By Siouxsie Wiles 18/02/2016

My fellow sciblogger over on Open Parachute Ken Perrott has posted his thoughts on recent events involving prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, who was invited then disinvited to speak at a skeptics conference in the USA later this year. 

Basically, Dawkins was invited to speak at the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NECSS), then very publicly disinvited when he retweeted a video made by men’s rights activists (MRAs) attacking a feminist (who it turned out had had death threats from MRA’s for her views), then reinvited because NECSS “wish to use this incident as an opportunity to have a frank and open discussion of the deeper issues implicated here, which are causing conflict both within the skeptical community”. This is putting it mildly, but I’ll get on to that in a moment. In the meantime Dawkins has had a stroke, which he says may have been caused by this and other controversies he’s been involved in.

Perrott uses his post to explain how the controversy seems to “stem from Richard’s use of Twitter” and the mistaken generalisation from Dawkins tweets that he is a misogynist by people “who are already hostile or desperately searching for something to confirm their anti-Dawkins or anti-male bias”. Perrott then goes on to line up US feminist and skeptic Rebecca Watson, founder of Skepchick, as one of the villains of his piece, mainly based on her “bruised ego” and the fact the she has previously called out evolutionary psychology for many of the badly designed studies around gender and abilities/interests.

What Perrott either doesn’t know, or decided not to mention, is that Watson, along with many other feminist atheists and skeptics have had their lives turned upside down by MRA’s, and Dawkins has played a big role in that. [Conflict of interest disclosure: I am friends with Rebecca Watson and many of the other feminists that have been attacked in this way]. This all started back in 2011 in what became known as ‘Elevatorgate’ when Watson mentioned in a video an experience she’d had at conference where she’d been talking about sexism. At 4am, after a night spent in the hotel bar, a man followed her in to the lift and invited her to his hotel room to talk over coffee. The invitation made Watson uncomfortable, so in her video she suggested that people not do that kind of thing. The video prompted Dawkins to publish his “Dear Muslima” letter in which he accused Watson of overreacting, and engaged in his own bit of logical fallacy footwork, comparing Watson’s experience to those of women forced to undergo genital mutilation.

‘Elevatorgate’ was a very public display of the rift that has opened up in the atheist/skeptic community. On one side are a group of atheists/skeptics, predominantly made up of white men, who almost revere Dawkins and other prominent atheists like him. Some members of that camp have been accused of sexual harassment and more, but very little has been done to try to tackle such behaviour and make atheist/skeptic conferences more welcoming to women and other minorities. As a result, the movement is fracturing with the emergence of a separate group (sometimes referred to as Atheism+) which holds that the atheist and skeptic community should embrace the concept of social justice and work towards equal treatment for everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, whether they are able-bodied or not, etc.

Whether Dawkins is a misogynist or not I leave you to decide, but it’s clear that he wields great power amongst his 1.3M Twitter followers, a number of whom are MRA’s who appear to harass and threaten anyone who doesn’t hold Dawkins in the same esteem. What I think is beyond argument is that Dawkins uses his social media power irresponsibly. He regularly dismisses the experiences of those that differ from his own as a privileged white man, and with a single tweet can set the more unsavoury of his followers baying for people’s blood.

Artist Amy Roth, also known as Surly Amy, makes the most fantastic science and skeptism themed ceramic jewellery. As a writer for Skepchick she has been in the firing line of MRA’s. In late 2014 Amy made an installation in which she gathered together all the hate messages she and others had received and used them to plaster every inch of a 10ft by 8ft office space that she built. What Amy wanted was for those who dismiss online harassment to feel what it’s like to be targeted. The messages are harrowing.

Watson and Roth continue to be active in the atheist/skeptic community but many others have left because of the treatment they have received. It saddens me that Dawkins either doesn’t appear to understand the impact of his actions, or doesn’t care, and neither do his supporters. Perrott ends his post by implying that Watson and others are bullying extremists who bandy around words like “sexist” and “misogynist” to shut down important discussion. I disagree. They are valuable members of the atheist/skeptic community who have a different perspective from people like Dawkins and are actively working to make the community a more inclusive one. Watching the harassment feminists have received by people who identify themselves as critical thinkers also saddens me. It would be nice to see them apply those critical thinking skills to their idols as well as their ‘enemies’.

0 Responses to “Are feminists really bullying Richard Dawkins? A response to Ken Perrott”

  • Siouxie, you are quite right I do not know the details of the particular debates you refer to – I do not have friends involved and therefore do not have the same interest you have. There is, after all, only so much time one has to follow such issuies (often storms in teacups to outsiders) in detail and I don’t have any axe to grind in the debates you refer to – MRAs, atheism+ and the intricacies of some feminist movements. At this stage of my life (been there, done that) I find it hard to dig into such details of movements which only remind my of the different groups parodied in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian (a great warning to activist politicans I think).

    I briefly mentioned Rebecca specifically because she is one of Richards strongest critics (that I know from what I read) – and I felt she was making exactly the same mistake I criticised her for before in her public demonisation of the whole field of evolutionary psychology – the generalisation fallacy. In fact, most of the of the criticism of Richard by others also suffers from that fallacy, – hence the unwarranted charges that he is a mysoginist, has come out with hate speech (or “hate rhetoric” as Rebecca says) and is Islamophobic. Her approach seems to me typical of Richard’s more exptreme critics – who in my experience just seem unable to see Richard’s comments – with all their qualifications, clearly. ( I am actually amazed that Richard was able to include such qualifications into 140 charactger tweets – he clealry has excellent literary skills) and also amazed at how blind his passionate critics are to such qualifications. But, that said I think Richard is naive to participate so seriously in Twitter – it is not exactly a rational community and Stephen Fry’s description of it I reproduce in my last article I think sums it up.

    There is some shocking elasticity with the truth and confirmation bias going on in this demonisation of Dawkins. For example, I am aware of Rebecca’s original video regarding the “elevator incident.” I am also aware of Richard’s later satirical piece about the social media furore resulting from this. My impression was that Rebecca treated the whole issue relatively mildly in her video and Richards satire was not a criticism of her, as you claim, but a criticism of the way some more ideoligically motivated “feminists” (men and women) had blown up the issuie. Many people found this behaviour sickening at the time – the problems people have approaching each others when they are interested in friendship or something more will always be with us – and yes we will always be making mistakes like attmepoting to chat up someone in an elevator. (Yes, I know some of the activists may well interpret my simples statement of that truth as advocating rape – that is the nature of the minority of extremists in such otherwise credible and positive movements). I personally thought Richard’s satire was good in that it was sharp and to the point – and attempted to inject some reason into the irrational debate circulating at the time.

    Enough about Rebecca – although, as I said in my article, I wish Richard’s critics would apply some of the passion and critical analysis they direct toward Richard at Rebecca’s writings which can be very offensive (as my example showed).

    I frankly am more concerned about the way that people like Massimo Pigliucci jumped on the NECSS fiasco to have yet another go at Richard as it illustrates a way that scientific differences (which we all have – and should all have) should NOT be handled. Such professional jealousy may be inevitable but should not be expressed so publicly. His opportunist use of the NECSS controversy to make emotional claims about Richard’s scientific work and writings ill hardly win interest and sympathy from those who might otherwise really wish to discuss the scientific subtleties involved.

    People of course see this conflict from their own perspective – what has suprisde me a little is that I no way see Richard as someone who bullies or harrasses, nor as someone who organises others to do so (as you imply). Hell, the communities using social media are well known for their hysteria, bullying and harrasment – lets not blame someone like Richard for that.

    By the way, I have commented in 3 facebook “sceptic/atheist” groups on the invitation/disinvitation/reinvitation fiasco and I certianly feel that I have been bullied and harrassed in at least 2 of them. Deleted and banned from one after only 2 comments and childishly harrassed in the other group – with implications that I will be banned. A third, local group behaved in what I think should be the normal way – no harrassment. So while there arer rational people around, there are centrainly some stong feelings around this subject with some people. A confiramtion that it takes a bit more that labelling oneself a sceptic, a rationalist, etc., to actually behave the way the words imply. We find irrationality, extremism and confirmation bias in all groups, whatever side they on.

    Anyway, thanks for your commentrs on my article. I am sure this discussion could be extended further – hopefully (on our blogs at least) in a respectful and rational manner.

    • You say Rebecca is guilty of the generalization fallacy, but then you go on to say, “Her [Rebecca’s] approach seems to me typical of Richard’s more exptreme critics.” Isn’t that doing exactly what you’re criticizing? You complain that people who are criticizing Dawkins are stretching the truth and giving into confirmation bias, yet you only point to Rebecca, and even then you don’t actually give any specific examples. Would you care to provie any specific examples to back up the claims you’re making here?

      “My impression was that Rebecca treated the whole issue relatively mildly in her video and Richards satire was not a criticism of her, as you claim, but a criticism of the way some more ideoligically motivated “feminists” (men and women) had blown up the issuie.”

      Your impression is incorrect. Dawkins’ response is what blew everything up. That is when things really ratcheted up to the extreme and Rebecca started receiving rape and death threats. Did Dawkins intend for that to happen? I doubt it. But Dawkins’ “satire” as you call it did inspire a lot of people–mostly men–to start harassing Rebecca and other women in the community.

      “the problems people have approaching each others when they are interested in friendship or something more will always be with us – and yes we will always be making mistakes like attmepoting to chat up someone in an elevator.”

      1) Thank you for admitting it is a mistake to corner someone in an elevator and proposition them. 2) Rebecca was not the one who made it seem like it was the end of the world or a rape threat or anything like that. But here we are, with you “generalizing” from this incident to all sorts of other crap.

      “I wish Richard’s critics would apply some of the passion and critical analysis they direct toward Richard at Rebecca’s writings which can be very offensive (as my example showed).”

      I find it interesting that you think Rebecca’s sarcasm is offensive, but you seem utterly incapable of recognizing how Dawkins’ tweets are offensive. You sit here pointing fingers at everyone else and yelling “CONFIRMATION BIAS!!!!!!” yet you don’t seem willing or able to recognize how your own confirmation bias may be at play here. For example, you jump from Rebecca to Massimo Pigliucci, accusing him of “professional jealousy” for his posts that criticize Dawkins’ work as a scientist, apparently completely ignoring the parts of Massimo’s posts where he praises Dawkins’ science communication skills. Further, I have a question for you: why is it “opportunism” for Massimo to comment, but how is this not opportunism for you? You used this controversy to bring up Rebecca’s criticisms of evo psych, which are utterly irrelevant to the controversy at hand, and then you turn around and accuse Massimo of opportunism because–I don’t know, you think him bringing up Dawkins’ scientific research and communication is irrelevant or something? I mean honestly, you sound like such a hypocrite.

      “what has suprisde me a little is that I no way see Richard as someone who bullies or harrasses, nor as someone who organises others to do so (as you imply)”

      I don’t know if Richard Dawkins personally bullies or harasses people. I do not think Siouxsie is saying or implying that Dawkins “organizes” others to do anything, but rather that the things he says on social media are taken up by people and used in nefarious ways to further bully and harass people–especially women–who have been receiving such harassment for years now. The point is that Dawkins’ words do not go out into a vacuum but are rather privileged by many people–apparently yourself included–to the extent that anything he says is taken as truth at face value. He can never say anything wrong apparently.

      “By the way, I have commented in 3 facebook “sceptic/atheist” groups on the invitation/disinvitation/reinvitation fiasco and I certianly feel that I have been bullied and harrassed in at least 2 of them. Deleted and banned from one after only 2 comments and childishly harrassed in the other group – with implications that I will be banned.”

      It makes your privilege so freaking obvious when you think that not being allowed to say whatever you want wherever you want is the same thing as bullying and harassment. Being told not to post on a FB thread or banned or blocked on FB is not bullying or harassment. The fact that you think it is demonstrates that you have no earthly idea that bullying and harassment are actually like. If that’s your only example of how feminists have supposedly bullied or harassed you, you’ll have to excuse me if I laugh at your oversensitivity because compared to the years of shit that has been flung at Rebecca, Amy, and other women, makes that complaint look so freaking self-indulgent, arrogant, and whiny.

      • Watson called Dawkins Toxic Sludge. I don’t recall Dawkins using any epithet worse than “Skepchick”.

        Your history is a bit off. The elevatorgate incident escalated when Watson podium shamed a female student in the audience by juxtaposing her valid critical points with examples of hate speech. This garnered Watson a lot of criticism both in her form and content. PZ then weighed in with his name the names post and it was in the midst of this mess that Dawkins made his Muslima comment. You will also notice on a reading of the primary sources that Dawkins said small ills should not be tolerated. However in his view the elevator incident was not even that.

    • “Hell, the communities using social media are well known for their hysteria, bullying and harrasment – lets not blame someone like Richard for that.”
      I’m curious – what exactly is is about Dawkins that makes you think he is somehow above the community that he is part of?

      • Sorry, Nicola, I replied to your comment below – wasn’t aware of this reply function and nesting.

    • “I criticised her for before in her public demonisation of the whole field of evolutionary psychology – the generalisation fallacy” … Except she didn’t generalise, she clarified her talk was about *pop* EvPsych when criticised. This is why you should take time to learn about the issues before commenting as one effective way of harassing feminists like her is to keep repeating the lies. They claimed her talk was dismissing the whole field and she is a “science denialist”, she clarified it was only about pop-EvPsych, even changed the talk to make it clearer, but they keep repeating she is a “science denialist” etc, etc, and not accept the clarification. (BTW I watched the talk at the time and it seemed clear to me it was about pop EvPsych)

  • Just so I am clear this man who wrote the original article by his own admission is not educated on the feminist movement, the ongoing targeting and harassment of women journalists online or of the particulars of online harassment in the atheist community yet he decided he was qualified to pontificate on his theory as to the cause and who was to blame and to go as far as to claim he himself was bullied and harassed by not being able to post in a Facebook thread. Are you kidding me?

    Mr Perrot might do the world some good if he were to educate himself on the facts, as a good scientist should, as to what actually qualifies as harassment and bullying and what women (and specifically the woman he mentions) have been dealing with for over 4 years. Not being allowed posting on a Facebook thread or being talked down to does not quite reach the level of stalking, doxxing, and rape and death threats that we refer to when we say online harassment. He can start by studying the photo used in this post and its art show: and then he can pick up maybe even one of the TEN books written on this subject in the past year.

    SW: Edited to correct the unintentional misspelling of Ken’s surname.

    • One of the more egregious examples of brutal harassment was clearly the horrifying display of “fake jewelry” you suffered at TAM 2012 coupled to the 1-2 punch of an insensitive tee shirt.

  • Siouxsie – could you correct the spelling of my name in the hyperlink for your article? Unfortunately, it has come through into Amy’s comment. I am the last one to complain about spelling mistakes but one of the more childish forms of “bullying” on-line I have faced from anti-fluoride activists is the deliberate misspelling -for obvious reasons. 🙂

    Nicola, I do not understand your question. I have never suggested Richard is somehow above any community – only that his tweets, with all the limitations imposed by the format, appear to be generally well qualified and do not suffer from the generalisations which are so common in Twitter. Apart from that, I simply pointed out the obvious – Richard is not responsible for the bad behaviour of others any more than you or I are for making own reasoned comments. That said, I personally think Richard is rather naive for taking Twitter so seriously – and in his last book he did admit to being in 2 minds of the value of the format. Perhaps he should consider Stephen Fry’s solution! 🙂

    Will and Amy, thanks for your responses to my comments – they really demand further discussion – I will reply to your points later today if I can find time.

  • Twitter isn’t some magical dangerous world wherein sensible people venture at their own risk. It’s a communication medium in the same way that giving an interview to a journalist is participating in a communication medium, or writing a book. If you can’t use a communication medium to convey the message you intend, you’re better off not using it. If the way you use a communication medium imposes an enormous cost on others, effectively excluding them from participating in that medium unless they’re willing to wade through hundreds of abusive messages, it’s not enough to blame the medium – you have to think about whether you’re using it appropriately. The rules are different when you have hundreds of thousands of followers.

    So far there’s a lot of talk about how terrible and mean “extreme” feminists are, without any actual citation of any actual terrible and mean feminists. The closest is an unfortunate woman with no other public profile who had the bad luck to get into a shouting match with some men’s rights activists and have it caught on video. For this crime she’s had years of online abuse directed at her, and mocking videos made of her, one of which was recently retweeted by Dawkins. It’s all very well for him to turn around and say “no, don’t threaten anyone, that’s wrong”, but he’s participating in that vilification and giving it a bigger audience than it would otherwise have.

    I’m not sure why intelligent people don’t recognise the rhetorical techniques being used here – creating an imaginary extreme version of Group X that must be fought against, not like most sensible members of Group X, is just a way to hit Group X as a whole while trying to look like you’re not doing it. Like, I dunno, most atheists are ok, but not those militant ones. Some of my best friends are X, but those other Xs don’t do themselves any favours. This isn’t just something that happens on twitter.

  • Before responding to specific criticism of my comments here I want to briefly reinforce what is the main point of my article – my reason for taking up the NECSS invitation-disinvitation-reinvitation fiasco.
    I appreciate commenters may be more concerned with what I consider peripheral issues – and that is their prerogative, of course. We all have own preoccupations and interests. I just want to make sure mine, and the motives for my article which sparked the one above, are not submerged because of other’s preoccupations.
    Michael Nugent’s article (all links in my original article) perhaps summarises the issue. He said:
    “This is the fourth recent controversy involving activists having speaking invitations withdrawn. Warwick University Students Union and Trinity College Dublin both withdrew invitations to Maryam Namazie, citing fears of incitement to hatred of Muslims. And Saint Dominic’s College in Dublin withdrew an invitation to me, citing fears that my talk would undermine its Catholic ethos.
    After being asked to reconsider, each of these three institutions reinstated the invitations, with Warwick Students Union publicly apologising to Maryam. All three talks have since gone ahead successfully. I hope this article will help to persuade NECSS to follow the example of these other bodies, and revisit their decision based on the skepticism that they promote.”
    To which I added that I guess we now have 5 recent examples of disinvitations under pressure from biased pressure groups, followed by organisations coming to their sense and reinstating the invitations.
    I regard the 2 examples involving Maryam Namazie as the most serious of these attempts to muzzle important messages with the NECSS probably the least serious. This is because Maryam, as an atheist Muslim and an advocate for women’s rights (especially Muslim women’s rights), has what I think is the most important message for us today in our dangerous times. It is very important for us to be able to deal with the problems arising from the clash of cultures, the massive immigration into Europe and the dangerous situation in the Middle East – particularly in Syria.
    Unfortunately, the group thinking (some people are using that horrible word “political correctness” which I think is inappropriate) prevents discussion of the real issues and neglects. the rights of suffering people because of the fear of Islamophobia (or more correctly the fear of being labelled Islamophobic). Worse, this imposed silence on liberals and humanitarians gives a free reign to extremists and bigots to use these problems to promote nationalism, racism and a fascist mentality. (See Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris and Majjid Nawaz for a more in-depth consideration of this issue.) Voices like Maryam Namazi’s are very important in countering such group thinking and it is shocking that otherwise decent people may have thought she should be muzzled and appear unconcerned about the physical bullying of her by male Islamists when she did speak.
    The sort of group-thinking I have discussed here and in my article are components of a larger group thinking derived from the current geopolitical struggle. We are confronted with a complex situation in Syria involving the two major powers, USA and Russia, in military action – usually alongside each other but sensitive to their rivalry and different relationship to the legitimate government of the country. We are now confronted with the possibility of an invasion from Turkey which is an ally of the USA but an enemy of the Kurds who are allied and armed by the USA. This invasion, if it occurs, will most likely also involve Saudi Arabia. And, in effect, its purpose will be to prevent the possibly impending victory over the terrorist groups Daesh and Al Nusra so as to topple the Syrian regime. This intervention could spark a regional war – if not a world war.
    Yet the group thinking of our media and politician’s currently has us sympathising with the terrorists (mainly Al Nusra) around Aleppo rather than seeing the importance of liberating that territory which has been held by terrorist for 4 years. That is dangerous. Our news media should not be afraid to report what is actually happening on the ground.
    My motive for this article was to argue against such group thinking. This issue has concerned me for some time but, like many others, I was aware it could cause an unpleasant reaction (a result of group thinking and the group conformity it produces). I guess that is just a cop-out a polite way of saying I was intimidated into silence.
    I see the rude and unjustified treatment of Richard Dawkins by NECSS as a result of group thinking and resultant intimidation. Ironically, Richard is one of the few person brave enough not to be intimidated by the group thinking and, for this reason, we are lucky to have such a public figure – even if he, like everyone else, from time to time makes mistakes on social media.

    • “physical bullying of her by male Islamists when she did speak” … I saw the video, those students were assholes. Why do you call them “Islamists” with no evidence? They seemed pretty ordinary religious bigots to me, who can’t stand criticism of their religion. You then jump straight to accusing them of being the most extreme brand of Islam with no basis at all. You might find that is the reason you are accused of Islamaphobia, be more accurate and it won’t happen.

      • They identified themselves as members of the Islamic Society in later comments on their facebook page. They also complained that they were the victims of the harassment. 🙂

        • *facepalm*, Islamist has a particular meaning, calling someone part of an Islamic student club one would be like accusing a xtian of being a member of the WBC. They were Muslims, not extremists, and painting them that way is islamaphobic. Although it appears more due to ignorance than malice….

          • I repeat, they identified themselves as members of the student Islamic Society at the institution. They and the student Feminist Society and attempted to prevent Maryam from speaking – and both groups the went on to claim that it was Maryan who was harassing innocent students!
            You are quibbling about terminology so as to avoid a fundamental issue here. That’s a diversion.

  • The problem with tweets is they seem to encourage one off remarks, often flippant, without a lot of thought. Unless one develops a considered approach to these things best avoided outright.
    Richard has a tendency toward barely controlled rage motivated I presume by the dreadful things done in the name of religion the current target being the highly visible excesses of Islam and atrocities committed by extremists who self identify within that ilk. Richard needs to calm down a bit and his moderate critics should remind him to do so without condemning him outright.
    There is a place for reasonable voices to question anti male extremism among some feminists. I feel no need to apologise or feel guilt for being s middle age to elderly white potbellied heterosexual Presbyterian athiest widower who successfully raised three phenomenally successful outdoor loving academically successful girls one of whom is gay and an advocate of minority rights in Middle East conflict zones and whose partner is a magnificent delightful ebony coloured 6’3″ (ish) with a stunning smile from ear to ear and a PhD in climate science. Both currently doing work for the UN. But I am also a fan of H O Wilson (and David Sloan Wilson for that matter) and the science of evolutionary psychology because of my interest in the psychology of altruism, cooperation and morality (religious and otherwise). I don’t apologise for any of that. There are creepy men who stalk women just as there are drunken lushes who pester men and we should all be on our guard in risky environments. I attended the inspiring film Suffragettes recently in Dunedin New Zealand (def not Florida) and let out a whoop of delight and pride when the roll of honour featured my country as the first to give women the vote (even if it was slightly a miscalculation by anti progressive male politicians who were probably in the local boozer at the time). All social movements and contentious issues feature extremists but I don’t think Richard is one of them. He’s a man on a mission and I suspect he’s worried time is running out as it is for all of us.

  • Amy, perhaps you need some clarification. I have been a supporter of the feminist movement all my adult life, even doing some work for it in the early days. But even then I really had no interest in the destructive internal debates involving a small dogmatic minority – preferring to do what I could (obviously limited by my gender) to help the movement become a mass movement – particularly involving working women. I guess life itself, and the experience of my partners and family have educated me in such matters – but also given me sensitivity to what issues I should consider important.
    But being a chronologically compromised individual these sort of movements are occurring the 2nd or 3rd time around for me. And I am even less interested in the dogmatic debates of minorities – whether it is the women’s, peace, socialist, communist or environmentalist movement. I see them as destructive of movements. And like a sensible person I pick my battles according to my interest and energy.
    I am sorry you see my contributions as “pontification” – I certainly don’t wish to dictate or arrogantly talk down to others – provoke perhaps – but I do enjoy a good discussion. 
    Many people are harassed, intimidated or threatened in online communities – it comes with the toxic territory. And of course it is much worse for some than for others – I certainly sympathise with your experience and condemn this sort of behaviour. In reporting the behaviour toward me on Facebook groups I am not whining or claiming victimhood equal to or worse than others. My experience is a relatively small matter – more a matter of entertainment for me than danger. I mention this sort of behaviour just to illustrate that the title sceptic or atheist is not a guarantee of reasonable behaviour – and hopefully to encourage others to be more respectful in these discussions.
    One can turn such threats into an art form (as you have done) or a humorous video (as Richard has done – and good on you both as it is a way of making others aware of the toxic nature of such communities. I also get a few death threats – but think I will just turn them into the police if they ever getter significant enough to worry about. 
    I have had no threats arising from my article yet – all my death threats have been related to scientific issues and mainly come from anti-fluoridation activists. Readers here may be interested to hear that death threats against science communicators are relatively common. Mika McKinnon discusses this, and gives advice on how to handle it, in her article “How to make people angry: write about science”

  • Richard Dawkins wasn’t disinvited because of physical threats against him or the conference. He was disinvited because he was participating in online attacks on people, and literally equating feminism with Islamism, and members of NECSS thought that was wrong. I’m not sure how that’s “group think” given NECSS doesn’t even seem to be able to speak as one body on this. Asking us to sit back and respect Dawkins without question is more like group think than anything else.

    The multi-year fight within atheism and scepticism on whether anti-racism and anti-sexism are important principles isn’t peripheral, it’s absolutely central to Richard Dawkin’s current borderline status within the community.

  • I appreciate the pride you have for your family, Stuart. And understand it as I have 4 children (2 male, 2 female) and 4 grandchildren (3 female, 1 male). I am of course very proud of them all – they are all successful and humane people.

    Parents like to take credit – even for the success of their grandchildren. But I do honestly think the pro-feminist environment my children were brought up in really did help mychildren become autonomous, confident and successful adults with respect for others (including the opposite sex) and sympathy for the plight of others throughout the world.

  • Will – a couple of points in response:
    1: Perhaps your comments would come across more credibly of you were prepared to make a critique or defence of Rebecca’s extreme statement – as well is vaguely referring to offensive tweets by Richard (which I am happy to discuss if you specifically quote them). For those who haven’t read my article this is Rebecca’s statement:
    ““In conclusion, the skeptic/atheist sphere is an embarrassing shitshow and the organizations will continue polishing Richard Dawkins’ knob until he dies, at which point he will be sainted and his image will be put on candles and prayed to in times when logic is needed.””
    I know people say silly and rude things on line but apparently the groupthink finds this acceptable – to the extent that when I was described as “polishing Richard Dawkins knob” in a Facebook comment the admin assured me the term was acceptable in their forum because Rebecca had used it!
    Why not comment on that – do you think Rebecca’s tirade is acceptable?
    2: It is actually you who are wrong about the chronology and causes of the elevator on-line fiasco. Rebecca introduced it first in a video – she made little of it (although at the time I considered it a petty thing for such a video going out to fans). This was then taken up by an article on PZ Meyer’s blog where it created a huge number of vitriolic responses (from, I think, both sides at the time. Sorry I can’t actually find that blog article just now).
    It was after that comment storm blew up that Richard made his satirical comment in the comments on the blog – in response to the previous comments he considered irrational.
    Two things:
    a): Richard did not direct his satire at Rebecca but at the extreme attitudes involved in interpreting the elevator event in the comments on Myer’s blog. I think this is confirmed by a later memory of Richard’s where he said:
    “There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison. But maybe you get the point? If we wish to insist (in the face of judicial practice everywhere) that all examples of a sexual crime are exactly equally bad, perhaps we need to look more carefully at exactly who is belittling what.”
    He believes his comments were directed to “American women complaining of harassment,” not Rebecca.
    b): Your argument about Richards’ comments being “rather privileged” (presumably because of a large following) and that he therefore has a responsibility for effects that result. OK – if you think people like Dawkins should monitor themselves in this way – why not criticise Myers (whose blog had the largest following of any science blog at the time) for him promoting the issue to a rather extreme audience – or even Rebecca herself for making such a minor event so public? Surely their “irresponsibility” if you wish to see it that way) preceded Richard’s.
    Personally, I think one should not limit the rights of popular figures to make comments (as long as they are not dishonestly yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre). Such limiting is impossible anyway and diverts attention away from the important issue that individuals have a responsibility to be sensible about what they read and not mistakenly act in such extreme ways. I guess that is also impossible as extreme minorities are not known for responsibility. Perhaps just say the rest of us non-extreme people have that responsibility and we should not succumb so readily to group thinking imposed by the extreme minority.
    3: Regarding Massimo Pigliucci’s article – I described it as opportunist because it was not limited to the issue at hand but he used the opportunity to, once again, launch a tirade about Richard’s books, his scientific contributions (and yes even his personality). Yes, he did balance that a little with his “damp praise” of Richard’s communication talents. There is a time and place for a proper discussion by “colleagues who disagree on a number of issues” – but this surely wasn’t it. Instead, Massimo’s complaints came across as emotional, unsubstantiated (obviously) and petty. It came across as professional jealousy in my eyes – and I think I do recognise that when I see it (it is quite common, but rarely that blatant, in the scientific community).
    And, with such distractions, Massimo didn’t exactly make a valid argument for his support of the conference organisers mistake.
    4: I have already referred to the Facebook behaviour towards me in my comment to Amy. Of course it is in no way comparable to the harassment people like Amy and Rebecca have received – and I did not claim it to be. I am simply pointing out that just because we use the labels “sceptic” or “atheist” that does not mean we behave accordingly. Unfortunately, we are not a rational species and the sad truth is that the irrational and unreasonable behaviour we criticise in others is not foreign to our own groups.
    So less of the personal innuendos.
    I firmly hope the format of this and my blog, and of the SciBlogs platform, will help limit such personal attacks and encourage more attention to evidence rather than opinion confirmed by bias.

  • Trouble, let me paraphrase your assertion – perhaps this will help you understand:

    “Asking me to blindly go along with the muzzling of and rudeness toward a public figure without question, expecting me to accept unsubstantiated opinion as fact, really does look like groupthink.”

    Perhaps you comments would be more usefeul if you actually provided citable, linked quotes from the man you are attempting to demonise. (And I do mean literal quotes – not links to the opinions of others.) Then you might convince me.

    However, at the moment I do not accept as fact your opinion that Richard is “literally equating feminism with Islamism” or “participating in online attacks on people.”

    If you are correct then it should take very little effort to convince me

  • You don’t think the video Dawkins retweeted, which caricatured an Islamist and a feminist singing together, was equating the two? Or that the video was an attack on Chanty Binx that he joined in ( if somewhat equivocally) by retweeting? Ok, but there are plenty of people who disagree. The whole exchange is set out here:

    He’s not the Pope. If people disagree with him, they’re free to say so. So far, nobody’s cited anything worse than Rebecca Watson being slightly ruder than you could show on TV before 8:30pm. If that’s a capital crime, then gosh, people’s feelings are delicate.

  • Trouble – I asked for verifiable quotes that Richard was “literally equating feminism with Islamism” or “participating in online attacks on people.”

    You seem unable to provide them’ You refer to a video (which Dawkins deleted when informed that it related to an actual person or persons) not a statement of Richard’s.

    This is the problem – whenever I ask for this sort of evidence the best people seem to be able to provide is links to opinions (as you have done) – rather than directly to Richard’s specific comments. I suggest this may an indicator of groupthink. 🙂

    Of course people who disagree with Richard have no problem saying so – I have done so myself and he has held public discussions where differences are aired in a polite way. Much better than the toxic Twitter forum.

    I suggest you reflect on your inability to provide the evidence for your specific claims and also consider how you would feel if someone described you as polishing some else’s knob in what is meant to be a respectful and intelligent public discussion. Even worse if that description was made unequivocally of a whole movement.

    Your reference to capital crimes and people’s feeling comes across as disingenuous evasion.

  • Personally, I’d like to see a little more thought and self reflection from everyone in the skeptic and atheist communities. And bit more careful listening to others and courtesy in talking to them wouldn’t go astray either.
    I thought Richard Dawkins behaviour around elevator gate was appalling – he just couldn’t seem to understand and empathise with the situation Rebecca was put in. On the other side I have seen Rebecca respond extremely aggressively and rudely to a fairly innocuous question at a meeting. In both cases, they seem incapable of seeing what they had done – but then perhaps if people were to point out the issues a bit more calmly instead of responding in kind we wouldn’t have these ridiculous disputes across social media.
    Our communities need a little more humility and courtesy and a lot less screeching at each other.

  • The video, whether or caricatured real people, equated Islamism with feminism. Dawkins retweeted it approvingly. I linked to that article because it showed Dawkins’ statements and replies in context – I could mess around finding the actual twitter posts but it’s easier to read that way.

    Dawkins is a bright man who explains biology well, but has a weak spot with respect to people. Because of that, I don’t think he’s an appropriate figurehead or spokesman for atheism, which if it’s to be useful and successful, can’t just be a club for older Pakeha dudes. I’m not interested in joining a parade he’s at the head of. Atheists and feminists are natural allies against patriarchal religions – you lose that allegiance if you’re not willing to question sexism in your own movement.

  • Trouble – you want me to take your word for it – perhaps that’s group think. A;l I asked are the verifiable linked quotes of Dawkin. Or are you basing your attitude on someone else’s opinion rather than facts?

    I will let you into a little secret – I don’t think anyone is an appropriate figurehead or spokesman for atheism let us atheists work it out for ourselves – it is pretty simple. it also helps to avoid groupthink if one does not demand leaders, spokespeople and movements. For goodness sake, why can we not accept people as individuals and humans, warts and all, and judge their advice and comments for ourselves. Idols always turn out to have feet of clay.

    Parades are for people who indulge in groupthink. Talk about “natural allies” is excluding all sorts of other people – men and theists for a start. Why start off by excluding people?

    You should have observed from my previous comments I have questioned “sexism” my whole adult life – and for most of that life I thought Dawkins was a horrible person (based purely on my refusing to read his book). But you know what – that was quite irrelevant. I have since learned that I should judge people on the lack of evidence, what the media say or what the groupthink demands. A great lesson which I really appreciate – but my attitude towards sexism hasn’t changed.

    Why the hell should someone have to illogically hate an individual to develop a humane respect for others.

  • Ken, you’re just as capable of reading his twitter feed as I am. I used to subscribe but gave up in frustration, and I don’t feel like trawling through months of his tweets right now. I don’t hate him, I just don’t see he has a leg to stand on with claims that an identifiable proportion of feminism allies itself with Islamism (a single university feminist club doesn’t count) and is trying to bully him. Citation required.

    Atheism excludes theists by definition. Feminism doesn’t exclude men, as you and Dawkins both lay claim to membership, albeit on dubious grounds. Questioning sexism means not writing off Elevatorgate as one of those mistakes we all could make, or petty and not worthy of talking about publicly, rather than something that affects women in a different way to men and restricts our ability to participate freely and safely in public life.

  • So, Trouble, you assert that Dawkins “claims that an identifiable proportion of feminism allies itself with Islamism” You have no evidence for that assertion but think I should find it for you. Incredible!

    I really don’t think such a comment deserves any response.

  • Well, Mr. Perrott, with friends like you, I can see why the enemies of feminism flourish.

    Frankly, if you do not believe that Dawkins’ favorable tweets about a video that links feminism to Islamism is not evidence that he “claims that an identifiable proportion of feminism allies itself with Islamism,” then you have serious problems in your reasoning.

    • Dylan, might I suggest that as no one is attempting to link feminism to Islamism (simply showing some practical alliances among extreme versions) that it is you who “have serious problems in your reasoning.”

      If you had read my article you would realise that one aspect I discussed is the very reasoning problem you demonstrate – the generalisation fallacy.

  • Yes, I’ve read that article and it again conflates one university club with feminists in general. You have one university club and one angry activist caught on a MRA video so far. It’s just enough to construct a straw man out of.

  • Trouble – I suggest you have not read Jerry’s article properly as it does not make its comments about “all feminists in general.” Please read this paragraph slowly and carefully:

    “This unholy alliance between feminists and Islamists is symptomatic of the cancer eating away at the Left, whose sympathy for the supposed underdog (especially those who aren’t white) all too often outweighs their support of feminist and Enlightenment values. It’s beyond me how any feminist society can support a Muslim group unless that group is outspokenly devoted to the equality of women and the dismantling of sharia law.”

    Now pay special attention to the first word – “this.” You appear to have read it as “the.”

    Confirmation bias perhaps?

    No one (least of all Jerry or me) has”conflated” a small group of feminists that has a perverted view of life in general with all feminists – but it seems that in an effort to demonise others some of those criticising my article are continuing to make that charge – always, as in this case, without evidence.

    You have also not watched the video properly. It does not show these feminists – it show members of the Islamic society harassing a feminists speaker Maryam Namazie – several men – throughout her relatively long talk. Those actions were later supported by the Feminist Society at that institution.

    I do not understand your description of the Video as being an MRA video – who or what is the MRA.

    The video was filmed by Sarah Peace and I am guessing this was done for the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society who organised the meeting.

    So, just with this little example you seem to have piled on a lot of confirmation bias meaning you completely misinterpreted the article and the film as well as (apparently) discounting it by referring to a MRA?

    And then you accuse me of constructing a straw ma!.

    What the hell is going on with people.

  • Susan, could you please reproduce the text rather than avoid the issue with a link?

    Or perhaps I will do this for you.

    “Obviously doesn’t apply to vast majority of feminists, among whom I count myself. But the minority are pernicious.”

    I am amazed at the mileage some critics have been making on this tweet.

    Please read my previous discussion with the person who uses the non de plume “Trouble” about the treatment of Maryam Namazie.

    Also, I would appreciate it if you read my over-long comment from yesterday (19/02/2016 at 1:28 pm) explaining why I think it is necessary to challenge this sort of misrepresentation and intimidation. Even in little old NZ.

    After that, I would really appreciate some proper discussion with you (here or on my own blog – the subject rather than linking to a tired old link (which I think had been removed long ago).

  • Actually this is the tweet I was talking about, you obviously didn’t read the whole article I posted:
    ” A joke song satirising the alliance between radical Islamism and radical feminism. The Islamist character was rather endearing.
    9:38 PM – 28 Jan 2016″
    Either he’s got a poor grasp of language or he believes there’s an alliance between Islamism and radical feminism.
    I’ve read your lengthy comments and blog post, but I’d rather comment here.

    • Susan – Have you got a link? And what do you think of what happened to Maryam Namazie? Do you not think this is the sort of thing Richard was concernd about?

      I don’t for a minute think Richard has a poor grasp of languege – but he is human and the Twitter format doesn’t exactly handle precise discussion, does it?

      If you have read my comments you will be aware I see this concetration on feminism as a minor issue and the handling of people like Maryam of more importance. But it seems people here don’t share my concerns.

      • Here you go Ken:
        It was as simple to find as highlighting the text and hitting ‘Search google for…’
        Here’s another tweet from Dawkins, where he says that he was probably wrongly persuaded in deleting the tweet about the video:
        And a tweet from Dawkins where he postulates that Binx is mentally ill, based on the video of her:
        And I think this’ll be the last one that I link here, but this is Dawkins not believing that anyone would actually threaten Binx. Oh, he does say that he also doesn’t believe that anyone would lie about being threatened, but, again, he doesn’t believe that anyone would threaten her:
        This is why I don’t like Dawkins, or the type of people who defend him.

        • Adam, are you the person from the NZ Skeptics Public Facebook group who accused me of “polishing Dawkins’ knob?” (An abusive term since supported by the admins in this group simply because it was also used by Rebecca Watson!)?

          If this was you I can appreciate why you don’t like me because of your group thinking but you miss the whole point (probably because of your anti-Dawkins obsession).

          My article was not a defence of Dawkins – it was written in opposition to the sort of group thought which is being used to suppress voices of reason.

          In that light I have brought up here the example of the attempts to suppress Maryam Namazie, ban her from speaking and to harass her when she does speak. This sort of situation (given that the Islamic Society and the Feminist Society at the institution involved were instrumental in attempts to prevent her speaking) may have caused Richard to draw parallels between extreme feminism and extreme Islamism. The problem is that confirmation bias prevents you from seeing that.

          Have a read of this article describing what happened to Maryam who was speaking in defence of Muslim women (whose plight probably doesn’t concern you judging from your obsessions with twitter)

          • One and the same.
            It’s funny how you expect me to look into an event peripherally linked to Dawkins tweet of a hateful video, and yet you are not interested or willing to look into Binx at all, even though it is her that is depicted in the video.
            Once you go and look into Binx and the abuse and threats that she has had to deal with then I will look into this other event that you reference.

          • Good, let’s not hide behind anonymity.
            You expect we to obsess about a tweet where Dawkins refers to an “alliance between radical Islamism and radical feminism” yet you are very coy about an event, which may be behind Dawkins’ comments, where a radical feminist group and a radical Islamist group worked in alliance to prevent an ex-Muslim feminist from speaking to students, attempted (the male Islamists) to disrupt her meeting when it took place, and then complained (yes the radical feminists were still acting in alliance with the radical Islamists) that in fact the male disrupters had been harassed by Maryiam!

            (And if you watch the video though to the end you will notice that the Muslim women did not ask questions or debate with Maryam until after the Islamic men had left – that tells us something. Well it would if our blinkers did not prevent us seeing these sort of violations of women rights)

            Come on it, Adam, get off the grass.

            There is real world where events like this take place. They are being used to suppress the voices of reason in a situation where those voices are sorely needed. And you are treating Twitter (or your confirmation biased version of twitter) as the real world!

            You also seem to be proud about using a crude abusive term against as discussion partner! Do you not see that sort of discounts your criticisms of me?

          • And you would be the man who said, and I quote, “Sure, criticise Richard for being too sharp with his satire or confusing (really a criticism of the responders) but don’t defame and demonise the man because of your own limited literary comprehension.”, which is a rather thinly veiled insult in itself. I notice that you haven’t apologized for that, so I won’t change what I said.
            Also, I must say, that you seem to be rather adverse to reading about Binx and the abused and threats she has had to face. I did say that I was willing to look into the event you described if you looked into Binx, which I thought was rather charitable considering how condescending you’ve acted towards everyone. I think I’m finally over talking to you at all, since you don’t seem to want to look at Dawkins or anything Dawkins has said or done with a critical eye. Your cognitive dissidence knows no bounds.

            One last thing though, everyone who is against Dawkins being disinvited to NECSS is using the same argument, that NECSS were somehow impinging on his rights by not allowing him a platform to speak. Now, where have I heard that before. Hmm. Oh, right, when Sherri Tenpenny had all of the venues for her Australian tour cancel on her. Funny how these two crowds are using the same arguments.

          • Adam, I think people who interpret a tweet “satirising the alliance between radical Islamism and radical feminism” as either a claim that Islamism and feminism are the same or that it does not have any basis in facts (like Maryman’s situation) do have a comprehension problem. Most possibly derived from confirmation bias or some sort of hatred toward the tweeter.

            I have absolutely no problem reading about Brinx – but for the life of me I cannot see why you should think this has anything to do with a decent person objecting to Maryam’s situation, the attempts to deny a platform to voices of reason, or to feminist like Maryam who are attempting to bring the plight of many Muslim women to public attention.

            How can a person make consideration of human rights issues so conditional on what other people read or don’t read? How can someone consider my raising the question of Maryiam’s treatment and the problems this sort of suppression brings to the resolution of political problems as “condescending?”

            Adam, I think you have such an unnatural obsession with Richard Dawkins that you have problems understanding issue related to human decency. These problems exist whether Dawkins is here or not. However, whatever Dawkins faults (as a human person he has many) I admire him for having the courage to stand up to the group thinking which is making some people so blind to these human rights issues. Have a look at my comment from the other day (19/02/2016 at 1:28 pm) if you need some context for my position.

  • No “feminists” can ever be found.
    The word “feminist” is a label people apply in ignorance to themselves when they identity with ideology.
    Much like religion. .Isms.
    Unfortunately this type of TWITter focus strategy is used to divide and conquer . We use to call this stuff “gossip” not news. and though Ken Perrott & Woman’s Weekly seem to specializes in this type of media sensationalism( gender riffs) the media linking Islamism link with feminism certainly not worthy of as much attention as we can see it is BS.
    its a simple neuro linguistic program to associate( link a pathway) Feminism and Islamism in the brain

    Trouble you had some good points.

  • BDBinc – you are being unjust. I do not have a twitter focus – far from it. My article concentrated in the way group thought is being used in attempts to muzzle reasonable discussion and presentations. It is those who have opposed my article (perhaps you should read it at ) who have been obsessed with twitter. I agree twitter does not deserve such attention and their case is only weakened by this obsession.

    As for the assistance extremist feminism gives to extremist Islam – I thought the attempts to muzzle Maryam and the hostile harassment of her during her presentation does show a practical example.

  • Thanks to the commenters who took issue with my article and said so – I have enjoyed the discussion.
    it is a pity, though, that Siouxsie as the author of the article above has not responded to my comment.

    It is also a pity that Amy and Will, despite their harsh criticisms did not respond either. Am I to take it they found my responses adequate enough for them to give up their criticisms of my article? 🙂

  • Ken, you are the king of Sealions. I bow before your ability to be relentlessly polite and obtuse all at once.

    • GTP – I don’t apologise for politeness but I am sorry if my comments are obtuse. However, I am always happy to do my best to clarify if I am asked.