The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘rape’

Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2013

I don’t often make posts about this particular topic, though I have definite feelings on the issue.  If you call yourself a skeptic and/or atheist and you’re involved in the movement, you would have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of years to have missed how the issue of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault has come to the front of much discussion in our community.

What follows is a video made by a very brave woman whom I know, named Ashley Paramore.  I’ve known her for a few years through our mutual involvement in the skeptic/atheist movement.  She is a smart, beautiful, and talented woman who is quite passionate about skepticism/atheism, much like many of the women (such as those ladies at Skepchick and the Women Thinking, Inc) whom I have had the honor of meeting and working with these last few years.

**Please note: what is described in this video may be disturbing to some**

It saddens me to say that I personally know of at least two other women (as well as one man) who were similarly harassed and/or assaulted at skeptic cons in recent years.  In one situation, I actually had to get physically involved to stop the assault and eject the perpetrator from the venue.

Ashley is right: this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than many people might think.  And while I applaud the efforts of various cons to set up methods of dealing with such situations as they arise (and yes, I also have my criticisms of other cons for not doing so), the best thing to do is to create an environment where such harassment and/or assault doesn’t occur at all.  And for that, it takes all of us to be more aware of what is going on around us; it requires us to be willing to call out inappropriate behavior; it requires us to be willing to listen more and treat the experiences of women (and men, too) like Ashley seriously and in a non-judgmental manner; and it means that we need to provide support, either in public or private, for those who are willing to make a stand against such reprehensible behavior.

**On a personal note: I have found, as a man, that my experiences with women like Ashley over the years and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences (as well as my willingness to listen to them) has served to deepen my love and respect for the women in my life who are closest to me.  It has made me a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and colleague, and I want to say to all of those women something I should have said long ago: Thank you :)

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The Todd Akin Fiasco: When Scientific Ignorance and Religious Extremism Rule Politics

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 22, 2012

Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the last few days, you know about the brouhaha surrounding the comments by the Republican candidate for the Missouri U.S. Senate seat, Congressman Todd Akin.  Just in case you haven’t heard/seen them, here are his comments on abortion and rape which (rightly so) have created a storm of controversy:

Wow… the words almost escape me… almost.  At the very least, Congressman Akin displays an appalling lack of scientific knowledge regarding rape and pregnancy (this despite the fact that he is on the U.S. House Committee on Science *facepalm*).  To understand just how scientifically ignorant he is with his “legitimate rape” and “women’s bodies can shut that [pregnancy due to rape] down” comments, take a look at this medical study on the issue (Hint: pregnancy due to rape isn’t “very rare”, as Congressman Akin asserts).

So how is it that a Congressman on the House Science Committee (did I *facepalm* already?) has such an out-of-touch and ignorant view of science?  I think part of the answer is Akin’s religious ideology, which he shares with a number of social/religious conservatives in the United States.  It ends up that this “legitimate rape” and related myths are not that uncommon among that demographic; take a look at these examples:

‘Legitimate Rape’? Todd Akin and Other Politicians Who Confused Science

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape

‘God’s Little Shield’: A Short History Of The False No-Pregnancy-From-Rape Theory

Doctor behind Todd Akin’s rape theory was a Romney surrogate in 2007

And my absolute favorite, religious right-wing groups such as the American Family Association and the Family Research Council are fervently defending Congressman Akin’s ignorance in favor of their twisted religious worldview:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

The “Kony2012″ Meme and the Need for Cautious Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 9, 2012

So this week the Internet basically exploded with a massively-popular viral video titled “Kony2012″ by the non-governmental organization Invisible Children.  Apparently, it is about a brutal Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, who leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Africa and has perpetrated horrendous crimes (think mass rape, kidnapping children and forcing them to be soldiers, and that sort of monstrous stuff) in the name of doing the sort of nasty crap that warlords do in their pursuit of power.  The purpose of the video is, according to Invisible Children, to aim “to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

Here’s the video in question; it’s long (~30 minutes), but a visit to the Invisible Children website will fill you in on the basic idea behind the video.

However, while bringing scumbags like Joseph Kony to justice is no doubt a laudable goal, the fact that this video and related message seemed to spread so quickly (and uncritically, it seems) across the Internet and Twittersphere made me express some cautious skepticism about the whole thing.  And it seems that my skepticism was not without some validity – check out this interesting article from on the whole “Kony2012″ meme because I think it provides a bit of perspective that should be appreciated…

Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012′ Video

Stuart Price / AFP / Getty Images
Leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, answers journalists’ questions in Ri-Kwamba, southern Sudan, Nov. 12, 2006.

Most Americans began this week not knowing who Joseph Kony was. That’s not surprising: most Americans begin every week not knowing a lot of things, especially about a part of the world as obscured from their vision as Uganda, the country where Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commenced a brutal insurgency in the 1980s that lingers to this day.

A viral video that took social media by storm over the past two days has seemingly changed all that. Produced by Invisible Children, a San Diego-based NGO, “Kony2012″ is a half-hour plea for Americans and global netizens to pay attention to Kony’s crimes — which include abducting over 60,000 children over two decades of conflict, brutalizing them and transforming many into child soldiers — and to pressure the Obama Administration to find and capture him. Within hours of the slick production surfacing on social media, it led to #StopKony trending on Twitter, populated Facebook timelines, was publicized by Hollywood celebrities and has been viewed some 10 million times on YouTube. Suddenly, a man on virtually no Westerner’s radar became the international bogeyman of the moment. …

… Yet for the video’s demonstrable zeal and passion, there are some obvious problems. Others more expert in this arena have already done a bit of fact-checking: the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda, which “Kony2012″ seems to portray still as a war-ravaged flashpoint — instead, its presence has been felt mostly in disparate attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation with its own terrible history of rogue militias committing monstrous atrocities. Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends (save perhaps, in one embarrassing moment of blustering sophistry, for American radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh.) The U.S. military’s African command (AFRICOM) has deployed its assets against Kony since at least 2008— a fact that goes conveniently unmentioned in Invisible Children’s video. …

… Not once in the half-hour film do we hear the name of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, whose quasi-authoritarian rule has lasted over 25 years. Arab Spring-inspired protests last year were ruthlessly suppressed and the country’s opposition complains bitterly about the entrenched corruption of the Museveni state. The U.S. State Department voiced its concern over Uganda’s rights record last November. Speaking to the Washington Post, Jedediah Jenkins, a member of Invisible Children, shrugs off charges that the NGO is too much in bed with the status quo in Kampala:

“There is a huge problem with political corruption in Africa. If we had the purity to say we will not partner with anyone corrupt, we couldn’t partner with anyone.”

So I guess the take-away from this one is pretty simple: just like with those chain emails that everyone used to get (and no doubt still does, in all likelihood), when you get a Tweet from someone about ‘an amazing new video’ or whatnot, perhaps it might be worthwhile to spend some time to investigate the issue before you re-Tweet.  Food for thought, folks.

Posted in internet | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Note to My Fellow Men at Conferences: Women Don’t Dig Douchebags

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 4, 2011

In recent weeks and days, there seems to be another controversy raging within the skeptical blogosphere – this one concerning social interactions between men and women at conferences (and, I assume, in general).  In short, some guys are acting like douchebags and they’re not getting the message.  Since I just returned from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis where I spent a lot of time with the ladies of Skepchick, I wanted to put in my $0.02 worth on this whole fracas.

First, some background… It seems the whole thing got started when Rebecca Watson of Skepchick wrote about an encounter she had with a man in an elevator in Dublin.  Long story short: the guy propositioned her, and she said no; she also felt somewhat cornered seeing as how she was stuck, alone, in a metal cage with the guy.  Apparently, there were a number of people who thought she handled the situation poorly (especially by blogging about it and noting the inappropriate behavior on the part of the man in question).

Further, PZ Myers of Pharyngula – whom I also hung out with at Skepchicon/Convergence 2011 – has chimed in with his thoughts on the matter in a well-written series of blog posts:

Always name names!

The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences (**If you read no other links, read this one!)

Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

I want to spend the remainder of this post just expressing my thoughts on this whole subject.  First of all, ask I stated earlier, I just got done spending four days with the Skepchicks at Skepchicon, where I was in the minority in terms of formal presentations – on every single panel I participated in, I was the only man.  I have no problem with that, because – as I stated in an earlier post about diversity in skepticism -  it allowed me to get a sense of what it is like to be in the minority and to see the various issues from a female perspective.

In addition, I spent a good deal of time with the Skepchicks in a social sense; I even shared a room with a couple of them for the conference.  During that time, I heard them open up about a lot of things that concern them as women, including the reaction from some men regarding this whole backlash against Rebecca Watson.  And that brings me to my next point…

In general, men are much larger and stronger than women, and this – combined with our built-in drive to have sex as much as possible – goes a long way towards explaining why it is that women react the way they do, especially when a guy is being a douchebag.  Think about it from a woman’s perspective, such as in the case of Rebecca in that elevator with the creeper: you are alone, you are smaller, you are weaker, there are no avenues of escape, and there’s this bigger, stronger, and clearly horny guy who wants to do you.  Now the creeper did take “no” for an answer and backed off, but the mere fact that he set up such a situation in the first place is enough to put a woman off.  In a very real sense, the woman in this scenario is likely to feel more like prey than anything else, and that’s not a good feeling.

Unfortunately, most men don’t have this experience because we are usually the “hunters”, but perhaps I can provide some perspective on this for my fellow hetero males.  Years ago, when I was in college, I went to a party with my brother where pretty much everyone was a gay man, except my brother and me.  The word had gone out that we were straight, so all the other guys knew we were off limits sexually and just there to hang out with our friends.  However, one fellow came to the party late and hadn’t gotten the message, and he apparently took a fancy to me.  Now, I know how to take care of myself, but this guy was bigger than me and very clearly interested in me – the fact that he was hopelessly drunk didn’t make things better.  All he did was leer at me from across the room all night, much in the same manner in which a drunken heterosexual man will leer at a woman, but it made me feel very uncomfortable.  I later relayed the experience to some female friends of mine, and their reaction was universal: that’s exactly what it feels like to be a woman!

Get the point, gents?

Allow me to relay another story about something which happened at the Skepchick party this weekend at Skepchicon/Convergence to emphasize my point even more.  I won’t go into much detail given the sensitive nature of the event, but it is worth mentioning, I think.  During the Skepchick party on Friday night, a guy came to the party and went around the end of the bar where drinks were being served and grabbed, bodily and quite aggressively, one of the women serving the booze – and she most certainly did NOT wish to be grabbed and groped.  Fortunately, me and one other person were keeping an eye on things and we immediately defused the situation by escorting the douchebag out of our party; we even went so far as to get him completely ejected from Convergence for his excessive douchebaggery.

My point is that we were in a situation where there were plenty of people around, the woman in question was not a small woman (she was, in fact, larger than her assailant), the situation was quickly and efficiently handled, and even then she was still rather disturbed and shaken up by the whole thing.  I’m certain it’s not something she will forget quickly or easily.  Not only that, but a lot of the other women at the party were pretty upset about it.  It put a real bummer on the entire evening, and I saw – once again – how it is that women can so easily feel threatened by guys who act like douchebags.

In conclusion, I want to try sending a clear message to my fellow men: women don’t dig douchebags.  It’s okay to be a guy, it’s okay to be attracted to women at conferences, it’s okay to flirt with them and even proposition them – provided they are interested as well.  It is NOT okay to be a dick about any of the above behavior.  Such behavior will quickly and justly earn you the title of douchebag.

So, a sensitive and thinking guy might ask, how do I go about behaving in an appropriate manner on these questions?  Here’s a simple solution: try talking to the women you know in your life and asking them.  And then – surprise – take their advice!  Think with the heads on your shoulders, instead of the ones beneath your pants, a little more and you may be surprised at how much progress you can make in your relationships with women.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Fallibility of Prominent Skeptics: The Lawrence Krauss Fiasco

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 10, 2011

Every now and then there is a controversy which rips through the skeptical community, because – whether we like to admit it or not – skeptics are humans, too.  As such, we are subject to the same limitations & failings as are all people, and this latest frackus has certainly put that on display.

Apparently, prominent skeptic and defender of science Prof. Lawrence Krauss – a man whom I have admired for many years – has, how shall I put this, rather stupidly inserted not only his foot but the majority of his leg pretty firmly into his mouth.  He did this by coming out and at least giving the impression that he is publicly defending a known & convicted pedophile – oooh, ick.

I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time writing on this topic, and I’m certainly not going to get into the whole issue of underage sex, prostitution, pedophilia, and that related morass.  I choose to leave it to the reader to check out the Skepchick link on the matter (as well as the rather colorful comment section in which Krauss defends his remarks and others respond) and come to their own conclusions.  Suffice it to say, I think Krauss is on the losing side on this one, and rightly so.

What I’d like to speak to is something more general and, in my opinion, far more important that what I’ll call the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco has illustrated: even prominent skeptics & scientists are capable of making horrendously stupid mistakes, especially where emotions (such as one’s allegiance to a close friend) are involved.  In this, they are every bit as human as you and me.

I like the way in which the question was put on this post to the JREF Forum:

One reason I find this so disturbing is because it seems so obvious to the rest of us that Krauss is relying on nothing more than gut feelings right now, yet he’s 100% sure that this is enough to support his personal opinion. In other words, a well-known and well-respected skeptic is acting like a complete woomeister, it’s been pointed out to him repeatedly, yet he’s refusing to acknowledge it. Does this mean that any one of us could be subject to the same embarrassing lapse in judgement?

My response… in a word: yes.

We are all subject to cognitive dissonance, in one form or another.  I’m sure we can all relate to experiences in our lives where, upon looking back on them, our cognitive dissonance and lack of skepticism & critical thinking was obvious.  Thankfully, though, I’m guessing that most of us don’t take it to the extreme or do so as publicly as Prof. Krauss has done in this case.

This is why having a community of critical & skeptical thinkers is so important – it gives us the capability to hold each other to a higher standard.  By doing so we root out loose, sloppy, and – sometimes – downright repulsive argumentation & reasoning.  By not putting all of our intellectual eggs in one basket and engaging in demagoguery via some kind of twisted hero worship, we as a community can sit back & objectively examine the reasoning & opinions of our leaders.  And, as in the Lawrence Krauss Fiasco, we have seen that it can be a very useful method of calling out even our most prominent skeptics when they are dead, flat wrong.

And, for the record, the day the skeptical community ceases to engage in this necessary & vital form of self-reflection & criticism, then that’s the day I call it quits.  But that day isn’t anywhere close, from what I can see :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

The Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal, Papal “Infallibility”, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In the last week, a storm of controversy has raged concerning the Roman Catholic Church and its ongoing sexual abuse scandal. For almost a decade this controversy has gone on, taking up space on newspaper pages here and there.  But now the whole sordid affair has taken on a new dimension with the revelation that Vatican officials, including the current Pope Benedict XVI (whom I call, with good reason, the “Rat in the Hat”), not only knew about such systemic & widespread abuse but also actively worked to cover it up.  According to a recent New York Times article…

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

What is almost as horrifying as these revelations of the systemic sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests and the effort on the part of Church officials to cover it up, apparently going all the way to the upper echelons of the Vatican, is the reaction from the Vatican in the last week.  Specifically, I am referring to the absolutely staggering level of cognitive dissonance being displayed by the Vatican regarding any responsibility their institution has in this scandal.

Consider, if you will, the various reactions from the Vatican as it attempts to spin its way out of this mess, outlined by this NYTimes Op-Ed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »


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