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

  1. 52

    Oh, and here I thought he just played a terrible person.

    But I’m sure we, who’ve bought Shermer’s books & admired the guy for years, and not the guy whose videos are being hosted & promoted by Shermer’s organization, are the most susceptible to confirmation bias.

    Fuck you, Brian.

  2. 54

    “Ha ha, silly rape victims, you have no sense of personal responsibility, and people who believe you are MCCARTHYIST WITCH HUNTERS!”

    Oh, I get it now. Funny.

  3. 55

    The entry that is first on the timeline is exactly the wording I’ve heard in warnings about Shermer: “trying to sleep with a new young woman every TAM”. I also hear that most of them never come back to organized skepticism after that experience.

  4. 56

    Now for a personal story. My husband and I were on the very first JREF cruise in 2006; it was our first foray into the larger skeptic community. Shermer was one of the guests, and he seemed very attached to an attractive female member of our large group. I didn’t know he was married at the time, and she didn’t seem unhappy with his company, so I thought nothing of it. Maybe they were just friends.

    After the fact, when I found out he was married, I revised my opinion of him to “possibly sleazy”, but again, I had no evidence that the woman was not a consenting adult, or indeed that anything sexual happened between them. I didn’t see her for many years after that. I know she was active on the JREF forums prior to the cruise, but as I participated only for a brief time, I don’t know whether she stuck around.

    This year, I had the opportunity to travel with her again. Having heard what I’d heard since about Shermer (prior to actual rape allegations, just the sort of thing I quoted in the previous post), I wanted to ask her if he did anything inappropriate. Since I don’t know her well, I decided it was too personal and did not follow up. I don’t know what I would have done if she said, “Yes”.

  5. 57

    Sorry Kaboobie, but what is your post actually saying?

    Are you saying, God forbid, that…no, what are you saying?

    Are others saying the ambition to screw a new young woman at every TAM is somehow immoral and wrong?

    Are others suggesting that Krauss’ offer of 3-some with his wife his harrassment? Would you prefer he didn’t ask?

    Are any of these things rape?

    Do any of you understand libel?

    Do you realise that hero is completely fucked? Are you all willing to donate $$$ to help him out?

    Looks like the Patriarchy is winning this one.

  6. 58

    Sorry, Gareth, did the boat leave without you?
    Weeping on the bridge.
    Are you saying that consent is optional, as long as one is essentially made of stardust?
    Are you saying that you are actually stu… No, I cannot spell it out for it might be label.
    Also, I cannot spell. Only spit. Sorry. Again.
    But thanks for clarifications.

  7. 59

    PZ has posted a message acknowledging receipt of the letter from Shermer’s legal representation and has indicated that he may have to take down the post and the comments.

  8. 61

    […] A quote from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that’s relevant to what we’re seeing right now. We call ourselves rationalists but we devolve into hyperskepticism and denialism about real, demonstrable problems in our community. Problems like irrational hatred of feminism to the point of excusing harassment, death threats, rape threats et cetera as “trolling”. To the point of being unable to criticize our leaders for their well-evidenced transgressions. […]

  9. 64

    I did not read the entire comment thread for the video (Youtube’s layout is terrible for this), but found two comments from misterdeity.

    I witnessed this assault, and it was so bold and blatant that I and several other good men stood around because we couldn’t imagine that it wasn’t just the two of them playing around. None of us could imagine that someone would do such a terrible thing in a room full of people. We all felt so bad that we didn’t understand what was happening and stop it. Men, don’t make the same mistake. Until you know otherwise, don’t hesitate to step in. I adore you, Ashley, and I’m so sorry I didn’t do more.

    and also

    You’re not a mind reader. But you have to admit, that would be pretty damned crazy of me, right? I’ve spent the last seven years building something valuable to me — it’s how I make my living — but now I’m going to risk all of that (including my financial stability) just to lie about some incident for the sake of a cause I’ve shown absolutely no interest in? I’m not just some guy sayin’ x, y, and x. People know me and could ruin my reputation based on this.

  10. 66

    Has anyone else noticed that on the screenshot of PZ’s post in the cease and desist letter, that if you look at the tabs open at the bottom of the screen the person is looking at something to do with suffragettes and an image of a witch hunt? you would think Shermer would have a nice handy folder full of witch hunt images to use the amount of times he’s used it as a defense… can anyone tell what the other tabs are?

  11. 70

    can the victim blaming mr. deity episode be added to this list? they have had shermer on the show in the past, and the ideological implications seem relevant.

  12. 71

    Renee posts on Facebook that she was present to witness the assault described by Ashley Paramore that happened at TAM.

    It looks like this requires a Facebook account to see; can anyone screencap it?

    (Generally, archiving items linked from this list in as many places as possible seems like a good idea….)

  13. 72

    @ Blake:

    Here you go.

    Text is:

    Renée Davis-Pelt I cannot confirm the veracity of most of the claims, but the one made by Ashley Paramore is legit as I observed this myself. Without people coming forward with evidence and/or filing a police report it really does become a matter of he said/she said. It’s also true that our culture victim blames, and the consequences for the victim can be quite steep for reporting. Having been the victim of an attempted rape by a superior and having the audacity of not keeping my mouth shut and then reporting it many years ago, I know now what can happen. If I had known at the time how things were going to turn out, I probably would have kept my mouth shut like I was ordered to do by my supervisor and my CO. There was hell to pay, and I was the one who had to pay it.

    I don’t know what the answer is to solving the issue of women not coming forward, but having been there myself, I get why they don’t. So, what do we do about this in our society?

  14. 75

    I witnessed this assault, and it was so bold and blatant that I and several other good men stood around because we couldn’t imagine that it wasn’t just the two of them playing around. None of us could imagine that someone would do such a terrible thing in a room full of people. We all felt so bad that we didn’t understand what was happening and stop it. Men, don’t make the same mistake. Until you know otherwise, don’t hesitate to step in. I adore you, Ashley, and I’m so sorry I didn’t do more.

    I wonder how often this happens and a month later the people stand around have completely different memories and assure themselves that if such a terrible thing had actually happened they would have done something.

    It also makes me wonder if this person who did this was so comfortable doing it there that perhaps hes done it plenty of times and never gotten in trouble for it.

  15. 77

    The reasons why I deleted, recreated and redeleted my Facebook account make for a slightly weird story which this comment box is too narrow to contain.

    10:35am Central: Matthew Baxter, Karen Stollznow’s husband, in a comment on Blake Smith’s Facebook page, corroborates Stollznow’s story.

    Without an account, I can see Smith’s post, but not the comment by Baxter.

  16. 78

    […] For years leading up to PZ Myers’ clumsy disclosure of rape accusations, the debate of sexual harassment and “rape culture” within the skeptical/Atheist movement(s) was steadily rising to a full boil. I am a little frustrated by this debate because I don’t attend the events in question; I read the books, magazines and blogs and listen to pod-casts. In most instances I turn to these materials because I’m interested in science and philosophy, not necessarily because I want to read about gender and social policy (much less about the self-referential politics of skeptical advocacy organizations). But gender issues are now in the spotlight, and that is probably not a bad thing because the problem is real as evidenced by a number of documented, independent events. […]

  17. 79

    Re HJHornbeck @ #@58

    I think it was in a comment on an existing thread but I don’t recall which one. It may have been the last comment on the thread that had over 3000 comments.

  18. 80

    PZ’s post about Shermer’s lawyers, and about the possibility of having to remove the “grenade” post (“Lawyering Up”), was deleted and replaced with “Last Word for Now.”

  19. 82

    […] Recently, numerous allegations have flown throughout the blogosphere (at least, the portion that I read), identifying numerous high-profile skeptics/atheists/scientists as varying degrees of creepy to rapist. Others have jumped to their defense, crying that we ought to be skeptical of anonymous accusations and that women ought to just drink less. (See the timeline for a recap.) […]

  20. 92

    Jesse A. @79:

    There were reports that some malicious advertising was added to the website, causing a redirect. I tried viewing it on my browser (Firefox + AdBlocker Plus + NoScript), and it worked fine for me. Try disabling Javascript or installing a ad blocking tool, see if either helps.

  21. 95

    Dennis Haugh’s comments in PZ’s post about the need to find & help him indicate that he was presenting as male at the time, but bisexual, and that he literally means rape after Shermer got him drunk. So far no one has appeared to say that all he had to do was not drink so much or wear longer pants. Which is a good thing because, well, the rape seems to have been a factor in his decision to commit suicide.

    Thanks for the link to the restored post. His brother took it down while he was in the hospital.

  22. 97

    As long as we’re putting the pieces together: there’s no date on this but perhaps you could get one by talking to the commenter. Mrs. Shermer showed up to verify and query.

    “Several years ago, on a now defunct blog, I wrote about a man I briefly dated, who I found out was dating four other women at the same time (which is OK in principle) and was separated from his wife. But, he kept each of the women secret from each other and from his estranged wife. My blog was bout how he considered himself moral because he treated each individual woman very well; my point was that the women had a right to know that they were one of many.

    Since the blog was taken down, I have nothing in the way of evidence, but…I was sent a comment by a woman who thought the post was about Shermer, and said that he had confessed several ‘affairs’ and listed names. I recognized two of the names! After examining the email address and consulting with a friend who knows IT stuff, I responded with “Mrs.Shermer:” and assured the person that I was not another one of those women, and that the person I wrote about was indeed a guy I had dated and in no way involved with any skeptic community. The person ‘fessed up and admitted to being Mrs.Shermer and apologized for bothering me.

    I didn’t own the blog, and I contacted the person who did, but he deleted everything. Yes, only my word. One person can verify that he saw and read the comments, helped me identify the sender. But it speaks to a continued pattern. I also know one woman who was harrassed by Shermer – first person, not my neighbor’s brother’s wife. But she is afraid.”

    She also says,

    I enter this community about 7 years ago, and within a few months was warned about Shermer. This is nothing new.

  23. 99

    Markita @ 84

    This is the post by naomibaker that is on the timeline under August 9. Unless you were asking about the date she was contacted by Mrs. Shermer, which she does not specify.

    I don’t know when the Shermers got divorced. I do know that Michael Shermer was married when I first encountered him in 2006.

  24. 100

    It might be worth posting Emery Emery’s legal defense fund for Shermer, if only because it contains a statement by Shermer himself:

    “People are asking me about this legal fund set up in my name, if I am aware of it, if it is legit, should they donate?, etc. For the record: I am aware of and completely support this legal fund and deeply appreciate Emery for setting it up and for the people who have donated thus far. I made it clear to Emery when he set it up that the money goes into an account that I have no access to, that my legal bills will be paid out of the fund directly to the law firm representing me, and that if there is any money left over after the case is finished that it be donated by Emery to a nonprofit organization of his choice. If anyone would like to email me directly for confirmation of the above, my email is [email protected], which is posted on our web page http://www.skeptic.com. My reputation is all I have. I did nothing wrong–legally or morally–and I intend to defend myself and prosecute Myers until he issues a retraction and apology, as stated by my attorney.”

    –Michael Shermer

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