appears to me to be diminishing or dismissing their genuine concerns. I thought it was in bad taste and not well thought out, but I think now that Hall’s heart was in the right place. We’ve all said or done things out of good intentions but which ended up going badly wrong. Hopefully we can chalk it up to that and extend Hall the benefit of the doubt given her many valuable contributions.
This has been going on for close to two years now. Lots of good people have been directly accused of horrible and unforgivable flaws on a whim. I’m not going to glorify those lurid accusations by making yet another digital copy, but the list is incredibly long.
I dare speculate everyone here is a fellow egalitarian. How would you like to be branded a racist or a supremacist? Is it possible that many seem unable to understand that being called a misogynist without being one hurts as much and is entirely unacceptable?
If you think the pushback – harsh, rude, snarky and juvenile as it might be – constitute “cyberstalking”, you simply don’t understand how people will react to injustice in order to defend themselves.
Steven, I’ll ask you directly – does a site like Elevatorgate (which I do not represent nor endorse) fit your bill of “cyberstalking”?
I’m all for charity, Steven, but not at the expense of being able to read between the lines. Who were you referring to when you wrote the paragraph about daily harassment? Specifically,
“Rape threats, threats of violence, sexually charged and grossly offensive language have no place in this discussion, but have infiltrated our community.”
That is pretty much the definition of conflation. You’re including much lesser offenses (which arguably aren’t even offenses) in the same pot with rape threats. I don’t think you meant to, but you did. The strawman is yours. Literally nobody is defending the rape-wish emails to Rebecca Watson. We all find them abhorrent. So why include them in the same sentence with, e.g., “grossly offensive language?” If I’m misunderstanding you. can you at least see how your formulation is misleading?
I completely agree that there aren’t only two sides (hence the scarequotes, if you’re reading my comment charitably), but there are sides, and the boundaries are pretty clear on the various issues.
I like you. I appreciate what you do for skepticism (which is way more than I will ever do), but, dude, you have got to approach this problem with some self-awareness. The problem isn’t just everybody besides you and your friends.
You have a problem with such trolling being “laid at the doorstep of fellow skeptics and atheists,” yet earlier you complained that you hadn’t seen any evidence of the trolling. How, then, would you have the evidence come out? It seems you find fault with either allowing the evidence to come to light, and with stating that it is a real problem yet not producing the smoking guns.
Steven was obviously not conflating rape threats and offensive language – I would suggest you are willfully misinterpreting his statement. By including the items he did in that list, he was not suggesting that they are all equal. He was suggesting precisely what he said he was suggesting, that they “have no place in this discussion” – that they are all unacceptable and unproductive. Not equally unacceptable – no one would deny (and no one is doing so!) that rape threats are much, much worse than offensive language – but certainly all the elements of the list are well below what ought to be the threshold of acceptable behaviour within our community.
decius – I don’t think you have provided evidence for anything. The picture linked to from Rebecca’s blog was posted the day of the blog post. The link you provided had a “date modified” but I am not sure that is the same as the date uploaded or the last time the picture itself was modified, and you don’t provide evidence for who uploaded it. Seems like you are making a pretty serious accusation based on nothing.
Regarding cyberstalking – it’s all a matter of degree. A certain level of obsession and persistent negativity does rise to the level of stalking, but there is no bright line. The elevatorgate site is targeted and unfairly negative and hostile, but you seem to want to focus on semantics to avoid the obvious facts here.
The point is – this kind of behavior is not helpful. I have seen counterproductive behavior all around, but it is not equivalent. Some of it is over the line and rises to the level of poisoning discourse.
I must have expressed myself poorly. I meant to say that every time I looked at some purported smoking gun, which recently I did with a lot out of sheer exasperation, nothing really checked out.
In other words, I’ve yet to see a single piece of evidence supporting the notion of a community infected with misogyny and sexism. It’s only by loosening the definition thereof, until the words are no longer recognisable, that one could make such a claim. Secondly, all the obscene materials and purported threats are either taken out of context, or originate from troll sites.
When anything resembling an actual threat came from within, condemnation has been unanimous and offenders were driven out of sites and fora critical of RW and her fellow feminists.
This supports the notion of a healthy community, by all objective standards.
And again, you appear to want to go backwards by focusing on past perceived transgressions.
What was this post about, if not “past perceived transgressions”?? If you mean that they shouldn’t be dragged up simply play the blame game, fine; but as long as they’re dealt with constructively, why impose some arbitrary cutoff point?
Steven, I would never make such an accusation lightly.
I must beg you to verify on your own. Please, point your browser here and inspect the file properties. Depending on browser, the procedure might change. The “date modified” tag, on internet refers to the day it was last uploaded or overwritten.
I have been cc’d on e-mails to Rebecca that were outright sexist or misogynist. She has certainly made public numerous others with statements to the effect – you should be raped in some horrible manner. She has also reported actual threats to the FBI and police.
Methinks Justin must be lacking in Google skills if he is unable to find evidence of sexist and misogynistic materials directed at Amy, Rebecca, and others. Either that, or he doesn’t find what he doesn’t want to find. Whatever the situation, Steve has briefly discussed such e-mails/posts with me. Although he didn’t forward the actual e-mails to me (and why should he, given that they’re private?), I trust Steve and have no reason to doubt his word on the matter.
That being said, I can only hope that Amy and Harriet’s example will inspire similar behavior by others.
decius – you dodged my question above about the photo and your accusations.
In any case – I am not arguing that the worse sexism and misogyny is coming from within the skeptical community. I think a lot of it is coming from troll sites or from misogynists who are coming onto our sites just to attack feminists. But, it is hard to tell online whether someone is a skeptic who happens to be a sexist or a sexist who isn’t really a skeptic, or whatever.
I am criticizing the behavior itself. Also, regardless of the source, daily harassment has a negative emotional effect on people (its intended effect). I do ask for a little understanding of the targets. They are being beaten down.
The “obvious facts” here are the one I have already enumerated. I have already stated being personal witness to sexism targeted against Rebecca – over years, even before Elevatorgate. The Skepchicks have documented many instances on their site.
Decius is essentially accusing them of lying (please correct me if I am wrong). One major point of this post is that of charity – don’t assume horrible motives on the part of someone you disagree with. I happen to know many of the Skepchicks personally. To you they may just be internet personas, but to me they are people I actually know. They all are sincere and well-meaning. This does not mean they haven’t made mistakes, or that perhaps they are operating from a certain perspective or set of assumptions.
What I would like is to be able to maturely discuss valid points of disagreements. Assuming they are lying for shallow motives is not fair, charitable, or productive. Also – don’t conflate them with everyone who is taking up feminism. I have read some very uncharitable and unproductive things on all sides. The point of this post is to move past all that. Clearly some people are going to make that very difficult.
decius – but who uploaded that photo? So – someone made the photo, uploaded it, then e-mailed it to Rebecca. What am I missing. Who exactly are you accusing of making and/or uploading this photo and what is your evidence?
And again – you seem to be offering this as evidence that the Skepchicks are not the target of frequent harassment, but there is plenty of evidence that they are.
Windy – wan’t it clear that I am talking about using past perceived transgressions to play the blame game?
“Rape and death threats are also nowhere to be found, with both sides strongly united in condemnation and disdain. But, together with sexism and misogyny, they keep on being pinned – by one side – on the community at large and mischaracterized as a widespread internal problem.”
As a regular at Pharyngula, I can and must point out that your line on this smacks of the typical MRA, anti-RW, anti feminist BS.
We have spent countless hours trying to reasonably debate with people like you. At the end of the day what it boils down to is that your ilk wants to defend the use of sexist language and deny that there is a problem with sexism within, or outside of the Movement™.
When they are called on it, they scream about their “Freeze Peach” rights and hurl insults, sexist insults, claim feminists are professional victims and deny that we live in a patriarchical society.
When you deny sexism exists while using sexist slurs, yeah,