The FtB Conversation about TAM: Transcript pt. 2

Here’s the second part of the transcript for the big FtB Conversation from this past weekend, done once again by the indefatiguable Kate Donovan. She’s the poor soul who did the transcript for the “PenisGate Debate”, who volunteered for this as I guess a sort of palate-cleanser.

If you’re just joining in, read these two posts first:

In Medias Res: how to find the plot if you’re just tuning in
The harassment policy campaign timeline

Transcript pt. 1 is available here.

Transcript below the fold.

Ian Cromwell: But anyway, just to bring it home, I think that this is a conversation we’re going to keep having, in that the ‘trolls’, as Jason put them, or just the people who were reflexively — any time Rebecca’s name gets mentioned, any time anyone talks about anything to do with this issue, we’re going to be getting pushback. I’m not saying we should instead be focused on—I think the focus, the resolution of have– come up with a policy, publish the policy and enforce the policy. I think that’s a perfect resolution to this issue. But I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that that’s going to solve the problem. The problem runs much deeper than that, in that we have an existential issue, a fundamental issue, that no one wants—sorry, not no one—there are a lot of people who don’t want to be having this conversation, that are either tired of having this conversation because they’re not part of it in any meaningful way, or just never wanted to have the conversation in the first place.

Dan Fincke: Can I jump in?

Ian Cromwell: Yeah

Dan Fincke: And I know this goes beyond just skepticism, because I look at this in terms of the atheist movement more broadly, but there’s two levels here. One level is as a community, is this a community that’s welcoming to women? This is especially humiliating and embarrassing situation where it is so male dominated, and unappealing to women, so that’s just as a community, a concern, even if we weren’t talking about our philosophy, what we’re doing. But the other thing is that, it’s almost analogous to those accomodationists who say, well, science should only be about science, and shouldn’t get involved in religion, right? It shouldn’t get involved in atheism, and it shouldn’t be concerned about things like truth for its own sake, or values at all. You know, it should only be about science, and what could be empirically verified. And the atheists, and the atheistic movement more broadly, is willing to say no, there’s more to it than just the science, there’s the metaphysical implications of the science, and the ethics. And now all we’re doing is saying yes, right, there’s philosophy involved, and that also includes further ethical issues, like social justice. And the most important part of this to me is that theisms, religions, give entire pictures of the world to people. And if we’re going to try and dismantle those pictures of the world, it is on us as atheists to robust philosophies about much more than just why there’s no god. And this whole idea that skeptics’ and atheists’ conferences should be focused on what we already agree on, as thought we’re just like rallying against the enemy, instead of actually constructing and debating things that matter within our shared atheistic presupposition or conclusion, that’s just shortsighted about what atheism has to do to take over for what religion has done. We have to creat constructive models that are alternatives. And that means taking an interest in much much more than why the other guy is wrong.

Ophelia Benson: It’s short-sighted from a marketing point of view, cause one of the great advantages of atheism is it’s adamantly opposed to theocracy, and one of disadvantages of theocracy is that, you know, theocracy is the place to go for the glorification of hierarchy and inequality and various kinds of social arrangements that are the opposite of social justice. So from a marketing point of view, it’s really kind of stupid to try to divorce atheism from secularism and the struggle against theocracy and its attendant virtues of heiarchy and submission and blind obedience.

Stephanie Zvan: And this is where I actually have to admit that TAM isn’t one of my favorite conferences because I think this applies to skepticism as well. And yes, there are a lot of atheist conferences too that are just—not just—for the most part, people sitting back and listening to a speaker. And listening to another speaker, and just sitting there, passively, in the audience. But the skeptic events that I’ve been to that are smaller in scale, and less formal, connected to other events, that kind of thing, have much more opportunity to get more people involved in actually participating in the skepticism. And they all are not necessarily equipped ot talk about what happened at Roswell, but most of them are pretty well equipped to talk about things like advertising. Most of them are decently equipped to engage in conversation about health issues, that kind of thing. So I think, when we do stuff like TAM, when we—and okay, it is, it really is rallying the troops, and that’s good and fine and people need that, and they need to get excited about things and see the people who inspire them, and that’s all cool. It’s just not me. But we also need to do the other.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, JREF has never in the past been shy about admitting TAM is a fundraising event. And occasionally they’ll have workshops, you know the past few years there have been workshops here and there. But for the most part they’re not focusing on getting more people involved from outside our communities. They’re not interested in activism. TAM is simply a fundraising event. The wealthiest people come out and enjoy themselves and listen to talks. Compare that to Skepticon, which is a free event, run by students, where you have a lot more…there’s a lot more excitement, a lot more enthusiasm. And there’s the opportunity there, I think, for more mobilization. Right now they don’t do it. But it would be interesting to see what they do with that. And you also compare to Skeptics in the Pub, events like that: free, and also very mobilized. Look at what groups do in various cities around the US when, for instance, a creationist comes to town to give a talk. You know, a lot of times they’ll show up and rebut them. Or when Helen Ukpabio came to Texas, you know the Houston atheists and Houston skeptics put up a resistance there. So yeah, I agree, that that’s not what TAM is about, basically.

PZ Myers: That’s not a criticism of TAM. I mean—

Rebecca Watson: No, it’s—

PZ Myers: –it’s fine

Rebecca Watson:–Well, it’s totally fine, yeah.

PZ Myers: But it also means intrinsically, they’re a little more conservative of organizations. Again, that’s okay. It’s a fairly conservative organization, and if you want to focuse on activism, maybe we should be putting more of our weight behind things like Skepticon. You know, that’s the other thing too, is that you know the organizers of Skepticon will be receptive if we said to them, hey, here’s some things we’d like to see improve about your conference.

Rebecca Watson: Hey, the first year I was at Skepticon was Skepticon 2, and I was giving the last talk, and right before I went on, JT asked me if I would like to come back the following year. And I got on stage, and at the end I said, you know, JT just asked me if I’d like to come back next year, and I’m going to tell them no, I don’t want to come back unless you have more than just me on stage representing women. I was literally the only woman on stage all weekend. And JT was like “Done.” And sure enough, the following year, I think there were four more women there. And the year after that they’ve—and so like, they listened immediately. And reacted immediately. And I really appreciate that. I wish more conferences would.

Stephanie Zvan: They did the same thing here, too. I put out the blog post talking about anti-harassment policies on May 22nd, and on May 23rd, they got ahold of Jen and said so, we’re going to put one in place!

Rebecca Watson: Mhmm. Yeah, I also just heard from Tanya Smith, who was president of Atheist Alliance, International, is now on their board, because she has been watching this, and she wants to do the same for their conferences. So, you know, there are people out there. And, I’ll say that now, I’ve written up a standard rider, that I send. Like, just a one page thing, where I send it to people who want me to come speak. And on it is you have to have at least this percentage of women on the stage if this is for a conference, you know.

Ian Cromwell: And a private elevator. [deadpan]

Rebecca Watson: And a private elevator.


Jason Thibeault: green M&M’s

[more laughter]

Rebecca Watson: All white dressing room. Um, no, and an anti-harassment policy. I just heard back from the first conference I sent it to, and they’re like, yeah, done. So, you know, there are plenty of people out there willing to make these changes. Because really, theyre simple changes. They don’t actually require that much effort. Because a lot of people are doing the work for you. Plenty of people have written up anti-harassment policies that you can totally crib. Nobody’s going to complain. Inviting more women, not a big deal anymore. Just look at the panels for Women in Secularism, and then just take a few names off there. It’s really easy these days.

PZ Myers. I think that was the great thing about Women in Secularism. It suddenly took all these women and put them in one place and said hey, look here. Here are the people you can invite to future conferences. And they all did a marvelous job.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah.

PZ Myers: There was a lot of buzz about that conference, which was just wonderful.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah

Stephanie Zvan: Although really, they should have turned the careas on the audience for that as well. You wouldn’t believe how many local group leaders and that sort of thing were in the audience. We had a state legislator from Arkansas—no, not Arkansas, Arizona. So, she’s got to be feeling a little lonely at the moment. [PZ chuckles] I think Women in Secularism was a good thing.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah.

Dan Fincke: Was the Kirstyn Sinema, who’s running for Congress?

Stephanie Zvan: Umm, I am not sure. I would actually have to look at the name.

Dan Fincke: Okay.

Stephanie Zvan: I’ve been a little busy this month.


Jason Thibeault: Don’t know what with!

PZ Myers: Okay, well, let’s turn this conversation around a little bit. We’ve already started talked about this: What are the productive things we can tell DJ and other people to do to fix this problem?

Ophelia Benson: How do we tell DJ anything? He hasn’t been communicating, that I know of. Has he? Is he contactable?

[Ian, PZ, Jason all speak. Sounds like: l;sadkjf-de-blog. Ian clarified his part]
Ian Cromwell: He reads your blog.

Jason Thibeault: He’s effectively stopped participating in this conversation quite some time ago.

Ian Cromwell: Probably smart.

Ophelia Benson: Exactly.

Al Stefanell: I’m going with [gets drowned out by Ophelia]

Ophelia Benson: I don’t feel there’s any way to effectively communicate with him.

Greg Laden: Well, one thing—we could ask this question, and that is the thing that started this conversation about this, and that is: Why did the number of women going to TAM shift from 50 to 18 percent? And I’m not saying that’s something we should ask, but it is a valid question. And I think we’ve demonstrated in this conversation, that it wasn’t anything that bloggers or feminists or women or anybody else were saying to chase them away from TAM. Yet, if it’s really something that happened, it’s interesting. And why is it that that occurred? It might be interesting to bring that up. Another thing I want to mention is, one thing I’ve noticed. This happened with Greta today or yesterday. It happened with Ashley, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us, because she’s not near her computer this weekend, I guess. But DJ has presented these ideas that we’ve all said should be walked back, and he hasn’t come anywhere near them. But there have been a number of people in this conversation, this larger scale conversation, over the last couple weeks, who have been scolded and told to quiet down. Ashley’s example, which several of you have blogged about in detail, is a great example of it. Where she got some things slightly wrong, and now it’s all okay because she’s admitted that she was wrong and it’s all been fixed. To me, it feels really bad to see people who are coming forward to speak out are being told ‘you got this detail wrong, therefore you are invalid’. It’s kind of a, it’s a bad—and that’s not DJ doing it, it’s just a bunch of people in the blogosphere, a bunch of dickheads in the blogosphere that are doing that. And I think that—

Jason Thibeault: Language, Greg!

Greg Laden: Yeah, I know. I could get worse. Did you see Linus Torvalds’ comment about nVidia the other day? Anyway, never mind that. The point is, I think that’s a thing that’s going on now, that we should address. Not necessarily in this conversation, but we should keep an eye out for, call people on it when they’re doing it. When they’re saying okay, everything’s fine, DJ’s still left this in the open, TAM is still an issue that hasn’t been resolved, but this particular woman over here made a complaint about harassment, she got some details wrong, and she just better shut up, okay. That’s what I’m seeing. That’s something that has to be fixed. That, plus his original question. Why are women not going to—were they all waiting for Amy’s funding? Maybe? Or because WIS happened this year? There’s a lot of possible explanations, some silly, some real, and I think that’s a valid question. And there’s probably not even that interesting of an answer. It’s probably not that motivating or crucial of an answer. But it is an open question that is—

Ophelia Benson: Well, actually, I think there probably are some crucial answers. And one that I came up fairly late in all this with—another thing I came up with is that TAM last year was very soon after the explosion of bile that resulted from Rebecca’s post about the elevator incident. Whereas this year, it’s after a solid year of nonstop vitriol on that subject. And so some of the kind of women who might want to attend TAM are going to be aware of that, and think that maybe the kind of people who go to TAM are the kind of people who write that thing, and might just go, ‘maybe not this year. Maybe things haven’t calmed down enough yet’. I think the reaction over the last year is very relevant to women attending things like TAM.

[Jason, Stephanie talk together. Jason apologizes]

Stephanie Zvan: IT’s not just TAM. I mean, there are people who see this stuff and say, you know, I just don’t want to ever deal with this entire movement again.

Ophelia Benson: We all see a lot of them on our blogs, you and I do.

Stephanie Zvan: [speaking as though a commenter on a blog] Yeah. And I can go find something else to do that doesn’t involve as much work and as much pushback for being a skeptic and an atheist, and while I’m doing whatever that is that’s kind of fun, I’m not getting all this crap.

Jason Thibeault: Yeah, a newbie walking into that conversation is going to see all that trolling, all this gaslighting,all of this vitriol, this outright misogyny. Theyre going to come away from the conversation thinking that this is what the secular community has to offer. And some voices really do need to be excluded from some conversations, just because they’re making it bad for us. They’re making it horrible.

PZ Myers: Well, I think—

Stephanie Zvan: If those voices are in the conversation, they are the only voice in the conversation.

Jason Thibeault: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Drowning everybody else out.

PZ Myers: But you know, I think a lot of women are accustomed to the fact that there’s going to be jerks everywhere. What theyre seeing has gone wrong in the conversation is the common, mundane, ordinary thing of assholes on the internet. But then what they’re also seeing is that organizations like JREF aren’t immediately jumping up and saying ‘no, stop that, we’re not going to allow that at our conference.’ They’re instead sort of blaming the women who point this out. And I think that’s got to be a far more discouraging phenomenon than the existence of assholes. Because—

Ophelia Benson: Absolutely. And it’s not just JREF. I mean, I have ex-friends, people—men—who I thought were decent people, doing exactly the same thing: going on Twitter and Facebook and ranting and raving about the evils of FtB. While totally ignoring a solid year’s worth of vitriolic commentary about women, using language that I shouldn’t use in a video, and that just flies under the radar, and meanwhile, FtB is the source of all evil.

PZ Myers: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you hear all these people screaming about Jason’s calling somebody a douchebag—which I do all the time too. And—

Jason Thibeault: And so does Penn Jillette, but that’s apparently okay for him.

PZ Myers: Yes, it’s okay for Penn Jillette. And then at the same time, there’s this little conclave of people who have been calling Ophelia and Rebecca the most appalling names. And these people know about that. Yet that’s not a sufficient topic to get them outraged. It’s very peculiar how one-sided their anguish over language is.

Jason Thibeault: Yeah, nobody’s calling out Godwinning on ‘feminazi’. But you hear that all the damn time.

PZ Myers: Right.

Rebecca Watson: I love how many people are using that word these days. And I always wonder what percentage of them know that word started with Rush Limbaugh. [laughter] A very small percentage.

Dan Fincke: So one thing is that, as we’re saying, we’re never going to get rid of harassment entirely. So I think we need to send the message to organizers is—cause obviously humans are bad at statistics, right? So if you hear about three instances, and everything was wonderful, people, you know they’ll exaggerate how bad that was for the totality. What we’re trying to say is, we just want to make sure if there’s three incidents, all three incidents are handled appropriately and confidently. And so maybe it’s a matter of saying that at the end of conferences we just need to put the stress that we want to find out what were the harassment complaints and how were they dealt with? And give a pat on the back to the organizers for doing a good job where they did a good job. And not giving any ammunition to this notion that we’re demanding from conferences is absolute perfection in terms of keeping anything from happening. The point is, we want to document where things go well, where problems are dealt with properly, and I guess maybe give an incentive to these organizations to do that, cause that sends the message that then, if anything does happen in this organization, here’s good press about them doing something about it. Does that make sense?

Stephanie Zvan: Yeah, there’s a huge difference between a story that says, “So, yeah, I ran into this random asshole and they did this. Then I went to the people who are supposed to be on my side and making sure that everything went well, and they didn’t do anything.” and a story that starts out the same and says “Yes, they took really good care of me. It was really prompt, I feel it was all handled beautifully.” I mean, Elyse’s story about Skepticamp Ohio, which they had their event four days after this whole discussion started, and they had a harassment policy in place by then. They had managed to make it work. And they actually had to use it twice. But both of the stories that came out of there are about people saying this was handled beautifully.

[general agreement]

Stephanie Zvan: And for a lot of people, it was the first time something had been handled beautifully.

Al Stefanell: Not to mention that these organizations—these conference organizers—should be looking forward to the feedback, this type of feedback. I don’t know anyone, and I’ve known a couple of conference organizers, and I don’t know anyone that wants their conference to be less successful the following year. So it would behoove them—and I believe I’m using that word correctly [laughter]—I’ve been called on that a couple of times—to welcome this feedback. Not only from the speakers, but also from the attendees. And also, welcome the publicity that they did acknowledge that they had an issue, and they handled it appropriately. That’s going to make people, particularly women, want to come back to speak at these events, and for the attendees to tell all their friends, and maybe bring two or three people more next year. But not acknowledging it, and sweeping it under the rug…it’s counterproductive to what I would guess any of then [?] organizers is going to want to do.

Jason Thibeault: I think it’s rather telling.

Ian Cromwell: For anyone whose been sort of skimming this video, maybe getting lost in the sea of voices, rewind it now, and listen to what Stephanie and Al have just said, because that was probably the take home message of this whole thing. You want the stories of when it works out. That’s the most powerful thing you can do. Enforce your policy, and all will be well.

Rebecca Watson: I like how Ian assumes how anyone skimming the video is going to stop on his.

Ian Cromwell: Right? I know.

[lots of laughter]

Someone: I’m skeptical.

Rebecca Watson: Hey, sports fans, just so you know..!

Jason Thibeault: I think it’s rather telling that there’s a—I think it was Greta who pointed this out—the OpenSF community, which is a community about polyamory; it’s essentially defined by sexuality and casual hookups, and it has an extremely strong anti-harassment policy in place. And it’s built around the idea of casual hookups, regardless of the fact that it says “if somebody says no, no. If somebody bothers you after you’ve told them no, tell us. If somebody touches you without permission, tell us.” This can be done.

Al Stefanelli: It should be done.

Jason Thibeault: Yeah. It can be done without even—and I know, this is sort of devil’s advocate for people who think that the community is all about the hooking up—it shouldn’t be. But on the off chance that people do find mutual interest with one another, they’re not going to be punished for having mutual interest.

PZ Myers: Well, mutual interest is different from being a meat market.

Jason Thibeault: Very.

PZ Myers: TAM is not a meat market. TAM is not a place that you go specifically to look for casual sex. But yeah, if you make great [something, people were talking] there, that’s…

Stephanie Zvan: It’s really expensive casual sex.

[laughter, agreement]

Rebecca Watson: You can find it much cheaper in Las Vegas.

Al Stefanelli: You can just crash a family reunion in Alabama.

[laughs, rueful chuckles]

Ian Cromwell: And….we’re there now. All two atheists from Alabama who are watching this have now sworn off FtB forever.

Jason Thibeault: Thanks, guy.

Dan Fincke: Does everyone agree with Jen McCreight’s suggestion that speakers should consider themselves to be totally out of bounds to ever hook up with an attendee? Or could that ever happen ethically, do you think? Or do you think that there should be a norm against that, as a blanket rule?

PZ Myers: There should be a norm. It’s like being a teacher and a student. There’s a pretty strong ethic against that kind of behavior in the teaching profession. That’s basically what youre doing at these things, is youre standing up there as the anointed one, who’s giving out the wisdom of the ages out to the crowd. And you should consider yourself a little bit apart from [muffled]

Ian Cromwell: So I have two questions. That doesn’t mean conference presenters couldn’t hook up with each other, right?


Jason Thibeault: Ian, you are still good.

Ian Cromwell: My second question is, PZ, you’re going to be in Ottawa in November, right?

PZ Myers: Correct.

Ian Cromwell:…see ya there, buddy.

[hilarity ensues]

Al Stefanelli: I suddenly don’t feel so bad about that Alabama joke.

Greg Laden: This argument will get developed on the internet in some ways, I’m sure, but the thing is, even within universities, it’s interesting, technically a professor and a student can have sex. Because in this country, it’s America, and we can always do that. Freedom of speech. The problem is, that there is irresponsible behavior, and there are things—an institution can’t say you can’t do something. TAM cannot say ‘you can come and speak with us, but you cannot have sex with anyone in the hotel.’ They can’t do that. But it can still become a norm, which is the word that’s being used here—that it doesn’t happen, that there is an imbalanced position here. And it’s interesting, that people have been making it the case on the internet that there isn’t an imbalance. The very same people that complained about Rebecca, regarding balance of power conversations in public places, are now saying that there isn’t an imbalance of power between speakers and students who have gotten their way to some conference somewhere. There are laws and there are requirements and there are legal requirements and then there are norms. And I think our norm really should be professional behavior, just like there is at any other conference.

Ophelia Benson: But at the same time, Stephanie was just making the point that at least half the audience at Women in Secularism could just as well have been on the stage. So I don’t think it’s always the case that the—Well, I know it’s not always the case that the people on the stage are more glorious than the audience. Because I’ve sometimes been on the stage, and I know very well I’m not more glorious than anybody in the audience. So I think the blanket rule….I’m a little iffy about that one.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, I agree. I agree with Ophelia. I don’t think that there is that big of a power imbalance between speaker and audience, and I think that the main…the standard should simply be respect, and respecting other people who are at this conference in a professional way, so that you are approaching them as another human being first. You know, not as a potential sexual partner. And I think that should–

Jason Thibeault: You mean get to know people first? That’s crazy.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, and I think that should hold true whether or not you’re an audience member, or whether or not you’re a speaker. I don’t really—like if a speaker wants to have sex with an audience member, I think that’s fine, honestly. So long as they go about it in a way where everyone feels comfortable, there’s enthusiastic consent on both sides, then honestly I think I’m alright with it. Nothing like getting into the places where we disagree right at the end.


Stephanie Zvan: And ironically, one of the things that would actually reduce the power imbalance, because part of the power imbalance between speakers and audiences isn’t just fame. It comes from the fact that the speaker is actually connected to the event, and thus connected to the organization, and so on and so forth. But putting good anti-harassment policies in place levels that field a lot. Suddently the event is also representing the people in the audience, not just the people who are there speaking for it.

Al Stefanelli: The whole issue doesn’t surround consensual interpersonal relationships. It surrounds harassment. Which is a completely different issue than two people wanting to hook up at a conference. If one of those two people doesn’t want to hook up, then youre entereing the realm of harassment. And that’s where I believe we all agree, these conferences need to have a unifying policy in place.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, but in practical terms we have to be careful, because if we’re going to have to hold these organizations accountable if they get a reputation for a lot of this hooking up happening…I guess in my view it comes down to where there’s a power imbalance, the person who’s more powerful has to give that much more room for the other person to be the initator. And a lot more latitude, a lot more easy outs, to reject. But if someone was actively pursuing the speaker, or there was a connection that was developing, and there was no abusing of the leverage, then I think yeah. But the problem then is, again, how are we going to do these norms? Because, like Greg said, if it’s just a norm, and the organizations really can’t crack down on the consensual stuff, then if some people look at a speaker who sleeps with a lot of attendees, and says ‘stop inviting that guy,’ then it becomes difficult. Right? Cause now you’re asking these organizations to adopt this norm, and not one they’re bound to, and one that’s disputable. So, it becomes really difficult there.

Al Stefanelli: Yeah, but Rebecca made a really, really good point, earlier on, that there are a lot of very, very good harassment policies. And I don’t think any organization—and I agree with Rebecca—I don’t think there’s any organization that’s going to say ‘hey, you stole my harassment policy’. There are some very very good ones out there, and there are those that address those very issues that you brought up.

Dan Fincke: Okay

Jason Thibeault: We have to remember that the conference is a workplace for some of us. When youre up on stage, youre in a workplace. Workplaces have harassment policies.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, and I can definitely see holding to a higher standard people who are being there as paid speakers, and particularly who are there as staff of the conference. People who are supposed to be helping attendees if they have a problem, things like that. Especially while they’re on the clock. I could definitely see holding them to a very high standard in terms of harassment. But yeah, I guess I just…I’m okay with enthusiastic consent, even when it….and I’ll just say that I’ve gotten way more harassment as a speaker than as an attendee. So I think that even talking about speakers sleeping with attendees is low on my list of harassment to sort out.

Greg Laden: I don’t think we’ve encountered a situation where we’re disagreeing here as much as we’ve suddenly encountered a situation where it’s really complicated. Like Stephanie said, whether or not you’re in front of the audience gives you certain power. Whether or not you’re the most famous skeptic in the world, who’s come to a meeting. Whether you’re male or female, there’s a difference. A friend of mine said yesterday she takes the bus all the time, and she has yet to take the bus and not get sexually harassed on the bus in her entire life. Very few men can say that, but a lot of women can. So there’s a gender imbalance here. So I think the other point is, nothing we’re talking about has been invented as an issue, or solution. As a problem or solution. None of these things have been discovered as problems in recent months, and none of these have been solved in recent months. They’re all decades-old issues. That have—as Jason said, it’s our workplace for many of us—and most people who exist in workplaces, or universities, or institutions, actually don’t understand their own harassment policies there. But these are things that have been solved and addressed, and I do think we need to look at that. I think we need to look at—I think JREF should hire, or at least consult with an HR to tell them how—at least—and a public relations consultant, to tell them how to get out of this problem right now.

Al Stefanelli: That’s a great idea. That’s a brilliant idea, Greg.

PZ Myers: Okay, let me just say that I said at the beginning we wouldn’t be long-winded, and we’d cut it off at about an hour. And that’s about now. So how about if we just go around, and everybody makes a final statement? Just sort of wraps things up. And we’ll conclude this session for the day, and talk about doing it again sometime. How’s that sound?


PZ Myers: Otherwise, we’ll be here all night. And I’ve got a Fathers’ Day dinner waiting for me. Okay, so whoever wants. Make some final statements, and we’ll move on.

Rebecca Watson: Well, can I start? Because I had one other thing to add to the conversation right there. Given it a little bit of thought, one other difference between being a speaker and being an attendee is that when a speaker’s the one doing the harassment, it’s much less likely that the attendee will want to report it, will feel safe reporting it, will feel that their report is going to be taken seriously. So in that regard, I think it is important to establish a policy in which you do make it clear that even speakers are held to this policy, and even if youre complaining about a speaker, you won’t be vilified, you won’t be publicized, you won’t be put through what I’ve been put through for the last year. Basically, making it as safe as possible for people to report speakers. So in that respect, I think there is a distinction to be made that would be helpful. Other than that, good discussion. Thanks for inviting me on. [makes thumbs up]

PZ Myers: Okay, anyone else?

Ophelia Benson: I’ll go by saying I agree with what Rebecca just said, and I hadn’t though of it, and so this was a worthwhile discussion for that.

Stephanie Zvan: I’ll close by saying I’ve been hearing a lot of, you know, there’s nothing that DJ can do right at this point. I don’t think that’s true. Frankly, I think getting out there and clarifying that last year’s policy, that he keeps referring to as last year’s policy, or another policy is there for this year—it’s there going forward, it’s going to be easy to find. That would—it’s a tiny gesture, and it would mend an awful lot of fences.

PZ Myers: And I also think that he ought to recognize that Skepchick and FtB have been tireless promoters of The Amazing Meeting. And what he’s doing is alienating an important part of his promotion machinery. He ought to be coming back to us and saying, yeah, okay, we think you’re good; try to do something to help us get more people here. Because I know I would be happy to be writing more about TAM. Because I think it’s been a marvelous meeting in the past. I would love to see more people going to it. And that’s what I want to do is, see that meeting succeed.

Ian Cromwell: So, you hear that folks? If you’re organizing a get-together, kiss our asses harder!


PZ Myers: No, you don’t have to do that! That’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying that…well, here, you know Skepchick and Freethought Blogs, these big organizations, these big collections of blogs on the internet, they can make a lot of noise for you. And TAM doesn’t have to kiss our asses, because we like TAM and we want to see it succeed. We just want to see them fix a few things here that have annoyed us lately.

Jason Thibeault: I very much want to see TAM succeed, despite all of DJ Grothe’s best efforts lately. I think he is the—he is his own biggest enemy right now, in that every time he opens his mouth, he sticks his foot in it, and he jams the other foot in, and turns them both sideways. I really wish that he still had a communications director [from Kate: one has been hired, as of June 20]. I understand his last one moved to England and abdicated the position, and there hasn’t been one now.

PZ Myers: Yeah, Sadie was wonderful. Sadie was a good person.

Rebecca Watson: Yeah, she was great.

Jason Thibeault: Every time he posts something online to do with TAM in an official capacity, he should be passing that through a communcations director. To make sure that he’s not going to do all of this splash damage. Because that’s all this is, is splash damage. And that’s the only reason we’re talking about him in particular. IT’s the only reason that Greg called on him to resign. If he had perhaps thought about what he was saying, and to whom—like who he was throwing under the bus—maybe we might not be having this conversation. Maybe we might just be saying yeah, TAM has a harassment policy as of last year, and we’ll just assume that’s his harassment policy, and we’re still good.

Ian Cromwell: I think the one thing to take away from this discussion is what Stephanie said, and what Al expanded upon. That, if you enforce the policy, you have success stories. You change the narrative from “this meeting or that meeting is a place where people go and get harassed” … you change the story from that to “this meeting is a place where people’s issues are taken seriously, and we have lots of evidence to back that up”. And that’s a major shift. And if you can get that accomplished, it doesn’t take a lot. All it takes is for you to actually enact a policy, and enforce it.

Dan Fincke: Yeah, and I want to just add that even though, you know, skepticism is a narrower thing, and TAM might be about promoting skepticism in general, and much more about promotions, but that the idea that we should just ignore ethics, and not think about the skeptical and atheist community as a constructive, values-building project, is a cop-out, and it’s just giving the culture over to religion. Because when they go on CNN, and they say, we want to have a conversation on ethics, I guess we should talk to the clergy, they don’t think we should bring in an atheist and hear what a naturalistic worldview would say about the issue, and that’s our failure. And when people say atheists have no ethics, it’s because we have no public voice as ‘these are atheists’ values’. And it means really being proactive about developing discussions about values, and the notion that these conferences should just be about talking about what we already agree on, and avoiding actual debate, and actual challenge of each other in values, is just a cop-out. And I just can’t believe that anybody who calls themselves a skeptic would want that.

Al Stefanelli: And I’m going to expound just a little bit on what Dan just said, because I’m coming from the same point of view. We’ve already got a negative perception by the religious community, which as we all know, is a majority. And we don’t need to do anything that is going to further the perception that we’re a bunch of unethical or immoral individuals or that that’s what we’re trying to promote. It’s always unfortunate when infighting amongst the skeptic community takes precedence, and is in the news. We do need to do a better job of policing ourselves, and we do need to do what Dan said: attack the issues that are important to all of us, outside of the spectrum of people who don’t believe in God. It’s our point of view, and our view of how we should interact with each other as human beings. And it is a cop-out if we don’t do that. We need to do a better job.

PZ Myers: Okay. I think that’s a good note to end it on.

Greg Laden: Oh, I have one more quick thing, I just want to ask a question —

Rebecca Watson: Oh for god’s sakes, Greg!


Greg Laden: I just want to know Rebecca — why can’t we all just learn to get along?


Stephanie Zvan: That’ll have to be for next —

Al Stefanelli: Yeah let’s all sing kumbaya.

Rebecca Watson: RIP Rodney King.

[closing up]

The FtB Conversation about TAM: Transcript pt. 2

19 thoughts on “The FtB Conversation about TAM: Transcript pt. 2

  1. 5

    Hey, my last comment is missing. Just because Rodney King is dead does not mean that he did not have a point!

    Anyway, thanks, Kate, that must have been a lot of work. Your efforts are much appreciated!

  2. 8

    “this meeting is a place where people’s issues are taken seriously”. And we have lots of evidence to back that up.

    That whole thing should be in quotes.

    Fantastic job, Kate! Your hard work is truly impressive.

  3. 15

    Katherine: it’s something we’ve discussed a few times now. And the place that comes up most often is Seattle. Sadly, that means I’ll have to spend ~$1400 to get there. Even if I do a land border crossing in Vancouver. And that’s not to mention the new Europeans and Kylie the Australian.

    Much as I’d love such a conference, it would be very difficult for all of us financially right now.

  4. 16


    It might be something to bring up, but if you do it in Minnesota at around the time of CONvergence, you’ll mesh right in with SkepchicCON and stuff…could perhaps do a Wens/Thurs thing or something to that effect.

    Just a thought…plus would make it cheaper for me since I’m in MN already 😉

  5. 17

    Well, right now, the joint FtB/SkepchickCON skepticism/science track at CONvergence is the closest thing to a con of our own, but while our audiences overlap, they’re not entirely the same. And neither of us deserves to be stomped on by the other’s CON.

    And by the way, I’m not only going to CONvergence and SkepchickCON, but I’m on three panels. 😀

    But teaming up together, doing fundraisers and such, might make it more plausible in the future. It’s worth considering. I’m no good with the logistics, but I would be more than happy to do whatever tech needs to be done.

  6. 18

    Cool, I’ll be there and will have to see on which panels I can get too…that’s the problem of having so many I want to see and my wife and son may not be into the same things. But I hope to meet you and other FTB and Skepchicks all weekend…will be a fun time 🙂

  7. 19

    It took me ages to find this, since I could not see a link either on Part 1 or on the post with the actual video.

    Otherwise this is a wonderful job well done, thank you!

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