Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events

In the vein of the harassment policies campaign timeline, wherein the major players in the movement fought hard for harassment policies at secular events and largely won the day despite monumental pushback, I felt it prudent to get ahead of people trying to misinterpret the timeline of events and twist the timeline to their own ends. That harassment policies campaign actually contains a significant amount of back-story for a lot of these issues. It also includes a number of charges with regard to assaults that had been reported but not dealt with by the organizations in question. Take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with that timeline before returning here, please.

As a result of the community reaching a tipping point, with many prominent voices having been subjected to harassment for years on end, these past few weeks have become something of a watershed moment for our movements. It is important that the actions are documented, even where legal threats have removed the original claims. I will be updating this on the fly, as a living document, much as I did with the previous timeline. At the bottom is a list of links I’m already planning on including, that will be put into their proper positions as I go.

Please feel free to add important events in the comments, though I am not going back as far as WiS2 and documenting the controversy surrounding it unless it’s extremely relevant to this timeline. I am also not linking every single blog commentary unless it has important or unique events or pieces of context, though I am not against comments containing links to said less-directly-relevant commentary even if it doesn’t make it into the body of the post.

 

May 23rd, 2012
Pseudonymous commenter Miriamne, Michael Shermer, JREF
Prior to the current spate of naming, a comment left at Friendly Atheist names Michael Shermer as allegedly having harassed her, and “trying to sleep with a new young woman every TAM”.
[…]
July 29th, 2013

Ashley Paramore, unnamed assailant, JREF
Ashley details a recent sexual assault at a conference in a video on her Youtube channel, relating how a number of witnesses were present for an unwelcome groping at TAM.

 

August 6th, 2013

Karen Stollznow, unnamed assailant, unnamed organization
Possibly emboldened by Ashley Paramore’s stand, Karen Stollznow comes forward with her own story of having been serially sexually harassed and assaulted over the course of several years. (DOWN)

Ian Murphy, Ben Radford, CFI
Ian Murphy points the finger at Ben Radford as the serial harasser discussed in Karen Stollznow’s post, via Twitter.

PZ Myers, Ben Radford, CFI
PZ Myers updates a post linking to Stollznow’s blog several hours after Ian Murphy names Radford to verify that a number of others had named him as well in private emails.

 

August 7th, 2013

Carrie Poppy, DJ Grothe and Ben Radford, JREF and CFI
Carrie Poppy releases a series of email bombs about the Ben Radford case and describes the major events leading up to her leaving her job as Communications Director of JREF after being serially mistreated by DJ.

Sasha Pixlee, DJ Grothe, JREF
Sasha describes an incident when he first met DJ Grothe, wherein he suggests that he might drug Sasha and deliver him to his friends to “have fun with him”.

Jason Thibeault, Ben Radford, CFI
I point out that accounts regarding whether or not Radford was punished or even found to have sexually harassed Stollznow by the investigator are in contention, after a private message from Radford to someone who unfollowed him on Facebook is revealed in part in public.

Unnamed victims through Jen McCreight, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
Jen explains that one person alleged that Lawrence Krauss had harassed them, then later that a second person alleged he had assaulted them; and that this news came as no surprise as his name has long been whispered in the private back-channels at conferences between women wanting to protect themselves. (REDACTED)

Unnamed victims through Brian Thompson, Ben Radford and Michael Shermer, CFI and JREF
Brian Thompson, former employee of JREF, claims to personally know a number of women who have been harassed by Radford and Shermer, via Twitter. He specifies two instances of ‘being creeped at’, one of ‘being groped’.

Elyse Anders, Michael Shermer, JREF
Elyse describes some unwelcome salacious comments from Shermer after she drops a chicken tender at the TAM9 reception buffet.

 

August 8th, 2013

Matthew Baxter, Ben Radford, CFI
10:35am Central: Matthew Baxter, Karen Stollznow’s husband, in a comment on Blake Smith’s Facebook page, corroborates Stollznow’s story. Speaking directly to Ben Radford, he says that Radford persistently continued to contact Stollznow after being asked for years to stop. Baxter says that he and Stollznow have copies of correspondence backing this up. He also says that when Stollznow cut off communication with Radford, Radford called her “disrespectful.”

Jen McCreight, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
After a vaguely lawsuit-threatening comment by Krauss on her blog, Jen redacts the previous post and begins referring to him as Famous Skeptic.

Eddy Cara, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
Eddy relates several of the stories that have floated around regarding Krauss’ questionable activities on a CFI cruise, and how he is frequently mentioned as an alleged serial harasser by the informal back-channel of women trying to protect one another from such harassment at conferences. The post is taken down the same day after Krauss comments almost identically to what was posted at Jen’s; the post is replaced with a statement by The Heresy Club that it was found to be in breach of guidelines. (DOWN)

Eddy Cara, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
Eddy Cara comments on his personal blog about the post that was taken down from Heresy Club, which he considered a “calculated risk”.

Unnamed victim via PZ Myers, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
PZ Myers reports that someone he trusts has claimed having been sexually assaulted by Krauss.

Unnamed victim via Stephanie Zvan, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
Stephanie Zvan reports being told the same story as PZ regarding an assault by Lawrence Krauss, though it could be the same person reporting the same incident.

Unnamed victims via PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
PZ Myers posts accounts by sources he trusts regarding allegations of Michael Shermer’s witnessed and experienced predatory tactics and alleged sexual assault of women he coerced into a position where they could not legally consent.

bartmon, DJ Grothe, JREF
Former employee of JREF bartmon concurs with Carrie Poppy’s assessments regarding DJ Grothe.

 

August 9th, 2013

Unnamed victim through delphi_ote, Michael Shermer, JREF
A participant at the JREF forums corroborates the existence of allegations against Michael Shermer by unnamed alleged victims.

Ashley Paramore, unnamed assailants, JREF
Ashley details in a follow-up video the absurd levels of harassment she has since received for talking about her assault, despite not naming names. She uses this to explain why underreporting of harassment and assault is such an issue.

naomibaker, Michael Shermer, JREF
naomibaker relates her story about how she was contacted ostensibly by Michael Shermer’s wife asking if the story she told about a cheating husband without names was talking about Michael. She listed names that Shermer had apparently had affairs with, several of the names being recognizeable.

 

August 12th, 2013

Joe Anderson, Ben Radford, CFI
Joe Anderson corroborates Karen Stollznow’s story, stating that he was one of the folks deposed by CFI’s investigators about the behaviour he witnessed from Radford.

Karen Stollznow, Ben Radford, CFI
The original post by Karen Stollznow is taken down after Ron Lindsay sends a letter to Scientific American. Karen is told by SA staff that it was taken down due to legal threats, while Ron Lindsay claims to have only asked for corrections. The Google Cache version of the page now also 404s, but a copy still exists on Scrible.

PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
Michael Shermer’s lawyer issues a cease-and-desist letter demanding that PZ remove the post containing the allegations and claiming that PZ did not hear directly from the alleged victim as he stated, pointing out an update suggesting that Carrie Poppy is responsible for putting the alleged victim in contact with PZ (no word on whether PZ actually spoke to the victim directly though); and claiming that PZ has a profit motive in blog hits. (DOWN) (A cached copy exists on scribd.)

PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
The post where PZ Myers linked the relevant PDF disappears after getting 70 comments within the span of an hour or so. (DOWN) (A cached copy exists on Google Cache. A second cached copy exists on freze.it.)

PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
The previous post is quickly replaced with this one stating that PZ has contacted Ken from Popehat.

Stephanie Zvan, Ben Radford / Ron Lindsay, CFI
Stephanie Zvan analyzes the differences and commonalities extensively between Ron Lindsay’s letter demanding corrections of SciAm, and Karen Stollznow’s original allegations. Most relevant is the fact that Lindsay concedes the harassment actually happened.

 

August 13th, 2013

Carrie Poppy, Michael Shermer, JREF
Carrie Poppy and PZ Myers publicly state that Carrie only put the alleged victim into contact with PZ, and that Carrie is not really involved otherwise, despite the assertions in the cease-and-desist letter.

rikzilla, Michael Shermer, JREF
rikzilla relates a story where Shermer propositioned his wife, calling her sexy and asking her to his room for private drinks while he was present.

Renee Davis-Pelt, unnamed assailant, JREF
Renee posts on Facebook that she was present to witness the assault described by Ashley Paramore that happened at TAM.

Dallas J. Haugh, Michael Shermer, JREF
Dallas posts a suicide note which includes allegations of rape against Shermer. It is taken down by a relative when he is secured and taken to a hospital; after he’s released, he reposts it.

 

August 14th, 2013

PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
The deadline given to PZ by Michael Shermer’s lawyers to acknowledge receipt has elapsed. The post is still up.

Brian K. Dalton, unnamed assailant, JREF
In the comments on Ashley Paramore’s video, “Mr. Deity” corroborates Ashley’s story and regrets not doing anything at the time.

 

August 16th, 2013

Ian Murphy, Michael Shermer, JREF
Ian Murphy publishes an email exchange with Shermer wherein Shermer makes some comments, against his lawyer’s orders, about the allegations and his dealings with PZ Myers.

 

August 22nd, 2013
PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
On a fundraiser page built by Emery Emery, the “Ardent Atheist”, to raise funds for Michael Shermer’s legal offense, Shermer himself comments in support, stating that he was aware of the effort and that any funds not used toward suing PZ Myers would be given to a charity of Emery’s choice. Of note: Benjamin Radford may have donated $40 to this fund under the nym “jaminradford”.

 

August 26th, 2013
PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
John Loftus claims to have personal email from Michael Shermer suggesting that he knows who made the accusations against him, and that if anyone else heard what Shermer told Loftus, Shermer’s innocence would be obvious. He then later walks all of that back when Shermer apparently suggests he DOESN’T know who made the accusation, and was just guessing. I cover this episode on my blog.

 

September 5th, 2013
PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
In an update on his legal offense fund for Shermer, Emery Emery states that they’ve reached the first goal of $5000 and that Michael Shermer “has no choice” but to sue PZ because the post is still up.

 

September 9th, 2013
Sasha Pixlee, DJ Grothe, JREF
Elyse Anders tweets that DJ Grothe is threatening legal action for defamation against Women Thinking, Inc., parent organization of More Than Men, where Sasha Pixlee posted his accusation that DJ Grothe made a tasteless rape joke. She also suggests that DJ is attempting to hold a WTInc project hostage as collateral. Update: The project is a study about vaccines that is awaiting publication.

 

September 10th, 2013
PZ Myers, Michael Shermer, JREF
Michael Shermer tweets, then deletes, a photo of himself onstage in Germany in front of a sign that says “no drinks onstage” in German. Someone managed to get a screencap before it was removed. The tweet reads:

Skeptics in the Pub Köln “No drinks on stage”? What fun is that? I like to keep my glass full w/out my knowing it…

Sasha Pixlee, DJ Grothe, JREF
Elyse posts a full account of the nature of the legal threats against WTInc by DJ Grothe. Jamie Bernstein, ex member of WTInc, states that the vaccine study funding by JREF was halved to ~$5000 partway through, while the study was still in progress, but the organization completed the study without the extra funds nonetheless. This study has apparently completed the peer review process and JREF (and more specifically, DJ himself) has since been sitting on it for a year. DJ Grothe is evidently using this study as leverage in order to punish people he dislikes, e.g. Sasha Pixlee and Elyse Anders.

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190 thoughts on “Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events

  1. 6

    I wonder (and I mean this honestly, I hope I’ve earned enough social trust to make this comment) whether it might be better not to post a link to an archived copy of Jen’s post, or to make explicit comments about what she’s doing to anonymize anyone, unless Jen’s okay with it? Only in the sense that if she’s facing trouble, it might be less good to post things that might be evidence that might work against her?

    Also, Jason, consider deleting or editing this comment in whatever way suits you.

    And if you did clear with Jen first about how you want to characterize her contributions, then I withdraw my concern, of course. I promise I’m really only thinking about the concerns she voiced in removing her post, and not making anything harder for her. I admire your own loyalty and courage in standing up, and especially maintaining this post, and hope it’s clear I’m not intending to concern-troll here. Thanks for considering it, and no offence taken if you edit or delete this comment, of course.

  2. 7

    I’ll have to clarify — the headers are loosely “accuser, accused, relevant organization”, where the org named could either be the org responsible for a convention, or the org that the accused works for. In Carrie’s case, the story she tells about DJ Grothe and Ben Radford covers both JREF and CFI as Poppy worked for JREF, and Radford worked for CFI.

    I was hoping to find the Freezepage of Eddy Cara’s original post, where the slimepitters were really hoping Krauss would sue Jen McCreight. Putting all of these accusations and actions into a timeline will hopefully help show people what exactly is going on here, in its full scope.

  3. 8

    I did not consult with Jen. I have no intention of memory-holing who said what to whom, though. We know it happened. A threat of a lawsuit cannot scrub the collective memories of the entire internet.

  4. 10

    A few items, some of which Tom mentions:
    • While Jen’s August 7 post about Grothe and Krauss is not DOWN, it was REDACTED.
    • I can’t see how the last item for August 6 (comment on the Carrie Poppy thread by bartmon) can possibly have happened on a post that was first posted on August 7.
    • Shouldn’t there be an item for the post by Eddy Cara on the Heresy Club (indicating that it is now DOWN)?
    • PZ’s ‘Lawyering up’ blog post garnered well over 70 comments before it too was taken DOWN.

  5. 11

    I get a 404 on Shermer’s Cease and Desist letter to PZ. Is it just me?

    I was offline a lot of today and I’m not just hearing about PZ’s legal troubles, but can’t find any information about it. Am I just blind or is there something someone could link to?

  6. 12

    CaitieCat: sorry, not trying to be curt, just trying to make sure that my documentary intentions are absolutely clear. I totally get what you’re saying.

    Xanthe: the bartmon post was misplaced. Working on some of the other points. Any links would be helpful, even to posts that are no longer up!

  7. 14

    Should probably mention my post since it inspired whoever put up the Tumblr: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/08/06/more-names-will-be-named/ Its brief existence needs to be mentioned, even if none of the individual accusations are. I know I missed some toward the end, and it seems additionally unfair to only mention those I saw and remember.

    Comment from Brian Thompson, of JREF until recently: https://twitter.com/AmSci/status/365183553543208960

    Elyse’s experience with Shermer (Twitter thread): https://twitter.com/dELYSEious/status/365530559910387712

    The older links to Shermer accusations?

  8. 15

    Thank you for this, Jason.

    Aug. 8th, there was a comment on Facebook by Matthew, Karen’s husband, confirming her story. Half way down on the second of Blake Smith’s posts. (Link on Tom Foss’ comment, above.)

  9. 16

    August 8th, 2013

    Jen McCreight, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
    After a vaguely lawsuit-threatening comment by Krauss on her blog, Jen retracts the previous post and begins referring to him as Famous Skeptic.

    (my bolding)

    Jason, I think you’ve used the wrong word there. She didn’t retract the post (“to withdraw (a statement, opinion, etc.) as inaccurate or unjustified, especially formally or explicitly; take back“), she redacted the post (“to put into suitable literary form; revise; edit“).

    I’m not being pedantic, I think the use of the word “retract” gives the false impression that Jen no longer believes what was originally written in her post.

  10. 17

    PZ Meyers and Carrie Poppy confirm on Twitter that Carrie gave the Unnamed Source in the Shermer accusation PZ’s email address, and that PZ and the Unnamed Source were in direct email contact:
    https://twitter.com/pzmyers/status/367138518037839875

    Also, Sara Mayhew accuses Carrie and PZ of a “stunt”:
    https://twitter.com/saramayhew/status/367138964010192897

    (Don’t know if that last one is relevant to the timeline, I just found it to be a bizarre statement by Sara.)

  11. 19

    Perhaps you should have fact checked before asserting that Rhys and I left The Heresy club because of legal threats? There were no legal threats. Appalling integrity on your part here.

  12. 20

    Hayley, I didn’t assert that you left because of them, but rather that you left after them. Correlation does not equal causation. I am well aware that you left because you think it’s all made-up.

  13. 23

    OP:

    Ashley Paramore, unnamed assailant, unnamed organization
    Ashley details a recent sexual assault at a conference in a video on her Youtube channel, relating how a number of witnesses were present for an unwelcome groping.

    Ashley says that her assault took place at The Amazing Meeting at 1:14 in the video, and mentions JREF at 8:09. At 9:02, she makes it clear that JREF was the organization in charge:

    About a week after TAM, I got an email from the JREF to assure me that Jim-Bob would not be allowed back at any future TAMs.

    (Strangely, according to Chip Denman, “JREF does not and will not have a blacklist.” Perhaps Mr. Denman should be directed to Ashley’s video.)

  14. 27

    Silentbob: I’ve made that change. I agree that the wording is important.

    Stephanie: thanks, I’ll add them. Will have to check that previous timeline includes the naming of Shermer from 2012 — that was at Friendly Atheist, right?

    DaveW: I hadn’t re-watched the Ashley Paramore video to remember whether it was mentioned explicitly, apologies. I’ve removed the tweet implying this as it’s superfluous, and amended that link description.

  15. 30

    Ashley details in a follow-up video the absurd levels of harassment she has since received for talking about her assault, despite not naming names. She uses this to explain why underreporting of harassment and assault is such an issue.

    I’d like to think that the last partial quote that the bearded guy read outloud on Ashley’s video is a Poe. But it’s getting hard to tell. (Particularly out of context.)

    Funny video on a sad subject. I thought the guy’s delivery was terrific.

  16. 34

    Today – post on JREF forum –

    http://forums.randi.org/showpost.php?p=9424516&postcount=4099

    “I do trust PZ more than Shermer and I’ll tell you exactly and precisely why. When I attended TAM4 with my wife we spoke to Shermer and had him sign a book, before we departed he took my wife aside and briefly spoke in her ear. Only later, when we were in our room, did she tell me what Shermer said, that she was sexy and then suggested that the two of them slip away for drinks. He did that right in front of me…the husband he had just met…”

    I think I’ve heard that that story (or one just like it) was told on Pharyngula at some point, probably during Round 1 last year, but anyway there it is.

  17. 35

    From bartmon’s comment:

    …Ill also note that employees of the jref usually don’t speak up because they are legally bound to silence. I never took money from them when I tendered my resignation, so I am not bound by NDAs like others are.

    I wish the best for the JREF but unfortunately there are a lot of issues that trace back to the board level. When I left there were three board members, just three, including randi and there were lots of problems that effectively gave one person complete control over the JREF. This person once told me “DJ will never be fired”.

    First, if true, NDAs at a nonprofit like that look like a huge red flag.

    Second, who’s in charge of this organization? I can’t find a list of their board online. I had just assumed that it was standard practice for nonprofits to make this information publicly available. The only names I can find (on WP) are Randi’s (and it’s hard to tell how involved he is), Richard L. Adams, Jr., and Daniel “Chip” Denman. Are they the entirety of the board? Are they accountable to anyone beyond themselves? Do they follow any of the best practices for boards?

    Grothe’s decisions over the past few years have been so destructive to the organization, and informed by such a clear bias that it’s not possible to attribute them to mere incompetence, that it’s long made me wonder whose interests at JREF he supports and promotes. If an organization is marching to the political or personal tune of one or two individuals behind the scenes, that’s something people should know about.

  18. 37

    Unnamed victim via PZ Myers, Lawrence Krauss, CFI
    PZ Myers reports that someone he trusts has claimed having been sexually assaulted by Krauss.

    Excuse me, PZ, in the comment section provided the following information:

    Wait…the Lawrence Krauss story? Maybe it’s a little inappropriate, but it’s not clear what the circumstances are, the woman was just annoyed, and the proposition was dropped when rejected. Those long cruises encourage socializing, so I think he just stuck one toe over the boundary and pulled it back quickly. If she’d made it clear before that his advances were unwelcome, though, then it’s a different story.

    Let’s be clear about this, the accusations against Shermer and, apparently Radford, involve criminal acts. The accusation against Krauss involves conduct that is not illegal but nevertheless is crass and inappropriate. Krauss suggesting that a woman who he did not know accompany him and, apparently, his fiance to his room for a little 3 way action is noxious but not illegal. As I understand the story, she told him to get lost and he complied.

  19. 39

    colnago80, click on the link that Jason provided in the text you quote, then wait for the page to fully load and the correct comment to pop to the top of the screen. If it doesn’t do that for you, find comment #244.

  20. 40

    I downloaded the IRS 990 for JREF from guidestar.org. (Free but requires account.) The one filed for 2012 lists the following officers and board members:

    James Randi, Chairman of the Board (Salary $243,750/year)
    Rick Adams, Treasurer (uncompensated)
    Daniel Denman, Secretary (uncompensated)
    DJ Groethe, President (Salary 95,000/year)

    No other board members or officers are listed. Now, that’s what was filed in April 2013. It could have changed since then. But that’s not very old.

    Non-competes are somewhat common in executive management of non-profits, but not usually one so small (total budget is about $1.2 million). NDAs are unusual unless it’s a research institution working on something patentable, or there’s a serious lawsuit going on. I’ve never heard of one in health and human services (which is my non-profit field).

  21. 43

    Jason: It might be worth noting that Miriamne’s comment indicates that Shermer was the target of the “locker room banter” that DJ talked about a couple of times last year. There are some other details that DJ included among the ‘gossip,’ which shouldn’t be hard to track down.

  22. 44

    Thanks for this. Until I read this post I thought that the only evidence against Shermer was the anonymous accusation published by PZ.

    PZ is someone I consider a usually trustworthy source, but a single anonymous accusation is still pretty poor evidence.

    A pool of several independent anonymous accusations + some named accusations is a whole different kettle of fish.

  23. 47

    I have a cache of http://creativepooping.tumblr.com/, relevant segment:

    “Of course, if you’ve been following the skeptic blogosphere, you are probably aware that Michael Shermer is a rapist.

    Note the lack of elaborate conditionals there. This is because 1) the prior probabilities are not in his favor, and 2) I am fairly certain that Michael Shermer had nonconsensual sex with me. I don’t really wish to elaborate on the details (I am already feeling pretty sick writing this, and yet again, the evidence wouldn’t be enough), but I can confirm it involved the tactics already stated.”

  24. 48

    Re Zvan @ #36

    Fair enough, although the later comment from PZ seems to indicate that this is not the same woman as he originally cited. The woman originally cited was, apparently, the subject of Krauss’s invitation to a 3 way with him and his fiance.

    However it may be, clearly it would seem that JREF should give both Krauss and Shermer the heave ho until the matter is resolved.

    I am also concerned about another individual’s alleging that he was propositioned by DJ at one of the JREF conferences.

    Re eslpeth @ #38

    Site appears to be down at the present time.

  25. 50

    Since others are posting text, here’s the core of Davis-Pelt’s statement:

    I cannot confirm the veracity of most of the claims, but the one made by Ashley Paramore is legit as I observed this myself. […]

    The incident that Ashley mentioned at TAM had witnesses. I was one of them.

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