Yesterday, while I sat on my sofa feeling depressed, wearing grey sweat pants, a Point of Inquiry t-shirt, eating Captain Crunch (with crunch berries) straight out of the box, buzzed on Blue Dream and watching Investigation Discovery, the all true murder and mayhem channel, my phone rang. The caller, a dear friend, asked, “Have you been looking at Twitter this afternoon?”
“No,” I replied, “I’m just wasting time watching people kill each other.”
“Well, there’s another sexual harassment thing blowing up in the skeptical movement. Karen Stollznow wrote an article about being harassed and sexually assaulted by an unnamed guy who, according to PZ Meyers, is Ben Radford. Then Carrie published an open letter telling all about her experience at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).”
As I said above, I felt really depressed yesterday and didn’t feel like reading more about this problem that seems to repeat itself every six months or so around a movement I really enjoy. I didn’t want to read the details of my friend Carrie’s ordeal, she had told me enough to know that she, a super sweet, smart, funny, sensitive, honest, talented woman had been driven out of the JREF by a misogynist boss. I didn’t need to hear more, given the history I’ve heard about JREF, it wasn’t surprising and the details only serve to make me more sad.
This morning, I read Karen Stollznow’s article. Her story goes beyond sexual harassment and into what I would describe as “stalking” and sexual assault. She didn’t just hear sexist things sad, a horrible problem in and of itself but, rather, was physically abused in a sexual manner. Karen writes about reporting these problems to the organizations involved , while the organization’s investigation into the matter agrees with her accusations entirely, Mr. Radford, her tormentor, is still permitted to attend their functions, to write for their publications and to continue participating in this community with no punitive actions taken against him at all. This is disgusting behavior on behalf of these two organizations that I once respected highly.
To make matters worse, Carrie and Karen both describe bringing their issues to the board’s of these organizations. Both also reported that nothing was done by either JREF or the company Karen describes to fix the problems.
What makes matters worse, though, is the knee jerk defense of these organizations by their supporters. While, to me, the proper response to someone accusing an organization to which I subscribe of such misdeeds, is to say, “how can we fix this institution?” they respond by attacking these terrific women skeptics. I’ve seen this happen to my friends Rebecca Watson, Amy Davis Roth and, now, Karen and Carrie.
What if these people were men?
Some skeptical activists enjoy standing outside of Sylvia Brown performances holding signs telling passers-by that the famed psychic is also a convicted felon. Would they stand outside of The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas holding up a sign that reads, “Brian Dunning is a convicted felon?”
Brian Dunning produces and stars in Skeptoid, one of the best podcasts in this field. His work is tremendously well produced, well written and researched. Skeptoid is a terrific podcast and Dunning does and excellent job of delivering high quality content to his listeners.
At the same time, Dunning is a convicted felon. His crimes should be of special interest to skeptics as he was convicted of fraud. Dunning, having pled guilty, admitted to fraudulent actions resulting in more than a million dollars finding their way illegally into his pocket. If we’re so concerned about “truth in advertising” and debunking fraud in alternative medicine, pseudo-science and the like, why don’t we condemn Dunning for his crimes?
James Randi, the president and founder of JREF and in the center of Carrie’s story, has been harboring an illegal alien in the United States for many years. At the same time, Randi knowingly assisted his partner in stealing the identity of a law abiding New Yorker and, together, they traveled and did nearly everything else together using a stolen identity. I am a supporter of gay marriage and relatively open immigration into the US and I understand that Randi and his partner committed their crimes out of love but, nonetheless, Randi participated in fraud against the US government and the poor Venezuelan immigrant whose identity was stolen. These do not sound like the actions of “An Honest Liar” but, rather, behaviors of a fraudulent criminal.
I contend that Randi and Dunning are given a pass by this community because they are men. A woman in this community makes a entirely true criticism of JREF or the unnamed organization in Karen’s article and, immediately, they are labeled liars, told they are overreacting or are just hysterical. I’ve seen this repeatedly since I joined this movement – decent, honest people like Rebecca Watson, Amy Davis Roth, Carrie Poppy and, now, Karen Stollznow with no evidence are accused of being liars; admitted liars like Dunning and Randi are given a free pass and are celebrated at conferences and such.
The sexual harassment needs to end. We need to stop protecting men who do bad things to the women in our community and in society in general. We need to spot making excuses for actual criminals in our midst and we’ve got to stop demonizing victims of these men in our community.