Feb 15 2013

Scientific Skepticism, Rationalism, and Secularism

You are currently browsing comments. If you would like to return to the full story, you can read the full entry here: “Scientific Skepticism, Rationalism, and Secularism”.

Share

103 responses so far

103 Responses to “Scientific Skepticism, Rationalism, and Secularism”

  1. jblumenfeldon 15 Feb 2013 at 8:57 am

    Great Post, Steve.

    The only thing I’d like to say is on the topic of the misogynistic attacks that we’ve all seen recently (and not so recently). I don’t think we can dismiss them as ‘childish trolling.’ Although I would not go so far as to call them organized, they are a clear attempt to establish power and control and they need to be fought against actively and passionately. I don’t call for censorship – I long for a day when that kind of behavior really is just childish trolling that can be ignored. Until then we need to view it as very serious topic that is central to how our movement – rational, skeptical, secular, however you want to define it – moves forward.

  2. Steven Novellaon 15 Feb 2013 at 9:21 am

    Jon – I agree. I did not mean to minimize it by that characterization. I think some of it is childish trolling, but there is also probably an organized campaign to marginalize feminism and feminists. As I said, this is a huge topic, difficult to summarize. How to best deal with the misogyny we are seeing is a complex issue of strategy I did not want to get into.

  3. deciuson 15 Feb 2013 at 9:57 am

    The malicious attacks on women are, more often than not, the handiwork of dedicated trolls and originate from places like encyclopedia dramatica (the evidence is overwhelming, but gets conveniently ignored when presented). They are then – equally maliciously and for sheer political gain – imputed to atheists and skeptics by certain divisive figures, who by reason of proximity with you, Steven, keep on getting a pass from skeptical scrutiny.

    What you say is all very reasonable, until you turn your biased eye to the issue of feminism and of prominent “feminists”, who pretend to talk for all women in the community without having clear mandate to do so. In fact, the most eloquent pushback they’re receiving for the injection of industrial quantities of venom and slander in the community is at the hand of other women.

    As an egalitarian concerned with the equal rights and respect for everyone, I’m appalled by the selective blindness on display here.

  4. Cornelioidon 15 Feb 2013 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for returning to this discussion with a slightly adjusted outlook.

    It is good to see the distinction between religion and faith (and the domains of the criticisms of both) more clearly stated than before. However, whereas there are many sciento-skeptical outlets that refrain from criticism of faith, as you describe (SGU being one), it seems to me, having looked with some effort a while back, that none of the secular outlets devote themselves entirely to the criticism of faith, or rather refrain from taking a sciento-skeptical perspective much of the time. The historical and miraculous claims of religions are usually mainstays, while empirical assessments of secular policy are also addressed.

    This is not inconsistent with your description of the groups into which the rationalist movement organically specialized, but it does seem to lend support for the interpretation of secularism as one (exceptionally large) among the subdomains of scientific skepticism, supplemented though it may be by philosophical attitudes toward unfalsifiable retreats (faith is, as you describe, often if not usually a retreat from arguments that soundly refute a religion’s empirical claims) rather analogously to how SBM generally adopts an attitude of patient–clinician honesty in opposition to advocates for “placebo as medicine”. In effect, many of what even active participants in the atheist and skeptic communities would cite as secular (using your definition, i.e. atheist, agnostic, and humanist) outlets might in fact be better classified as sciento-skeptical outlets (again, using your definition), except with regard to remaining agnostic or neutral toward non-empirical claims, but that exception being also violated by other sciento-skeptical outlets (just not with respect to religious faith). It’s partly for this reason that i’m still not sold that religious criticism is receiving its due attention within scientific skepticism.

    You make a salient case that the division of labor you describe is nonetheless convenient (relative to alternatives) and effective, without even appealing to cultural context (per your comments in the previous threads).

    By the way, it is gratifying to read your deferral to “the humanists and feminists to discuss the philosophy and strategies of modern feminism”, which i assume extends to similar issues of discrimination. An enormous part of the problem seems to be that we all think that we have an informed opinion about these issues because we’ve been alive long enough to have accumulated a lot of anecdotes, which is less of a problem for the non-social sciences.

  5. DOYLEon 15 Feb 2013 at 12:27 pm

    At some point you have to strip skepticism down tp its naked core,making it simple enough to avoid getting lost in its complexity and being baited by garden variety morons.

    1. There is no God.

    2. You can’t use the pretence of God to bully anyone.

    3. You can’t use God as a convenience to explain the the system of life.

    4. You can’t conjure nonsense to make money off of the ignorant and desperate.

  6. SARAon 15 Feb 2013 at 1:13 pm

    @Dolye
    It strikes me that your definition is more about God than rationalism.

  7. DOYLEon 15 Feb 2013 at 1:32 pm

    SARA

    My take on rationalism is that human conduct should not be influenced by bad cognitive bargains or false first steps(God exists).Because once you entertain that God is in the room,you give licence to anyone to start practices based upon false beginnings.Fraud makes things go sideways real quick.

  8. badrescheron 15 Feb 2013 at 2:21 pm

    As much as I love this post, I am again disappointed with what I see as a narrow discussion of the social conflict around feminism.

    Constructive discussion of sexism is hampered by all hate, not just that expressed by trolls and denialists (I think that some of the people claiming that feminism is poison truly believe that sexism is not a significant problem). It is not a straw man, imo, to criticize the dismissal of valid, constructive criticisms of specific feminist arguments as misogyny. It is as much responsible for the current climate as the misogyny itself.

    I am hugely disappointed in the community because the approach to discussing sexism has been to toss about of pseudoscientific, pseudo-rational arguments rather than talk about the real issue: morality.

    It’s pretty simple, really: we should care about sexism because we agree that it is morally wrong. That’s not a scientific statement. It’s a statement of values which is in line with the basic humanistic values on which all of the organizations in the greater community were founded. Professionalism can’t be legislated; it must be cultivated.

    But discussing specific incidents and individuals (rather than focusing on the general atmosphere and culture) facilitates hyper-rationalization which, in turn promotes polarization, vilification, martyring, and many other unproductive discussion tactics. Winning arguments and gaining attention for one’s self become the goal and the real problems get lost in the war.

    Most disappointing, though, is the way that hyper-rationalization of this issue has allowed people on all sides to pretend that their views are supported by science when, in fact, most are not. It has also opened the door to anti-science views, which is shameful.

  9. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Good discussion, and I’m with you, Dr. Novella, in what I understand your stances as being. You seem to be trying hard to bridge gaps and find common ground, which is great.

    Unfortunately, certain parts of the skeptical movement have been hijacked by non-skeptical elements that are divisive by nature. I’d go as far as calling these initiatives “faith-based”, where their claims stand contrary to evidence and factual circumstances. Furthermore, these elements demand that everyone join them or be ejected forcefully from their movement. IMO, this is in large part the cause of schism – they have reached out and made the same demands of joining them, or else. To me, this smacks of religion and I find it distasteful.

    I’ll fall back on an example I use often: feminism. I consider myself a feminist, at least what is my definition of feminist. My definition of feminist is someone who desires equal rights and opportunities for both sexes as well as the removal of social and cultural barriers based on sexism. So, a feminist could be a male or a female. This kind of feminist also recognizes that gender inequities go both ways and are not solely the domain of women in society. This is an empirical fact that can be directly observed in society at large.

    There are many self-ascribed feminists, however, that have gone far beyond the simple definition above and have turned it into a firebrand. Sex is rape, males enjoy unequivocal power and influence in society that benefits only them, women are subjugated at every turn, men are considered favored in all facets of society, and women are considered unequal and incapable in all facets of society.

    As a skeptic, I find these to be fairly outrageous claims, not to mention an insult to me given that I am for equal standing, consideration, respect, and opportunity for all. The claims have little basis in reality and ignore the inequities that men in society face on their own. Their claims are often emotional appeals and their accusations strawmen. Much of their belief is faith-based.

    This seems to be the kind of feminist activism that has overtaken FTB and the mantle PZ has taken up. While it’s great to combat legitimate sexism, it actually hurts efforts to employ methods non-skeptics often use, such as emotional appeals and logical fallacies.

    This kind of activism has manifested itself at atheist conferences. For example, there have been calls to ban forms of expression (eg, the ban on fake jewelry) and to, in essence, censor anyone who is in any way critical of them, calls them on their claims, or in any way doesn’t fall in line with their philosophy (yes, I’ve actually seen videos by the likes of Skepchick making these very suggestions).

    So, what it’s come down to is a demand that ALL other skeptical outlets take up this mantle or suffer the consequences. In other words, join or be silent. I think that is where a lot of this criticism is coming from, and to be clear, it’s not just feminist activism this is coming from. That is the problem I find with places like FTB, with movements like A+, and with many of their followers. IMO, while their atheism, etc, may be based in skepticism, many of their claims and demands stem from decidedly non-skeptical perspectives.

  10. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 2:43 pm

    @badrescher

    I think that some of the people claiming that feminism is poison truly believe that sexism is not a significant problem

    This is somewhat of a strawman, actually. I don’t think there are many people who believe that sexism isn’t a significant problem, even those who may state that feminism is poison, especially within the skeptical movement. While a lot of it has to do with definitions, many modern feminist activists have attempted to insulate themselves from any criticism by silencing anyone who opposes them or any claims that they’ve made.

    So, their definition of feminism and my definition of feminism are two very different things. From my perspective, they have taken extreme stances on gender-based societal issues that I believe are unconstructive, or worse, destructive. Furthermore, they ignore the inequities that males often face. Finally, they make many claims that are not based on reality, one of the big ones being a central tone in modern feminist theory that ALL men enjoy special privilege in society and everything they do is for the benefit of men only, at the expense of women.

    Let me qualify the above by clarifying that I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate issues, that sexism doesn’t exist, that there shouldn’t be some rules and guidelines regarding social conduct, and that ALL feminism is “poison”. What I’m saying is that, when it comes to the modern feminist movement, the extreme stances many take have actually hurt their momentum, marginalizes the issues their male counterparts may face, and these are the kind of feminists that have co-opted some of the atheist movement.

  11. badrescheron 15 Feb 2013 at 2:58 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    You seem to have missed the point of my comment. And the quote you pulled can’t be a straw man; it’s not even an argument. It’s just a clarification of a term I used (“denialists”).

  12. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 3:04 pm

    @badrescher,

    My apologies. I reread your post a couple more times and realized that I was off-base in my original take on it. It turns out that I agree with you. While my criticism of the modern feminist movement stands as I have laid out in my post, my criticism of your post was incorrect.

  13. deciuson 15 Feb 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Let me unequivocally state that – whilst racism or sexism in the community shouldn’t be tolerated – few can be bothered with social justice and politics, which are largely being force-fed to us by radicals. Feminists are welcome to join feminist groups at any moment, rather than hijacking the community for the sake of their own extraneous political agenda.

    What’s next, imposed veganism?

  14. idoubtiton 15 Feb 2013 at 4:21 pm

    In the effort to codify some of Steve’s and other’s best ideas about skepticism as we would like it to be perceived by the public, I developed a first draft of a Media Guide to Skepticism.

    I’ve received some great comments and would be happy to take more by March 1. Hopefully, this is a document that will help the public understand our goals and purposes better. Right now, these great ideas are spread all over the internet. I would hope that all three Skeptic orgs and many prominent individuals would endorse it. But I want it to be a consensus.

    Please consider submitting comments.
    http://doubtfulnews.com/media-guide-to-skepticism/

  15. boyofdon 15 Feb 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Great post again, Dr. Novella. I really appreciate you outlining such a level-headed approach at uniting the rational community on the terms by which we might agree to disagree, or perhaps, agree to divvy our workload.

    @rezistnzisfutl

    You are very critical of certain feminist skeptics within the community and claim, “Their claims are often emotional appeals and their accusations strawmen. Much of their belief is faith-based.”

    But then you claim that those feminist skeptics are making the following claims:

    “Sex is rape, males enjoy unequivocal power and influence in society that benefits only them, women are subjugated at every turn, men are considered favored in all facets of society, and women are considered unequal and incapable in all facets of society.”

    And

    To “censor anyone who is in any way critical of them, calls them on their claims, or in any way doesn’t fall in line with their philosophy (yes, I’ve actually seen videos by the likes of Skepchick making these very suggestions).”

    It appears to me that you are at least as guilty of the strawman fallacy as anyone you criticizing. I don’t think focusing on past perceived arguments is in the spirit of Dr. Novella’s post, but if it is necessary, at least you might address specific claims, supported by citations, rather than characterizing a category of prominent skeptics by pretending they think all sex is rape.

  16. chrisjon 15 Feb 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Nice post. This is carefully thought out as usual.

    Steve wrote, “I cite Massimo Pigliucci as one source, the only working philosopher within the skeptical movement as far as I know, but I have also discussed this with other philosophers of science, just to check my own understanding.”

    As a graduate student in philosophy I find this to be a depressing state of affairs. I think it is a failure of a discipline that ought to be at the heart of scientific skepticism and the broader rationalist movement alongside science. I would like to mention one other philosopher that I know to be working in the skeptical movement. Peter Boghossian at Portland State University is highly active in the scientific skepticism movement. Of course there is Dan Dennett, but he is more active in secularism as you have defined it. I haven’t seen any sign so far that he is active in scientific skepticism.

  17. deciuson 15 Feb 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Political activism is incompatible with science, not just with skepticism. The first victims are facts and truth, then the witch-hunts ensue.

    And history tends to repeat itself.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/magazine/napoleon-chagnon-americas-most-controversial-anthropologist.html

  18. june80on 15 Feb 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Steve wrote, “I cite Massimo Pigliucci as one source, the only working philosopher within the skeptical movement as far as I know, but I have also discussed this with other philosophers of science, just to check my own understanding.”

    I thought there were a number of “working philosophers” also involved in skepticism? Daniel Fincke of Patheos’ Camels with Hammers (College tutor); Kylie Sturgess of Token Skeptic (high school & College); David Kyle Johnson (College) — are there others?

  19. june80on 15 Feb 2013 at 6:14 pm

    I nearly forgot — along with Dan Finke, Kylie Sturgess, et al who work in Philosophy departments there’s also Stephen Law who wrote Believing Bullshit. There’s a lot of skeptics who are working philosophers I think, just need to look.

  20. cannotsay2013on 15 Feb 2013 at 7:02 pm

    The problem that you guys have is that, for all practical purposes, you have evolved into something akin to a religion, with dogmas that cannot be questioned or else you are called names. This is why big name scientists stay away from you. They are smart enough to know that like is not as black and white as you make it appear.

    Take the issue of psychiatry for instance. The poster rezistnzisfutl made it very clear that “WE in the SKEPTIC community blah, blah, blah”. Now, the scientific bona fides of somebody like Jerry Coyne are impecable -so are mine except since I prefer to stay anonymous I have to point to public figures-, yet he became the targeted of incredible vitriol from the members of the SKEPTIC church when he voiced his objections to psychiatry using the same type of reasoning that can be used against homeopathy or astrology. Now, you tell me who has the problem here, a scientist that applies scientific reasoning equally to psychiatry, homeopathy or astrology, or those apply the same reasoning to homeopathy or astrology but then wear the hat of “I am a SKEPTIC, my dogma is that psychiatry is true and not only will not entertain any rational discussion to the contrary but I will give you an ad hominem attack as my line of defense”. Again, people are smart enough to know. And those who are very smart don’t want to be part of the charade.

  21. Halfdeadon 15 Feb 2013 at 7:17 pm

    It appears to me that you are at least as guilty of the strawman fallacy as anyone you criticizing. I don’t think focusing on past perceived arguments is in the spirit of Dr. Novella’s post, but if it is necessary, at least you might address specific claims, supported by citations, rather than characterizing a category of prominent skeptics by pretending they think all sex is rape.

    You give him too much credit, it wasn’t a strawman it was a lie, like most of his post. People have not said the things he is claiming, not in the context that he is implying.

    Steve, I’m not going to get into this discussion again because I think we agree almost 100% however I will be very disappointed if you allow people to post flat out lies and slander on your blog, and not step in and at the very least ask for a citation or two, simply because they couch it in “skeptispeak” pretending they are only being skeptics.

  22. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 7:19 pm

    @cannotsay,

    This is the last post where I’ll refer to you in any way. I’m not interested in giving you a platform for your nonsense. You’ve already hijacked two other threads with your trolling. I, for one, will not waste time with you and I’ve found with my many years on the internet that the best way to minimize trolls is to starve them out, not feed them. I prefer actual meaningful conversation with those willing to honestly engage in relevant topics, not give someone a soapbox to simply preach from. Our giving you the time of day gives you legitimacy that you don’t deserve and doesn’t exist.

    Long story short: you’re not interested in having discourse, but to have a loadspeaker to spout your nonsense and a forum to berate those who don’t share your beliefs. Or, equally likely, you’re just a troll who likes the attention and get off on riling up interested parties who fall for your provocations. Have fun with that, but I won’t give you the satisfaction.

  23. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Regarding the lack of philosophers in that are prominent figures skepticism: I am somewhat surprised that this is an issue. Massimo Pigliucci was mentioned, but he was a scientist who transitioned to philosophy as an adult , because it was something he has enjoyed his whole life. He actually became interested in skepticism while a scientist, from what I understand, although I’m sure that he would credit philosophy as well. A few of the other names mentioned have activism that is more about atheism, rather than skepticism in general (not that there is anything wrong with that). Kylie Sturgess seems to fit, although I honestly don’t know her work as much.

    Many aspects of skepticism utilize philosophy, particularly the formations of arguments, logical fallacies, philosophy of science, epistimology, etc etc. There must be something about the activist part of skepticism that turns off academics. This is also true of scientists to some degree (although moreso in the past), and perhaps the primary difference is just due to the size of the disciplines.

  24. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 7:41 pm

    @boyofd

    Actually, I did make a (roundabout) reference to Skepchick. She is one of the ones who promotes the active use of censorship of feminism as well as the banning of fake jewelry and limiting language at conferences. In her blogs and videos, she also makes many references to the things I’ve mentioned above. If necessary, I could make specific citations, but these things are out there.

    Of course I’m not saying ALL feminist skeptics make certain extreme claims, but many do. They have made places like FTB a hostile place to anyone who challenges their claims. Sorry, but my criticism stands. When I’m called a rape-supporter and misogynist, when I’m against both and I often fight for equal rights for women and minorities, I have a problem with it.

    I certainly agree that focusing on past arguments aren’t in the spirit of Dr. Novella’s post. He’s not the issue at all. In fact, this whole incident between him and PZ was of PZ’s creating. Dr. Novella, as far as I can tell, is fairly innocent of the accusations leveled at him and he has bent over backwards to accommodate PZ, extending one olive branch after another.

    The reason I bring up the radical feminism that has (partially) co-opted FTB and their form of skepticism isn’t because I have a thing about feminism – it’s because they are attempting to usurp a movement and a word in the name of their political agenda and ideology, much of which is decidedly NOT skeptical. That’s why it rubs me the wrong way.

  25. Steven Novellaon 15 Feb 2013 at 7:46 pm

    cannotsay – you are officially trolling, trying to derail every thread to your pet topic. Keep it up and I will ban you.

  26. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2013 at 7:47 pm

    “if you allow people to post flat out lies and slander on your blog, and not step in and at the very least ask for a citation or two, simply because they couch it in “skeptispeak” pretending they are only being skeptics.”

    I think you know that Steve does make comments often on his blog, but I imagine this varies greatly on the time he has available in a given moment. I think he realizes that people who follow his blog closely are pretty good at keeping people intellectually honest when it is needed, and that poor arguments will be challenged. I’m not sure what it is like to have a blog like this, but I think it would drive me crazy not to respond to comments quickly depleting the free time available to me. Apparently most bloggers find a balance that suits them, as most of the ones I follow find a nice balance.

  27. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2013 at 7:54 pm

    “Of course I’m not saying ALL feminist skeptics make certain extreme claims, but many do. They have made places like FTB a hostile place to anyone who challenges their claims. Sorry, but my criticism stands.”

    I think this is a situation in which it appears that you are painting with a broad brush, whether you think you are or not. Perhaps it is best when attacking specific arguments in this context to attach these arguments to the specific argu-er and not to the broader category that they belong to (in this case feminism in general). Point out when feminists are making faulty arguments without impugning the larger cause, just as we should do for all arguments regardless of their origins.

  28. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2013 at 8:01 pm

    … unless of course the larger cause itself is intellectually dishonest, which does not apply here. (but does apply in homeopathy, creationism activists , etc, etc)

  29. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 8:28 pm

    the specific argu-er and not to the broader category that they belong to (in this case feminism in general)

    I think I explained this when I said ,”I’m not saying ALL feminist skeptics make certain claims…” I would have thought that that statement would have implied that I’m not actually generalizing, but rather speaking about specific activists within the movement. A movement as diverse and widespread as feminism will include many perspectives across the spectrum, so I don’t see how I’m in any way painting with a wide brush.

    My criticism is how a certain, more radicalized segment of feminism has called places like FTB home and many of their tactics and interactions have been adopted by the community there. The differences in vibe there and here are palpable and distinct. I used to spend time there and enjoyed many of the articles that came up, but since then it’s become fairly belligerent, hostile, and frankly, non-skeptical. The problem is, when I, and others, have challenged them on this in the past, I was roundly chided for it by its members.

    I do also have some criticisms of a few aspects of feminist theory, but that doesn’t mean I don’t share their goal of equal rights and opportunities for all people.

  30. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 8:32 pm

    It wasn’t my intention to introduce critiques of feminism as a topic for discussion, but rather explain why I think that there is a schism within the skeptical community, and perhaps why some scientific skeptics and secularists don’t always acknowledge other self-ascribed skeptics’ claims. This seems to have emanated from PZ and his followers.

  31. deciuson 15 Feb 2013 at 9:16 pm

    Here’s some criticism to what’s passing for feminism in the movement, these days.

    In modern post-enlightenment societies – where equality is enshrined into law – the Patriarchy is as useful and lucid a concept as the Illuminati, until solid evidence to the contrary is provided.

    Criticism of dubious remarks by individual self-appointed leaders, who also happen to be women, doesn’t automatically equate to sexism, or to misogyny, or to an attack on womankind as a whole.

    Requests for evidence, following outrageous or potentially slanderous remarks about male leaders of the community, doesn’t automatically equate to denialism of existing problems.

    Evolutionary psychology is an established branch of science, whose mainstream practitioners are worthy of respect. The fact that its results do not conform to the wishful thinking of unqualified ideologues isn’t ground for casual dismissal. Such eminently anti-skeptical attitudes should be called out and frowned upon, especially by serious leaders like Steven, whose silence on this issue has become an embarrassment to the movement as a whole.

    There would be more, but having these seriously addressed would be a great start.

  32. cannotsay2013on 15 Feb 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Mr Novella,

    This is your blog so of course you are entitled to do with my comments whatever you want. However, I just raised an issue completely pertinent to this thread, namely, that your “skeptic” movement does not tolerate those who deviate from your orthodoxy, as the Jerry Coyne case shows or your own and rezistnzisfutl responses show. With Jerry Coyne, I am in better company than with you guys. Have a nice self destructive life :D .

  33. ccbowerson 15 Feb 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Cannotsay2013 is a good example of how emotionally driven ideological committments for (or in this case against) a cause can result in such strong motivational reasoning that it results in destructive advocacy. When you are intellectual dishonest you will fail at convincing the intellectually honest. Perhaps you get a kick out of doing this, but if not you are wasting your time. Turn your skepticism inward and maybe you’ll learn something, or else you’ll keep cherry picking facts that support your biases

  34. rezistnzisfutlon 15 Feb 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Yea, cannotsay isn’t using skepticism, he’s using denialism. Big difference there…

  35. BillyJoe7on 15 Feb 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Cannotsay,

    “your “skeptic” movement does not tolerate those who deviate from your orthodoxy”

    The irony.
    …from someone who has not deviated from the orthodoxy of the anti-psychiatry propaganda machine.

  36. cannotsay2013on 16 Feb 2013 at 12:03 am

    To my critics,

    “When you are intellectual dishonest you will fail at convincing the intellectually honest.”

    In fact, it’s intellectual honesty that has taken many people, not only myself, to question psychiatry. Again, while I am in company of people like Jerry Coyne, you are in company of people like Novella. You do the math whose company is more intellectually powerful. Not that I am making an argument of authority, I am just saying that dogmatically labeling people like me, instead of addressing the arguments, just shows your own limitations.

    “Yea, cannotsay isn’t using skepticism, he’s using denialism. Big difference there…”

    From where I stand it’s you guys who belong to the Flat Earth society. Remember that this thread is about the intolerance within your so called “skeptic” movement. And this thread has provided several examples of that intolerance. You need to understand that then you guys are banned from NSF meetings or that big names in science don’t want to be associated with you guys. So let me see, we have the top guys in science running away from you, self appointed defenders of science, and it’s the big guys in science who have a problem… I am thinking, just thinking, that it’s probably you guys who have the problem (hint: a phenomenon called group think might explain the situation).

    “…from someone who has not deviated from the orthodoxy of the anti-psychiatry propaganda machine.”

    To the risk of being banned, you can call my arguments whatever you want to call them. They are rational and they are the same type of arguments that those in the so called “skeptic” movement use to discredit homeopathy. I can assure that I can find you many people who claim to have been helped by “homeopathy” or “astrology”, which is basically the same argument used by the defenders of psychiatry: it may have shaky foundations, but some people claim to have been “helped” by it and that onto itself justifies its current status. Which is precisely the same claim made by practitioners of homeopathy!

  37. kevinjearlyon 16 Feb 2013 at 12:15 am

    Ok, all well and good. But over 1000 words and no mention of bigfoot? Why do I bother? I really need to know…

    Just kidding. I’m popping a bag of popcorn and settling in in anticipation of PZ’s response. This is dust up has all the ear marks of early Jerry Springer throw-downs, minus the burly bouncers. You aint gonna take the good doctor’s cool reasoning, methodical elucidation and attitude of rapprochement sitting down, are you PZ? Get ‘im, tiger!

  38. cannotsay2013on 16 Feb 2013 at 12:18 am

    My apologies for getting into a discussion I don’t know anything about, but who is this PZ you keep talking about?

  39. Halfdeadon 16 Feb 2013 at 12:45 am

    rezistnzisfutl You did not just make a broad comment you flat out lied, no feminist related to this discussion or that can even be remotely considered to be related to this discussion has said the things you have claimed, Therefore you are a liar, you did not accidentally paint with a broad brush, you lied.

  40. EdCaraon 16 Feb 2013 at 1:13 am

    There are many self-ascribed feminists, however, that have gone far beyond the simple definition above and have turned it into a firebrand. Sex is rape, males enjoy unequivocal power and influence in society that benefits only them, women are subjugated at every turn, men are considered favored in all facets of society, and women are considered unequal and incapable in all facets of society.

    I’m sorry…I’m gonna need a giant citation for all of this.

  41. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 1:17 am

    I lied, eh? Are you kidding me? Seriously, have you not spent any time at Free Thought Blogs on any post having to do with anything remotely feminist? And apparently, you haven’t spent much time reading my posts, but rather glossed over certain parts briefly and concluded that I’m lying.

    That anyone thinks I made a broad comment needs to work on their reading comprehension skills. What part of “There are many self-ascribed feminists…” and ”I’m not saying ALL feminist skeptics make certain claims…” do you not understand? I think I’ve made it clear that I do not think all feminists hold certain extreme views, that feminism as a movement has value, or that not all skeptic feminists are one way or another. It just so happens that it’s the kind of environment that has been allowed to flourish at FTB.

    Here is just one of many examples I found on FTB. The comments speak for themselves. There is a big difference in “vibe” between that kind of blog entry and what you find here. The big reason FTB turned me off was the shear level of aggression, hostility, blind accusations, and heavy uses of logical fallacies and inaccuracies, and these come from, yes, activists.

    I could easily cite many more. Seems to me that you are desiring to bring that kind of belligerence here.

  42. EdCaraon 16 Feb 2013 at 1:33 am

    Please do. I fail to see how any one in those comments held the belief all men are rapists, or that any leading feminist holds that idea.

  43. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 3:50 am

    RIF,

    I read down to about comment #10 before I couldn’t read anymore. The same thing happened when I read comments on Rebecca Watson’s video. The comments of many of the posters are dispicable. As I said on another post recently, it hardens my resolve to remain a solo sceptic instead of joining a sceptic group. The language and attitudes are completely alien to me.

    My general impression is that misogyny is like dualism. Despite proclaiming themselves against dualism, many, if not most, sceptics are actually dualists in many ways that they do not recognise. Look at any discussion on free will. Similarly, most men who are against misogyny are actually misogynists in many ways that they do not recognise (I’m using the word “misogyny” in the broadest possible sense).

    I don’t think I make that mistake with either misogyny or dualism, but I recently made a comment on Jerry Coyne’s website denying that a particular cartoon was anti-Semitic. He bluntly asked me “how would you know because you’re obviously not Jewish”. He was right, I am not Jewish, so how would I know if that cartoon was anti-Semitic (setting aside the intentions of the cartoonist).

    Sometimes you just have to ask the people whom it directly affects and pay attention to the answer.

  44. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 4:05 am

    I’m starting to understand Steven Novella’s position.

    The three classifications – scepticism, secularism, and rationalism – is starting to make sense (I’ve shortened “scientific scepticism” to just “scepticism”). It doesn’t treat faith any different from any other subject. If a religious claim can be tested empirically, then it falls under the scepticism label. If the claimant retreats to untestable claims, then it falls under the secularism label. And, at all times, it falls under the rationalism label. And this is exactly how any other claim is handled from CAM to BigFoot. No special treatment for faith claims. I can also see the distinction between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism more clearly.

    But I’m going to let it sit there to brew for a while.

  45. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 4:27 am

    BJ7,

    Interesting points. While I hear what you’re saying and agree that it’s good to be cognizant about how our language and actions affect others, perhaps in ways we don’t realize, I think it can be rather insulting to accuse someone of being something they’re not due to language or behavior they weren’t aware was causing an issue.

    To use your misogyny example, it may be a valid point to consider what someone says (out of ignorance or thoughtlessness) a misogynist statement, but that doesn’t necessarily make THEM a misogynist. It took several incidences of my being called a misogynist, among many other epithets, before I threw in the towel and left FTB. The thing is, I’m not a misogynist – I don’t hate women, nor do I wish for them to be suppressed or otherwise live any way other than what they wish.

    At what point does someone’s sensitivity and demand for PC language and behavior become a hindrance to freedom of expression? This can be a tricky, fine line to notice. Not everyone agrees where that should be. On FTB, they have no problem ripping into religion and other cultures they don’t agree with. I’ve seen them use the most foul and offensive language possible, to the point where I was put off (and I’m an anti-theist myself). However, they could not accept any sort of self-criticism, much less to the same degree that they go when they dig into religion, etc.

    I can see that this can be a complex and subjective issue. Not everyone agrees to what is offensive. When the atheist community created the “draw muhammad day”, that was in response to the islamic world’s call to ban drawings of muhammad and even kill the person who originally drew the cartoon. That was not the first nor the last time that much of the islamic world called to censor and ban what they deemed offensive. That never stopped those at FTB from turning up the volume even more. Unfortunately, it seems that the same cannot be expected of them.

    My point is, I don’t want to participate in a forum where I’m not free to express myself (within reason, of course), and worse, where I constantly fear harming someone else’s fragile sensibilities. I consider myself overall a very polite and sensitive person who values fairness, respect, and equality, but there comes a point where we should be given a little slack.

    So, I agree with you that I prefer to remain (relatively) unaffiliated, even though I may share many of the same philosophies and leanings, lest it becomes a restricting dogmatic social institution a la organized religion.

  46. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 4:58 am

    RIF,

    Of course I was not criticising you.

    I haven’t even seen anything you’ve written on the subject, but I think there are nuances that are difficult for males to recognise because they are not women, have not grown up as women, and have not lived their whole lives as women. What generally follows is attack and counterattack and escalating language and abuse.

    The best advice I’ve seem on how to handle this is firstly not to react. Stay cool. Let the rage settle. Then, when you’ve calmed down just apologise that you’ve upset the person who just abused you. After all, it is the other person who, somewhere along the line, has been hurt as a result of being a woman, and you’ve never had to to live in their shoes and experience what they’ve experienced first hand. Simply accept the situation for the moment, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time, and use it as food for thought. You will generally find that you’ve learned something and, as a bonus, you’ve shown the other person, without actually saying so or rubbing their face in it, that it may be better next time to explain rather than react.

    The same goes for racism.

    BTW, I used to read PZ Myer’s blog first up every night, but I quickly learned not to participate in the commentary. Then I skipped the commentary altogether. Later I put his blog down my list of favourites and now I read it only if its linked to from somewhere else. I’ve nothing against him particularly, but I didn’t seem to be reading anything I didn’t already know.

  47. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 5:22 am

    I didn’t think you were criticizing me, I’m just talking. :)

    It’s all fine and good to let them rage away and for me to take the high ground, but I’m not going to sit around and take abuse from a half-dozen angry activists who lump me in with the (supposed) scores of abusive husbands/boyfriends they’ve encountered at battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers just because I ask them to back up claims they make or challenge them on specific concepts. You saw some of the comments they made at FTB so I’m sure you have an idea what I’m referring to.

    So sure, while I’m not the kind of person who will return a proportional response, I’m not going to stick around and just take it, either. Respect and accommodation is a two-way street. Case in point: the way you and I are interacting with each other is quite different than how those commenters were, or how Halfdead is responding to me here (incidentally, HD is a PZ follower, so his kind of discussion is what we’d expect). That’s why I don’t frequent FTB anymore, nor do I have any desire to join the A+ movement.

  48. OaringAbouton 16 Feb 2013 at 5:53 am

    BillyJoe7,

    You wouldn’t happen to have the thread title for that post on Jerry Coyne’s website that you referred to, would you? Would be most appreciated if you did – would save me some time as I think there have been several on the topic.

    While he generally sails on a pretty even keel, we all have our biases that can temper or heavily influence our perceptions so it would be interesting to see the details.

    Thanks.

  49. deciuson 16 Feb 2013 at 6:12 am

    Sadly, I’m not getting any reply or acknowledgement from Steven.
    I’ll ask more directly then.

    Tell me, Steven, why are you pretending that the problems are confined to just PZ, FtB and A+?

    How long are you going to tiptoe around the subject of Rebecca Watson and pretend she has nothing to do with it?

    The following may seem like loaded questions. Forgive me for just asking them, I will be able to provide evidence to substantiate the charge, should you request me to do so.

    Will Rebecca Watson’s censorious tactics, her slanderous attacks on prominent members of the community, her loose relationship with facts concerning the alleged hate campaign she’s been subjected to, her summary dismissal of scientific subjects she doesn’t care for, her pseudo-scientific approach to the same subjects, her contempt for well-meaning critics, the divisive politics of Skepchick remain forever taboo on Neurologica blog or on SGU?

    Is it just a matter ot ingroup and outgroup allegiances or is there something more sinister to it?

    An answer would be much appreciated. Thank you in advance.

  50. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2013 at 6:33 am

    BillyJoe – You got it. Thanks for the summary. I am still not sure why it has been so difficult – over years – to get that across.

  51. OaringAbouton 16 Feb 2013 at 6:39 am

    Decius said:

    Evolutionary psychology is an established branch of science, whose mainstream practitioners are worthy of respect. The fact that its results do not conform to the wishful thinking of unqualified ideologues isn’t ground for casual dismissal.

    Evolutionary psychology certainly seems to be a bone of contention for many feminists, notably the “gender” variety, although a few others seem to think that term an abstraction or a proverbial “straw-feminist”. However, my impression is that the problem is less a question of evo-psych itself – about which many people, including Jerry Coyne, have some credible criticisms – than it is one about some of the principles and premises undergirding it, notably that the mind is anything but the proverbial “Blank Slate”. And while it is not just some feminists who reject that premise – generally without any evidence and apparently only from some questionable emotional perspectives which should be subjected to some skeptical inquiry – that many gender feminists do seem to reject them seems to be a significant part of what is roiling the waters at the intersection of atheism, skepticism, and feminism. But the scope of that general rejection – and its problematic implications – is suggested by this passage from Steven Pinker’s book of the same name:

    Man is man because he has no instincts, because everything he is and has become he has learned, acquired, from his culture, from the man-made part of the environment, from other human beings. Ashley Montagu [pg 24]

    Maybe that philosophy might have had some justification 400 years ago or even 40 when Montagu made that statement, but now that we know as much as we do about the influence of genetics on various cognitive abilities and disorders it seems rather dangerous to say the least. And while evo-psych might quibble about the various possible evolutionary progressions of various behaviour patterns, for various gender-feminists to insist, as many do, that gender is entirely a “social construct” would seem to fly in the face of that knowledge, notably that phenomena such as homosexuality, pair-bonding, and courtship rituals have some roots in our genetic inheritances, even if they aren’t fully determined by them. All of which might have some influence on perceptions of and solutions for the issue of sexism.

  52. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2013 at 6:50 am

    decius – I disagree with your summary of the situation. I am not giving Rebecca any kind of special pass. I and the SGU have also not taken on any other individual, and we have tried not to get dragged into personal, ideological, or political fights.

    On the SGU Rebecca is a skeptic, she does a great job, and she stays within the confines that I have defined for the show. I give everyone a little personal wiggle room for flavor, but not much.

    Rebecca is also a feminist activist – separate from the SGU which she started prior to joining the SGU. In that she has her own ideological and political approach. This is identical to the fact that PZ also promotes his own ideology an politics on his blog, and has his own tone, and you will notice that I specifically did not criticize any of these aspects of PZs blog and specifically mentioned that I respect his freedom to do whatever he wants. This is no different than Rebecca, or from the libertarians in the movement.

    The points I am making here are:
    - As a movement we should pay attention to issues of sexism and racism, for moral and pragmatic reasons.
    - As with any other issues, empirical claims relating to these topics are fair game and good targets
    - Outright misogyny is poisoning our community, radicalizing all sides, and should not be tolerated.
    - I am not going to get down into the weeds on what I consider personal, ideological, or political aspects of this conflict – except perhaps to call for a more constructive conversation.

    I have been involved only to the extent that I have been witness to some of the harassment and abuse that Rebecca receives, and I have verified this. In terms of feedback to the SGU to which I am privy, she is singled out unfairly, treated horribly by some people, and outright harassed in a blatantly sexist manner. (She also gets a lot of support, to be sure.) She has put up with this for years, even before Elevatorgate. I do think this warrants giving her a bit of understanding, even if you disagree with some of her tactics.

  53. deciuson 16 Feb 2013 at 7:46 am

    Thanks for your reply, Steven.

    I agree with most of your analysis and appreciate your gentlemanly handling of the schism. I also grant you that you did a great job at keeping the SGU drama-free and away from political minefields.

    However, you’ve been blatantly ignoring the fact that a member of your panel is engaging in science denialism at skeptic conferences.
    The denialism of modern evolutionary psychology is on epistemic par with the psychiatry denialism you’ve just condemned a few comments back, and should be covered under “empirical claims relating to feminism and related topics”.
    Seeing your legendary vigilance for the integrity of scientific discourse going out of the window the moment Rebecca is involved is as puzzling to me as if you had just appointed Cannotsay as co-blogger.

    I also completely disagree with the notion that if someone is harassed and abused on internet, it is therefore a problem of the skeptical community. Case in point (one of dozens I’ve looked into) – the obscene drawing Rebecca has recently received, had been published long ago on Encyclopedia Dramatica. Let them – a bunch of professional trolls, not skeptics – bear the responsibility.
    Likewise, misogynistic comments left anonymously on blogs and on Youtube, cannot be automatically laid at the doorstep of atheists and skeptics.

    These continuous obfuscations naturally cast enormous doubts on the sincerity of previous claims as well.

  54. Cornelioidon 16 Feb 2013 at 8:07 am

    rezistnzisfutl, evidently the comments do not speak for themselves. What “all men” (“all people”, to be fair) are capable of in sufficiently coercive circumstances is an interesting question, and the greatest cluelessness in the first half of the thread was exhibited by someone sounding very much like you.

    Nothing in the thread appears to support any of the caricatures from your fourth paragraph above. Instead, you seem to have shifted your goalpost to “vibe” rather than substance. Well, i read several feminist blogs at FtB, and i’ll admit that i prefer the lively, passionate, radical vibe of those threads to what i see here. (That’s a criticism of neither.) If the essence of your criticism of what people are saying is about anything more than how they are saying it then you would help your case to better illustrate it. (And you might check your own logical fallacies before lamenting their frequency somewhere else.)

  55. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2013 at 8:46 am

    decius – I have not looked into the source of individual pieces of alleged misogyny. I frankly don’t have time for that. What I do know about is the sexist criticism Rebecca has received through SGU channels from self-identified listeners and skeptics.

    I don’t think anyone is denying that there are non-skeptical trolls intruding on our community. But it is a problem for us, because regardless of the source it is poisoning our conversation and attempt to deal with this thorny issue in a rational manner.

    I would also advise a bit more understanding. Until you are the target of daily violent and personal online attacks, don’t be so judgmental of how others are holding up under this barrage.

    Regarding evolutionary psychology, your analogy to psychiatry denial is not apt. First, my read of her position is that she is challenging the popular abuse of evolutionary psychology explanations, not necessarily the entire field. But even if she were – so does Massimo Pigliucci, an evolutionary biologist. I had a long conversation with him on the show about it, and he shot down every defense of evolutionary psychology that I threw at him. So does PZ, a development biologist. So do many other scientists.

    At the very least, this is genuinely controversial.

    Also, when Rebecca brings up such points on the show, if I disagree I do challenge her. See the episode from DragonCon 2011, for example.

  56. Cornelioidon 16 Feb 2013 at 8:49 am

    @OaringAbout, any chance you could cite some feminists of the atheist/skeptic variety who maintain a strict tabula rasa approach? You seem to be suggesting a dichotomy that has largely been abandoned; what feminists i’ve read find plenty of reason to doubt widely-held beliefs about innate differences between “men” and “women”, the endurance of many of which is probably largely due to the influence of cultural gender norms and of sexism, without invoking a completely blank slate (example). (And a completely blank slate would not be required to undermine much of evolutionary psychology, as i understand it.) This is still a far cry from asserting that gender is “entirely” a social construct (it can be very much a social construct while having important biological components to it), though even asserting that it is does not, so far as i can see, require strict tabula rasa; it just requires no or negligibly small differences in that tabula across genders.

  57. deciuson 16 Feb 2013 at 9:20 am

    Sorry Steve, I don’t dispute for a moment the veracity of the sexist criticism you’ve been privy to, but I cannot throw my skepticism out of the window when a particular person is involved, regardless of the amount of stress they’re under.
    Especially if said person appears time and again to be economical with facts and to thrive on drama.
    I appreciate the emotional involvement deriving from your personal friendship with Rebecca, but there are the feelings of countless other, equally fine women, who are being thrashed daily – by Rebecca herself – for not toeing the party line.

    I’m not familiar with Pigliucci’s criticism of EP, but – from your words – it appears to be somewhat in contrast with the broader consensus. However, it is for the specialists to solve the issue and until that moment, unqualified subjects would do everyone a favour if they didn’t let their ideology and wishful thinking get in the way.

    However, I’m grateful that you took time to address my concerns. Let’s just agree to disagree, here. I’ll get back to you on both these topics in a few months/years from now and let’s see how things pan out.

    Cheers

  58. Rikki-Tikki-Tavion 16 Feb 2013 at 10:11 am

    While there is a large overlap in these groups, the overlap is not 100%. While most atheists are also scientific skeptics, not all of them are, and not all scientific skeptics are atheists.

    I very much doubt that. It may be the case in America, where open atheists are an a small minority, but most atheists live elsewhere, and my strong feeling is, that most are not skeptics.
    My former landlady is an atheist, a homeopathic practitioner by education and reads loads of esoteric BS. She once told me that my not believing in horoscopes was “so typical for a capricorn”.
    That somebody doesn’t believe in god does not mean that they are skeptics. In liberal circles in Europe, it is my feeling, that not believing in god is the norm, and does not express any skeptical attitude.

  59. Rikki-Tikki-Tavion 16 Feb 2013 at 10:17 am

    My former landlady is an atheist, a homeopathic practitioner by education and reads loads of esoteric BS. She once told me that my not believing in horoscopes was “so typical for a capricorn”.

    This part was encased in html-stlye tags “personal anecdote” and “/personal anecdote” but wordpress ate them.

  60. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2013 at 10:25 am

    No one is asking you to set aside your skepticism. Feel free to criticize any opinions you disagree with, or to criticize style or tone.

    I do think the backlash against Rebecca in general (not saying universally, or pointing any fingers) has been disproportionate, unduly personal, and often unfair. I have seen Rebecca vilified for doing things that other people do without any criticism. Criticism is often based upon a maximally uncharitable interpretation of her words and intent. It has become difficult to tease apart legitimate constructive criticism from personal attacks, because often the former is strongly tainted with the latter. Then, when people respond to the personal attacks they act as if their constructive criticism is being dismissed, and around we go.

    What I think is happening is that skepticism, on multiple sides, is taking a back seat to emotion and ideology. If the discussion were focusing on the science, like evo psych, and the philosophy in a constructive way there would be no problem. Professional colleagues can politely disagree. I am also not taking ideological sides here, I think there is plenty of criticism to go around.

    I am only singling out those comments, wherever they originate, that are way over the line toward sexism and misogyny. They need to be opposed, criticized, and hopefully marginalized.

    I will also be happy to discuss and debate any empirical claims that come up – as we have on the show.

    Otherwise, for me I don’t think it is useful to get into personal, ideological, or political fights, and I think overall it would be useful for everyone to take a more calm and detached approach to these issues.

  61. deciuson 16 Feb 2013 at 10:38 am

    “I am only singling out those comments, wherever they originate, that are way over the line toward sexism and misogyny. They need to be opposed, criticized, and hopefully marginalized.”

    Then I’m afraid it behoves you to analyse their origin and veracity as well. Simply saying you haven’t got the time to do so sounds either gullible or unfair, given the extreme gravity of the charges.
    There are impeccable sources (myself not included) who are telling you and everyone who’s listening that not everything is what it seems or how it is made out to be.
    Just take a look around or tone down a notch the assumptions of misogyny and sexism, not just for other people’s sake, but because you’re setting yourself up for possible hard awakenings.

    With this, I won’t abuse your time any longer, I promise.

    Take care.

  62. locutusbrgon 16 Feb 2013 at 10:52 am

    @ steve two questions/ points
    1. Although your post is very complete and addresses all points fairly it is very complicated. As a group we need to develop a consistent “One Liner” that everyone presents to media and outside sources. Otherwise we are chronically misunderstood. I am not certain that we(Scientific Skeptics) are able to articulate that and convey all the nuances surrounding Scientific Skepticism. Atheism, and rationalism in a simple sentence. We lack clarity of mission to outsiders. I would love to say I have a solution but I do not. Something that is a simple one sentence that everyone can agree upon and consistently present to media questions. We need that, I am not sure it is achievable to a majority satisfaction.
    2. I find it easy to do the things that you describe to support feminism in skepticism. I would love to do more, but realistically I would not be accepted. As a male I generally do not fell welcome trying to do more. As noted in your post, I am incapable of understanding what it is to be a woman. So often my help is refused or ignored. How can I as a “skeptic” do more? This is not just thought experiment. I mean I have been soundly rejected/ignored for example on skepchick. I am just asking for suggestions beyond the general ones offered.

  63. Halfdeadon 16 Feb 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Ahh I was waiting for the link to something that does not in any way prove your point rezistnzisfutl, you remain a Liar.

    At least decius kept himself to just spouting ridiculous hyperbole, its practically lying, but a very very very generous reading can call it just major exaggeration and hyperbole.

    You however are a liar.

  64. Halfdeadon 16 Feb 2013 at 12:32 pm

    I am only singling out those comments, wherever they originate, that are way over the line toward sexism and misogyny. They need to be opposed, criticized, and hopefully marginalized.

    I think you missed the post where rezistnzisfutl claimed feminist skeptics said “sex is rape”. Now I would say that if it were true, no problem hes just pointing out what someone said, but the act of making up something so viscous…what would you call that?

  65. ccbowerson 16 Feb 2013 at 1:55 pm

    “I’m starting to understand Steven Novella’s position.”

    I’m curious, BJ, what aspect of his position were you getting hung up on, or ended up misunderstanding or disagreeing? I’m just curious about where people disagree, because he has consistently described his position as I understand it. Maybe it just took a while to digest, or perhaps he has gotten better at explaining it?

  66. Steven Novellaon 16 Feb 2013 at 2:13 pm

    HD – That is at least maximally uncharitable.

    I certainly have never read anything that would amount to the opinion that all sex is rape. What I have read several times from Skepchicks is the opinion that sex should involve “enthusiastic consent” and that anything less in unacceptable. That seems like a reasonable opinion.

  67. ChrisHon 16 Feb 2013 at 3:11 pm

    BillyJoe7:

    I haven’t even seen anything you’ve written on the subject, but I think there are nuances that are difficult for males to recognise because they are not women, have not grown up as women, and have not lived their whole lives as women. What generally follows is attack and counterattack and escalating language and abuse.

    As a woman who entered a traditionally male university program of study almost forty years ago, I am highly amused that young men have chosen to tell women like me “all about sexism.”

    The best advice I’ve seem on how to handle this is firstly not to react. Stay cool. Let the rage settle.

    I have mostly done is lots of eye rolling. I agree with Barbara Drescher above when she says that it is a matter of morality, to which I would like to add: civility. Adults always disagree, but threats, rage, and over reacting are not productive. I will be the first to admit that is a lesson I had to learn when I was younger.

  68. locutusbrgon 16 Feb 2013 at 4:03 pm

    @HD
    You should note that the “all sex is rape” attribution, that is commonly applied to many feminist leaders, actually stems from an anti feminist book written by the authors Daphne Patai, and Noretta Koetrge. It seems like a common attack that is grossly utilized to perpetuate stereotypes about feminists in general not just feminist skeptics.

  69. Thadiuson 16 Feb 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Steve,
    To make an attempt at perhaps some gallows humor;
    If skeptchik’s definition is to be widely accepted I think it would have dire consequences for men and women who have been married for a long time. ;)

  70. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 5:29 pm

    @HD,

    I figured as much, that you’d pull some “aha” moment, looking for specifics. My intent was never to delve into details about the feminist movement, but rather to illustrate what’s going on at FTB and why I left it. ChrisH illustrates that rather well in that it’s the threats, rage, and over reacting is what I have the problem with, and that typically comes from the more jaded, radical types of feminist activists there who tend to lump me in with the terrible people they have encountered by default.

    I’m not a liar – I’ve been subjected to the raging. I’ve looked at some of your previous posts in other blog entries here on Neurologica and noticed that you’re appear to be a serious PZ follower and desire to have SGU turn into an activist site like FTB. In other words, you’re a PZ apologist and you’re going to see what you want to see.

    The link I included wasn’t about the subject being discussed, it was about the ugliness that goes on at FTB. You completely missed the point. My earlier assertions weren’t specific – I was trying to illustrate the kinds of feminists who, IMO, are destructive to their movement and have the attitude of “my way or the highway, agree or be silent”. You, instead, attempt to defend their behavior by nitpicking and disagreeing on the content, and then calling me an outright liar.

    That’s that kind of implacable attitude that drove me away from FTB. It wasn’t any sort of misogyny on my part. As I tried to clarify above, I consider myself a feminist. When I’m told to shut up because I don’t understand because I’m a male, why would I feel welcome or wish to participate? Perhaps I don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be supportive.

    So, call me a liar all you want. My criticism still stands. I think it should be obvious that I wasn’t directly quoting anyone but rather using shorthand to try to illustrate the kind of people I was dealing with.

  71. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I think the paradigm of “all sex is rape” originally came from criticism of Andrea Dworkin’s book Intercourse where she states ,”Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women…” The criticism originally came from other feminists within the movement, but apparently Dworkins later rejected the notion in a later interview saying that that passage was in reference to how sex is typically viewed contextually in what she termed the current cultural patriarchy.

    Even after she attempted to clarify her position, the paradigm stuck and is often cited by (typically) right-leaning pundits.

  72. Halfdeadon 16 Feb 2013 at 5:59 pm

    rezistnzisfutl you now seem to want to admit it was never said by feminist skeptics related to this topic, and yet still wish to claim you are not a liar. You are, so own it, its yours.

    Steve, I apologize, I was not intending to suggest you said any such thing. What I was saying that generally when someone posts such an obvious falsehood on your blog you usually do step in and smack them down with a little correction even if it is in a polite way. Yet here when its implied that skeptics of the feminist variety say things like “sex is rape”, you missed it. This probably sounds like I’m accusing you of something, i’m not I just think you missed it.

  73. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 6:27 pm

    HD, I never said that those were direct quotes in the first place – in so many words. It’s you who is trying to incriminate me in your little “aha” scheme. Well, one thing I can see happening here is your apparent desire to turn this post into something akin to what is frequently seen at FTB, which is a clear agenda of yours. Did a feminist outright say “sex is rape”? No, I didn’t see that. Do I think that is what some of them think? Yes, I do, in it’s current incarnation. You are COMPLETELY missing the point, but that’s the nature of apologetics. Sorry, but how FTB is now is often abrasive, belligerent, unwelcome to challenge, and silencing, and that’s due to a certain kind of activism that has taken form there.

    What about the other attributions I’d mentioned? You seem to take exception to the “sex is rape” meme. Ok. What about the other points I’d made, are you going to deny those exists as well?

    … males enjoy unequivocal power and influence in society that benefits only them, women are subjugated at every turn, men are considered favored in all facets of society, and women are considered unequal and incapable in all facets of society.”

    Are you going to tell me that those aren’t the current sentiment within much of the feminist movement?

    Before you again take exception and ask for quotes, I remind you that these are shorthand “paraphrases” that simply echo sentiments. I can go fishing, but it seems obvious to me that these things do exist within the activism.

  74. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 9:51 pm

    SN: “BillyJoe – You got it. Thanks for the summary. I am still not sure why it has been so difficult – over years – to get that across”

    ccbowers: “I’m curious, BJ, what aspect of his position were you getting hung up on, or ended up misunderstanding or disagreeing? I’m just curious about where people disagree, because he has consistently described his position as I understand it. Maybe it just took a while to digest, or perhaps he has gotten better at explaining it?”

    If Steven Novella has consistently described his position I must have missed it or glossed over it as being unimportant to me at the time. It’s only recently, starting with those threads responding to Zach and continuing with the response to PZ Myers that I have actually become aware of his position.

    Also a mental block on my part about science encompassing everything that is worth knowing about and that can be known about – making philosophy superfluous. I have been accused, at times, of scientism. I still think the only way to edge closer to the truth is through science, but philosophy is indispensable to science in its quest for truth. I hadn’t really rejected philosophy in the past, I just mashed it together with science, rejecting so called “armchair philosophy” (meaning philosophy not grounded in science), and seeing science-based philosophy as integrally bound up and part of science. But I am beginning to recognise that its better to see philosophy as a separate discipline from science.

    In any case, Steven’s differentiation between scepticism, secularism, and rationalism has made is easier to see where the misunderstandings are coming from.

  75. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 10:19 pm

    RIF,

    “It’s all fine and good to let them rage away and for me to take the high ground, but I’m not going to sit around and take abuse from a half-dozen angry activists who lump me in with the (supposed) scores of abusive husbands/boyfriends they’ve encountered at battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers just because I ask them to back up claims they make or challenge them on specific concepts.”

    Again, I find it hard to comment specifically because I haven’t seen the exchange. They are probably jumping to conclusions by equating your challenge to the abuse metered out by ex husbands. But, for someone who has been badly damaged, that may be understandable if not excusable. My youth was ruined by religious concepts that I fully accepted at the time and that I now reject. But the harm was done and I have a hard time restraining myself when I see examples of religion imposing itself on political and public life. To me the pope is “that old fart Ratzi”. Is it healthy to get upset like that? I don’t think so, but some things can be very hard to shrug off.

  76. rezistnzisfutlon 16 Feb 2013 at 10:31 pm

    BJ7,

    I hear you and agree that some of them may have a hard time letting it go. To clarify, it wasn’t that I was equating what I was getting from them to what abused husbands/boyfriends meted out – it was that they were equating me with those men, as if I was the same as those men. It’s the same mindset they have in the post I listed, that given the right circumstances, all men not only are capable of raping/abusing, but all men WILL rape/abuse if the situation were right.

    To clarify again, I don’t think all feminist believe this, but many do, and perhaps it’s understandable given what they’ve seen or possibly been through, but I don’t think that excuses their accusations that I’m the same as the abusers by default, when I’ve never done anything of the sort and would never dream of it, and would fight along side them to eliminate rape/abuse. That’s the travesty, because I consider myself an ally to them in that fight, but they don’t see it that way – I’m a man, how can I possibly understand, so I can’t help.

    While I may understand where they’re coming from, it’s still erroneous of them to lump me in with the bad guys and to turn around and verbally abuse me and accuse me of something I never did nor would imagine doing. That’s why I’m not there anymore and don’t want any part of FTB – I remain unaffiliated.

  77. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Chris,

    “As a woman who entered a traditionally male university program of study almost forty years ago, I am highly amused that young men have chosen to tell women like me “all about sexism”"

    Well, I trust you can laugh it off these days.
    I think it’s possible for a male to empathise – to put himself in her shoes as it were – but that is only for a hypothetical moment. But that can give him no idea of the impact on you over a whole lifetime – a situation from which you cannot escape.
    I’m glad to hear you have found a way to silence the rage.

  78. BillyJoe7on 16 Feb 2013 at 11:36 pm

    RIF,

    ” all men WILL rape/abuse if the situation were right”

    In the context of sexism, this seems an irrelevant statement to make.
    As to the truth of it, I don’t know. Some say that given the right circumstances, everyone will kill. And, given the right circumstances, all men will engage in homosexual acts. I think this cannot be true in EVERY case and, in any case, the circumstances would certainly have to be extreme.

  79. OaringAbouton 16 Feb 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Cornelioidon said (#50421):

    @OaringAbout, any chance you could cite some feminists of the atheist/skeptic variety who maintain a strict tabula rasa approach?

    Good questions – thanks for asking – although some of them seem a little obscure, but sorry for the lengthy response. However, while the evidence and proof for a “strict tabla rasa approach” is maybe a little circumstantial – although the case for a less strict one is easier to make but is almost as problematic – and requires some reading between the lines, I think a case can be made that it is somewhat analogous to piecing together the story of evolution from the fossil record – so to speak. But, to start with, for a broad overview you might want to take a look at this (1) chapter on Gender from Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate which has these salient assertions:

    Despite these principles, many feminists vehemently attack research on sexuality and sex differences. The politics of gender is a major reason that the application of evolution, genetics, and neuroscience to the human mind is bitterly resisted in modern intellectual life. ….

    The belief that feminism requires a blank slate and a noble savage has become a powerful impetus for spreading disinformation. A 1994 headline in the New York Times science section, for example, proclaimed, “Sexes Equal on South Sea Isle.” It was based on the work of the anthropologist Maria Lepowsky, who (perhaps channeling the ghost of Margaret Mead) said that gender relations on the island of Vanatinai prove that “the subjugation of women by men is not a human universal, and it is not inevitable.” [pg 3]

    Now while I haven’t read all of the book yet and that chapter PDF I linked to doesn’t include the sources he uses to justify that contention, I think a credible example of “vehement attacks” is afforded by the fact that E.O. Wilson – “the father of sociobiology” – had a pitcher of water poured on him at a scientific convention, apparently because his book “established a scientific argument for rejecting the common doctrine of tabula rasa”. (2) In addition, the book “Not in Our Genes [1984]” – which Dawkins called “silly, pretentious, obscurantist, and mendacious” – by its title and description seems to dogmatically champion that doctrine in its absolutist “glory”.

    Which in turn underlines an observation by Pinker, and my experiences in various discussions, that many do not have even a rudimentary grasp on the mechanisms of evolution, notably population genetics – as Jacques Monod quipped, “Another curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it.” But Pinker said:

    The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestions of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions – “some” versus “all”, “probable” versus “always”, “is” versus “ought” – are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. …. The poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute. [The Blank Slate; pg x]

    And, more particularly, it seems that many are simply not aware that there is simply a very wide variation – even if the mean might be small – on just about any attribute in any population – including those of men and women. And about which populations it is perfectly acceptable and entirely true – generally speaking – to say that segment A – “some” – of population X is {larger, smaller, stronger, weaker, healthier, sicker, more violent, less violent, etc., etc.} than segment B of population Y without that at all, in the slightest, implying that one is saying that “all” of population X is { larger, smaller, …} than “all” of population Y, much less making any statement about the causes for those differences.

    Which is, I think, what sent the “discussion” over Michael Shermer’s perfectly reasonable, if somewhat vague or tautological, assertion – “[atheist activism], it’s more of a guy thing” – off the rails and into the weeds; as Harriet Hall (3) put it, “I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor.” Yet that inability to differentiate between and use correctly such “elementary distinctions” as “all” and “some” was what led more than a few well-placed bloggers and commenters to assert that that statement was sexist in the extreme, and prima facie evidence justifying his virtual crucifixion. However, no one – and I mean absolutely no one, and I asked, repeatedly (4) – was prepared to even attempt to prove, much less able to actually prove, that that statement so qualified by the definition of the word, i.e., that it manifested discrimination, or that it “promoted stereotyping” since true statements about segment A of population X versus segment B of population Y do not qualify as stereotypes.

    And, for an example – of a great many – a little closer to home, consider this exchange (5) I had on Stephanie Zvan’s site:

    Me: And, out of curiousity, how in the hell do you manage to infer that I hate men because I suggest that that disparity – “it’s more of a guy thing” – “is a result of biology”

    Giliell: That’s called sarcasm. It was a stab at people who constantly claim that feminists “just hate men” when I’d think that somebody who goes around telling that “criminal behaviour is more of a guy thing is biological” has a far worse concept of men than any feminist ever came up with.

    For a bit of context, I raised a question about the fact that there are 10 times as many men in prison as there are women, and suggested that a large part of the reason for that disparity was due to a greater disposition or tendency in men towards violence and crime – “[criminality], it’s more of a guy thing”. So my interlocutor’s response, apart from rather problematically suggesting that one should tailor facts to fit dogma, seems predicated on the decidedly sexist perspective that because I noted that the prison population in the US – some 2.2 million – divides 10:1 along gender lines [M:F] that must mean that I think that “all” men are more criminal than “all” women, instead of just “some” men and “some” women. While my comment in response is still in moderation – along with several others – some elaboration on the point and theme can be found here (6).

    But some decidedly fuzzy and problematic thinking which seems fairly typical of many and which, I think, at least contributes significantly to the problem of sexism. And while very few if any seem to categorically state that “gender is entirely a social construct”, Pinker quotes the following in his How the Mind Works (pg 57) which seems typical and illustrative of the scope of the problem:

    Contrary to today’s bio-belief, the heterosexual/homosexual binary is not in nature, but is socially constructed, therefore deconstructable. [Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, p. 190 (7)]

    However, even if not everyone is quite so overt and categorical in making that assertion, the conflating of “some” and “all” – as in the above example, along with categorical argument implicit in Not in Our Genes seems tantamount to that assertion and so is just as problematic. While there are a great many other examples that I could elaborate on to justify that contention, I’ll cease and desist for the nonce with the exception of one brief observation. Here (8), another commenter in another thread on Zvan’s site wraps up their support for the tabla rasa in a specious recourse to the “null hypothesis”:

    We’ve been saying that the other side has failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that genetics DO influence a particular gender difference, and therefore the null hypothesis cannot be rejected.

    But that, I think, is tantamount to an assertion that there is no genetic influence on various behavioural differences between the genders which is, I think, flat out contradicted by the factual evidence. Which Pinker (1) seems to provide plenty of.

    1) “_http://www.pasadena.edu/files/syllabi/txcave_18360.pdf”;
    2) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.O._Wilson#Sociobiology”;
    3) “_http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/gender-differences-and-why-they-dont-matter-so-much/”;
    4) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/12/27/it-appears-ive-started-an-atheist-cult/#comment-210942”;
    5) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/02/11/worth-getting-right/#comment-198872”;
    6) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=259&p=63552#p63552”;
    7) “_http://www.queerbychoice.com/impliquotes.html”;
    8) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/08/29/legitimate-differences-of-opinion/#comment-114590”

  80. ChrisHon 16 Feb 2013 at 11:56 pm

    BillyJoe7: “I’m glad to hear you have found a way to silence the rage.”

    I had to learn how to do that. “Fortunately” there were many opportunities. Age has a way of making you learn what battles to pick. I’d be considered “middle age” if the average age at death for women was a hundred plus a decade years old.

    There was one particular classmate who delighted in telling me the most off-color jokes imaginable. I found the best thing to do was to roll my eyes, and just make a comment about him finding way to deal with his inadequacies, then just ignore him from then on.

    The program I was in had seventy students in the start of junior year, and at the end of the next year a bit over thirty graduated. He was not among those who graduated. I put him in the category of those not intelligent enough to worry about. Most of the misogynists fall into that category. Especially those who threaten Rebecca and others with rape and other forms of harm. I do not agree with her on some points, but no one deserves the treatment she has received.

    Many of the earnest young people who try to tell us older women about the realities of sexism are just young, and actually have the capacity to learn. Some more than others. They all take it to heart and try very hard.

    I know, I was once among them back when people still discoed. But, then again, my competence was constantly being questioned by people who did not know that second order differential equations existed (my job description was creating and solving nonlinear second order differential equations from finite element structural data with accompanying mechanical systems data, Euler’s formula was my central dogma: structural vibration engineer), and once actually having my help on a computer analysis issue reciprocated with an invitation to sex by an older engineer (I and a nearby male engineer only responded with a look that can be best described as “deer in headlights”). Fun times. I hope they have improved.

    Oh, and one more thing, during this whole time I keep hearing in my head the phrase from one character of George Hrab’s podcast: “I’m old. What’s your excuse?” :-)

  81. ChrisHon 17 Feb 2013 at 12:13 am

    Correction: When I said “I put him in the category of those not intelligent enough to worry about. Most of the misogynists fall into that category.”

    I actually meant “So stupid, they did not know they were stupid.”

    That also includes my junior lab “partner” who never showed up to do the work. The professor* actually worked with me to put on the strain gauges because my “lab partner” did not bother to come that scheduled class. Plus he never showed up to the lab to take the measurements on the huge stress test machine. I did all the work, which included being in that lab until late evening.

    His friends told me I would ruin his career if I did cooperate. This was the late 1970s, and he was an active duty Navy seaman who was getting a college education at government expense due to his Vietnam War experience, like many of my classmates (those previously mentioned friends). So I “cooperated”, I gave him a copy of my lab notes for him to write his own lab report, because I was not adding his name to mine. Last time I heard he became a psychology major.

    By the way, my senior design project was with another Navy seaman. He was awesome, and we had a great project. So my issues are only with the individual, but not with the group.

    * That was the professor’s first quarter of teaching. He made sure during the next part of the lab class to note the participation of each and every student in the lab. At a “All Classes” reunion decades later he remembered that incidence.

  82. rezistnzisfutlon 17 Feb 2013 at 12:29 am

    BJ7,

    You’re quite right, it is irrelevant, and it was irrelevant in the original blog entry as well. For one, everyone is capable of many things they wouldn’t see themselves normally doing. Women are capable of raping just as much as men, if that were an argument to be made (capable being the operative word). The context was outrage against men, and granted, it was men who committed the rapes, but that still doesn’t make what was said legitimate or relevant. It was said anyway, and I’m certain most people would take exception to that if that kind of claim were leveled against them. The intent was to impugn men, and only men, as if all men were capable, and on some level, willing and desirous, of the rape of women. I’m just not buying it as a practical certainty. I can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d want to rape anyone, barring one of those inescapable moral dilemmas often posed in thought experiments (even then, I don’t know if I could).

    Anyway, that’s all academic. You simply don’t see that level of visceral vitriol and aggression here, at least not that often. I don’t think I, or anyone else who has never entertained such thoughts, are deserving of the accusations nor the implications, I don’t care what happens with other men, I’m not them and they don’t represent me.

  83. EdCaraon 17 Feb 2013 at 2:02 am

    You mistake civility for substance in my opinion. And you bring little evidence showing any of your claims as to the brutal and man-hating nature you claim modern feminism is nowadays. You take offense at the accusation that you could be a rapist but fail to see the greater implication isn’t that, it’s that our culture, men and women, understates sexual abuse whenever it strikes close to home. That’s my civil opinion for you.

  84. rezistnzisfutlon 17 Feb 2013 at 3:20 am

    Sexual abuse should be dealt with at face value. It’s really that simple. I didn’t anywhere imply “man-hating nature”. The problem I have is that there’s a level of inherent and constant hostility there that definitely manifests itself regardless of intent or character of anyone leveling any sort of criticism. Sorry, but I don’t accept your “civility for substance” assertion. FTB is a fairly hardcore feminist and anti-racist activism site, with some anti-theism mixed in there, and it has a tone and tenor that I find distasteful. This isn’t a sole criticism. Sorry, but you don’t get adherence or develop a dialog by beating activism over peoples’ heads with a stick. It’s quite evident that FTB is the one creating the divisive schism that has developed.

    Lack of civility is one thing, false accusations and prejudice is another. The evidence is in the blogs themselves, I don’t see why that’s so hard to see. Sure, they make some good points, but that’s not the issue.

  85. EdCaraon 17 Feb 2013 at 9:14 pm

    So surely, you have citations as to any of that? For someone who prides themselves on showing the work, you seem adept at not doing so when it comes to actual claims about feminism.

  86. ryan meganon 17 Feb 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Steve,

    This is an excellent post, I’ve already shared it. Thanks once again for the work.

    The level of patience you have with people deserves a shrine erected somewhere.

    Or a monument.

  87. Cornelioidon 17 Feb 2013 at 9:53 pm

    @OaringAbout, thanks for responding. I have a few problems with your setup, though i don’t think they need to tint the rest of this exchange. One is that, while you seem partial to literalism (judging from the links you provided), you are willing to conclude from circumstantial evidence that people believe things that they have not said. The other is that likening the drawing of provisional conclusions based on circumstantial interpersonal evidence, perhaps analogous to journalism, to a bona fide science strikes me as unnecessarily haughty and perhaps hazardously self-assuring. (If i understand the chronology, for instance, evolutionary theories existed before fossils were understood as such, and Darwin’s early work was not based on fossils at all.)

    To put us more in alignment: I don’t doubt that several feminists are antagonistic toward and perhaps even in denial of the science of sex and gender differences. What i doubt is that any prominent feminists identified with atheism or skepticism as movements or communities are so antagonistic. There is, however, widespread criticism among these feminists of the tendency of other feminists or atheists or skeptics toward biological determinism, loosely speaking the opposite extreme from tabula rasa along the traditional nature/nurture axis (itself, i understand, outdated in the face of such interactions as gene-environment interactions).

    As i understand things, (a) there is a much longer, richer, and resilient tradition of determinism (including such myths as gender essentialism) in the public consciousness than of rasa, while (b) the general trend in the social sciences has been one of discrediting deterministic (and essentialist) assumptions in favor of greater influence from environmental (including natal and social) factors. I don’t have a reliable single source for this history (the Wikipedia “Nature versus nurture” page does not pass my smell test). Within the skeptical community, however, i do sense a predilection for over-reliance on fuzzy estimates for genetic-environmental influences. That is to say that, within the “community of reason”, i do perceive a problem of skewed perceptions in the direction of determinism. My response to your examples then boils down to my not perceiving a problem, certainly as much of a problem, with skewed perceptions toward rasa.

    One of your points is that there are measurable differences between populations, albeit often quite small. I see two major problems with invoking these differences in discussions of sexism and racism (and so on). One is that the slow decay of social norms and the extreme difficulty in accounting for them in social research by itself implies that such statistical artifacts should exist; they do not necessarily constitute evidence in favor of either (genetic or environmental) hypothesis. The other is that statistical significance does not imply practical significance. Whether such differences are cultural or biological artifacts, they tend not to have any practical implications, for policy or (present context) for inclusivity.

    To be specific: That “women are weaker than men”, for instance, is a stereotype, regardless of whether the mean strengths by gender are different in that direction. It is also, for instance, a stereotype that Asian-Americans have Asian accents, yet in my experience this is more often the case than not. Stereotyping amounts not to observing these trends but in allowing them to tint one’s projections and expectations, which makes it a specific instance in the fallacy of division. Moreover (and more importantly), there are measurable harmful consequences of maintaining such stereotypes (which also play into the difficulty of accounting for cultural factors i mentioned in the previous paragraph).

    Your invocation of Hall’s comment to bolster Shermer’s remark is another example of the fallacy of division. There may well be spheres of human endeavor that one gender is far more likely to pursue than another, but the naked existence of so many other demonstrably influential factors precludes any reasonable attribution of this designation to skepticism or skeptical activism. I see no way to reasonably attribute it to anything yet, given the enduring potency of gender norms.

    (Not to get off-topic, but as a test of symmetry: Are you prepared to defend your likening of the criticism Shermer has received to crucifixion as less hyperbolic than Benson’s use of Shermer’s remark to make her point about harmful gender assumptions within the movement? If not (i see no way that you could), should i consider it any more excusable than Shermer considered Benson’s?)

    Regarding the gender gap in violent crimes, while it isn’t your point, i would be remiss not to mention that simple statistics are inadequate to conclude anything, for the reasons outlined above. There may well be a significant genetic or biological component, but (example) there is a lot of teasing apart of factors that must be done first.

    As for your reaction to Giliell’s response, i admittedly don’t see the problem. It turns out that we have said many of the same things: that the statistical fact may have subtler causes than strictly biology, that cultural norms play a substantial role and require care to account for, and that the historical trend favors a stronger environmental component than popular culture (at any given time) would suggest. Where, for instance, do they suggest that one should tailor facts to fit dogma? And where do they conflate “some” with “all”? (You’ll have to pardon me for wanting nothing to do with the slyme pit, for (mostly) circumstantial reasons that i think are at least as sound as yours, but feel free to copy/paste whatever relevant portion you’re referring to.)

    Regarding Katz’s quote, he is technically correct; sexual orientation (like sex and gender) is not binary, but rather bimodal. Does he go on to elaborate that he rejects bimodality as well? I would then agree with you that the assertion is highly problematic (it would amount to denialism). But there are very good reasons to criticize the binary, legal self-actualization among them.

    Regarding the last comment you’ve linked to, i’m afraid that i tend to agree with LeftSidePositive’s characterization, at least of your contributions to that thread. I have seen no one stake a position that could reasonably be interpreted as denying the possible influence of biology on any particular gender difference; i would even go further and assert that only biological gender differences of practical significance should be bothered with in conversations about prejudice and privilege.

    However, i agree (i think you’re taking this position?) that genetic and environmental influences are not well-situated as null and alternative hypotheses, respectively; both are known to be important, so it makes just as much sense from a strictly scientific perspective to switch these roles and assume biological origins until sufficient evidence emerges for some or other gender difference being environmentally governed.

    And both have their places. When it comes to anti-discrimination policy, for example, which may involve wealth redistribution or restrictions on speech or other expressions (e.g. hiring practices), the threshold of evidence for the existence of the discrimination in the first place is generally quite high (too high in many cases). That is, the null is taken to be that people behave non-discriminatorily, i.e. as genetics or biology would effect.

    In activism, however, as in most any other social endeavor (e.g. a school or workplace), inclusion and diversity are of some importance, far more than what precise numbers one should expect in a demographically blind (and thereby wholly unrealistic) society. In this setting the default to biological origins tends to be leveraged in support of inaction, and even of overt discrimination (see here for a particularly bizarre example). In contrast, what we should want (for an active, successful, and attractive community and movement) is for everyone to feel wanted and empowered by it, and no one to feel disadvantaged within it. This is the major problem with Shermer’s remark, so far as i can tell from the context and from his detractors: He unnecessarily—albeit unwittingly but unfortunately also subsequently obstinately—excused the skeptical movement for failing to attract more women activists into it. I see plenty of room for harsh criticism of this attitude, and none of it relies on tabula rasa.

  88. Gojira74on 17 Feb 2013 at 11:06 pm

    “So surely, you have citations as to any of that? For someone who prides themselves on showing the work, you seem adept at not doing so when it comes to actual claims about feminism.”

    I agree with him in a lot of respects on FTB. I would submit the entire blog as evidence. However, if you read it and don’t see what he is talking about (the entire elevatorgate issue was way out of hand on both sides) then no single quote is going to convince you or HD.

    Go to FTB and live it up, but this kind of back and forth about something totally off the point is why I don’t read FTB any more either. I am gay (but apparently given the right situation I can rape women, I hope I don’t need to REPOST that link) and spend a lot of time trying to point out and confront sexist behavior when I see it. FTB to me seems more like monkey raids than anything remotely constructive in that area (ripples of good ideas seem to drown in a sea of screaming silliness).

    If you think FTB has no issues, and you think I’m perfectly insane (or a misogynist or a rapist or … whatever) then go there and be happy. It surely isn’t a place I would send someone who wanted to learn about feminism.

  89. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Feb 2013 at 3:11 am

    You confuse claims about feminism with claims I made about some feminists. That’s called a fallacy of composition, where you assume what I speak about a part of feminism must mean what I’m speaking to about ALL of feminism. I actually have not made any claims about feminism whatsoever in this entire blog – just about the behaviors and characteristics some self-ascribed feminist activists who have made it their home.

    Again, you entirely miss the point. My criticisms about what occurs at FTB has little to do with specifics and everything to do with the tone and tenor of the activists who have taken it over. I would likely have the same criticisms if it were about hardcore radical environmentalists infiltrating the blog, or, I dunno, raelians.

  90. Avicennaon 18 Feb 2013 at 6:33 am

    @Rezistnzisfutl

    I noticed you mentioned one of my blog posts here. As some sort of example of “Sex and Rape and all that malarky and I must point out a few things…

    1. I am in India
    2. I am in healthcare so I do see a fair bit of the aftermath of sexual violence
    3. I was at the protests
    4. A few men had a systemic plan to rape a woman and drove around in a bus that seemed explicitly designed to segregate and rape a person. They picked up a young couple and committed a horrific crime.
    5. At some point the woman was sodomised with a foreign object (believed to be an iron bar/tire iron)
    6. This ruptured the rectum resulting in peritonitis and septicaemia leading to death.

    This is no longer rape, it’s murder. This isn’t sex. I am sure the young lady didn’t hop on board of her own volition. In addition if you had read the “other” posts on this issue you would have seen that the young lady and her young male friend were left on the side of the road for nearly 45 minutes. They were also taken to a far away hospital. And policemen made the young man carry her rather than say a) carry her themselves as is their job… or b) Call an ambulance.

    Do you want me to wring my hands and go “POOR WIDDLE WAPIST?” I gave voices to people who had none. Women who live behind curtains and who cannot even speak to a man outside their sons, husbands or brothers. Would you like me to stop blogging about the things that I see around me? I am sorry? Should I have been more respectful to a culture (in fact it’s my bloody culture!!!) that’s so rife with sexual discrimination that we abort female babies in astonishing numbers? Or what about being respectful to a culture that forces women to hide from society? Or molests them, harasses them and rapes them? For the love of fuck, the Lonely fucking Planet tells women who travel to India to go in groups and take a man and to stand up when leered or harassed. The advice is that it WILL happen.

    And you want to tell me that my post stating that the rape of a woman and her subsequent death from injuries sustained is “too harsh”? It’s filled with rhetoric? Good! Perhaps something good will come out of it because for too long people have been cuddling sexual assault and abuse. It’s my greatest wish that I don’t have to be called out for another case of sexual assault. It’s my wish that I don’t have to go treat a woman’s injuries then watch as she walks out without wanting to bring justice to those who perpetrate the violence.

    And you think I was too harsh?

  91. ccbowerson 18 Feb 2013 at 10:24 am

    “But I am beginning to recognise that its better to see philosophy as a separate discipline from science.”

    I’m just reading this now, and your explanation of your perspective and how it changed at least partially from discussions on this blog is very satisfying. I say this because I think your previous “take” on science and philosophy is fairly common one but flawed, and I think your description of your current perspective displays a better understanding.

  92. superdaveon 18 Feb 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I think that we need to reach more to experts in the social sciences and make them more a part of the skeptical conversation. The social sciences tend to use more everyday language, tend not to rely on intimidating math, and discuss more everyday topics than the hard sciences. This can give people a false sense of belief (yes, I myself have fallen into this trap) that they are qualified to discuss things like sexism, racism, etc, when they really aren’t. Bringing more experts into the conversation will make it clear that yes, there is a large existing body of scholarship in these fields that takes work to master. I also think that experts will be better equipped to defend various positions regarding social issues than neurologists and geneticists.

  93. rezistnzisfutlon 18 Feb 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Avicenna,

    You have every reason to be outraged by the perpetrators and every cause to fight for the women who are victims. I have no problem with that at all. I agree with your assessment, and I can only imagine the effect seeing such things had on you, not to mention the victims themselves. I, too, am saddened and outraged by the violence and acts of violation and I appreciate people like yourselves who have taken it upon yourselves to make the world aware of what is going on.

    No where did I ever imply that we should show the same sympathy for the rapists or somehow make them the victims. Unfortunately, that implication is a common knee-jerk reaction by a lot of activists to anyone who may be critical of, well, anything that comes up within the activism.

    I only used your post for the resultant comments as an illustration of not atypical exchanges that frequently occur at FTB, not because of your original post. Again, the point is being missed here by arguing against points I never made or even implied. IMO, as horrendous as those kinds of events are, that isn’t reason to lump in an entire segment of the population because the actions of a few, to make bald claims about that segment that has little basis in reality, or to shun everyone in that segment. That is a big reason why I no longer spend much time at FTB.

  94. boohoobooon 18 Feb 2013 at 5:29 pm

    re: the original post (I don’t have time to read all the comments)- I understand not wanting to get the SGU involved in issues that you see as outside its bailiwick. I am glad, though, to *finally* see you (Steve) publicly state that fighting things like sexism and racism are important in every movement, no matter the specific focus. It sometimes feels as though silence on these issues gives tacit approval at worst or implies that both sides are “equally radical” at best- as though saying that sexism exists is as radical as constant rape and death threats.

    I have no doubt that you are opposed to sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, but it’s nice to see it articulated. Thanks.

  95. Halfdeadon 18 Feb 2013 at 10:18 pm

    There are many self-ascribed feminists, however, that have gone far beyond the simple definition above and have turned it into a firebrand. Sex is rape, males enjoy unequivocal power and influence in society that benefits only them, women are subjugated at every turn, men are considered favored in all facets of society, and women are considered unequal and incapable in all facets of society.
    As a skeptic, I find these to be fairly outrageous claims, not to mention an insult to me given that I am for equal standing, consideration, respect, and opportunity for all. The claims have little basis in reality and ignore the inequities that men in society face on their own. Their claims are often emotional appeals and their accusations strawmen. Much of their belief is faith-based.

    @rezistnzisfutl You made specific claims without a single citation related to those claims. You couched your words to hide who you might be talking about but made them direct enough so that anyone who was actually knowledgeable about the subject knows perfectly well who you are referring to.

    You can not cite a single feminist on FTB who made the statements you wish to put in their mouths. This alone makes you a liar. You also can’t cite anything from my past posts that support the claims you made about me, again you are a liar.

    The simple fact that you would even bother to make shit like this up is pretty good fucking evidence that you are in fact a misogynist, that is probably why you were called one on FTB. But I’ll tell you what, post some links to where it happened and let us judge whether it was them or you who were wrong.

  96. rezistnzisfutlon 19 Feb 2013 at 9:10 pm

    The simple fact that you would even bother to make shit like this up is pretty good fucking evidence that you are in fact a misogynist

    Thank you for making my point for me. I would consider you representative of those who frequent FTB and the reason why I don’t frequent it anymore, nor do I consider it a haven for skepticism.

  97. rezistnzisfutlon 19 Feb 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Since the passage I quoted is tied up in moderation, I’ll go ahead and repost without the expletives:

    The simple fact that you would even bother to make s*** like this up is pretty good f***ing evidence that you are in fact a misogynist

    Thank you for making my point for me. I would consider you representative of those who frequent FTB and the reason why I don’t frequent it anymore, nor do I consider it a haven for skepticism.

  98. Gojira74on 20 Feb 2013 at 5:02 pm

    “The simple fact that you would even bother to make shit like this up is pretty good fucking evidence that you are in fact a misogynist, that is probably why you were called one on FTB. But I’ll tell you what, post some links to where it happened and let us judge whether it was them or you who were wrong.”

    This is turning into FTB lol. Sad.

  99. Mlemaon 21 Feb 2013 at 5:05 am

    “Secularism – Atheism, agnosticism, and humanism – promoting a secular society and taking a critical view of faith and religion”

    this appears to be an attempt to redefine secularism.
    “Secularism is the principle of separation of government institutions, and the persons mandated to represent the State, from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

    It protects both government and religion from undue influence by each other, and protects different religions from legal control over each other. Religious minorities in the US certainly support secularism so I don’t think we can say it equates to atheism, agnosticism – or – maybe humanism, although most religions profess a humanistic orientation.

    I don’t think atheists should be trying to hide their beliefs in “secularism” and “humanism”. They have rights. And if they wish to be activists one step they can take is to work to abolish the tax-exempt status of churches. Or perhaps institute their own church of anti-theism and raise money to advance atheism.

    I’m a Christian, but I love atheists and I appreciate what they do to counterbalance religious superstition, dogma and anti-science nonsense. One way Christians have successfully prosthelytized is by offering modern medicine to those who don’t have it “in the name of God”. Perhaps atheists could help to establish health care for the poor with a humanistic message and thereby convert the poor to godlessness.

  100. Mlemaon 21 Feb 2013 at 5:08 am

    sorry, that last sentence could be read to be insulting and i didn’t mean it that way. I just mean that humanistic acts by atheists would serve to promote humanism for the sake of humanism alone, and not for a God.

  101. Kevin Duganon 21 Feb 2013 at 4:58 pm

    @MLema
    Thank you for your comment. I was thinking the same thing. Often I see a conflation of atheism and secularism which is damaging.

    There is a need for a separate Secular movement directed at Church/State, educational and medical issues where the rational leaning religious and non-religious can ally to resist the legislation of one faction’s ideological agenda or blatant pseudo-science.

    @Steve Novella:
    The SGU has been a very big part of my journey into skepticism and eventually to atheism. I truly value you’re adherence to Scientific Skepticism and maintaining distance from religious and political debate.

    When I started listening three years ago (with episode 1) I considered myself post-Christian, no longer being able to swallow the dogma, but didn’t have a good idea where to go or how to define myself. At the time, I was not willing to completely give up on there being some kind of mysticism that was true, wanted to believe in psychic phenomenon, and didn’t have much of a clue about pseudo-science and CAM.

    At that time, I would not have been open to anti-religious or deeply political dialog, but was hungry to hear about the frontiers of Science and how to think critically. I especially enjoyed Episode 109 when Perry gave his talk. In the end, I became an atheist because I had become a skeptic and that’s where the math led.

    I also read PZ and honestly believe that you’ve hit the nail on the head. While getting Atheism out and accepted is important, there needs to be a place for people to go when in the process of deconverting. Also, I have met atheists who beleive in homeopathy and aliens, who embrace conspiracy theories and are as credulous as many believers about crazy things. Only some atheists are skeptics, and skeptical atheists also need to be teaching their own the basics of critical thinking.

  102. Gojira74on 21 Feb 2013 at 5:52 pm

    “The SGU has been a very big part of my journey into skepticism and eventually to atheism. I truly value you’re adherence to Scientific Skepticism and maintaining distance from religious and political debate.”

    This was my experience as well after 30 years of fundamental christianity. I agree with the idea that political views should be informed by science and reason, and it bothers me when a strong political ideology is promoted instead of promoting the reasonable discussion of individual issues. Just because Democrat and Republican platforms put ideas into neat packages does not mean that is the best way to do it. Consequently, I like the SGU because it looks at individual ideas and applies critical thinking skills to each one. I am gay therefore Democrat seems to me to be the opposite of critical thinking just as much as saying “I believe in market capitalism therefore I love Jesus.”

    Now, if I can just convince my mother to really critically look at the CAM crap she is involved in!!!

  103. rezistnzisfutlon 21 Feb 2013 at 7:27 pm

    There is a need for a separate Secular movement directed at Church/State, educational and medical issues where the rational leaning religious and non-religious can ally to resist the legislation of one faction’s ideological agenda or blatant pseudo-science. ‘

    There is the Americans United for Separation of Church and State which tackles a lot of these issues, and they are comprised of a mix of religious and non-religious individuals.

    Unfortunately, the conflation of atheism and secularism comes from both sides, and I agree that it can be incorrect and even damaging (much like a lot of things that have more recently become associated with atheism). Of course, the ones who want to eliminate secularism are from the fundamentalist religious camps, but that does not mean that religious people can’t also support secularism.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.