The Shermer Affair Erupts

VolcanicEruption

The allegations against one of our Big Names that have been simmering in the atheist community for more than a year have erupted into the public eye, with the publication of a long article by Mark Oppenheimer on Buzzfeed, “Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

Oppenheimer’s article is largely about the serious accusations made against Michael Shermer, which I referenced last year in “Disillusionment“. For the first time, the woman who accused him of raping her after getting her too drunk to say no has agreed to speak on the record. She’s Alison Smith, a former employee of the James Randi Educational Foundation:

“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me… He offered to walk me back to my room, but walked me to his instead. I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. I know we had sex.”

Two other women, Pamela Gay and Ashley Miller, have also agreed to go on the record with stories about how Shermer sexually harassed them at other events. (Full disclosure: I’ve met Ashley several times and consider her a friend.) I happen to know there are other people who weren’t named or quoted in the article, and who have stories of their own about Shermer that corroborate or supplement these ones.

One other revelation is that James Randi, at whose conference this took place, was aware that women had complained about Shermer behaving inappropriately. But he seemed to chalk it up to mere drunkenness, rather than deliberate predatory intent, and suggested that he might take some action if he gets “many more” (how many do you need?) complaints:

“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing… I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

Over the last year, the most widely heard talking point from defenders of Shermer has been that the allegations against him couldn’t be critically evaluated because they were anonymous. Well, they’re no longer anonymous. Now the question is: what are you going to do in response?

If you don’t believe these women, why not? All three of them agreed to go on the record and relate stories of inappropriate behavior by Shermer, knowing that widespread disbelief, personal hostility and attacks on their character would surely follow. Their stories are corroborated by other witnesses and other evidence, not least the fact that Shermer’s own account of the events has changed over time. Are they all colluding against him? If so, for what motive? If you believe they’re lying, spell out your argument and your assumptions. This is why, as Anita Sarkeesian said in a similar context, one of the most radical things you can do is to believe women when they tell you about their experiences.

Oppenheimer’s article gives a well-researched account of our troubles with sexism over the last few years. It goes to show that this isn’t an isolated event, but the culmination of a pattern of mistreating women and then ignoring, dismissing or lashing out at them when they complain about it. I’m heartsick at the damage done to the atheist community, which I love and want to succeed; but the damage wasn’t done by this article. It was done, and is still being done, by people who knew about these accusations and ignored them, dismissed them, or bullied and ridiculed those who spoke out.

What I’m most incredulous about is how many prominent atheist figures are still clueless and oblivious when it comes to feminism, and who can’t open their mouths to talk about women and women’s issues without saying something painfully, embarrassingly ignorant. Just the other day, Sam Harris became the latest atheist personality to explain the gender imbalance in skepticism by suggesting that it’s “to some degree intrinsically male” (just like when, oh yeah, Michael Shermer said that skepticism was “a guy thing“).

Guys, the answer you’re looking for is right in front of your faces. If atheism has a gender imbalance, it’s not for mysterious reasons involving the effects of testosterone on the neocortex. It’s because the atheist community is treating women badly – because you are treating them badly – and they’re making the rational and understandable decision to walk away in response. When one of our Big Names is accused of sexual assault and conference organizers wink at it; or when women are flooded by online threats and abuse; or, for that matter, when Richard Dawkins, one of our most prominent figures, expounds his important Man Opinions strongly implying that rape is partially the victim’s fault if they’re drunk, and that you should never accuse anyone of rape if you can’t remember what happened (implicitly telling rapists that they can expect to get away with it as long as they can incapacitate their victims with drugs or alcohol*) – when all these things happen and keep happening, who could blame women for getting the message that they’re not welcome?

I think it’s true, as Oppenheimer suggests, that our movement is going through some growing pains as it becomes larger and more diverse, and the old guard of activists is meeting and mingling with some very different kinds of people: “like fans whose favorite obscure band hits it big; their small, intimate shows were becoming big arena concerts, leaving them a bit dislocated.” But that’s not an excuse. If we want to be a movement that can change society for the better, rather than an insular brandy-and-cigars clubhouse for old white men, we need to be as diverse and welcoming as possible. And the steps we need to take to make that happen really aren’t that complicated.** We need to be better, and we should be better. But so far, we aren’t.

* If you were wondering, yes, I retract my earlier optimism.

** And the first step to solving the problem is talking about it, which is why articles like Oppenheimer’s are so vital. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t know it exists; we can’t believe women if we’re not hearing their testimonies. Even if these allegations are false, we can’t disprove them without debating them publicly. I’ve quoted some prominent atheists who’ve reacted badly, but one other thing you may want to pay attention to is which atheists aren’t reacting at all. Who’s conspicuously ignoring this story and carrying on as if nothing had happened?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • L.Long

    Many people look at various religions and see how much they hate women in general. But I have found that this is just nothing more then the general reflection of how men feel about woman. So finding guys willing to not respect them in atheism is no real surprise. Shermer nor any one else is special, they can be naughty and/or nice.
    But naive is the nicest thing to say about some one who gets invited to a drinking party and thinks nothing else is going on. The lady never watched even bad movies about girls being invited to drinking parties???? Yes he may have been behaving badly so there is no real excuse on his part. And I know something is not right as he used “I was too drunk so don’t remember” is BS. If you are so drunk that you can’t remember then I have yet to meet someone who can get it up either.
    My advice, grab your purse and swing it hard into his face when he doesn’t take NO as the answer, bet he remembers a broken nose. But be prepared to face charges of assault. Of course you could be smart enough NOT to go to drinking parties. IF you have solid evidence of something, then file charges!! Till then it is just he says…she says. And we all know from xtians that atheists have no morals so he is a rapist and she’s a whore. Or is it an matter of too much drinking and miscommunication? I don’t know and neither do much anyone else. Here is a question at this drinking party there was NO one else there that could have told Shermer …Hey man she said NO! Cool It! These situations are bad for everyone concerned.

  • By all accounts including his own, Shermer was sober when the incident took place. Does that change your calculus?

    And thanks sever so much for the brilliant suggestion that women should be “smart enough NOT to go to drinking parties.” Probably shouldn’t wear short skirts either, amirite? Women are not the problem here. People who victim-blame, excuse predators and perpetuate rape culture are. That would be you.

  • Tova Rischi

    I feel sick

  • People, men, women, whatever, should be able to go out drinking without fear of assault. Is that a lot to ask? I hope that criminal and/or civil action is taken.

  • carbon dated

    “Now the question is: what are you going to do in response?”

    http://michaelshermer.com/downloads/Shermer-statement.pdf

  • Elizabeth

    Have you been to any conventions? Whether it’s Comicon or the American Dental Association people will want to let loose and have fun when they are gathered together with their friends. Saying that women should be locked in their hotel rooms by 9pm while men get to go out and party is ridiculous and sexist. Especially if men are the ones by and large doing the assaulting.

  • Men drink. Women drink. People drink. What you do with your penis is an entirely different issue. Being drunk doesn’t give someone the right to hit another person, and being drunk doesn’t mean someone may have deserved to be hit. So why is it different with rape?

  • Ross Balmer

    Randi: “I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

    He “guesses”? Doesn’t the great skeptic feel any need to look at evidence before making assumptions like this? The fact is it is not all men that behave like this even drunk, so it must be some quality of Shermer’s (total lack of respect for women, perhaps) which made the difference. In any case, is it not one of the few things that are acknowledged by both sides that Shermer was intentionally avoiding getting drunk?

  • Esquilax

    This. My immediate response to the “I was drunk” excuse is simply to observe that I’ve been drunk many times before, and somehow never had anything less than consensual sex while being such. Even drunk, I knew better.

  • Eam Dominus

    Atheist misogyny is quite obviously not the reason why there aren’t more women atheists. Churches are pretty open about their misogyny, yet women outnumber men in church attendance. Women outnumber men in pretty much every metric of religiosity across the globe; it’s one of those weird human universals.

    Again, if misogyny had the effect of turning women away, women should be leaving religion in droves. This is not the case, so something else must be going on.

  • Hawker40

    It seems to me that if Men are the ones doing the assaulting, they should be the ones with a curfew.
    Or am I stating the obvious?
    Again.

  • ahermit

    Actually it depends which of the stories Shermer’s been telling you’re reading. According to Randi he said he was so drunk he couldn’t remember (whether that was in reference specifically to to the Alison Smith incident isn’t clear, but it’s interesting that his excuses change depending on the audience…)

    It’s also interesting how is defenders jump to the “she was drunk so it’s her own fault” story while Shermer is saying she wasn’t that drunk (after telling us how drunk she was at the party and how she could “drink him under the table”)…they can’t get their stories straight, whereas his accusers have all been pretty consistent all along.

  • ahermit

    What’s really galling is that Randi seems to have no problem
    believing the stories about Shermer are true, he talks about knowing
    that he’s been “bad boy” that’ Randi has heard reliable complaints from
    people he has “reason to believe” but as long as Shermer hadn’t actually
    “gotten violent” he was willing to sweep it all under the rug.

    Those comments of Randi’s not only remove any last shred of doubt about Shermer’s character they also condemn Randi himself and his whole organization. They were negligent at the very least in turning a blind eye to Shermer’s “misbehaviour with the women.”

    And fuck this “boys will be boys that’s what men do when they’ve been drinking” bullshit. I don’t need that kind of stereotype hanging around my neck, thank you. Especially since Shermer, after apparently pulling the “I was drunk I don’t remember” card on Randi (and shame on Randi for falling that, you’d think a magician would recognize misdirection when he sees it) is now insisting that everyone was sober at the time…

  • ahermit

    I love the way Shermer, who has been complaining about the supposedly anonymous complaints against him, relies on an anonymous “eyewitness” to back up his latest version of events…

    Double standards anyone?

  • BeaverTales

    If the rape allegations against Shermer are proven true (after a fair hearing, which everyone should be entitled to), he needs to be repudiated by the people who organize our functions. That’s a dealbreaker. Let him just write books from his jail cell, assuming anyone will even publish them.

    I don’t like the implication that one or two douchebags “bring down the entire atheist movement”….all men are not like this, and all atheist men are not like Shermer. Since when did the awful sexual antics of even large numbers of priests bring down the entire Christian church? Oh, since never.

  • ahermit

    Well, as one feminist blogger noted “I would say I felt exactly as welcome in movement atheism as I did at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but that would be a lie. No one at St.Peter’s ever called me a stupid cunt because I disagreed with them”

    We should be trying to be better than sexist religious institutions, not worse…

  • Nicolas Demers

    Not that simple. The misogynistic religions that women should be leaving are ones they grew up with their whole lives, and they’ve internalised that misogyny. Not to mention the pragmatic fact that it may be dangerous to leave an oppressive community, they may not know where else to go, they may have children to take care of, etc…

    The women that come into atheism/skepticism, by and large, would have worked through that crap and would be unlikely to take in from Big Name Skeptics (or local Small Name Skeptics). So no, this doesn’t require any special explanation

  • “Of course you could be smart enough NOT to go to drinking parties.”

    Or maybe you should be smart enough not to SEXUALLY ASSAULT people at drinking parties.

  • Al Petterson

    There’s misogyny and there’s misogyny. There’s misogyny enforced by rules, and there’s misogyny performed simply because misogynists are assholes.

    Churches tend to be misogyny of the first type – women in the context of a church can protect themselves against many forms of abuse (while enduring others) simply by keeping to their expected second-class status – as horrible as it is, there’s a path to safety (of a sort).

    There wasn’t a KKK until slavery was outlawed, after all. There’s misogyny in churches, but there’s also social pressure to conform, and that social pressure works to provide some level of safety to conformists, as well as allowing misogynists to feel unthreatened, because they can assert their misogyny in socially acceptable ways.

    Take away those constraints and you have to work out new standards of behavior. Misogynists will feel threatened, and will attack in ways they wouldn’t have when the social constraints which favored them were in place.

  • Tige Gibson

    Listening to MRAs, it sounds like they assume Shermer raped PZ Myers.

  • Ann Kah

    Rude, overtly sexual behavior in public is “misbehaving”. Rape is a crime. Got that, Mr. Randi? There, that wasn’t hard. The degree of sobriety of either of the parties doesn’t change that.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Why would it need to be proven true in a court of law for people to repudiate Shermer? Did any of the Catholic priests accused of child molestation need to be convicted before the evidence against them could be considered damning?

  • Ann Kah

    No, it doesn’t “condemn” either Randi or the organization. It tells them what has to change, NOW. I know, I know, I’m still fighting the same things I fought in 1964, and half a century of that is wearing me out. But things HAVE improved for women, enormously so. We just need to keep on putting out these brush fires as they arise.

  • Ann Kah

    Rape crosses over the line, and “behaving badly” doesn’t begin to describe it.

  • katiehippie

    That “bad boy” terminology is very disturbing. Very.

  • katiehippie

    Way to blame the victim.

  • Jason K.

    If the rape allegations against Shermer are proven true (after a fair
    hearing, which everyone should be entitled to), he needs to be
    repudiated by the people who organize our functions.

    No. If Shermer is found guilty after a trial hearing, then he should be in jail. But the allegations alone are enough to repudiate him, especially as they are confirmed from multiple witnesses. If you don’t think we should repudiate Shermer on the basis of these women’s testimonies, then you should really answer Adam’s questions:

    “If you don’t think believe these women, why not? Are they all colluding against him? If so, for what motive? If you believe they’re lying, spell out your argument and your assumptions”

  • Azkyroth

    Also, Mr. Randi, rape fucking is fucking violence.

  • ScandiAtheist

    That last sentence cannot be stressed enough. Shermer was, according to Alison Smith’s story, not so drunk: She says he served her drinks but only pretended to drink his own. That’s not the behavior of someone who is too drunk to be considered responsible for his actions.

    People do stupid stuff when they’re drunk, and in particular if they’re both drunk and horny. I don’t alway think it’s right to demonize someone because they did something stupid while drunk. I sometimes think feminists go to far in assigning all the blame to the man when two drunk people end up doing something they wouldn’t have done while sober. But this story is different from that. Smith describes a situation where a man consciously and deliberately puts a woman in a situation where he can have sex with her without her consent. There’s no way to excuse that.

  • Azkyroth

    Oh, right, the rampant victim-blaming. I assume Adam was going to mention that next. (EDIT: Oops, I see he did, in passing.)

  • BeaverTales

    I was once accused of rape, and it was absolutely false (I am a gay man and had never even met the woman, and she didn’t realize that when she randomly chose me as her attacker-luckily the police investigating found holes in her story, but thank goodness they at least investigated).

    Granted, there were multiple women making the allegation against Shermer…but I no longer believe that when it’s one person’s word against another, that the woman is assumed to be truthful simply because she is a woman. Sorry, but until you’ve been in that situation, you have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Jason K.

    Granted, there were multiple women making the allegation against Shermer…but I no longer believe that when it’s one person’s word against another, that the woman is assumed to be truthful.

    But you just admitted it isn’t one person’s word against another. It’s multiple people’s word against one person. And it’s certainly not a matter of “assuming the woman is truthful.” I’m not even sure why you brought gender into it.

  • BeaverTales

    I “brought gender into it” because when i was scooped off the street for merely wearing a clean sports jacket because “she was raped by a well dressed black man” with no other corroborating information, it was because I was presumed guilty for being a man of the right color in the wrong place. My story didn’t matter, my alibi didn’t matter, and the fact that they didn’t even get her to the ER to see if she had actually been raped (she wasn’t) would have saved a lot of trouble.

    Yes, I’m still angry that that happened to me, nor am I surprised that few people care how I felt about it (fear, shame over something I didn’t do, and total helplessness). Rapists are the scum of the earth, and historically women weren’t believed….I realize this…. but *everyone* is presumed innocent until proven guilty….or should at least have the benefit of reasonable proof that a crime actually occurred before being deprived of their freedom.

  • BeaverTales

    “If you don’t think believe these women, why not?

    You are putting words in my mouth, and my post directly implied that he should be in jail…even if it wasn’t the very next sentence I typed.

    If you are going to straw man me, at least use my own words to quote me. I never said I didn’t believe these women, only that he be treated fairly…and yes I have a bias based on personal experience in saying that. I already acknowledged in my reply to the other post above that the fact that multiple women were making the allegation makes it far more likely that he’s guilty.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I’m sorry that happened to you. That was wrong and it shouldn’t have happened.

    That said, that hardly answers the question I asked. Why must we wait for a conviction? Why does there have to be a trial at all before we can decide that Shermer is toxic?

    You brought up priests and clergy. Given that one of the most currently well-known such cases are those of the abuses by Catholic priests against children. However, very few of them have even been arrested, much less ever since the inside of a courtroom, much less seen the inside of a prison. Further, those Catholic authorities who had information about this, covered it up and moved the priests around, such as Cardinal Bernard Law, have yet to be charged either. However, the evidence against them is quite damning and still growing. Is it safe to say that the Catholic Church was well aware of the abuse, engaged in activities to cover it up, and has done everything it could to escape responsibility of its actions and should be repudiated even though we have few arrests, much less convictions?

    As for believing someone’s claims just because they are a woman, no one has suggested that. At all. No one has decided that Shermer is a horrible person because a woman or several women said something. People are concluding that he is a horrible person whose status in the atheist/ skeptic community should be denounced because a preponderance of evidence is stacking up against him, sometimes provided by the very people attempting to defend him (see the Randi quote).

  • Azkyroth

    We’re not talking about people being deprived of their freedom, here, though.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Having had several arguments with people over the Shermer mess to the extent that misogyny almost drove me to never paying any more attention to the atheist community, I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there’s the simplistic “Yay, I was vindicated. Take that, rape apologist Mr. Deity, and all the hero-worshiping a-holes who think Freethought Blogs is automatically wrong because you imagine a hivemind.”

    On the other hand, there’s the “Crap. People got raped and he’s been getting away with it for years.” That’s the one that’s more important by far. I hope that we all do the right thing. It would have been much better for more people if we’d been wrong about Shermer. That doesn’t mean we should act like we were just for the sake of convenience or to protect the reputation of a man increasingly less worthy of it.

  • BeaverTales

    I’m talking about burden of proof. There should be proof that a crime occurred. Whether that proof is multiple independent accusations, physical evidence, or at least the absence of a reasonable alibi is enough. Why are you arguing with me that no proof is ever needed when people are accused of rape?

    Do you think that I should have been jailed until there was a trial? Edit: I hope I gave an adequate explanation of why I personally feel it’s important to not convict someone on the word of one person and nothing else. As far as defending Shermer, I did no such thing. I said if there is a fair hearing (by law enforcement or some other tribunal), and we know it’s likely to be true, then he is toast. Trial by media is not fair or objective. We now have a name instead of shadowy inferences, so that makes getting the facts easier.

    All I want is (a reasonable assurance of) the truth before his livelihood and career are destroyed. Everyone deserves some form of due process, even scumbags. The multiple independent accusations are likely enough. Not sure why that would be considered the equivalent of me pronouncing him innocent.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I wonder if his buddy Mr. Deity is going to once again use his show to denounce the rape accusations. He already did that in the begging section of Mr. Deity and the Hat. You know, the part where a woman should just learn to not drink so much and then they won’t get raped.

  • Nes

    And this is the part about all of this that I, for lack of a better word, like the most. At this point, one doesn’t even need to believe the women (for the record, I do believe them, and I think that they should be believed), one needs only look at Shermer’s stories. They’re constantly changing and inconsistent, so he’s *clearly* lying about something.

    And yet, people still defend him… :-

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Another thing about Michael Shermer:
    Michael Shermer Hearts Dinesh D’Souza

  • Shawn

    I think that’s an important distinction.
    Not everyone wants to be in charge or in leadership positions, after all. Even churches with deeply misogynist tenets still have things like women’s auxiliaries and groups, which can fill a sense of community. Less doctrinaire groups have actual opportunity for female clergy, and in the religious traditions I’ve been involved in the groups as a whole have tried to make it clear to women that they’re valued and that they matter (whether their actual policies really work towards this can be questionable).

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I’m talking about burden of proof. There should be proof that a crime
    occurred.

    I asked, and am asking once more, why a trial would be necessary in order for atheists and skeptics (individually, organizationally or communally) to decide that Shermer is a toxic and dangerous person who’s continued presence does us no favors?

    This is especially so when, as far as the US legal system is concerned, cases of rape and sexual assault are so often badly handled in the first place. Trails are not required for us, as people, to decide if a person or organization accused of wrongdoing is worthy of our support nor are they exactly a surefire method. One only need to look at the Innocence Project to see that.

    Why are you arguing with me that no proof is ever needed when people are accused of rape?

    Oh hell no! You go back and reread everything I wrote to you and quote anything… anything… that I wrote where I claimed no evidence was required or anything that could reasonably be interpreted as such.

    You made the claim that a trial was required (“If the rape allegations against Shermer are proven true (after a fair hearing,…”) before anyone could make the decision to wash their hands of Shermer. If you meant anything else by “fair hearing” other than trial, as in a court of law, you should have clarified that in your first response to me since I specifically asked that.

    Do you think that I should have been jailed until there was a trial?

    Should Shermer? Though that is irrelevant since no one has asked that Shermer be jailed (except those pointing to the fact that he hasn’t been as obvious proof that he is innocent of the allegations).

    I hope I gave an adequate explanation of why I personally feel it’s
    important to not convict someone on the word of one person and nothing
    else.

    Yes, you have adequately explained something that was not only not asked but also irrelevant to the question that was asked.

    But since you seem to think it’s germane, how did the false accusation against you ruin your life?

    As far as defending Shermer, I did no such thing.

    I invite you to quote me saying as much as well since I never said you were. This whole time I have only been trying to find out why you think a legal hearing is required for the atheist/ skeptical community to determine if Shermer should be written off?

    I said if there is a fair hearing (by law enforcement or some other
    tribunal), and we know it’s likely to be true, then he is toast.

    And I asked why the atheist/ skeptic community needs a legal trial to decide if Shermer is a liability or a danger to other members? This question still has yet to be answered.

    We now have a name instead of shadowy inferences, so that makes getting the facts easier.

    Given that the name is the only new information so far I have to disagree. Everything else was fairly well already known.

    All I want is (a reasonable assurance of) the truth before his livelihood and career are destroyed.

    And all I asked for was why a legal trial was necessary for that? This is an especially pertinent question given how, again, proceedings for rape and sexual assault are often badly handled by the US justice system.

    Not sure why that would be considered the equivalent of me pronouncing him innocent.

    Again, I invite you to quote me where I have said you are because I am quite sure I never said you were.

  • Steven Carr

    Shermer has a lot of explaining to do about that email he got from Alison Smith on May 24th 2010. What explanation has he for it?

  • L.Long

    I knew someone would do the comparison to short dresses. I cal BS on you. I’ve been to drinking parties (yes I DON”T DRINK) and watched as the dimwits lost all control and did lots of stupid schite. One girl tried to suicide!!! SO don’t go comparing drinks with dresses. 5 drinks is all it takes to start being really stupid. You don’t have to be drunk! So NO!!! I do not have a deep sympathy for her or him!!! They both were idiots.

  • ahermit

    That’s the thing though; SHE didn’t “do stupid schite..” she had stupid schite done to her. Do you really not see the difference?

  • While they remained anonymous, he had *something* of a point. That point has disappeared after they came forward, and his stories continue changing.

  • The more I reread Randi’s comments, the more damning they become. This isn’t some innocent misunderstanding of the situation; he had heard from multiple people that Shermer had done something blameworthy, and he believed them. He doesn’t even have the slender reed of an excuse that he didn’t think the complaints were credible.

    But because it wasn’t “violent” (did he ever seriously entertain the possibility that Shermer would, I don’t know, club someone over the head and drag them away at a public convention?), he’s willing to dismiss it with a “ho ho ho ho, boys will be boys, what do you expect when people are drinking” attitude. This is the exact situation that the term “rape culture” was invented to describe.

  • @BeaverTales:

    I’m so sorry to hear you went through that. I’ve had my consciousness sharply raised these last few months when it comes to how our justice system treats people of color, I can say that much.

    Let me see if I understand this correctly: the woman didn’t accuse you specifically; she just said she had been assaulted by a black man, and the police randomly scooped you off the street as the first man they came across. Do I have that right?

    This does matter, I think. My understanding is that while false accusations do occur, they’re very rare (small comfort to you, I realize), and false accusations naming a specific person are rarer still. If this matter ever came to a criminal trial, I of course agree that Shermer should be entitled to a presumption of innocence, as should any person accused of any crime. But I don’t think that guilt-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt has to be the standard in every walk of life. When the penalty being contemplated is less drastic than imprisonment, we can and should make up our minds based on a “mere” preponderance of the evidence, just as civil lawsuits do.

  • There wasn’t a KKK until slavery was outlawed, after all.

    I think that comparison is very apt. What we see, in both cases, is the enraged lashing-out of men who realize they may have to share power and/or pay heed to viewpoints they used to be able to ignore. Resorting to violent threats and intimidation is the last-ditch effort of those whose formerly privileged position is slipping away.

  • To be absolutely fair to Mr. Deity, he did put out a follow-up video in which he said that while people need to take personal responsibility for any harm that befalls them while they’re drunk, he didn’t mean to include rape under that heading:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXloqvGehqE

    Take that for what you will.

  • BeaverTales

    how did the false accusation against you ruin your life?

    This is a very patronizing question. Being falsely imprisoned on false testimony from an unknown accuser for a **serious crime that never even happened** is traumatizing by any standard. Since you are someone privileged enough to never have been falsely accused of rape after being racially profiled, you apparently have no idea how degrading, humiliating and frightening it is. I would never wish it on anyone.

    I went back and read “everything you wrote”. as you suggested How does “fair hearing” = “legal trial”? I never said anything about a “legal trial”. A hearing can be done by (atheist) community tribunal, rape expert(s), victims rights advocates….or in the case of felony rape, a judge allowing the free exercise of habeas corpus.

    Trial by anonymous blog alone is not a “fair hearing” by any standard, but it can be enough to warrant further investigation. Rape is a serious allegation that (rightfully) ruins one’s reputation and results in imprisonment…and it deserves to be fully investigated by trained law enforcement, not a blogger.

  • BeaverTales

    Adam, I appreciate the response. Because of my personal history, I’m just very sensitive to the fact that false accusations, misunderstandings, and false assumptions can and do occur. Yes, that is basically what happened to me. I spent an entire day of my life trying to establish my innocence against an unknown accuser over a crime that I didn’t commit. She was later found to be mentally ill.

    Historically in the black community, being accused of rape by a white woman was an automatic death sentence. I realize times are different now, but the fear my father raised me with is still there, and I was deeply in fear of what could happen if the charge stuck. It was a horrible experience.

    On topic: Of course, we are allowed to form opinions individually and as a community based on evidence presented in the media, but we have to keep in mind that those judgments should ideally be made once all sides of the story are presented.

    I’m not arguing for Shermer’s innocence because I know little outside of what you wrote, and having multiple independent accusers suggests he has a real problem with women even if he isn’t guilty of rape…but I am arguing for his right to due process, even in the court of public opinion. I would argue that for anyone.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    I never said anything about a “legal trial”.

    Given that I made it quite clear that that was what I interpreted your “fair hearing” remark to allude to in my first post to you, you should have made your first response to me a clarification instead of an anecdote about an irrelevant event. Not once in that response did you even attempt to address that supposed error. Why is that?

    That, by the way, makes your claim:

    I went back and read “everything you wrote”. as you suggested

    -an outright falsehood. Here I’ll even prove it to you. Here was the very first line of the very first response I made to you roughly 9 hours ago:

    Why would it need to be proven true in a court of law for people to repudiate Shermer?

    You could have saved us a bunch of time but it was apparently far more important that you let us know about something else that had zero relevance to that question. Then, despite further explicit questions showing I had (supposedly) misunderstood you, and ample opportunities for you to correct me, you decided it was more important to hammer home the extraneous detail about you being falsely accused of rape.

    Oh, and nevermind the fact that my insistence that you go back and reread everything I wrote to you was so that you could find something, anything, to support your asinine claim of:

    Why are you arguing with me that no proof is ever needed when people are accused of rape?

    So, I guess you decided that strawman proved a little too tough for you.

    So with that, as for asking how the false rape accusation ruined your life being patronizing? No it wasn’t. You were the one that expressed concern that Shermer’s life could be ruined over this. Since you seemed bound and determined to bring your experience into this I decided to find out how it ruined your life since you appeared to have some personal knowledge. However, it seems that your experience is only of value when it can be used to dismiss the viewpoints, opinions and experiences of others.

    I would like to point out that, even though it was immaterial, I never questioned the validity of your claimed experience even though, statically speaking, rates of false rape accusations are far, far, far lower than those of actual rape incidents and even though I had only your word as evidence. Sad that you never seemed able to at least give the benefit of the doubt to the women presenting the claims about Shermer, much less ever expressing any real concern for the trauma they may be going through should those accusations be true.

    No, apparently we have to go with some exceptionally thorough yet vaguely defined hearing/ trial/ tribunal/ thing (not a legal hearing though it would now seem) before we can even start to concede that maybe Shermer did something bad. Before we can begin asking if maybe he is someone best avoided, either individually or by organizations that seek to represent the atheist/ skeptical community, we should let “trained law enforcement” do some full investigation that wouldn’t lead to a court trial, just a fair hearing.

  • blondein_tokyo

    I read through this entire discussion, and I think I have a point you haven’t really considered. Jeremy is right that these accusations don’t have to be proven true in a court of law before people react to them. It’s perfectly fair for people to look at the evidence and decide for themselves whether Shermer (or anyone else) is a liability and either disinvite him from conventions,or even just personally avoid contact with him. *If my safety is on the line, I absolutely do reserve the right to shun or otherwise avoid someone who might do me harm*. I don’t need a court trial to give me permission to take care of myself.

    Considering we have evidence of at least three incidents, plus James Randi himself admitting he’d received complaints about Shermer’s behavior, is that not enough for people as individuals decide for themselves if they want to associate with Shermer?

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable, and I am quite sure that if I personally saw Shermer at a conference I would avoid the hell out of him. And if a lot of women feel this way, is it not reasonable for conference organizers to reconsider inviting him?

    We don’t need a trial to decide if someone is odious enough that we don’t want him around. And don’t forget, he did this TO HIMESELF. His. Own. Fault. if his career is ruined.

    Although I kind of doubt it will be, since there are plenty of men who are known sexual harassers (Bill Clinton, anyone?) who stayed in positions of power.

  • Randi’s comments were quite startling in their insensitive stupidity. The only caveat I feel compelled to add is that when both parties are inebriated, it does change the dynamic to “full complicated” pretty quickly, as a good chunk of all the sex in the world that both parties would heartily agree after-the-fact was enthusiastic and consensual was done in such a mutually sloshed state; I think a particularly damning element of the accusation here is that Shermer allegedly attempted to covertly maintain his sobriety while serving drinks to the other party, which if true can be reasonably interpreted as a predatory move even absent any other factor.

  • Azkyroth

    I sometimes think feminists go to far in assigning all the blame to the man when two drunk people end up doing something they wouldn’t have done while sober.

    Can you name a single case of that actually happening?

  • Azkyroth

    If a woman drinks too much at a drinking party (assuming others weren’t coercing her into drinking or acting to defeat attempts on her part to monitor and moderate her intake), it’s totally her fault if she wakes up with a headache. Or throws up and gets it on her shirt.

    It’s not her fault if someone assaults her. Even if someone decides to assault her who might not have otherwise (because she seems like an easier target and he knows scumbags will blame her drinking for what happened).

    When you tell women not to get drunk (or anything else) to avoid rapists, what you’re really telling them is “make sure he rapes someone else.”

  • These conversations are truly important, because that’s the way of progress. We are questioners by nature, and it’s how we’ve always gotten things done. It’s a bit like herding cats, for sure, but I imagine that, if we keep raising valid questions, like those you’ve raised here, we’ll be forced to answer them in ways that will be enlighten us.

    I’ve read several responses to Oppenheimer, both supportive and not, and this was one of the better supportive ones.

  • Well it just goes to show that atheism can’t pretend to the superior moral position.
    Just because we’re right about God not existing doesn’t mean we can’t also be reprehensible douchebag scum, and the kind of asshats who protect and defend reprehensible douchebag scum.
    Which is no comfort to the women who suffered because of all of this, sadly.

  • David Simon

    They’re constantly changing and inconsistent, so he’s *clearly* lying about something.

    Hold on, this isn’t a good standard of evidence. Memories are fallible, most instances of incorrect or inconsistent testimony are the result of mistakes, not malevolence.

    I’m not defending Shermer here, the evidence against him seems pretty strong to me.

  • Steven Carr

    Alison Smith has reported that she ‘blacked out’.

    But Shermer did not call an ambulance.

    That was unbelievably callous.

    If somebody blacks out after drinking alcohol, I call 999 immediately.

    As we all know, the danger is that it is very likely that the person is still absorbing alcohol and the alcohol levels in the bloodstream will continue to rise.

    To not call an ambulance when somebody has blacked out after drinking is despicable.

  • Pierino Forno

    I think the Shermer affair has exposed, more than anything else, the rampant irrationality of many would-be sceptics.

    I don’t know what really happened, and cannot know; all I have is a couple of statements by people claiming to have been raped, and a statement by Shermer claiming he did no such thing. Obviously, there is no way anyone could possibly find out what really happened based on these contradictory claims, so most commenters have injected their particular prejudices in order to make their foregone conclusions plausible.

    Adam Lee, for example, saw fit to tell us that Ashley Miller is a friend. So what? No disrespect intended, it’s just that being a friend of Ashley’s makes Adam’s take on the matter less rather that more believable.

    James Randi was worried because some people told him that Shermer had done this and that; and he believed them, because, you know, trust is the best way to ascertain a claim. And he managed to slip in a generalisation concerning men which I would describe as pretty offensive, if I was the type to get offended.

    Jeremy Shaffer thinks Shermer is toxic and should be emarginated, even if he were not convicted; in other words, if the victims themselves failed to convince a jury or a judge that they had been raped, sceptics should jump at the chance to prove themselves more gullible than their fellow citizens.

    Jason K has kindly provided a good summary of the problems:

    “If Shermer is found guilty after a trial hearing, then he should be
    in jail. But the allegations alone are enough to repudiate him,
    especially as they are confirmed from multiple witnesses. If you don’t
    think we should repudiate Shermer on the basis of these women’s
    testimonies, then you should really answer Adam’s questions:
    ‘”If you don’t think believe these women, why not? Are they all colluding
    against him? If so, for what motive? If you believe they’re lying, spell
    out your argument and your assumptions'”

    The allegations alone are enough to repudiate Shermer? Why? Anybody can say anything about somebody. What particular law of physics forces us to believe allegations?

    The question “If you don’t believe these women, why not?” is silly. The point is not that everybody should dismiss their allegations as false; the point is nobody should take them as necessarily true. I have no idea who the women are, and have no reason to either believe or disbelieve them. Similarly, though I know who Shermer is, I have no reason to either believe or disbelieve him. Is it hard to believe that three women would collude against Shermer? Yes, it is. Is it hard to believe that Shermer raped those three women? Yes, it is. At this point, therefore, it is irrational to conclude anything at all. Maybe refraining from posting more articles until more information is available would be a good start, and a good exercise in rationality for the sceptics.

  • Deanjay1961

    Sounds like plenty of reason to exclude Shermer from future conferences.

  • L.Long

    If she did not use the drugs (YES alcohol is a drug) then how did she get raped. She is incapable of picking up a chair and beating the schite out of him????

  • L.Long

    Wrong HE IS AT FAULT!!! Period!!!!
    All I’m saying take some responsibility for your own stupid acts. I did NOT say it was her fault I said she was stupid for not realizing the situation. Wake up!!! the world sucks and so do the people in it. My momma told me that when I was 5!!! That’s why I made sure my daughter knew how to kill if needed, because you cannot count on others for aid.

  • Azkyroth

    Are you saying she’d deserve to be raped if she was?

    If not, then why fucking bring it up?

  • Azkyroth

    I understand the world sucks.

    Do you understand anything else?

  • ahermit

    She was raped because someone chose to impose himself on her sexually without her consent. She did not do that to herself it was done to her.

    As for picking up s chair…are you serious? How well do you think an intoxicated woman is going to fare in a fight with a larger stronger sober attacker?

    Not to mention the minor point that no one should be put in position where they have to pick up a weapon and fight off sexual advances like that. As soon as you put someone in that situation you are the guilty party regardless of whether they have been drinking or not.

  • Nes

    Yes, you’re right. The worst part is that I know that, and yet forgot about it when noticing this. My bad.

  • Psycho Gecko

    I didn’t take it as all that much of an explanation. If he’d brought up drinking in terms of driving or partying or doing stupid stuff, that’d be one thing. However, this was explicitly about taking advantage of someone sexually while they were drinking. He was talking about drinking while responding to this exact situation with Shermer.

    It’s like if I went up to someone discussing the time they were molested as a kid and then I said people shouldn’t make sex into a big deal. Whether you think I’m right in general or not, the fact that I’d be saying it in regards to that situation makes it pretty bad and would appear to make me into an apologist for child molestation.

    This would be even worse if I then claimed I didn’t say anything wrong while NAMBLA showed up to defend my statement, much like how Mr. Deity didn’t think he said anything wrong while MRAs showed up to talk about how it shouldn’t be called rape even if the woman is drunk. Which isn’t a strawman, by the way, it’s part of the conversation I had there in the comments with Mr. Deity and some of the MRAs who showed up to defend him.

  • Azkyroth

    Minor quibble: “blacked out” does not necessarily mean “unconscious”; it can mean that a person is still behaving as if inebriated but aware, but that they’re intoxicated enough to inhibit memory formation, and partially or fully don’t recall events later. Agree in general, though.

  • Steven Carr

    Really? So if you see somebody walking around, talking, aware ,but very drunk, you would say that that person has ‘blacked out’?

  • Steven Carr

    But certainly not enough to even dream of putting a rapist behind bars. Not one person has ever expressed a desire to see Shermer serve time for rape.