A Lesson in the Premature Counting of Chickens

Several months ago, I reported on an article by Dr. Karen Stollznow that laid out her experience of sexism within the skeptical community, alleging years of on-the-job sexual harassment by a colleague. Soon after her article was published, CFI’s Benjamin Radford was accused, though not by Stollznow, of being that colleague.

I’d heard rumblings that Radford was threatening to sue Stollznow for libel, but those were just rumors until a few days ago. The first I heard of this was over the weekend, when my blog got several comment submissions from misogynist bottom-feeders who gleefully announced that Stollznow had retracted her claims and confessed them to be lies, and demanded I take down my post as well. Here are those comments:

Comment by: Pitchguest

Think you might want to update this now, Adam? Maybe even apologize?

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202482631281324&set=a.1116909877215.114672.1061027523&type=1

Comment by: whatever

Hey you stupid fucking moron, you should update this piece of shit post of yours to note that Karen retracted her claims you fucktard.

Comment by: James Caruthers

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202482631281324&set=a.1116909877215.114672.1061027523&type=1

Stollznow admits the accusations against Radford were all lies made up by her. Her statements were probably taken down because they were libel, as her own public confession essentially concedes.

As proof of this, they linked to a document posted on Facebook, by Radford, which purported to be a full retraction. (That document has since been taken down, for reasons that will become obvious, but here’s a screen capture of it. See also this detailed timeline of public events by Lousy Canuck.)

The problem, as several people pointed out at the time, was that this document wasn’t signed or notarized – it was a text file, nothing more – and for several days Stollznow herself conspicuously failed to confirm its authenticity. Last night, she broke her silence on Twitter and flatly denied that she had written it or agreed to it:

A Twitter post by her husband stated that the document Radford posted was an altered version of something they had been negotiating:

Now, it seems to me that if I were publishing highly damaging and reputation-harming (as the comments reposted in this article attest) documents in someone else’s name without their agreement, I might be the one in danger of a defamation suit. But of course, I’m not a lawyer.

It’s still possible that there will be some kind of negotiated settlement in this case. I’m told that the cost of mounting even a bare-minimum defense against a libel suit, however unjustified, can easily run to tens of thousands of dollars.

But as it stands, this document isn’t that settlement, and the misogynist skeptics leaped on it only because it confirmed what they wanted to hear. They’re disturbingly eager to blindly assume that any accusation of sexist or harassing behavior must be a lie, and to reflexively take the side of anyone so accused. A more genuinely skeptical attitude would have served them well in saving them from embarrassment. The lesson here is: Before you take a victory lap, you’d be well advised to make sure your shoelaces are tied, lest you trip and fall on your face.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Karen Stollznow is going to fight, and she’s opened a legal defense fund to defray the costs. If, like me, you’re sick and tired of harassers trying to camouflage themselves among our community, please give and help her out! I for one intend to donate generously.

FURTHER UPDATE: The response from the secular community is astounding! In less than 12 hours, Karen Stollznow’s initial goal of $30,000 was met and exceeded. If this becomes a prolonged court battle, it’s possible her legal fees will exceed even this amount, so if you still want to donate and haven’t yet, please do. Send the harassers and their apologists the strongest possible message that we want nothing to do with them!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Nathan Marcy

    Doctor Stollznow should start a legal defense fund. I’m sure people would donate to it. Hopefully it would be enough to help her defend her reputation.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    Karen has started a fund raiser for her legal defense. It’s been up for about an hour and already raised almost $10,000.

    Here’s the link:
    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/give-a-voice-to-harassment-victims

  • Mimmoth

    Not only do you need to make sure your shoelaces are tied, you had better make sure they aren’t tied together

  • Mimmoth

    Donated. The total is now up over 27,000. It feels good to be able to do something.

  • Azkyroth

    I’m glad the legal defense fund is filling up. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll see filing a frivolous lawsuit to try to shut up someone who doesn’t have money to defend themselves made a felony any time soon. :(

  • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    As one of PitchGuests old friends said of him on learning he had joined up with the misogynist harassers at the Slymepit … “I feel like my idiot son has joined an idiot gang, of idiots.” …. Too true :-D

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Although it doesn’t define the activity in question as a felony, it does seem that New Mexico, where Radford’s lawsuit was filed, has an anti-SLAPP law. That could make the outcome of this case quite interesting.

  • http://natehevens.wordpress.com/ Nathan Hevenstone

    They keep calling themselves skeptics. I have trouble believing they actually know what that word means.

    I donated to the defense fund. Only $25, but I’ll be donating more when I get my next paycheck in a few days. Karen does NOT deserve this. I wanted to do something to help, and now I can. And to see it exceed its goal in less than 24 hours… just proof, in my eyes, that “our side” is the bigger side.

  • thetalkingstove

    The really sad thing is that Pitchy is one of the more intelligent ones. Using ‘intelligent’ very loosely, obviously…

  • BruceMcGlory

    Warms the cockles of my cold, cynical heart. Donated and will keep doing so.

  • David Jones

    Calling it a ‘response from the secular community’ is a tad misleading isn’t it. It’s a response from *some*, some of whom are in the secular community. After all, Radford is in the secular community.

    Radford certainly jumped the gun but if you take a look at that email thread he published it does seem that he had pretty good reason to think things were going swimmingly as far as he was concerned. That’s not much of a vindication because, as people have pointed out, the sheer cost of defending a defamation case may have been enough to force Stollznow into a concession. We simply don’t know.

    I think it’d be great fun if Stollznow shared her funds with Radford to pay his lawyers too and then fight it out in court. Why not?

  • doubtthat

    Is there a good place to go to laugh in Pitchguest’s face?

    Perhaps it’s ocd, but after laughing at the last 9,000 shitty arguments he’s made (abortion is like selective service, lol, I’m going to go post that at every blog that hasn’t banned me), consistency demands that I mock him for once again showing his ass.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    I think it’d be great fun if Stollznow shared her funds with Radford to pay his lawyers too and then fight it out in court. Why not?

    “Why not?” Because until a few days ago, it looked like Stollznow would be forced to settle, regardless of the truth of her claims, simply because he had the resources to sue her and she didn’t have the resources to defend herself.

    And now that she’s raised enough money to at least have a fighting chance, thanks to the generosity of the secular community, you think she should magnanimously share that money with the man who’s trying to ruin both her finances and her reputation, in order to assist him in doing so? That is a breathtakingly stupid proposal.

  • Azkyroth

    ……do you think Radford has some shortage of money?

    Mr. Jones…you are NOT PAYING ATTENTION!

  • David Jones

    ‘share that money with the man who’s trying to ruin both her finances and her reputation’

    Well, and she him too. Let’s not rush to assumptions, eh? I would read her article again to see exactly what she said but it was taken down, wasn’t it?

  • David Jones

    I’ve no idea how much the cost of a defamation suit would dent his savings. If he has actually been defamed do you think he should bear those costs entirely himself?

  • Omnicrom

    Oh yes, Harasser and Harassment victim are equally to blame. Just like how Democrats and Republicans are equally bad, and Atheists and Christians both subsist equally on faith.

  • Omnicrom

    Do you think he actually has been defamed?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Well, and she him too.

    In fact, no. Stollznow’s original article never named Radford or accused him of being the person who harassed her. He was named by third parties. You can read a cached copy here.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Suggesting that Stollznow should be subject to penalty if she defamed Radford (an assumption that runs contrary to the corroboration of several witnesses and the findings of a report by their mutual employer) is entirely different from suggesting that she should assist him to prosecute her for it. Is that a difference you can grasp? Do you perhaps have difficulty understanding how the legal system works?

  • J-D

    I know of nothing preventing Benjamin Radford mounting his own crowdfunding campaign if he experiences difficulty funding his case, but suggesting that Karen Stollznow do it for him is grotesque. Evidently he has not so far felt the need to appeal publicly for funds, so I can’t see why you would be doing it on his behalf.

  • http://oolon.co.uk/ oolon

    You’ve not missed much from David, he is an obsessive Rebecca Watson harasser.
    http://skepchick.org/2013/06/its-okay-to-make-mistakes-even-about-galileo/

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Ah, so his stupidity was motivated, not innocent. I feel even better about banning him now!

  • Tracy Burgess

    Sounds like a slimy trip into Llitigationland. It is a tougj thing to go through. Money support is good but also people that believe in the person.

    Why do people keep using electronic communications in commision of criminal or tort acts? If the dude was not harrassing her before the new electronic stuff might fit that law. Stop. Think.

  • Nan Noxious

    Behold:

    http://www.rockethub.com/projects/41435-ben-radford-legal-fund

    This just doesn’t get old. I think it’s getting more promotion from SJW folks than from his friends.

  • Azkyroth

    $1,638 from 17 funders. Very impressive. …I notice that he’s also offering a bunch of “Donation Incentives,” for some reason….

  • J-D

    Comparing numbers of supporters or amounts raised proves nothing either way about the merits of the case, but it is interesting, isn’t it?


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