Timeline of harassment and sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer

Today’s a big news cycle in movement skepticism and movement atheism. My old timeline is woefully incomplete and drastically altered by new revelations, now, thanks to Mark Oppenheimer’s article on the state of misogyny in the atheist and skeptic movements over on Buzzfeed.

So, I’m pulling out the relevant links and pullquotes and revamping this timeline. It’s going to be largely intact from the old one, only maybe expanded to provide more context to each individual point. As with previous timelines this will be a living document — it’s as likely new links will be added or intermixed as I have time, but you’re more than welcome to contribute links in the comments.


June 19, 2008
Alison Smith
At The Amazing Meeting, Alison Smith, then-JREF employee through August 2010, and founder of the now defunct Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society (down) (cached copy), alleges that Michael Shermer plied her with alcohol to the point of losing time and memory, then brought her to his hotel room and had non-consensual sex with her. (This is known, in legal circles and to us Social Justice Warriors and feminazis, as rape.)


September, 2008
Pamela Gay
Gay has recounted in several places, without naming names, a story that while being introduced to Michael Shermer at Dragon*Con in 2008, he made a drunken lunge at her breasts instead of shaking her hand. DJ Grothe has related this story a number of times to a number of people, indicating that he had intervened to stop the public groping from happening.


May 2010
Ashley Miller
At a dinner event she attended featuring PZ Myers, Ashley encounters Michael Shermer, who allegedly spoke with her for several minutes while massaging his genitals through his jeans. She describes the incident here.


May 23rd, 2012
pseudonymous commenter Miriamne
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”.


August 7th, 2013

Unnamed victims via Brian Thompson
Brian Thompson, former employee of JREF, claims to personally know a number of women who have been harassed by Shermer, via Twitter. He specifies two instances of ‘being creeped at’, one of ‘being groped’ (by Shermer and/or another alleged creeper, Ben Radford). This could certainly refer to him being present for Shermer’s lunge at Pamela Gay.

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


August 8th, 2013

Unnamed victims via PZ Myers — Alison Smith
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.


August 9th, 2013

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

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

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


August 13th, 2013

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

Dallas J. Haugh
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
The deadline given to PZ by Michael Shermer’s lawyers to acknowledge receipt has elapsed. The post is still up.


August 16th, 2013

Ian Murphy
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
Emery Emery
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.


August 26th, 2013
John Loftus
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.


August, 2013
Taylor Proctor, Derek Colanduno
After seeing Derek Colanduno of the Skepticality podcast, lamenting “witch-hunts” and “lies” regarding the allegations of sexual harassment being made about Michael Shermer, Taylor Proctor reported some untoward behaviour by Shermer that she’d experienced at Dragon*Con 2008, expecting that he knew she was not a liar. On Sept 18th, 2014, Proctor brings up this conversation on Facebook on Colanduno’s wall. Colanduno then claims she is a liar, but Proctor provides screenshots of the conversation from August 2013, wherein he claims he’d have a talk with Shermer. In 2008, Colanduno was in fact director of the skeptic’s track at Dragon*Con, and each subsequent year through 2014. Colanduno went on to invite Shermer to Dragon*Con 2013 and 2014.


September 5th, 2013
Emery Emery
In an update on Emery Emery’s 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 10th, 2013
Michael Shermer
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…


September 19th, 2013
Emery Emery
The fundraiser closes for Michael Shermer’s legal offense fund, having raised a total of $8,289.


November 6th, 2013
Pamela Gay
During the “Ripples of Doubt” science blogosphere event following Bora Zivkovic’s admission that he’d serially harassed women for sex, Pamela Gay talks about the fallout from her speech at TAM 2012, Make The World Better, wherein she described some of the harassment she’d encountered without naming names. Her post about that fallout and the damage the speech did to her career is called Truth Against Humanity. She again describes, without naming names, the incident with Michael Shermer attempting to grope her and being stopped by DJ Grothe.


May 31, 2014
Pamela Gay
In the months since her post on Ripples of Doubt, Pamela Gay describes how she’s sorry she’d stayed silent about the incident in 2008 when Shermer allegedly attempted to grope her, and acknowledges the psychological damage that bottling it up and hiding it to protect her career has done. She further alleges that DJ Grothe, who intervened in the incident, threatened to testify on Shermer’s behalf against her if she didn’t stop talking about the incident. Interestingly, she didn’t name any names then either, and DJ Grothe has reportedly shared the story of intervening against Shermer with a number of independent members of the skeptical community.


August 9th, 2014
Stephanie Zvan
While for a number of reasons, she was keeping relatively quiet about this milestone, Stephanie did note that the statute of limitations in California had run out on Shermer actually suing Myers.


September 11th, 2014
Mark Oppenheimer
The NY Times contributor Mark Oppenheimer writes a very long, detailed highlights-reel on the harassment campaigns being run within the atheist and skeptical movements, including naming three of the victims of Shermer’s alleged predations. There are actually a large number of bombshells in this piece alone which had until now not been public, which I’ll further itemize:

  • The person in the “Grenade” post by Myers was actually Alison Smith, a known entity in the skeptical community
  • Shermer has actively changed his story from what he reported at the time in his rebuttal statement — from two unknown people (one with “dreadlocks”) being upset that his talking with Smith was preventing them from “getting into her pants”, so they started spreading rumors, to that he and Smith had had sober consensual sex that night, initiated by a cold proposition by Smith in a bathroom.
  • Ashley Miller apparently had a several-minute-long conversation with Shermer while he was actively massaging his penis through his jeans, and trying to arrange himself such that she had to see it and notice
  • James Randi was aware of complaints, and if only because Shermer wasn’t violent, ignored them:

    Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that[.] I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference. His reply, […] is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.

  • Emery Emery gave the money from the fundraiser to Shermer’s lawyers, which, considering they didn’t sue Myers, leaves the fate of those funds in question. What did they pay for, and/or how much was returned to Shermer or Emery? If returned to Emery, what charity did he choose to contribute the funds to?

There are a few parts of Oppenheimer’s narrative that could use some polish — the depiction of Melody Hensley as entirely shut-in is grossly inaccurate, even where being largely bedridden and having muscle atrophy is demonstrably true, and using her as a counterexample to Rebecca Watson’s “grace” handling similar harassment is irritating at absolute best. The entire elision of DJ Grothe, as President of JREF, taking then dismissing then denying numerous reports of harassment, including ones placed by Ashley Miller, could provide much-needed context in this larger battle.

The discussion of sexual harassment is being misframed. The problem here is not Shermer, nor any of the numerous people like him. The problem is misogyny, rape culture and entitlement, and Shermer and his ilk are symptoms. His defenders and his changing story are evidence of the existence of this rape culture.


September 12th, 2014
Ashley Miller
Ashley posts her fuller description of Shermer’s harassment in 2010 in response to the piece by Mark Oppenheimer.

Michael Shermer
Shermer posts his rebuttal statement in which he offers an email from Alison asking him to be a panelist on a panel about sex myths (such as regarding consent), and included a winking emoticon. This he suggests proves that her relationship with him was good.

Richard Dawkins
Dawkins tweets (as he is wont to do) a ridiculous defense of getting people drunk in order to take advantage to them. You might wonder why this is salient, if it might also just be coincidental that he’s repeated a rape-apologetics trope so shortly after a resurgence of interest in the allegations against his friend Michael Shermer.

Ophelia Benson
To explain the last point, Benson comments on her blog that during negotiations for what to say in the joint Benson/Dawkins statement against the harassment women like Rebecca Watson have received in the movement, Dawkins asked Benson to “use her influence” to curtail people insinuating that Michael Shermer has predated on women. This casts the tweets about drunken sex as premeditated.

PZ Myers
PZ shows the statement Shermer made in his rebuttal with other statements he’s made about the night in question in an exercise of compare/contrast. It seems there’s a lot in Shermer’s story that’s changed, and a number of factual statements that bear examination, such as the time frames proffered and the state of Alison Smith when they later ostensibly had consensual sex.


September 19th, 2014
PZ Myers
Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland apparently asked PZ Myers by email to retract statements against Michael Shermer and apologize to him for personal attacks very shortly after Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins’ joint statement against harassment in the community, apparently carbon-copying both Benson and Dawkins on the email unsolicited. On Sept 19th, Nugent made a version of this email to PZ a sort of open letter.

A large number of community members, myself included, interpret Nugent’s demands that rape accusations may only be levied through police reports as effectively demanding silence on the matter, especially considering the evidence is mounting that we effectively have the equivalent of a Catholic preacher in our midst. He also explicitly characterizes these events between Shermer and numerous women as “unreported”, though most if not all of them were actually reported to people that these women incorrectly thought would do something about it (c.f. DJ Grothe).


September 21st, 2014

Alison Smith
PZ Myers guest-posts some clarification offered by Alison Smith about the timeline, about witnesses, about what she experienced, and why she invited Shermer to the sex workshop. To summarize her fuller points:
– The time frame between leaving the party and calling to be picked up the first time while being witnessed to be fall-down drunk, and calling someone asking for help a second time after apparently being raped, is about two hours. (Remember also that Smith claims that Shermer offered to walk her back to HER room, but instead took her to HIS, according to the Oppenheimer piece.)
– Alison Smith was calling it rape basically immediately to the person who picked her up, not “the next morning” as a number of trolls have posited.
– The person who picked her up after the event was willing to be quoted by Oppenheimer on the timeline and how she reacted to the event, but was not approached.
– Smith had to be pushed out of the hotel in a wheelchair, which was volunteered to them by hotel staff who witnessed her drunken state.
– She expressly invited Shermer to the panel on sex in hopes that his ideas on consent would clash publicly with one other panelist. There was no intent to create a “gotcha” moment, but that the discussion would be “lively” as a result of their plainly differing ideas about consent.


September 22nd, 2014
Skeptifem’s husband, who dated Smith prior, corroborates Alison’s timeline with regard to how quickly she was referring to the event as rape after it happened.


September 22nd, 2014
Jeff Wagg
Jeff Wagg, former “General Manager” (in a time when there was no President) of JREF, comes out as the witness in question, who was willing to go on record for Oppenheimer and who corroborates every particular of Alison Smith’s story. Especially important is the fact that he was indeed a staff member at JREF at the time, and that in Oppenheimer’s piece, James Randi admits that staff member(s) had told him about Shermer — the staff member(s) could absolutely include Wagg. Shermer had said to Randi that at the time, he was so drunk that he didn’t remember what had happened (contradicting his later claims) — and that was enough for Randi to dismiss what had happened as, effectively, “boys will be boys”. (How misandrist.)

Among the questions that Jeff answers is a point blank question as to whether or not Alison Smith expressly said she’d been raped by Shermer in asking for help getting home from the hotel. Wagg answers “yes”.

It is also worth noting that Wagg’s later departure from the JREF was when DJ Grothe became president and “cleaned house”.


September 29th, 2014
Pamela Gay

In a post at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee laments the “wall of silence” protecting Shermer, and has quotes from Pamela Gay on the record admitting that her “Person B” in her post, the person whom we already knew through inference to be DJ Grothe who both protected her when Shermer made a lunge at her and threatened Gay with consequences if she would not recant, was in fact DJ Grothe. While we already figured this out, this is the first time she was on the record with his name. If Shermer is indeed guilty of sex crimes, it’s fairly obvious that DJ Grothe is directly responsible for some of the cover-up of same.

Timeline of harassment and sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer

39 thoughts on “Timeline of harassment and sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer

  1. 2

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

    The freze.it link goes to the post on pharyngula, not the pdf.

  2. 4

    Thanks, Jason. Your previous timelines are posts I refer to frequently. One error I noticed: you have Pamela Gay’s second blog post at July 31, 2014, but it is in fact dated May 31.

  3. 5

    […] Read the timeline, wherein now-named people shared their stories, and still-anonymous people also have said Shermer victimized them, and named people not in the article have said Shermer harassed or assaulted them. Granted, these are not allegations that have been proved in a court of law. Shermer is still legally innocent, and will remain so unless he is convicted in a courtroom. But there comes a time when you need to take into account the fact that multiple people are saying similar things, and recognize that this is information you need to take into account before you spring to his defense. We do not need evidence beyond reasonable doubt when we’re considering whether to keep extending our respect to a person, and when we’re deciding whether to continue inviting him to speak, and whether he’s still welcome in our spaces.+ […]

  4. 7

    Rereading PZ’s post from last year describing how Shermer raped Smith, and now knowing more of the names/organizations. At the time, I did not think the rape happened at The Amazing Meeting. Holy shit. Smith told the JREF management in 2008 that Shermer raped her. He has been an honored TAM speaker every year since the rape. In contrast, Dr. Pamela Gay alluded to Shermer’s attempted assault of her (which did *not* occur at TAM), and did not name Shermer or threaten to reveal his name, in a talk at TAM 2012 about making the world a better place. Her talk was so popular, it received a standing ovation. She was instantly blacklisted from TAM, and in May this year, the JREF president threatened to ruin the career/life of Dr. Gay unless she lied to protect Shermer. And Shermer’s attempted sexual assault of Dr. Gay in 2008 was personally witnessed by the 2012 JREF president.

    Rape a woman: remain an honored TAM speaker.
    Briefly allude to an attempted sexual assault in a speech about making the world a better place: instant TAM blacklisting, and later threats from the JREF to damage career.
    If the JREF’s actions reflect the values of James Randi, the man is repugnant.

  5. 9

    With the conference of Shermer’s reported rape now clearly identified as TAM in ’08, another layer of dishonesty and disgusting priorities is revealed in regards to the conference harassment policy issue and everything which TAM/JREF/Randi/Grothe said/did not say on that matter. Nothing earth-changing, but their dismissiveness, foot-dragging, and defensiveness seems a bit more malevolent.

  6. 10

    Has Phil Plait ever commented on any of this? He became president of the JREF within a couple of months after TAM ’08 and remained president during TAM ’09, at which Shermer was a speaker. I really hate to think that Phil was complicit in burying this issue; but, at this point, I think it matters.

  7. 11

    Kellym: Not for nothing, but writing Gay’s fallout into the timeline was, for me, the most poignant part. It’s the only part that had direct repercussions on a victim after the fact so far, at least that has come to light. I would not be surprised, though, if Alison Smith’s community involvement evaporated because of the incident, but there’s no evidence of such that’s public at least.

  8. 15

    In case it slips by in the firehose flow of information: Alison Smith clarifies a few matters. Quoting in part:

    For other things, there were some other points that for whatever reason never made it into the Buzzfeed article (which confuses me, because this was all heavily evidenced and people were willing to come forward):

    The person who was on the phone both before and after was willing to be quoted on the two hour timeline.

    Another woman who was at the party was willing to be quoted about my behavior leaving the party – that I was babbling to myself incoherently, and very obviously drunk out of my mind.

    And then the same person who was willing to be quoted about the timeline was also willing to be quoted about the next part – that after he found me in the elevator when I was crying, he took me to my room, but I only stayed there for half an hour and insisted on being taken to the condo I was renting, off Flamingo property, because the idea of staying in the same hotel as Shermer was too much. And, at that point, which is now at least two and a half hours after I left the party, I had to be pushed in a wheelchair to get out of the hotel because I was still too drunk to make it under my own steam.

  9. 16

    Ah good, I see Dawkin’s use of influence on Benson made the timeline. PZ Myers claims Michael Nugent tried to do something similar to himself, by threatening on August 19th (see Benson’s #30) to go public with some allegations that eventually did get published. Nugent denies the accusation, and has published the email he sent to Myers in full.

    Interestingly, that email of Nugent was also CC’d to Dawkins and Benson. Nugent states he added them in honor of that joint statement, but by admitting to some communication between him and Dawkins he’s raised the (unlikely!) possibility that there was some collusion between the two to protect Shermer.

  10. 17

    And in the comments of PZ’s post, skeptifem writes:

    oh yeah, and just so people know, my husband dated alison before me. She told him shortly after it happened, and she called it rape from the start. She just didn’t make a huge deal out of it (who would want to? all that happens is you get treated even worse). When the accusations came out we both knew it was true, but didn’t know if it was alison or someone else. Other women involved with coordinating TAM let me know that shermer was on the creep list unofficially circulated by women as a means of self protection.

  11. 18

    And on top of that, Jeff Wagg has come forward:

    Alison’s timeline is correct. Approximately 30 minutes after I took her back to her room, she asked to be taken to the condo. She was having trouble walking to the car which was in the back valet area. Security noticed this, and stopped us, and then offered a wheelchair to help her get to the car. We accepted. I took her to the condo, stayed for a while and then returned to the Flamingo to get ready for the next day of TAM.

    I have no way of knowing what went on behind closed doors, but I do know that Alison was very upset, and very drunk. And what she told me that night matches what she’s saying now.

  12. 19

    Thanks for this timeline, it’s pretty good. I’m a bit let down because all the newest twit-drama isn’t included, but then I guess with most of it it’s hard to link it directly to Shermer.

    If one were to compile a timeline of all the rape-culture apologetics bullshit associated with Shermer you’d run out of internet ink.

  13. 20

    I still need to add Alison’s email posted at PZ’s, skeptifem’s comment, and Jeff Wagg’s corroboration at the JREF forums. I’ve not yet read all 27 pages of that thread, but I did save it all.

    And so far, what a surprise, some people who’ve been arguing for a decade that sexual harassment can’t possibly be happening and that harassment policies are like Stalin are in there now attacking Wagg and have been attacking Smith since the beginning. What a goddamn unmitigated surprise. Nobody could have predicted this shocking surprise in advance.

  14. 22

    Reposting my comment from the Lounge:

    Adam Lee just posted a piece calling out the “wall of silence” protecting Shermer – specifically Randi, Dawkins, Nugent, Coyne – and DJ Grothe, because Pamela Gay has gone on the record.

    …Today I received the following threat from the person I thought was my friend, the person who intervened for me, person B. It was in the context of trying to get me to say nothing ever happened. He wrote, “I will also publicly speak about this as necessary, providing all documentation as necessary, including photos, emails, etc., and contact all relevant employers, as well.” He cc’d Famous Person A.

    I’ve corresponded with Dr. Gay, and she’s agreed to speak on the record. According to her, “person B” is D.J. Grothe, the former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. (The Buzzfeed article cited Grothe as saying that “he had never once received a complaint” about Shermer’s behavior.)

    The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer

  15. 24

    Lady Mondegreen @20:

    Jason, that Ian Murphy link has been compromised–a warning comes up when I click on it.

    Is there a better link, or a screencap available?

    Google flags the Buffalo Beast as a known malware site. I don’t know why, but I’m confident enough of my browser security to wander in anyway and grab a PDF.

  16. 26

    Okay. I’m going to finally update this post tonight, before going to bed, because there’s so much that needs to be properly recorded in the timeline that I’ve been putting off for my own mental resources’ sake. Others don’t get that kind of luxury, so I’m setting myself this deadline now.

  17. 28

    Good to know someone is keeping track. It’s so easy to obfuscate when you know noone is willing to spend the time researching the sequence of events, so a one-step history is really valuable.
    Sorry to quibble, but do you really think misandry is a thing?

  18. 38

    […] have done some of this “witch-hunting” of this level before — that is to say, an aggregation of instances that make a person think perhaps a given situation is an actual trend and not just an isolated […]

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