Reason Rally 2016 Interview with Lyz Liddell

Lyz Liddell reached out to me to talk about the Reason Rally, including the concerns I had about diversity and the response I got regarding the current line-up. We agreed to do a written interview. Here on, everything italics is me, otherwise, it’s her.

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Hi! I’m Lyz Liddell, the Executive Director of the Reason Rally Coalition. My job is, first and foremost (and almost exclusively) the coordination of the 2016 Reason Rally. Prior to this position I was a staff member at the Secular Student Alliance, directing the organization’s programs for more than seven years – my most recent success being the Openly Secular campaign. I’ve been involved in the secular movement for more than a decade — since grad school — and a secular American for most of my life.

Ashley’s blog post went up on January 15, while I was living out of a suitcase doing site visits for the Reason Rally. But I knew that she had a pretty good point, and so I reached out to her. I really appreciate Ashley’s response to that outreach, and her offer to do this written interview. She and I both want the Reason Rally to be successful and we both support the secular community. So we decided to get out here and chat about it a bit.

Continue reading “Reason Rally 2016 Interview with Lyz Liddell”

Reason Rally 2016 Interview with Lyz Liddell

Reason Rally 2016: 71% “Minority” and 89% White

I sent a web form message to Reason Rally expressing concern about the people who were speaking and their ability to appeal to a broad base of non-believers. I thought, especially with both Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins in the line up, that they might need a nudge to understand that they were turning off a lot of potential attendees. They should consider finding more women and people of color to speak. I submitted it via web form quite a while ago, so I don’t remember the wording exactly, but that was the gist — be more inclusive, add diversity, get a bigger audience.

This is the email I got back.

Thank you for your interest in Reason Really. We appreciate your concerns regarding minority speakers. Please visit the website to view the 7 confirmed speakers thus far.

You mention James Randi, who is homosexual. Of the remaining 6 confirmed speakers, 3 are women, and Lawrence Krauss was raised Jewish. At this moment, the 7 speakers are 71% minority and 42% female.

Of course, we are always striving to improve and hope to bring a diverse and interesting variety of personalities together in an effort to appeal to a very wide audience.

Continue reading “Reason Rally 2016: 71% “Minority” and 89% White”

Reason Rally 2016: 71% “Minority” and 89% White

Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape

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Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you’re supposed to be allies with.  Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson released this lovely joint statement about harassment and, in a moment of severe not surprise, Dawkins proceeded to blow up Twitter by saying something he didn’t realize was quite as wrong-headed as it was.

It started with this tweet:

OK, that is perfectly logical.  Fair. Then it moved on to this example.

OK, well, this is an odd example, but considering Dawkin’s history of abuse and the probable difference he’s referring to, groping vs penetration, I can see what he’s saying here.  It’s probably a bit more subjective than that, but I see what he’s getting at: pedophilia plus violence is worse than pedophilia without violence. And then he went off the rails and Twitter exploded.

So the only way this analogy would work is if he removed date vs stranger and said rape without a knife is bad, rape with a knife is worse.  Except it’s clear that the knife thing is just a weird addendum and what he’s saying is that stranger rape is worse than date rape.

1. Responses to abuse are pretty subjective.  Different people respond differently to being harmed in different ways.  Maybe Dawkins is saying that he’d prefer to be date raped than being raped by a stranger.  But that, of course, is not what he’s saying.  He’s saying stranger rape is objectively worse.

This would be like me saying “Being stabbed in your left arm is bad.  Being stabbed in your right arm is worse.”  I will have said this for personal reasons — I am right-handed.  There are, however, a lot of people who are left-handed or ambidextrous to whom this statement would seem absurd.  Further, it’s making the assumption that the amount of damage inflicted in either case is the same.  But Dawkins is talking psychologically, not physically.

 

2. The main reason that this blew up in his face is that the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, so the majority of rape victims seeing this post see it as delegitimizing.  This is happening in a society that already says that date rapes don’t count the same way that stranger rapes do.  As it turns out, acquaintance rape is just a pre-meditated and intentional as acts of stranger rape.  Even if his assertion was true, it would be perpetuating the stigma that surrounds date rape survivors and paints them, inaccurately, as overreactors or people who changed their mind about sex.

 

3. What he is saying is FACTUALLY INCORRECT.  I cannot state this more clearly.  Dawkins is absolutely wrong on the fact in this case, assuming the psychological impact of the rape is what we care about.

Victims of acquaintance rape are as traumatized as victims of stranger rape. Specifically, they report equal (and high) levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms…” (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1997-08362-004) and victims of acquaintance rape are more likely to be unable to reconcile what happened with their beliefs in the world and to blame themselves. (Researching Sexual Violence Against Women edited by Martin D. Schwartz).

So, to be clear here, he’s claiming subjective feelings as fact, contributing to the deligitimization of the majority of rape victims, and not even operating with correct facts.  And doing so just because he did a bad job trying to explain what a syllogism is.  He could so easily fix this if he would just do a little research and listen to criticism and acknowledge he said something hurtful.  I have no reason to think he will do this, as he never has before.  It’s a shame, too, there’s just no reason for a man of his intellect and commitment to science to be so unwilling to examine facts and accept criticism of bad ideas.

Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape

Reason Rally VIP

So, I sent my blog post yesterday to the Reason Rally essay contest and won two seats in the VIP section. Because I got here early, I actually got a seat in the front row.  If you’d like to follow me, I will probably posting mostly on facebook, which you can follow, or twitter.

The essay also got posted on RichardDawkins.net.  I am so stoked I might explode.

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Eeeeeeeeee!

Reason Rally VIP

Why Reason Rally?

I have posted so much about the Reason Rally in the last few weeks, but I have one last thing I want to talk about: why I care so much about this event.

Many of my friends talk about this event as a rallying of the troops, a way to build morale and group identity among secular America.  Plus, it’s a big party with others like us!  This is important, absolutely, and I wouldn’t want to take anything away from those who are going for this reason, but it is not why I am going.  I am going to demand a voice.

I came to the atheist movement in a somewhat circuitous fashion.  I’ve been a non-believer since I was eight.  I found my teeth in my mother’s jewelry box and, having already been quite suspicious of the entire thing, concluded that there was no Tooth Fairy and, therefore, no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Jesus, and no God.

I didn’t become vocal about my atheism until after reading Hitchens’ “God is Not Great”, but even though I cared deeply about secularism, it was not my primary cause.  I was more interested in being an activist, and I didn’t see any opportunities for activism for secular causes.  Instead, I spent my time fighting for civil rights for LGBT, women, and minorities.  When I lived in California and campaigned against Prop 8, the gay marriage ban, I finally met atheists and skeptics who were fighting, actively, for political change.

Secularists need to join one another, not only to create community and acceptance, but to demand it.  I am incredibly lucky that, despite being from South Carolina and the Bible Belt, my family tolerates my non-belief — mostly in the hope that I’ll get over it, but still.  There are so many people I know, including those who are active locally, who cannot speak publically about their lack of belief for fear of losing their families and their jobs.  There are so many people I know who have been mistreated by the religious, so many children hurt and abused because the law gives special rights to religion, and many others who feel they can never make an impact politically unless they kowtow to the Christian Fundamentalist majority in our state and our country.

Change is started, yes, by coming out of the closet, and this is a national coming out day for the non-religious, but change also comes from demanding your voice be heard politically.  The public attitude towards women, minorities, and gay people has been changed by individuals demanding a voice AND by the movements demanding legislative change and support.

I could not be more excited to see Tim Minchin and Eddie Izzard, two of my favorite performers, but I am also excited to see Sean Faircloth and Herb Silverman, who have made significant legislative impacts, and to see two brave men who serve in Congress and are willing to risk the political stigma of associating with atheists.  I am excited that we are not just speaking to ourselves anymore, we are speaking to the world, to the country, to the government that should be serving us.

We are going to Washington not just for ourselves, but because we absolutely have to.  We have a voice and we refuse to be ignored any longer.

Why Reason Rally?

75 Books 61-65: Dawkins, Colfer, and Dillman

A real actual photo of Richard Dawkins. I know, right?

61. Internet, Mail, and Mixed-Mode Surveys – Don Dillman

I had to read this for grad school. If you have a major need to understand the intricacies of how to create a survey, this is the book for you. Actually, it was fairly readable and not nearly as dry as one might expect such a book to be. There was no unnecessarily obtuse language, which has so far been quite rare in PhD World. A

62. Artemis Fowl 2: The Arctic Incident – Eoin Colfer

Like Harry Potter, the first book of this series is brilliant and the following books are slightly less transcendent, but still quite good. The difficulty of these books is that Artemis’ defining characteristic is that he’s a schemer, a not very nice guy, a baby Hans Gruber. And unlike Harry Potter, he is exceptional. So you have the double problem of how do you maintain an interest in a character who is constantly become more good and how do you keep his genius believable but still have obstacles. This book manages pretty well, but it also gets rid of so much character motivation and conflict at the end that you sense the series has to change drastically for it to work. A-

63. The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t help but compare it to God is Not Great by Hitchens, and this is just not nearly as brilliant as that. It should be said that the two books have different primary arguments; The God Delusion is primarily about why belief in God is incorrect while God is Not Great is primarily about why belief in God is harmful. It’s a very good book, there was just nothing in it that I didn’t already know and Dawkins really reaches his heights when talking about science, not philosophy. A-

64. Artemis Fowl 3: The Eternity Code – Eoin Colfer

This book opens strongly but weakens as it goes. Colfer is good at having many wildly divergent stories come together perfectly for the end, something like Ocean’s 11. But part of that trick is withholding information to prevent the reader from being able to fully guess what is going on — unlike a mystery, where it’s possible to reach the conclusion on your own, it’s very action-adventure in making sure the end is a reveal. Sometimes that feels forced, and I felt like it did in this book especially. It’s difficult to write very smart characters who seem omniscient and then not have them explain how they’re two steps ahead of everyone. It’s lazy writing. B

65. Artemis fowl 4: The Opal Deception – Eoin Colfer

Artemis loses his memories at the end of the previous book which allows Colfer to make him more of a bad guy again, rather than a reluctant hero. It’s fun to watch him transform back into Hans Gruber, but the tone of this book is very different from the original. The series becomes less about outsmarting and unraveling and more about just action-adventure, relationships, and Artemis’ inner-life. B+

(The amazing photo is from this: http://digitaljournal.com/article/267416)

75 Books 61-65: Dawkins, Colfer, and Dillman

75 Books 56-60: George, Dawkins, Conley and Colfer

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56. Dragon Spear – Jessica Day George

This is the final book in this series.  The story follows the discovery of a land where dragon’s have enslaved humans and Creel leads the “good” dragons to rescue the humans and reform the “bad” dragons.  This book was just as entertaining as the earlier ones but lacked a little bit of the funness.  B

57.  The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins

I have never actually read a Dawkins book all the way through until now.  Crazy, I know.  I always found his prose less engaging than Hitchens’, but it turns out the reason I wasn’t drawn towards it was because I was reading the wrong thing.  When Dawkins talks about evolution he is absolutely fascinating.  Much of the science in the book seems intuitive to me, probably because I was raised in a world where the science was well established, but there were many interesting examples and Dawkins does a great job of making relatively dry concepts fun and interesting. A

58.  The Ancestors Tale – Richard Dawkins

So, I went on a Dawkins thing and thought I’d follow up the previous book with another of his.  I think this is a book that shows how creative someone can be in the sciences without seeming totally pretentious.  There were a few times that it was a bit much, really anything written first-person from a living thing, but otherwise it was really compelling.  I can see why The Selfish Gene is considered his classic work, but this is very good as well.  It’s really kind of mind-blowing to spend the book thinking that, in a not insignificant way, I’m related to sponges and mushrooms and moss and jellyfish. A

59.  Toward a Rhetoric of Insult – Thomas Conley

I read this book primarily in preparation for my speech at Dragon*Con.  It is about the history and rhetorical uses of insults.  It’s actually quite good and I incorporated a decent amount of it into my speech, much more than I expected to be able to.  Some of the most interesting things he pointed out were the ways insults were important to cultures and to how people interacted.  I really recommend this book if you’re at all interested in the tone debate or if you’d like to read a few good HL Mencken quotes.  A

60. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer

OMG.  This is like my new Harry Potter.  The author describes it as “Die Hard with fairies” and that is totally what it is, except the main character is the 13 year old version of Hans Gruber.  Yes, in my mind, Artemis is a tiny Alan Rickman.  It’s BRILLIANT.  I am so sad that I only have discovered it now.  But it’s OK, because it’s good to know that there’s always something new to discover. A+

75 Books 56-60: George, Dawkins, Conley and Colfer

TAM Saturday

I got up early on Saturday and headed to the Del Mar bar to meet Ginger Campbell, super awesome brain and ER doctor, to watch the 3rd place World Cup match between Sweden and France.  I didn’t stay for the whole thing, but Sweden ended up winning.  I missed a panel about paranormal investigation and a talk by Sadie Crabtree.  I fully intended to watch Sadie Crabtree, but got caught up in a conversation with Heidi Anderson in the Presenters room.

ASIDE: I am on the airplane and having a slow freak out because a crown on one of my teeth isn’t there and I have apparently swallowed it.  It doesn’t hurt, I didn’t notice when it happened, but now my throat hurts.  I assume I’m not going to die from swallowing a crown, right?  I wish this airplane had internet so I could send out a distress signal.

Anyway, I then got a tdap vaccine because I don’t want to get whooping cough.  My arm still hurts.

I got caught up in a discussion with PZ Myers and a group of guys about Elevatorgate and women in the movement.  It’s always weird to be the only woman in discussion about women because you’re treated as like a representative of the whole gender.  It was a good discussion though.  When they realized I was giving a talk the following day, they asked if it was going to be about women in the movement and seemed disappointed when I said it wasn’t going to be.  I told them that women join the movement because they care about skepticism and issues other than being a woman, I don’t want to be put in some ghetto where it’s my job to talk only about women.

Then, there was a panel about placebos and how and why they worked, and if it was possible to use the placebo effect intentionally and honestly.  It was an interesting discussion, though I wonder if it would have been better as a presentation rather than a panel discussion.

Elizabeth Loftus then spoke about manufacturing memories and how unreliable human memories are.  I found this very interesting because I’d just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla, which is about much the same thing.  Or at least I think it was, but I could be manufacturing that memory too…

Richard Wiseman was up next, but I don’t remember his talk at all.  Then it was lunch, where we talked about Mansplaining, Poe’s Law, and Godwin’s Law.

After lunch the magnificantly awesome Carol Tavris spoke about cognitive dissonance.  Her main point was that when you’re arguing with someone you have to be careful because if you say that their beliefs or opinions are stupid they won’t be able to agree because it won’t jive with their image of themselves as smart people.

Then!  Oh Then!  Then it was Bill Nye the Science Guy!  His talk was interesting, he was interesting, and we’re all pretty sure he is the Doctor.  It’s the bow tie.  After Bill, it was Richard Dawkins, who I didn’t actually think was that interesting.  He talked about his new children’s book, and then about aliens.  After PZ had been so entertaining on the subject Friday, Dawkins was a bit dry.  But, he started taking questions and that was fairly interesting.  We were all trapped in the room because there was a Chuck Norris convention at the hotel as well, and they were taking up the hallway.  Dawkins, adorably, didn’t know who Chuck Norris was.

That evening I went to a presenter’s reception, and got to spend some time hanging out with a lot of awesome people who were going to be speaking, including Debbie Goddard who I had not previously spent much time with.  But there was a drunk british guy from Shrewsbury who would not leave me alone.  I hate wine breath.  And I was not nice to him, but he kept following me.  He was so annoying that every time I tried to escape and enter a new conversation, everyone who was in that conversation would leave and leave me stranded.

He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting.  Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.

I was hungry, went to Steak and Shake, one of the two take out restaurants at the hotel — it took 45 minutes to get food.  It was horrible.  And the food was only OK as well.  Then I went to bed early, so I could get up for the papers on Sunday.

TAM Saturday

TAM 9 Thursday

So, yesterday I arrived in Las Vegas.  It was hot, but actually less hot than it was in Columbia, SC for the last few days.  I then immediately got some Baja Fresh, because brown salsa is amazing.

Then iw went to the hotel.  I ended up hanging out with Heidi Anderson in the speakers rooms with the logic that I am speaking.  I ended up spending time with the awesome Ginger Campbell, a fellow women’s soccer fan, Elizabeth Loftus, and a guy named McGaha.

We ended up talking a lot about the ethics of the porn industry, which wasn’t what I was expecting to talk about in the speakers room.  They must keep that coolness on the DL.

Then was dinner with the SC contingent.  And then the reception.

I hung out with Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jennifer McCreight, Greta Christina, Sean Faircloth, Richard Dawkins, Jamila Bay, Debbie Goddard, Sara Mayhew, and lots of other people who didn’t have their names listed in the program.

After the reception, I went to drinking skeptically where I had a diet coke and saw some people from the SCA Summit. 

Then it was time for HP7.2!  It was amazing.  Despite the fact that it didn’t start until 3AM eastern time, I didn’t almost fall asleep once.  It did complete justice to Snape, Neville, and Mrs. Weasley.

So far, there’s been a fair amount of talk about elevatorgate, but not too much.  A few jokes, some serious conversation.  Also, there’s apparently a musical, “Menopause the Musical” – I’ve heard it’s very dry.

TAM 9 Thursday