The further hyper-skepticism stalling our conversation

Last year, when the bugs crawling out from under the rock that had been overturned several months prior by Rebecca Watson continued unabated, and pretty much everyone was shocked that that many creepie-crawlies resided in our vaunted skeptical community, I wrote a series of posts on the whole ordeal called The Problem with Privilege. One of those posts dealt with the rampant and repeated demands for evidence regarding the incident that Rebecca had called creepy — as though recounting a story and saying “guys, don’t do that, it’s creepy” was some kind of misandrist clarion call, which must be rebuffed lest it result in fewer pick-up artists getting their dicks wet.

So these trolls, being part of the skeptical community (apparently), used our strengths against us by attacking the claim on its merits, since the claim “I was tipsy in an elevator at 4am and a guy followed me in and asked me to his room” doesn’t meet the high standards of evidence we use in the skeptical community when it comes to extraordinary claims. Never mind that it was a perfectly ordinary claim about someone’s experience with a slightly-offputting person that did not result in any physical harm. Specifically, I characterized this compulsion as hyper-skepticism, along the same lines as 9/11 truthers, birthers, and other conspiracy theorists.

We’re now seeing the exact same tactic being used again in the wake of a conflagration that Jen McCreight accidentally set off when she casually mentioned at the Women In Secularism CFI conference that female speakers occasionally warn one another of potentially creepy male speakers.

Since Stephanie called for real harassment policies to be implemented, and over half a dozen conventions started putting a very good template policy into place in response, real progress has been made on the issue. Progress involving building infrastructure that ameliorates the problem and provides harassment victims with real support. People have come forward with their specific complaints about harassment that had not been reported immediately, supporting the need for these infrastructures — and the hyper-skeptics replied in droves, “but where’s your evidence!?”

In the middle of all this, DJ Grothe, president of JREF, wondered aloud whither all the women were going, and why female TAM registration — while they had made such great inroads at TAM9, after implementing a harassment policy of their own — was way down. He wondered further whether all those women reporting harassment and working to try to get conventions to implement real support structures were, in actuality, driving people away from his vaunted convention.

When the conversation was not going his way, DJ made some very pointed remarks about specific women who’ve worked on the problem of harassment before; including some women who had taken him personally to task for attacking feminists as contra the skeptical movement, and defending some rather indefensible folks (including the Epstein/Krauss flap) in the past. The hyper-skeptics repeated their cries of “where’s the evidence!?”, aiming those cries at the women targeted.

They meant of course to ask where the evidence was that there was even any harassment that needed addressing, naturally. That was, after all, the point that DJ was trying to make — that point became especially obvious when he claimed that the complaints sounded like “locker room talk”, “rumors”, or discussion of “sexual exploits” that women thereafter regretted. But there’s a really good question that is raised when these folks ask that one in this context: where is the evidence that DJ Grothe used to make the leap that the problem this whole time has been those damned uppity feminists scaring everyone away?

Consider that Melody Hensley put together the apparently awesome Women In Secularism conference, and that those of us in the skeptical community who are not independently wealthy have to consider travel, expenses and vacation time. Single parents, predominantly but not always women, often also have to consider parenting issues — who to get to babysit the kids for the conference while they go get their skeptic on. This means there are large financial and personal hurdles to going to every conference if you’re not making money on the public speaking circuit or a member of an organization yourself, which limits the number or frequency of conventions you can attend. That has the knock-on effect that, when a new conference springs up with a high draw value for the demographic you’re looking to improve, you might see your own numbers erode. I am shocked that DJ did not consider this as a possibility before he decided to throw several women bloggers under that bus.

To the point the trolls are making, about where the evidence is that there’s even a harassment problem at all considering DJ’s “exit survey” from TAM showing no such thing, is a pretty good one. At least, if you only consider the data he’s providing, and do not question the data collection methods and the greater societal problem of harassment and underreporting. See, there’s a serious problem with that, which we can demonstrate (with scientific evidence, no less!), showing women simply putting up with harassment because it’s easier. We have some numbers specifically from the secular community, though there may be those same reporting biases at work there too. Regardless, the numbers show a significantly larger proportion of women than men experiencing harassment, and a very large amount of that being very serious and actionable harassment. So why isn’t it being reported?

Well, because we haven’t made this space safe yet, partly. Not “unsafe” as in you’ll almost certainly get assaulted, but “not safe” as in it is no better than background levels of harassment. The victims of harassment are not reporting it mostly for the same reasons that harassment in society as a whole is drastically underreported. And the reasons in just about every case are the same: power imbalance, fear of retaliation, belief that nothing will come of the report, embarassment.

Pteryxx proves that underreporting is a major issue in a comment xe left at Ophelia’s (with a minor correction in-line at hir request):

All righty… I did some research into the problems with using surveys to determine the prevalence of sexual harassment. Much of what I found was paywalled research. It’s not something that can be done with a general survey not designed for the purpose.

Basically, surveying sexual harassment is difficult *at all* because of pervasive underreporting. As with sexual assault and rape, only a small percentage of incidents are ever reported, for many reasons: the victims are too embarrassed or ashamed, they assume (often rightly) that nothing will be done to address the problem, or they’ve normalized the harm. Fear of retaliation or escalation, while also major factors, probably don’t have much effect on a truly anonymous survey.

This is from page 32 of a 2005, 72-page report on sexual harassment among US college students (it’s big but quite readable):

Click to access DTLFinal.pdf

Given the strong reactions to sexual harassment,
we would expect students to report incidents, yet
most do not. More than one-third (35 percent)
tell no one. Almost half (49 percent) confide in
a friend, but only about 7 percent report the
incident to a college employee.

Female students are more likely than male
students to tell someone about sexual harassment,
although they, too, have reservations about
discussing their experiences (see Figure 10).
A common theme among female students is a
feeling of nervousness or discomfort at reporting
something that might not be “a big enough deal.”
One young woman describes an incident that
made her feel “horrible” and “helpless,” but
she didn’t report it because “it didn’t seem to
be that important.”

Also, for a victim to report sexual harassment (or sexual assault, or rape), the person has to first admit that what happened to them WAS harassment, assault, or rape.

From a 2004 U of Iowa report:

Click to access 2004Sexual-Harassment-Survey-012306-ExecSummary.pdf

Because research has shown that many people are reluctant or unwilling to label even serious unwelcomed behavior (e.g., physical assault of a sexual nature) as sexual harassment, this survey separated questions about respondents’ experiences with unwelcomed sexual behaviors from the question of whether or not they felt they had experienced sexual harassment. The intent was to capture more accurately the occurrence of behaviors without the stigma of the label.

This survey asked about eight types of unwelcomed behavior which may constitute sexual harassment. A majority–52%–of respondents indicated that they had experienced one or more of the eight categories of unwelcomed behavior. Yet, when these responders were asked explicitly about whether they had experienced sexual harassment in the past 10 years at UI, most responders (62%) indicated that they had not been sexually harassed, whereas 24% (805 individuals)) indicated that they considered the unwelcome behavior to be sexual harassment. This represented 26% of female and 19% of male responders.

It’s not just that DJ Grothe’s survey fails to capture the incidence of sexual harassment. ANY form of self-reporting will fail to do so, as long as sexual aggression combined with victim-blaming is culturally normal, particularly when internalized so that the victims blame themselves. Sexual harassment and violence can only be addressed in a supportive environment – otherwise, the vast majority of harassed persons will simply remain silent.

If a culture exists at DJ Grothe’s organization that is not supportive of victims, as may be indicated by his recent remarks, then that culture could have DIRECTLY contributed to the observed low reporting rate. One instance of a witnessed, publicly reported incident has already been shown to have gone unrecorded within TAM’s harassment reporting system.

Thus, the low reporting rate at TAM may be largely a RESULT, not a cause, of DJ’s (publicly articulated) perception that sexual harassment is not a problem under his purview.

*note: I decided (with reservations) to stay with the term “victim” throughout to keep focus on the concept of victim-blaming. Not all recipients of sexual harassment consider themselves victimized by it.

Underreporting is a problem because spaces aren’t safe. Declaring a space safe by fiat won’t work, even if you’ve attempted to enforce the policy really well during certain incidents, and if the data you’ve collected says nobody “felt unwelcome” because you never aggregated in those incidents in the first place — because you’re going to have a major problem with that data when someone comes forward to contradict it. Especially if you thereafter try to gaslight that person and convince them that there was never any such event. The data collection methodology was simply insufficient here, and incidents apparently happened and were dealt with in realtime that were never documented thereafter and thus never showed up in DJ’s numbers.

We have a manifold problem with harassment in the skeptical community, one that won’t be solved by ignoring the fact that they’re plugging their ears every time someone actually proffers evidence to meet the trolls’ demands. The only path forward, as far as I can see, is to steamroll the trolls by moving forward with implementing strong anti-harassment policies at conventions, leaving these trolls to deal with the consequences despite their cries that we’re implementing some sort of Taliban-like puritanism (heh), and doing so in such a way that everyone’s well aware that there will be consequences for violating those policies, and that victims will be protected.

THAT is how you make a space safe. Certainly not by answering every disingenuous call for evidence, despite that being our natural compulsion as a community — we’re skeptics after all — and especially not when you can legitimately say “Objection! Asked and answered!” Preferably with a link back to this post, if you could be so kind.

Of course, you could also take the tactic favoured by Stephanie Zvan — ask the trolls exactly what sort of evidence it would take to convince them that the person they’re trolling experienced what they say they experienced. When they inevitably clam up, THEN point them here.

The further hyper-skepticism stalling our conversation
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129 thoughts on “The further hyper-skepticism stalling our conversation

  1. 51

    Jason: I agree, but it’s not security’s prerogative to determine whether someone’s “really” disabled or not; only whether they’re behaving in a way that needs to stop.

  2. 52

    Peanut gallery, what have we learned from joejoe’s attempted derail?

    Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!


    That people who feel perfectly entitled to waste your time asking questions that have easily researched answers never, ever get the point when you waste their time with Because that would require them to actually value the time of anyone else. Also that these same people tend to have problems with the idea of harassment because, of course, they don’t value the autonomy of anyone but themselves either.

    That was the answer, right?

  3. 53

    Absolutely, Pteryxx, and they shouldn’t even try. It just gets under my skin that someone might try to use their disability as cover — e.g., “you can’t stop me from creeping on someone because I’m deaf”. Especially if the behaviour they’re being told to stop doing has nothing to do with lip-reading.

    Stephanie: that’s a very good lesson to take from this, considering it’s also a call-back to the original post where I said that we should stop wasting time answering the same questions over and over when the evidence has already been offered. We are allowed to say “asked and answered”, and should do so and steamroll any further disingenuity.

  4. 54

    [email protected] – exactly. What’s the bloody point!?

    If women acted on every incident of harassment we suffered, we’d need 30 hours in each day to deal with it. If we put dots of ink on our skin every time some creep crossed a line, we’d look like Smurfette in no time.

    JoeJoe- do you really think saying “HaHA! I’m DEAF!” is a trump card? Oh bless your heart.

    Women aren’t stupid. We know the sodding difference between leering and facilitating communication. I certainly do, I’m HoH myself, so my interaction with D/deaf people is frequent.

  5. 55

    (off topic) – A nym too, I learned that blind people call the rest of us “sighties”. Is there a word HoH or D/deaf people call uh. everybody else? (Yes I did just google HoH and why big D – little d deaf – new knowings!)

  6. 56

    Let me get this straight,…a deaf guy writes about how in the past his lip/body reading have been misinterpreted as harrassing and the author of this blog simply brushes the guy off as “attempting” a derail,…and says blithely that “People can tell the difference between being harassed and having their lips read.” Is that what I just read happen?

    Not long before that same author wrote this,…”To the point the trolls are making, about where the evidence is that there’s even a harassment problem at all considering DJ’s “exit survey” from TAM showing no such thing, is a pretty good one.

    Apparently we are to call those with ‘pretty good’ ‘points’ to make trolls. Can you guys ever respond to a good point with calm rationality as opposed to paranoid schizophrenia?

    Let’s face it, defining harassment is a real problem, that the big ‘concerners’ need to address so that any resulting policies won’t get innocent people falsely accused.

    And this business of calling people with legitimate points to make and threats to block posters, when they are not using profanity, insulting people directly, threatening people, or being redundant is getting pretty scary on some of these blogs. One might call it harassing – if one clearly understood what the definition of the term was.

  7. 57

    xtog, why do you keep mischaracterizing things that everyone can see? joejoe never said that had happened to him. In fact, judging by all his questions being hypothetical, he strongly implied it never had.

  8. 58

    Not long before that same author wrote this,…”To the point the trolls are making, about where the evidence is that there’s even a harassment problem at all considering DJ’s “exit survey” from TAM showing no such thing, is a pretty good one.

    Apparently we are to call those with ‘pretty good’ ‘points’ to make trolls. Can you guys ever respond to a good point with calm rationality as opposed to paranoid schizophrenia?

    xtog42: you very helpfully left out the very next sentence. Which I’ll quote back to you now, with bold, so you actually consider reading it this time.

    To the point the trolls are making, about where the evidence is that there’s even a harassment problem at all considering DJ’s “exit survey” from TAM showing no such thing, is a pretty good one. At least, if you only consider the data he’s providing, and do not question the data collection methods and the greater societal problem of harassment and underreporting. See, there’s a serious problem with that, which we can demonstrate (with scientific evidence, no less!), showing women simply putting up with harassment because it’s easier.

    Now, do you want to apologize to those among us with mental disorders whom you’ve just slurred as though simply disagreeing with your twisted worldview merits a clinical diagnosis??

  9. 59

    If joejoe attempts to comment again, it’ll be in moderation until I release it. Sure, you folks can keep arguing his points for future readers, but seriously, he’s probably gone for good now.

  10. 60

    Jason Thibeault says to someone with a Master’s degree in psychology,…

    “Now, do you want to apologize to those among us with mental disorders whom you’ve just slurred as though simply disagreeing with your twisted worldview merits a clinical diagnosis??”

    To wit Xtog42 replies: No, since you mischaracterized what I said rather than dealing with it like a rational calm human being.

    And how civil and psychologically professional is calling my worldview “twisted” when you have such limited knowledge of me? Sounds like you owe the world of psychology an apology.

    We’ll wait.

  11. 61

    xtog42 has nothing further to say but that this is a “bulletin board” and not a blog, that xe has a master’s degree in psychology which apparently qualifies hir to make diagnoses over the internet or something, and that xe’s very offended that you left off the 42 (despite hir doing it hirself elsewhere). Please see this comment for what indicated to me that xe wasn’t actually interested in discussion and was just wasting our time.

    Xe can continue to comment, but I’ll only release comments that actually contribute to the conversation, rather than detract. Yes, at my own personal discretion. (Because this is, in actuality, a blog, not a bulletin board. You’d think a former high school computer teacher might know the difference!)

  12. 62

    Moderate all you wish, I’m going elsewhere to contribute to BLOGS that value civil discourse with those that disagree with them.

    I can’t wait til the rest of the community sees how you guys harassed the deaf guy.

  13. 64

    This may be the wrong place (considering I have trouble keeping in mind where quotes end), but I can think of a reason women may not report sexual harassment even up to sexual assault and rape: they may not realize what falls under the definitions. Even though I knew the incident was wrong, it took me around a decade to realize what a peer once did to me at (high) school (aside from the rape threat) was sexual assault. I reported (to the school and my parents; it went no further) and all I learned was that what he said and did was minor enough not to merit as much as significant suspension and was something I should shrug off. This didn’t teach me a more expansive definition of “sexual assault” but rather that groping and threats aren’t that bad and should be ignored. Why would I call lesser offenses harassment before I learned what I’d been taught wasn’t true?

    Another point: I remember a recent commenter (troll?) on an FTB blog who seemed to misunderstand harassment reported with harassment reported to legal authorities. (Anyone link?) While I’m well aware these are nowhere near equivalent, it strikes me that those in charge of the conventions should make sure they know what the criminal sexual offenses are (possibly both locally and nationally?) and what legal authority they should contact if any of these occur (and under what circumstances, if any would preclude reporting). Especially (but not only) because we’re hearing that no harassment was reported (when evidently it was, though perhaps not in those words), I have serious doubts convention organizers and staff would recognize an illegal such act if they saw it.

  14. 67

    Skepticamp Ohio, who handled the sex-card incident, has contact information right on their policy for campus police, local police, and a local sexual assault network.

    Also note that sexual harassment is briefly described in this broader paragraph, taken straight from the GeekFeminism template:

    Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

    For many participants, that paragraph may be the first description of sexual harassment they have ever encountered. It could probably be written more clearly, and I think convention staff should have additional information on hand at the office in case of need. Unfortunately, educating the attendee population about sexual harassment and assault is just beyond the scope of what convention staff can accomplish. Even a harassment training panel wouldn’t do it. I think the best event staff can do is get the concept out there, be visible and supportive, and let that experience work its way back out into the community.

  15. 68

    That definition of harassment is leaps and bounds better than the definition listed earlier in the thread. It’s not even close. That’s where the starting point needs to be for defining it’s probably not perfect, and there might be problems with it, but the focus really does need to be on the behavior itself and not the reaction to the individual.

  16. 69

    Pteryxx- people without impairment are ‘Hearies’. :-D. I should have extrapolated on the specific terms used, but I was stricken with PPI -Post Pizza Impairment!

    This comment wouldn’t feel complete without mentioning that physically disabled people use ‘TAB’ ( Temporarily Able Bodied) or ‘CAB’ (Currently Able Bodied) to refer to people without disabilities.

    TAB was coined to make the point that, unlike characteristics such as race or gender, physical ability can be changed at any time. A fairly common idea is the one that everyone is potentially 7 seconds away from a life-altering disability.

    CAB evolved from that as a more inclusive term, one that takes periodic impairment into account. Someone with MS, for example, may be fine at times, and reliant on assistive devices at others.

    I’d recommend some activist-y blogs, but not many good ones exist. Ironically it’s because of the topic at hand here. CAB-privilege is apparently very hard. to reflect on. I’ve been called “crippled c*nt” for saying “Guys, don’t do that” when Redditors were bragging about only ever using the “executive stall”.

    One very prominent disability rights blogger had to quit after a sustained campaign of death and rape threats, and stalking, was putting their family at risk. The reason for the. abuse? Criticising how ‘Glee’ handles disability. That’s why some people don’t ‘out’ themselves online, the ableist abuse can be astonishingly vitriolic.

  17. 70

    A nym too, thank you for all that meaty info… The More You Know. I note disability is mentioned in the Skepticamp Ohio harassment policy, too. Do you think that’s sufficient, or should event policies include something more specific or detailed about addressing disability or providing access? (A lot of that depends on the venue.)

  18. 71

    I stare at people, directly in their eyes or mouth. One could say I leer at them, especially when they talk. I need to, there is no way around this as I have a compulsion to do it.

    Funny thing, I teach foreign languages to adults. The nature of the place means I get all kinds of people, from 16 yo who want to learn a language their school doesn’t offer to 80+ yo pensioners who want to keep their brains occupied. And I really like that. This also means that there are frequently deaf people or people hard of hearing in the group.
    So far, there has never been a problem. People usually came to me first night of class and we figured out how to work things out, like optimal seating so they can see/hear me best and also to provide information to the other participants who might feel ignored if I direct my eye-contact mostly towards one person/side of the room.
    I can also pretty well tell if you’re looking at my lips or at my breasts.
    If you’Re unsure how to tell the difference there’s a problem with you.

  19. 72

    @Gillel #40 Yep, same.

    I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been subject to street harassment. Usually I don’t mention it when I get home because it was just another cat call or wolf-whistle, or ass telling me to smile because it makes me look pretty, or complete stranger telling me he likes my ass.

    For me to actually talk about it now, in a “You won’t believe what happened to me on the way home” kind of way, it has to raise above the background level of harrassment. Guys trying to intimidate me into their car would qualify. Someone groping me would qualify (as long as it wasn’t in a bar – because in this city, I’ve been groped at least once every time I’ve gone out to drink, and more often than not, more than once over the course of a night… which is why I don’t go out to drink anymore. Why should I pay a cover to be sexually assaulted and then have the bouncers brush me off?). But some random guy yelling, “Sexy!” or what have you? Nah. Just another moron on the street.

    Note to the “there’s no problem w/ sexual harrassment here!” types: That stuff like this is so common we wouldn’t bother even relaying it to loved ones because it’s at the background is not a good thing. It is a bad thing that harrassment gets the emotional response of a resigned “just another asshole” out of a woman because it happens so frequently, okay? And that my response to it is “just another asshole” doesn’t mean it isn’t unacceptable behavior on their part and doesn’t mean that it impacts my perceived value in society and my perceived safety in this city.

    @ joejoe

    As for people with disabilities, I second what Pterryx said about being able to tell the difference between someone looking/talking at my face and at my chest. I can also tell the difference between someone looking/talking to someone else’s face and at that person’s chest. The difference between “concentrating on your face so I can understand” and “concentrating on your chest because, heh, boobs. Giggidy.” is pretty freakin’ obvious. And my emotional response varies appropriately: Staring at my face feels odd to me. Staring at my chest, waist or hips/butt? That’s creepy. There’s a big difference between, “Hmm, that’s a bit unusual.” and “Eeee, this person’s creeping me out.”

    @ A nym

    As someone who was disabled by severe asthma for some of my childhood and who can be disabled by attacks still, I totally want to snag CAB for my mental dictionary. Really makes the point that, yeah, I’m perfectly fine today because I’m on my meds AND I haven’t caught a cold recently AND I haven’t been exposed to smoke AND etc etc etc, but tomorrow, I might have a hard time taking a flight of stairs. In a few days (my flares tend to come on slow and recover slow), I might have a hard time walking the length of my house, if it’s a bad one. If it’s a really bad one (haven’t had one of those since I was a kid, thankfully), I might be in the hospital. So I really like the term.

    It’s a shame that not many activist-y blogs exist – if they did, I’d love to read them. When my asthma started worsening in final year of undergrad (it had been mild throughout most of my teen years), the asthma blogging community was a huge help in helping me educate myself about it, since my parents didn’t really do a great job in preparing me to manage my own health as an adult or to recognize signs of my own chronic illness. Frankly, they didn’t take my illness and their responsibility to make sure their underage kid was educated on it seriously enough, so I was woefully unprepared when my breathing went pear-shaped in my final term, and the learning curve was steep and unforgiving. There is an activist group for severe asthma on Facebook. Sadly, they had to close membership to private for similar issues to what you’re talking about.

  20. 73


    Guys trying to intimidate me into their car would qualify. Someone groping me would qualify (as long as it wasn’t in a bar – because in this city, I’ve been groped at least once every time I’ve gone out to drink, and more often than not, more than once over the course of a night… which is why I don’t go out to drink anymore.

    That’s why back in the olden days before the dawn of time when I would still go clubbing I only went clubbing with my gay friends for the gay club night. I could just dance. The guys weren’t interested and the women would just ask if I were interested in a drink.
    The last time I was in a “normal club” I finally put my husband (who doesn’t dance) on the middle of the dancefloor where he stood still and I danced around him. Because that obviously made me his property and you don’t argue with another guy over his titties.

  21. 74

    Just to level set…there is a significant amount of misinformation and misconception of exactly what sexual harrassment is…I am cutting and pasting definitions below from sessions I have taught,
    > sexual harrassment is clealy defined under Title 7 of the civil rights code and is almost always a workplace litigated issue
    >the definition of sexual harassment is an “explosive combining of unacceptable sexual behavior and the abuse of power.”  A particular incident of harassment may or may not include any explicitly sexual behavior, but it always involves some form of abuse of power.
    >Many men and women believe that sexual harassment is a practice based on simple sexual attraction.  It is often seen as an expression of male interest and a form of flattering sexual attention for women – a sometimes vulgar but essentially harmless romantic game, well within the range of normal, acceptable behavior between men and women.
    >Harassment is not a form of courtship and it is not meant to appeal to women.  It is designed to coerce women, not to attract them.  When the recipient of sexual harassment has no choice in the encounter, or has reason to fear the repercussions if she declines, the interaction has moved out of the realm of invitation and courtship into the arena of intimidation and aggression.
    >having inexperienced and unqualified volunteers take statements regarding harrassment issues is inappropriate and dangerous from a liable perspective
    Emotions have run very deep regarding this conversation for the best of reasons. It’s important that every person in our community feels safe. But there has also been a lot of politicking, crap and hyperbole in this conversation and that has been unfortunate. Folks with opposing viewpoints have been shouted down, also unfortunate.
    Please help me understand what a “safe convention looks like”. Now that we have policies in place, what else should the organizers be doing.
    And lastly, I have been trained in sexual harrassment issues, written training for sexual harrassment issues, taught sexual harrassment classes, and investigated sexual harrassment and hostile work environment claims for over 30 years, so I think I’ve earned the ability to call bullshit when I read it regarding statements that are just not accurate and several of the statements proclaiming harrassment on these blogs absolutely do not rise to the level of misconduct at any level.

  22. 75

    Eliott, a safe convention or conference (i.e., one people feel safe attending) is one with a highly visible harassment policy, where attendees know how to easily identify or find staff (which may be volunteer) if they need to and where that staff has clear expectations on how to handle levels of reports that range from discomfort to a lack of physical safety. It takes some work and some planning, but it’s really not rocket science.

  23. 76

    @Gillel: I go to the gay bar in town (there’s only one, sadly), and I still get groped. Because the creepers realized a few years ago that women were going to the gay bars as a safe space and apparently, their desire to creep on women outweighs their homophobia. And the bouncers there don’t believe that I got groped by a dude because “this is a gay bar, Miss”. Rrrg. It was a fun place before the creepers moved in. Now it’s just another bar (albeit one with karaoke and better-than-average music).

  24. 77

    Elliott, you say: “Folks with opposing viewpoints have been shouted down, also unfortunate.”

    Where, exactly? Are you sure they were “shouted down” as opposed to vehemently disagreed with? Isn’t vibrant disagreement what skeptics should WANT? What I’ve seen is people making claims about low incidence of harassment, and others responding by citing scholarly research on why their conclusions about harassment are invalid. Furthermore, if someone vehemently disagrees with you, and you can’t answer their objections, you weren’t “shouted down”–you were just wrong.

    Finally, this quote shows a pretty shocking insensitivity toward women’s experiences: “several of the statements proclaiming harrassment on these blogs absolutely do not rise to the level of misconduct at any level.” You do realize, don’t you, that things don’t actually have to be ILLEGAL for them to be acutely unpleasant for the person receiving them? You do realize, don’t you, that I’m not going to pay money to put myself in a situation where people are being repeatedly marginalizing, offensive, inconsiderate, and demeaning of me and my contributions–just so long as it doesn’t officially qualify as something I can actually report? I will rather spend my time and money with decent human beings.

  25. 78

    Stephanie…thank you for taking the time to respond. In an effort to create a template and To ensure complete understanding, could you please drill down a bit and tell me who would train the staff in the clear expectations and level of reports you mentioned and what an example of that would look like from time of incident.

  26. 80

    LeftSidePositive…thank you for your response. In my view people can have opposing points of view and still be treated with respect. I find that lacking. As to your second point, there were inaccurate statements made calling out specific instances as rising to the level of sexual harrassment which do not cross that threshold. I never addressed that fact of whether or not they were unpleasant. They are not dissecting issues. Please don’t put words in my mouth.
    Stephanie…I actually have already but in an effort to be inclusive thought it would be in the communities best interest to get additional perspective. Because you have taken a lead in this I thought you might have some specific thoughts regarding how this process should be executed to be user friendly. Obviously not based on your feedback. My bad. Thank you for your response.

  27. 81

    I second Stephanie: ours is to identify the problem as existing, demand that steps be taken, and propose those steps to the best of our abilities. If those steps have to be further refined once implemented, nobody’s going to be upset about it.

    Making a safe space is paramount. Making sure everyone understands what a “safe space” actually means, can be our job. Making sure the convention actually creates that space with all the legalities that might or might not be involved, that’s theirs. Or it can be ours too, if any of us have that skillset.

  28. 82

    I’ll say further that as organizers of basically community-run, volunteer-staffed events, event organizers have a different level of responsibility to attendees than the responsibility of employers or universities to provide a safe workspace under existing law. An event CAN expect its participants to adhere to a code of conduct, and can enforce that code upon incidents that do not rise to a legally enforceable level of severity.

  29. 83

    Elliott–your response: “In my view people can have opposing points of view and still be treated with respect. I find that lacking” has absolutely no substantiation whatsoever. I said (and I quote) “where, exactly?” When I say exactly, I mean EXACTLY. Provide links or quotes. You made a claim that people are being shouted down. I disagree, and I asked for evidence. This should not be difficult evidence to provide, since these are publicly-made posts that are saved perpetually on a forum. Nor should I have to comb through a bunch of posts to imagine what you meant by shouting down, because I cannot read your mind. I may or may not agree with what you ultimately provide as evidence of “shouting down,” or I may agree with qualifications, but I cannot make any judgment on it until you provide substantive material for discussion.

    Secondly, if you agree that these instances of poor behavior are unpleasant, don’t you agree that this is A PROBLEM? I don’t see what your point is–if someone says that behavior is making them feel marginalized, uncomfortable, and like they cannot participate happily in the skeptic movement, what POSSIBLE justification could there be in pedantically pointing out that these instances don’t “rise to the level” of harassment? Was this an instance where someone specifically said this behavior should be reported to authorities? Was it behavior that someone specifically said should result in the revocation of a conference pass? Without those criteria, whether or not it meets the official level of harassment is IRRELEVANT–it shows that there is a significant problem with sexism in the movement. (Furthermore, a good harassment policy should have a “grey zone” wherein the conference organizers will formally speak to someone whose behavior is sub-threshold and make it clear they disapprove…even if it isn’t enough to merit any type of disciplinary action.)

  30. 84

    One way to look at it is that conference harassment policies are designed to address “chilly climate” level concerns, not incidents at the legal or criminal level. Convention staff’s responsibility then is to support victims who wish to pursue such action.

  31. 85

    I actually have already but in an effort to be inclusive thought it would be in the communities best interest to get additional perspective. Because you have taken a lead in this I thought you might have some specific thoughts regarding how this process should be executed to be user friendly. Obviously not based on your feedback. My bad. Thank you for your response.

    I have plenty of ideas about how this could be done. For any given event, the answer will be different because the structure of the organization putting on the event will be different. If you have a concern about an event you’re considering attending, ask an organizer. If you’re not, I really have much more to do right now than provide some sort of exhaustive list because you are concerned.

  32. 86

    Stephanie, thank you for being candid in sharing your thoughts. I’ll take the same courtesy. Just so I understand your note, you have ideas that are potentially remedial, prescriptive and hygienic driven by event structure but you have more to do right now than share them with me because I’m concerned. I was under the impression I and about half the attendees were concerned.

  33. 87

    Elliott, did it ever occur to you that she might be more interested in spending her time discussing these ideas with people who have the power to implement them and have specific organizations to which they can be tailored, or as a stand-alone analysis in a more in-depth blog post for a wider audience, rather than personally educating you?

  34. 89


    Yeah, half of what I linked vethtiche to on the AXP blog was Derailing for Dummies. He was pretty damn good at it!

    Also, Elliott? It’s been *hours,* and you’ve been on this form since I’ve asked you–but what, exactly, are your instances of people “shouting down”?

  35. 91

    Off topic, ischemgeek, but on the asthma side would you mind giving some references for those good asthma blogging sites/reading materials? I’m quite similar to you it seems, except that in my case it’s recent adult onset, so I’m still on my learning curve.

  36. 92

    Really Eliott? Still no quotes about all this “shouting down”? I’m actually really quite annoyed. Did you just not think anyone would actually expect you to back that up?!

  37. 93

    LeftSidePositive…sometimes life gets in the way….thank you for correcting the spelling of my name but I am not on the gas about that…let me explain how I play in the blogs…
    You misrepresented what I said…Once you did you alleviated my obligation of response but I wanted to add some clarity.
    You don’t need to go any further than your response on #87 that exemplifies my point. It is a rude, pretentionious and uninformed note. It was meant specifically as put down. Congratulations, you got me.
    I choose not to continue.

  38. 95


    You are absolved of the responsibility of substantiating a claim by claiming I misrepresented you? I don’t think I’ve heard that rule before…it sounds like total bollocks!…and even if it WERE true (which I’m not conceding!), don’t you at least have to make a case for what the true interpretation would be?

    By your logic, I’m guessing this is acceptable:

    A: The Earth is flat!
    B: So…do you have any evidence the Earth is flat?
    B: Okay, so what do you mean, and how can I tell if it’s true?
    A: I WIN I WIN I WIN!!!

    I hope you can see how this is problematic.

    You said “folks with opposing viewpoints have been shouted down”–that is a simple declarative statement. HOW did I misrepresent it?! HOW THE FUCK is that **possible** to misrepresent?! Seriously–fucking HOW??

    (And, to make myself very clear, I’m not “shouting [you] down” for your opposing viewpoint–I’m shouting at you in sheer gobsmacked frustration for your blatantly evasive tactics for which I cannot conceive of another cause than intellectual dishonesty. Intellectual dishonesty is not an opposing viewpoint. It is a poisoning of debate.)

    And don’t tone troll me about calling you out on your behavior. You committed an egregious breach of forum etiquette by insisting that another poster take time to educate you personally and cater her strategizing of real-world problems to YOUR hypotheticals, and you were told TWICE that this was inappropriate and by no means even an effective way to answer these details if you really wanted them answered, and tried to guilt her into spending more of her time and effort on you. THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. So yes, I called out your poor behavior in a snarky manner–why the fuck shouldn’t I? Your rude demands on someone else’s time and attention are WAY more rude than pointing out the taxonomy of your particular self-entitled behavior. I’m sorry, but you don’t get to be so presumptuous and then presume to tell us how we may respond to your presumptuousness…

    You have shown that you will use superficial concern for the tone as a dodge to avoid actually defending your claim. This is rude, it is dishonest, and it is tiresome.

  39. 96

    Seriously, Eliott, at this point either find some proof of people with legitimate arguments being “shouted down” by “our side”, or accept that you made a false equivalency and stick your flounce.

  40. 97

    Jason…just look at the blog you posted tonight . There are 3 different people that were shouted down because of opposing views and then Stephanie calls a guy an idiot. There is a lot if anger there clouding good judgement. These blogs are becoming an artform of insulting each other. Just look at the note above yours on this blog. Why on earth would anyone think that is ok. How does that get us closer to an answer to a very serious issue that you have taken the initiative of driving
    Please, stop this drum beat of beating up DJ. It is counter productive and gets us nothing. If he makes intemperate remarks inertia will ultimately catch up to him. This is not the way to do it with name calling.
    These are serious issues and in my view that post tonight makes our community look foolish and small.
    Jason, please, you can turn this conversation into a more positive statement about protecting women and advance this throughout the community. Stop being pissed off and help get answers. Throwing darts at DJ isn’t the answer.
    Helping to conceive a code of conduct policy, asking for feedback of what that might look like, opinions of acceptable behavior, opinions of unacceptable behavior and many other issues. Get feedback from your audience. They are a great huge resource. They respect you. Aggregate the information on an ongoing basis. Make it an organic document.
    I’m an old man with outdated views like courtesy and respect that were sorely lacking tonight. You can have a positive affect on this issue. I hope you do.

  41. 98

    Why on earth would anyone think that “find proof” or shut up is okay? Gee…I dunno…BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING SKEPTICISM?!!?!!?

    You are so fucking desperate to stick to your false equivalence that you’ll try to pretend that calling out a logical fallacy is a shocking breach of etiquette on a fucking skeptic’s forum?! Seriously?! Look, dude…no one is that fucking stupid, and if this is the best you can do, I’m not impressed.


    Based on your reasoning so far I have extraordinarily little faith in your ability to distinguish between “shouting someone down for opposing views” and “calling out totally disingenuous, unsupported, dishonest, and/or bigoted bullshit.” If someone is spouting such bullshit, or is being a FUCKING POMPOUS ASSHAT by trying to drag the level of the conversation down to “Oh, heavens–dirty words!–I have the vapors!!” when we have every right to discuss major issues how WE feel is necessary, then it is not the “opposing views” that are getting called out…IT IS THE UTTER FUCKING INEPTITUDE AND LYING HORSESHIT that is being vehemently opposed.

    Furthermore, what the fuck is this “drum beat of beating up on DJ”?! He has said some VERY sexist, dishonest, marginalizing, rape-apologistic bullshit and he deserves to be criticized for it. This is how we prevent ourselves from turning into the bargain barrel of the marketplace of ideas.

    And if he makes intemperate remarks? IF? Motherfucking shit, he BLAMED HARASSMENT VICTIMS. That’s pretty fucking high on the “intemperate” scale! And you say it “will catch up to him”? HOW, may I ask, if you’re going to tone troll the shit out of everyone who is holding him accountable? IT IS CATCHING UP TO HIM NOW.

    And what the fuck are your qualifications to tell us what is and isn’t the answer?

    Furthermore, GO FUCK YOURSELF for so sagely telling us all the things we’re supposed to be doing–in your infinite fucking wisdom–that we are in fact already doing, and we have been investing a great deal of time, energy, and research in this endeavor. Where the fuck do you get off swanning in and telling us how to be productive when we’re actually BEING FUCKING PRODUCTIVE and you’re whining about tone like a spoiled 3-year-old?! Your condescending assholery and your willful disregard of the commitment to positive change (and let’s be clear–tone trolling is a tactic to delay progress) is WAY more offensive than any number of fucks I could possibly fit into this post.

    And if you think being a disingenuous, condescending, passive-aggressive wankstain is showing “courtesy and respect,” or if your priorities are so imbecilic that you care more about words than IDEAS, then I cordially invite you to partake of several Onanistic impossibilities within your own lower gastrointestinal tract.

  42. 99

    LeftSidePositive….thank you for your heartfelt response. My, my aren’t we judgemental. We have different perspectives you and I. You asked my qualification and I think that’s fair. It’s from having actually investigated sexual harrassment cases for 30 years, helping victims and knowing the difference. Yours is…well I don’t have a clue what yours is. Maybe the response on the above is your impression of how to get things done, it’s not mine. My way was the appeal I made to Jason. He has the choice to go down that path or not. And as a point if fact, I have taken steps to help the community with this issue.
    If insulting me makes you feel better about yourself, then I have done my good deed for the day.
    I have no intention of reading anything else you write or responding to you ever again.
    Have a nice life.
    By the way, I’m impressed with you vocabulary but syntax could use some work.

  43. 100

    Eliott (#96)

    These are serious issues and in my view that post tonight makes our community look foolish and small.

    No, tone trolling and policing other people’s reactions while avoiding substantiating your own arguments makes our community look foolish and small. And acting like harsh language is a good reason to ignore the substance of what someone is saying helps others feel justified in ignoring us.

    I’m an old man with outdated views like courtesy and respect that were sorely lacking tonight.

    You have a superficial understanding of courtesy and respect. It’s not respectful to tell people not to get angry or to pretend that anger is counterproductive. It’s not courteous to talk down to people and tell them to do things they’re already doing just because you don’t like the way it’s playing out. I’ve way more respect for the people who can issue their opponents a solid “fuck you” than weasels like you who pretend that merely avoiding cuss words makes them the nice guys.

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