Why Would Women Choose Not To Return To An Atheist And/Or Skeptical Convention?

There’s two highly-recommended blogposts and a video AND a comment on a publicly-available Facebook discussion that have captured my attention recently – and they have prompted an additional question from me.

From ICBS Everywhere - What Matters:

Newsflash: The issues addressed by the JREF and other skeptic organizations matter to me. They matter to others. They “matter”.

It is easy to wave the vague flag of liberal ideology, to throw out terms such as “marginalized groups” and claim to care about the well-being of others, but how does that translate to real progress? What, exactly, are you doing that “matters” more than the work you claim does not “matter”?

Mission Drift, Conflation, and Food For Thought:

If, for example, secular conferences take on gay marriage, why not polygamy? Do all skeptics, secularists, and atheists agree with me that polygamy should be legalized? How about an effort to eradicate marriage altogether? What about government-run health care? How about education? Is privatization the answer? What about charter schools? Education, after all, is a central issue for those who care about social justice, so why should skeptics and secularists talk about it?

I’ll tell you why: we do not agree on the solutions, nor do we agree on what is “fair” or “moral” in these areas. These are issues of values. Skeptics can discuss evidence regarding specific questions (e.g., whether outcomes-based teaching is effective), but skepticism cannot tell us whether or not the education of children should be the responsibility of the government. When groups endorse specific values and conclusions which cannot be empirically supported, they’re endorsing ideologies and, in the case of skepticism at least, rejecting the very methods they claim to promote.

Click on the links to read the blogposts in full and please consider commenting over there on them, as they do deserve to be read fully and in context.

The second is a video, which promoted me to post to its creator, FearBlandness, a link to a (2010) blogpost I made on the Young Australian Skeptics site about previous investigations I’d done into numbers of women on the stage and in the audience.  FearBlandness wants to know why in 2012 about the gender parity at conferences, particularly after her experiences at the recent Global Atheist Convention:

I recently read a discussion (that is publicly available on Facebook, as well as visible to non-Facebook members) about attendees of one particular skeptical conference, The Amazing Meeting. One comment has stuck with me, and it is by DJ Grothe. You can read the full context here:

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

[My emphasis in bold].

I’d hate for the drop in women attending a conference to be for those reasons too. I’d like to think, as the ICBS Everywhere posts demonstrate, that there’s people attending because we have concerns about issues in skepticism, atheism, secularism, what have you, that are concerns to everyone.


I’d like to know why women may go to a skeptical conference and not return – or why they may have the opportunity and choose otherwise. I’m not just talking about the JREF Amazing Meeting, I’m talking about such conferences in general. If you’d like to comment here, I’d appreciate it.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • kerfluffle

    Have you been to the JREF forum? There’s enough rape apologist, libertarians, and pro-child molestation advocates to turn anyone’s stomach. Maybe it’s changed. It’s been about a year since I lurked.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Is the forum the same as a conference? I remember a photo of forum-ites taken when I was at TAM5. There were only about fifty people. Average number of the Amazing Meeting is in the near 1000s, I recall? So I don’t think that’s a fair comparison (mind, I have not been there a lot longer than you have).

      • kerfluffle

        No, it’s not fair. The forum is anonymous and many members don’t attend TAM. But many people who attended TAM go to the forum expecting the same interest in science and atheism. Instead they get the “why she deserved it” topic of the day.

      • dmf

        I dunno. I think it’s absolutely fair. People may not like it, but things online with a name attached act like advertising and publicity. If you’ve got forums with bigots running rampant, what’s to assure you that they won’t be at a convention of the same organization? You say it may not be fair to conflate the two, I say it’s unreasonable not to.

        If it mattered, they’d clean it up.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Are conferences the same as forum boards? What are some of the factors that make “clearing up” a forum board possible? Is it the same as “cleaning up how conference attendees behave / setting standards”?

          • dmf

            I’m not sure what you mean by “the same”. Clearly one is online and one is in person. I think there is a vast expanse between “censorship” and “keeping the place from being overrun by assholes” if that’s where you’re going with that. I have no problem with rules of decorum. A difference between forums and conferences is, I’d say I think more stringent rules of decorum are almost necessary on forums. If you want to have specific types of discourse. Because there’s that factor of anonymity of online posting where people are more free to be antisocial without consequence.

            (Granted, opinions differ on “decorum”. I have no issues with what others consider “profanity” and in fact liberally pepper my speech with it. Some are offended by that. I find this silly. I would say that it’s at least not any form of bigotry, but that’s another discussion…)

            It’s the path of least resistance. Put up resistance, and the path changes. They’ll take their crap somewhere else.

            Or, preferably, evolve out of it.

          • carlie

            It’s a lot easier in some ways to keep forum boards clean than a conference – in a forum, all it takes is a moderator banning a person and they’re gone. In person, shutting someone down is a lot more difficult. If the people in charge of a group won’t even go through minimal effort to write warnings to people on boards, I have no confidence at all that they’d be able or willing to warn someone in person to their face.

          • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

            I have to second dmf on this one. “Clearing up a forum” means moderating comments/posts. I’m pretty light on moderation at my blog, but then my blog is only representing me, not a huge organization that’s trying to throw big conferences where everyone is welcome. I doubt the JREF forum is reflective of TAM, but I can understand someone with limited information on the JREF thinking that.

        • http://www.cocktailpartyphysics.com Jennifer Ouellette

          “things online with a name attached act like advertising and publicity. If you’ve got forums with bigots running rampant, what’s to assure you that they won’t be at a convention of the same organization?”

          I think this pretty much nails it. Does’t matter if conference attendees are the same as jerks who post on forum boards (or blog comment threads). DJ is correct — it’s unfair for people to judge TAM based on some of those wilder rumors. But there is a small very vocal number of highly unpleasant misogynistic people in both the skeptic and atheist communities, and whether we like it or not, they color public perceptions of such events when they spew their vicious bile all over the Internet.

          Even when conferences put non-harassment policies in place, BS still happens. Cf. Elyse Anders’ recent post on being propositioned by a couple at a recent skeptic event. Was she fearful? No. Was she annoyed and offended at the lack of respect for her professionalism? Absolutely. She and many other women still suck it up and attend anyway. But it’s exhausting to have to constantly brace oneself for unpleasantness by the socially inept.

          A few bad apples really can spoil the whole barrel when it comes to public perception. It’s not fair. But it’s human nature. I’m sorry to hear of the drop in attendance at TAM. I know DJ is doing his best to be more inclusive.

          • http://lordsetar.wordpress.com Setár, self-appointed Elf-Sheriff of the Pharyngula Star Chamber

            …by the socially inept.

            Hi. I am non-NT, and as a result “socially inept”, and I do NOT appreciate being lumped in with assholes who have no regard for boundaries.

            I also do NOT appreciate how these assholes and their apologists try to hide behind that same “socially inept” as a justification.

            Please stop calling them socially inept. There is a difference between those of us who are really socially inept and those of us who just have no regard for boundaries, and it only hurts if you lump the two in together.

          • ischemgeek

            ^ I second this. In my job, I work with some folk who might be considered “socially inept”. I’ve been called that myself in the past. I also work with people who don’t care about boundaries.In my experience, there’s a huge difference between someone who’s well-meaning but not good at that whole non-verbal communication thing and someone who doesn’t give a shit about other people’s boundaries.

            The first will apologize and back off when they learn they’ve transgressed. Depending on how insecure they are about it, they’ll probably spend the next half hour to several hours reviewing the incident, analyzing and trying to figure out where they fucked up so they don’t do it again. I should know; I’ve been there. If I really fuck up and piss someone off by crossing boundaries I didn’t pick up on, not only will I apologize profusely, but I’ll probably be spending the next few hours obsessively re-running the scene in my head, trying to figure out what I missed at the time.

            The second plainly does not care. If asked to stop, they won’t. If told to stop, they won’t. If yelled at because of their continued disregard of others’ comfort, they’ll act as if you’re the asshole for enforcing the boundaries you’ve laid out. They will push as far as they think they can get away with – and by “get away with”, I mean “escape punishment for.” This is the kind of person who publically humiliates people they call friends for laughs, who will date-rape if they think they can get away with it, and so on.

            One has a hard time seeing social cues. The other is wholly lacking in empathy and consideration for others. One can’t tell they’re about to go wrong. The other knows it and will do it anyway because their risk-benefit analysis works out that it has more benefit than risk.

            And yes, I realize that intent is not a magic bullet. However, response to being told you’ve transgressed is nearly as important as the transgression itself. Someone who accepts their fault, who genuinely feels bad that they’re in the wrong, and who will try to learn from the incident so they don’t transgress in that manner again is a far different case from someone who knows it’s wrong before they do the act and doesn’t give a shit, and who will continue to not give a shit after you’ve asked them to stop, and who will continue the transgression after being told to stop because they know the chances are very high that they’ll get away with it.

            So rather than “socially inept”, which wrongly stigmatizes those with ASD traits, how about we go with “socially malicious”? It’s more accurate, anyway.

        • ‘Tis Himself

          I’ve looked at the JREF forum two or three times. I was discouraged by the rampant misogyny in many of the threads. If DJ doesn’t care enough to deal with MRAs on the JREF blog, then why should I or anyone else think he cares to deal with sexual harassment at TAM?

  • kerfluffle

    For the record, the JREF forum isn’t unique just larger. You can find the same thing at Talk Rational, SGU, etc.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/ Stephanie Zvan

    I am, as ever, not going back to TAM because it’s held somewhere where indoor smoking is allowed, and that’s far too much money to pay for a weekend of migraines.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I was put into a smoking room (as in, staying in a hotel room) at one convention. They refused to change the room. I quickly developed dry lips and then slowly developed eczema, which only healed about two weeks later and I worried that that I might have an immune system problem (have a relapse of another health issue).

      I don’t MIND smokers. I have even enjoyed hanging out with smokers, as the conversations are usually the best. But I can’t risk my health like that again by staying in a place where I can’t escape the smoke.

    • kaboobie

      Ditto here, I’m afraid. For me, smoke smell quickly progresses from annoying to nauseating. TAM 9 was my first time in Vegas, and the dry air giving me nosebleeds was bad enough. The conference area was thankfully smoke-free, but stand close enough to the escalators and it would waft up.

      There were a lot of people I knew and wanted to hang out with, but the fact that the designated gathering spot is a bar on the casino floor, I couldn’t last more than 20-30 minutes without having to retreat to my room.

      I’m not averse to attending other Skeptic events, and Skeptrack at Dragon*Con remains a big draw for me.

    • satanaugustine

      Thanks for this info, Stephanie! I’ve never been to TAM for multiple reasons: it’s prohibitively expensive; it’s in Las Vegas (the crass, commercial, adult-disneyland, secular-version-of-hell capital of the world…so I’ve no desire to visit); and it’s so far across the country, thus making the flight prohibitively expensive. If I had overcome all of these aversions to attend what otherwise sounds like a great conference, I would have been pretty pissed to find out that I had to deal with cigarette smoke. I’ve even less desire to attend now.

      Like Kylie, I don’t mind the smokers themselves (why, some of my best friends are smokers! ; ), but I do mind the smoke.

    • ischemgeek

      Same. Except for me, it’s not just migraines: I have moderate asthma (which is a bit of a misnomer: any asthmatic can have serious or fatal attacks. Your listed severity doesn’t identify how prone you are to a bad attack, it just identifies how often and how bad you are if you’re untreated). Indoor smoking + dust from hotel carpeting is a potentially fatal equation for me. That combination has triggered near-fatal asthma attacks for me back when I was a kid. They’ve triggered not-as-dangerous-but-still-bad severe asthma attacks as an adult. I wouldn’t spend any money for a best case scenario of coughing until I have petechial hemmorages in my eyes and feeling miserable all weekend and a worst-case scenario of a chance at going blue from hypoxia, spending a few days on a ventilator or ending up dead. Thanks, but no thanks.

      • Kylie Sturgess

        I remember a student, when we were at an event off-campus, coming up to me with pale blue fingers and lips saying “I think I’m having an attack?” One of the most terrifying moments I’ve had (I don’t know about her, she’s probably had several in her life, poor thing). Thankfully there was a first-aid centre, but after that I’ve been a lot more conscious about good facilities for emergencies at venues.

        • ischemgeek

          Yikes. That’s a potentially life-threatening attack, if she was turning blue from it. I’m no medical professional, but my first aid trainer said that if someone’s even a little blue, their oxygen saturation is at best in the low 80s, and I know as an educated asthma patient that significant hypoxia only occurs in life-threatening attacks. You were right to be scared.

          For dealing with the fear of such situations, I make sure I’m always trained in first aid and CPR, even if I’m not volunteering as a first aider. I’ve only ever had to use the skills taught to me for something serious a handful of times (being first on the scene in a car wreck, helping asthmatic kids in the martial arts club I attend when they have attacks, and convincing my sister to take her kid to the ER for an allergic reaction to eggs), but it’s just so reassuring to know that if, say, my coworker who’s severely allergic to nuts accidentally eats some, I can handle it. It’s worth the about $100/yr it costs to keep myself certified for the knowledge and confidence, even if I never had to use it. That I’ve needed it before makes it even more worthwhile. That I’ve saved a few lives in the six years since I started making sure I was always trained? I can’t even express how awesome that feels. :)

  • http://thecanberracook.blogspot.com Alethea H. “Crocoduck” Dundee

    Well, if they have that Jim Jefferies idiot booked as entertainment, I’ll be quite put off.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/ Jason Thibeault

      If anyone doesn’t consider him toxic by now, you’ve good reason to be put off.

  • Stacy

    I attended TAM last year only because I applied for, and received, a grant. (Haven’t applied for a grant yet this year, but I’m thinking about it.)

    Last year the Skepchicks were also offering grants to help send women to TAM.

    I wonder what percentage of female TAM attendees needed financial assistance to attend? Presumably those on grants won’t be the earliest to register. And are the Skepchicks offering grants again this year? If so, I haven’t heard anything about that.

    • http://skepchick.org/author/heina/ Heina

      Amy had already awarded 6 women scholarships and more are on the way — so yes, it is still happening.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    I know a woman who went to TAM, but I don’t if she’ll go back without me.

    First, she was offended by Tim Minchin’s song “Cont” because she’s Jewish. Then a local skeptic posted an anti-Semitic video on his Facebook page. He said he was just trying to post the most offensive thing possible, as a joke. Instead he left a bad impression with her.

    At TAM, we had fun, but then she got caught in the middle of a conflict between a speaker and myself. It ended with her going to a party without me, which wasn’t fun for her.

    The sad part is, she would be a great addition to the movement, but other people have turned her off to it.

  • kerfluffle

    After giving it more thought. In the US the war on women and other issues may seem more important. It’s hard to get excited about psychics or UFO’s when your rights are getting stripped. The atheism scene is down with pointing out religiously motivated oppression but not when it’s strictly aimed at women. Several different talking heads have made it clear that they don’t want to overlap atheism and feminism.

    I know a few people who chose to spend their limited funds on Women in Secularism instead of other cons.

  • LeisJ

    “I’d like to know why women may go to a skeptical conference and not return – or why they may have the opportunity and choose otherwise.”

    - there’s two things that you’re asking there and they’re not the same thing. Women may NOT return because they’ve ‘seen the show already’. When considering the same speakers keep appearing at these events and many of the same topics have appeared again and again and again, it can seem a waste of money to return [or at least, to return every year; maybe every second year would be worth doing, if and only if the lineup varied].

    - women may have the opportunity if and only if there’s several factors met like

    * cost [not just entry but accommodation, travel and food/sundries while there and finding safe accommodation is a factor for some]
    * time off work
    * time from family commitments
    * a supportive family in general
    * supportive workplace ['you're doing an Amazing meeting, what with climate change skeptics?']
    * supportive school ['you're missing an exam for what?']
    * support from peers, perhaps someone to go with so they feel safe there or on way

    and I’d say these are factors for men too, but perhaps in different degrees.

    - Whle DJ Grothe may be right with his ‘harassment where there isn’t’ factor, I think that I wouldn’t go to a conference if I thought it’d be another carbon copy of one I attended.

    That is why I chose the Global Atheist Convention over any skeptic conferences as they have more people on offer and more topics that interest me and more supportive friends who’d go with me. Better cost, more for my dollar and I’ve seen James Randi enough already.

    • Mriana

      So far, Skepticon in Springfield MO is free. That is, entrance is free, but if you have to travel to get to it, you will have to pay for food and lodging, as well as your trip there.

    • Leo

      Women may NOT return because they’ve ‘seen the show already’.

      But this is a reason for men like me to not return, too. So I don’t see how this addresses the drop in % of women registered for TAM, if that’s what you were trying to explain.

      • A nym too

        Because, just really generally speaking, women tend to have more commitments that make such a venture impractical.

        We’re more likely to be caring for children, or elderly or disabled relatives at home. We’re more likely to be caring for someone outside our homes, maybe a parent who lives independently, but needs some help.

        We’re generally poorer, which means less disposable income. Guys may feel perfectly comfortable couchsurfing with someone local they’ve met online, women might want the security of a hotel.

        Time issues mean that someone with few personal commitments can save money by taking buses, someone with commitments at home needs the speed of air travel, but just can’t justify the cost.

        It all adds up to “Meh, maybe next year”.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Personally, I’ve always travelled with the ‘touchstone’ of people I know at certain points of the journey and in some of the larger cities I’ve gone to (NYC, London), I’ve roomed with friends / offered my room to stay for free and stuck close to them the whole time, rather than be alone. I’d be less likely to travel if I didn’t have those people there for me.

          • A nym too

            And of course, that’s the ideal situation, but if you’re new to it all, or live somewhere that has no visible local skeptic/atheist presence, or in another country.:/ things are a bit more difficult.

            I had a similar problem with gay/lesbian events. I lived too far from London and Manchester, so had to meet friends online to feel like I had support. I’m disabled, so travel can be an issue, and has to be really worth my while before undertaking it. It’s hard stumping up money as it is, never mind also having contingency money in case your new online BFF is actually not a 30 year old woman, or a female couple, but a guy or a m/f couple, or weird, or someone you just can’t mesh with offline.

            I did end up going to London and Liverpool. meeting some amazing people, but it was hard work and expensive!

  • MichaelD

    Probably just me but I skip a lot of skeptic and atheist events due to the focus on the bar scene that makes me feel uncomfortable.

    • http://icbseverywhere.com badrescher

      The ‘bar scene’ at TAM? Other than a few dozen people (including myself) who spend some time at the Del Mar each evening, it does not exist. There are evening events connected with the conference, but most are “add-ons” and many go off in small groups to the strip, which is a couple of miles down the road.

      None of these things are necessary to enjoy the conference. For the first 2-3 TAMs I attended, I spent most evenings in my room, grading papers, preparing lectures for the fall, watching a movie, or sleeping. I still had a great time.

      • MichaelD

        I probably shouldn’t have posted here at all not being female but ohwell. I wasn’t really talking about tam in particular but atheist, skeptic meet ups in general. Specifically that most of the ones in my area are of the skeptics/atheists/etc in the pub variety. Which pushes me away from the local groups.

        • Mary P

          We have a skeptics in the pub meeting but a lot of us do not drink. It has more to do with having a free meeting room at the pub.

  • Mriana

    Everything else aside, I’ve met DJ Grothe at Skepticon twice and I think he’s one of the nicest men one could meet. He hardly objectifies women and I felt quite comfortable around him. Now I know someone out there is probably saying, “he’s gay” or something ignorant like that, because I’ve heard it before, but IMHO, it has nothing to do with that. He treats everyone like human beings and that is just who he is.

    PZ is like a father figure, mentor, educator type, which is nice too and he know how to make science interesting and with humour.

    Randy, who I met only once, I saw as very grandfatherly and willing to educate people, but then again, I don’t think he would have it any other way.

    JT… What can I say about him? Besides the fact he shares the same initials with my son and they’re about the same. lol

    I could go down the list of the more well-known men I’ve met, within the atheist community, but the bottom line is, there are very few men (well-known and not known) at such events that I’ve had problems or issues with. The only issue I have is, and it’s because my family is a biracial family, is that the conventions are too white. There are extremely few minorities at the conventions and I am use to more multi-racial/multi-culture events because my family is multi-cultural/multi-ethnic. I had a hard time getting my sons to attend because there are hardly any black people there, save Debbie Goddard and a few others I could count on one hand. I just don’t feel completely comfortable when everyone is mostly of one ethnic group and before Skepticon was over this year, I gravitated towards Debbie and we discussed this issue.

    Getting more minorities, as well as women, involved is an issue that really needs some work. As is, the conventions, at least Skepticon, are too stilted towards white males, esp older white males. We need to bring in more women and people of colour. One black women, with three other women, among a host of white male speakers, mostly older, just does not get it and it certainly does not draw in more women and other minorities.

    Maybe some think I’m being silly, but next time you go to a convention, and you happen to be white, try looking around and count just how many minorities you see and ponder how that makes a minority family feel. The counting won’t take but a few seconds, I assure you.

    • lcaution

      You are of course right. My convention going days are long ago and far away, but I remember being able to count the number of women in a hall holding a thousand people or so. And all White. After a few years, more women (maybe 10-20%), an equal % of Asians, and a handful of African -Americans. A sad state of affairs and definitely not welcoming.

      Those conventions were occupation – based which was a justification of sorts. Very surprised it would occur with these types of conventions.

      More outreach needed? Different ad sites or approaches?

      • Mriana

        I’m not really sure. Maybe a more varied range of speakers. The organizers of Skepticon did well with adding a few more women to the list of speakers, so the number of women wasn’t as much of an issue, even with turn out, but not counting Debbie, I think I saw may two other black people (both men), an Asian-American or two, but that’s about it for minorities. It was pretty much a sea of white faces, including my own and the speakers. My older son, who’s 1/2 black, dropped in to one of the conventions and quickly left. Of course, this was the convention where a gun show was happening next door also, so that didn’t help any. This being the Ozarks in the Bible Belt, you may realize that is rather creepy. He was not comfortable at all and I could not get him to come with me to the next one. The Freethought group here, as a rule, except for maybe one American Indian family who occasionally comes to meetings, is all white, but the female turn isn’t bad. I wish I knew how to change that so that minorities who are also atheists would come and change the demographic a little more. It strange, given that I’m a white women (although I have sons who are 1/2 Black, which makes it less strange), but I highly support Black Atheists and AAH, but I don’t know how to help them encourage more participation. Part of the issue though, is the black community, in which coming out atheist is even more difficult, due to the community’s “mind slavery” to religion. One becomes a minority within a minority because the Church, religion in general, is a big part of the “subculture”. I work among many black people and the superstition is so bad, that I can’t help but think of Butterfly McQueen’s quote, “Just as my ancestors were freed from slavery, I am free from religion” or something like that and think, all these people, esp the women, are mentally enslaved to religion, but trying to free them from that mind set really causes them to become defensive, even if it is passive. I have come to view religion as “mind slavery”, but yet there are black people who are atheists and somehow we need to figure out how to make them feel comfortable attending atheist gatherings. I think one of the reasons that one billboard, I think AAH or Black Atheists had erected, was that it spoke the truth and many people can’t handle the truth. Thus, it might have been the wrong approach and maybe causes more alienations for black atheists to come out, even to atheist gatherings.

  • http://www.saramayhew.com Sara E. Mayhew

    It really disappoints me to hear that women aren’t returning to TAM, especially since I had such a wonderful time as a speaker last year and am a returning speaker this year.

    I DO see that there are legitimate concerns and negative experiences have happened. But I don’t see the orgs, like JREF being at fault; DJ is awesome and the JREF put a lot of effort into making each event better every year. Problems with inappropriate behaviour and harrassment are not unique or more common to atheist/skeptic events; that’s not to say ‘then it’s okay’, rather, the concerns are often discussed in a manner that implies this is an atheist/skeptic problem, rather than a problem that comes with bringing large numbers of individuals together in part professional part social events.

    Also, the amount of gossiping that goes on troubles me. I returned from a conference last month where rumours about me spread so out of control that it crossed into my family life, with a skeptic inappropriately contacting a family member of mine to express their baseless concerns that I suffer from schizophrenia—a diagnosis they procured from rumors alone. Horrifying!

    I’ve received unwanted comments and actions from men and experienced bullying from women; people who lack a sense of boundaries, appropriate social behaviour, and how to not be clueless jerks.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Sara, I wish I could say I was surprised by how people treat you – but I’ve had the same, over a number of conferences, and so I’m not.
      What I can say is that I’m really sorry that you were treated like that and hope that the support you’ve got from others has helped you through it and will continue to help you through it. Particularly since you’re making a well-deserved return to the stage at TAM.

    • dmf

      Personally, I think that a similar rate of occurrence of crap like that in skeptic circles is by definition a negative thing for the skeptics. I mean, we’re supposed to be the ones that think about things more. If we’re infected by the same percentage of assholes when it comes to misogyny and other forms of bigotry, then that’s a problem. And not at all freethinking.

  • Sansha Johnson

    I wouldn’t return to a Global Atheist Conference again unless I was pretty damn sure I wasn’t going to be subjected to misogynistic ranting packaged as comedy. I would expect the organisers to actually acknowledge their error in booking Jefferies, otherwise I’m not going to expect anything has changed.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      There was a request for feedback email sent out to everyone who attended, did you get one? I sent in my feedback and urged others to do so too.

      • Hazelwood

        They need my feedback to figure out Jefferies is unacceptable? Then there is little hope for them getting it right next time.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Because they’re not psychic? Saying what you think online once, which then gets lost in a mess of positive Tweets or comments about the convention MIGHT not be the best way to formally give feedback they can act upon? Remember, that traditionally newspapers would take one formal letter of complaint to represent five other people who didn’t write in.

          In short, it’s one thing to complain, it’s another to actually put it in a way that will be effective.

          • Kylie Sturgess

            I’d like to politely ask people not to start getting heated up about this interchange. When people start hitting the caps-lock, I generally suggest they take a step back.
            I think that Stella Young, Leslie Cannold, Jane Caro and I (I know I did) gave feedback about Jefferies to the conference – Stella’s Tweets about it, I’ll find and link here.

            Some of the tweets from Stella (at Stellajyoung) included:
            Watched some people I respect laugh along to some terrible misogynist ‘comedy’ tonight. #notangryjustdisappointed #atheistcon
            @benpobjie @CatherineDeveny But if I have to asplain why it’s funny, then it loses all its funniness!
            @benpobjie Yep. I was in the green room with people who were pissing themselves. I spoke up & another woman said “IT’S A JOKE”
            @benpobjie Totes. I’m feeling a bit sad about the state of the world & things after that.
            @kurtfearnley Well I hope that means you’re never guilty of it Fearnley! :) Seriously, I’m off to bed weeping my little feminist heart out.
            @McKenzie_Ben Absolutely. Pretty sad about it actually. I’d expected something quite different of that convention.
            @ahcayley Thanks. I feel I went well but I’m sad about the evening. People thinking mysogynist violence is funny, I can’t understand.
            I responded (because I left the Green room during the routine):
            kyliesturgess – @stellajyoung I’m sorry I didn’t speak up and left. But thanks for speaking here.
            ‏@stellajyoung – @kyliesturgess I said something in the green room & was quickly dismissed with “oh it’s only a joke!”
            I responded:
            @stellajyoung I now wish I did check it on youtube before seeing live. I heard it was “Minchin-like comedy” #nope
            She responded: Stella Young ‏ – @kyliesturgess Oh, WAY nope!

            I then wrote to the convention, with those Tweets quoted.

        • Ann

          Jefferies may have been a crap comedian (I thought Ben Elton was just as bad. I say MORE STELLA YOUNG, she made comments online how she thought Jefferies was awful) but he pales in comparison to Penn Jillette and his misogynistic comments to female skeptics on and off stage.
          Jefferies at least hasn’t continued to make a fool of himself after his lousy comedy at the GAC.

  • Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    yeah. For me it’s a matter of, “Are the issues being addressed important to me?”

    1. Education in Canada is important to me b/c of my partner’s kids (kinda sorta mine, I guess, but really that’s something in progress more than true as of this moment).

    1a. Raising children with strong, secular values.

    2. The non-skeptical press, especially in areas of politics. How can we help create a climate where “news” broadcasters feel forced into asking tough follow up questions and into declaring untruths untrue (I don’t feel a need for them to assert that they knew the person was saying it on purpose as long as they note untrue statements are contradicted by facts).

    3. The asexualization of people with dis/abilities: when we de-sexualize people, we remove a major avenue of participation in community and at least in some senses exclude such people from our communities. On a practical level, unfounded stereotypes that deserve to be debunked prevent relationships that would otherwise create love and connection across boundaries of ability, and that in turn would help create broader equality for people with dis/abilities because the TABs that fall in love with people with dis/abiliities would be motivated to act for access in a way that they wouldn’t have before.

    4. Violence against trans folk: debunking stereotypes about trans folk that lead to oppression and ultimately to violence.

    5: Reexamining human sexual relationships and romantic partnerships: looking at actual evidence on what works and what doesn’t. There are claims about how polygyny is better for raising children because of help from sister-wives. Is this true? In what sense? Are children in such families better off on certain measures? Which ones?

    these are the things that are most interesting to me, but I don’t particularly see them covered. I’m very interested in how religions and superstitions participate in limiting or encouraging human growth and the realization of human potential in a broad way, with some of that being child-specific and half the rest being woman specific. I see some of this latter stuff on offer at conferences, but I’ve just never seen a conference that values what I value. So I don’t go.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I think what you’re after is a good sociology or psychology conference, from these topics, or perhaps something like a Dragon*Con with several tracks in different fields where these kinds of things could be covered?

  • Elvira

    a) Jim Jeffries

    b) people laughing at Jim Jeffries as he showed his utter contempt for women.

    c) conference attendees telling me I have no right to be offended by Jim Jeffries. That I am stupid, embarrassing and missing the point for finding his show appalling.

    d) the only speaker game to call him out from the stage being a religious woman. Why weren’t other speakers denouncing him, or working to make that room feel safe for the many women who were upset by being so denigrated.

    e) asking for an apology from the organisers for booking Jim Jeffries, and seeing only vague references to ‘mis-steps’ and not being able to please everyone.

    Thank Darwin for Ayaan Hirsi Ali! Watching her be totally respected by four old white men at the closing of the conference was the antithesis of the rotten opening, and brought me back around.

  • Roxee

    I went to the GAC. I’d go again. I’d go to a skeptic conference too, I just haven’t got around to going yet – though I should because I think these things need supporting by numbers of people to make them more visible to the community at large. 
    I’ve been reading through some of the discussions going on and here’s what I think – for what it’s worth:

    Why I went to the GAC
    I have been an atheist for most of my life, though never used e label until a few years ago. I honestly didn’t think there was a need. Now I do. After reading books and blogs, watching debates, participating online etc., I decided to travel from SE Qld to the GAC to hear people I had come to admire speak at live. If I met like minded people, which I did, I deemed it a bonus. I met some of the speakers briefly, mostly because they appeared to be staying in the same hotel, and we exchanged a few pleasantries.

    Actions have consequences
    Apart from some of Jim Jefferies’ jokes I found the GAC experience everything I hoped it would be. I was suprised he chose to tell the sexist jokes he did at such a venue and made a mental note to avoid seeing him again. 
    This brings me to my thoughts on the sexual harrassment that some women are apparently subjected to at these conferences. I recognise not everyone handles these situations the same. I can only speak for myself of course. When I experience it, or see it, I tend to be outspoken about it, there and then. I have the view that if I am going to fight for the attainment of feminist goals I have to “be” that feminist. So if you touch me univited I’m going to tell you off for it. If you denigrate me, or my gender generally, I’m going to tell you off for it. I don’t care about the politics of the situation. I don’t care about the stature of the person offending me. If the person, or other persons in the vicinity, continue to offend me I leave. If the offence was reportable I’d report it regardless of who they were or where it happened. I can’t see myself respecting myself any other way.
    Actions have consequences. If the members of these groups want me and/or my money paying conference entry fees, buying literature, travelling to meetings, participating online etc., then they have to treat me with respect. If the numbers of women attending conferences has dropped there is probably more than one reason why, as the previous comments suggest. If some of the reasons are that women have felt threatened, been harrassed, insulted, denigrated, etc., then that is not for them to fix. The consequence of these actions is that these women may have withdrawn their support. If they are to return, or if the groups wish to retain future women in numbers, then it is up to those that remain to fix it. The perpetrators need to decide if they want to fix their attitudes and the silent within the group need to decide if the perpetrators are worth more as individuals to the group than the numbers of women they are alienating.

    There’s a need for women to continue to gather under the banner of feminism to define, establish and defend equal political, economic, and social rights for women and to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. It would nice if everyone in atheist, skeptic, secular humanist, and freethinker groups supported the goals of feminism. Given the the feminist movement has clearly not yet achieved its goals it is likely that some individuals in these groups are those that the movement still needs to reach out to to persuade them of the merits of the their case. I don’t, however, think that women who are passionate about persuing the goals of feminism should expect, or deserve, the right to use the platform these groups provide as a means to lobby for their cause. I can’t understand why we should need to convince them of the merits of including feminist goals as part of their platform; but that’s me and I don’t represent everyone who chooses to sign up to these groups.

    I am an atheist, skeptic, freethinking secular humanist. I participate in groups that call themselves such. I have the desire to promote the activities of these groups within the wider community. I bring knowledge, experience and passion to the groups I participate in. I have left groups who engage in sexism, I support those who don’t. If a group wants to keep me they have to mind their P’s and Q’s. That’s it. Take me or leave me.

  • B

    It kind of pisses me off that DJ is blaming women who are pointing out problems they experience at cons (and offering solutions, too!) for the drop in attendance. There are quite a few reasons for TAM not attracting women that don’t require gossiping about specific women who’ve experienced some issues themselves.

    For example, maybe singling out women who have experienced problems as blame-worthy makes other women uncomfortable (and given the backlash they get every time they bring these issues up, it seems incredible that he thinks that they are believed without question). I certainly would never tell him if I was harassed at TAM given his reaction! And I can’t say I would be surprised to find that women felt unwelcome at TAM but unwilling to report it on a comment card if they felt that JREF endorsed the negative atmosphere towards them. But, there are a number of other reasons that apply to skepticism in general:

    Maybe it’s the fact that STEM is historically and contemporarily predominately white male and there aren’t a lot of female speakers or a variety of topics puts everyone but white men off. Maybe it’s the fact that something that would send a positive message to women about their belongingness (like a panel on sexual harassment) is immediately dismissed as something that is too far from JREF’s mission statement (okay that one’s about JREF again. Sorry!). How about the fact that there’s a LOT of pseudoscience involved with gender and racial differences (people have written entire books about it, in fact, and some of it involves neuroscience, which everyone is currently obsessed with), but those aren’t things that I’ve ever seen covered. If women and minorities truly mattered to organizers, why wouldn’t pseudoscience about gender and race be a no-brainer for topics that would be interesting to everyone and a great way to increase diversity?

    Maybe it has nothing whatsoever to do with women feeling unwelcome: Do people generally go year after year to TAM or other skeptic cons? Are men repeat attenders, but not women? Do women sign up at the same time as men? It could also be an age thing with older people (who happen to be white male) coming each year since the conference started to laugh about people who believe in bigfoot and UFOs, and the younger people (who are more diverse in terms of gender and race) waiting to see if there’s going to be something new and interesting before shelling out the money (assuming the younger people can even afford to go every year). So the numbers might even out as the lineup is announced, unless there aren’t a lot of women speakers or topics that are of general interest.

    • kaboobie

      It kind of pisses me off that DJ is blaming women who are pointing out problems they experience at cons (and offering solutions, too!) for the drop in attendance. There are quite a few reasons for TAM not attracting women that don’t require gossiping about specific women who’ve experienced some issues themselves.

      I’m with you. What bothers me in particular is this sentence in DJ’s post:

      or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program

      How many complaints about “this or that man” does one need to hear before one starts to think that maybe this needs to be taken more seriously? That’s why I’m all for drafting a comprehensive sexual harrassment policy as Stephanie, Jen, Ophelia, and others have been advocating, and refusing to attend conferences that don’t have one in place and enforce it.

  • Beatrice

    Er, maybe give this harassment issue a bit more thought rather than dismissing it? I’m from Europe and don’t have financial resources to travel to the US, but if I could, I would be much more inclined to attend a conference with clear policies on sexual harassment than one that has none.
    See : http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/05/23/real-progress/

    Things like this happen, often, it’s no wonder women feel unwelcome at conferences because it seems that they are there for men to have someone to hit on.
    It’s definitely worrying that women don’t want to go to conferences because they are afraid of harassment.
    Dismissing it like this:

    I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

    is definitely not the answer. Saying that problems will be dealt with would be much preferable to saying that it’s just some misguided women making a big deal out of nothing. The reaction I quoted may as well turn even more women of theses conferences, I know I wouldn’t want to go after a problem was waved away in such a way.

    • linda b

      I don’t go to conferences due to accessibility issues and cost. After hearing about women’s concerns I’m more interested in going to lend support to others there.

  • Pingback: Where Are the Women? | Almost Diamonds

  • http://icbseverywhere.com badrescher

    FearBlandness may have been “talking out of her ass”, but she’s clearly a very intelligent, thoughtful, young woman and I think she may have identified one of the reasons that the atheist, secular, and skeptic communities may have more problems with sexism and inappropriate behavior than other groups.

    Additionally, being put on a pedestal might alter women’s behaviors as well as men’s. Something to keep in mind!

    Oh, yeah, and thank you for promoting those posts (I got distracted by that 18% again. :/ ). I’m glad to know that people think those issues are as important as I do.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I always promote your posts – thanks for writing, I know that you don’t visit my site and it’s appreciated that you took the time to comment.

  • http://morewomeninskepticism.wordpress.com KarenX

    Maybe this is nothing more mysterious than women finally having had enough of whatever sexist thing that has been displeasing each of them and sitting this one out to make a point. (I’ve never gone, so that isn’t me… I am surmising.) Collectively, perhaps, this is adding up to a kind of boycott. Or else the conference women picked to attend this year was the Women in Secularism conference.

    Also, if memory serves–and it may not–weren’t there tremendous efforts last year to recruit and market to and promote TAM to women as an audience demographic they need more of? Are those same marketing efforts in place this year? Was last year’s 40% a huge anomaly?

    • Ann

      People have been mentioning cost as a factor, perhaps it’s an ‘every second year’ that people can afford it.

      To be honest, the lineup is very same-y from year to year and some of the workshops seem more interesting than the keynotes.

  • http://randi.org D.J. Grothe

    I think these discussions are good if they help us improve our events and invite more people to get involved in our efforts to promote skepticism and critical thinking. Allow me to clarify some misunderstandings that seem to be cropping up in comments on this post by Kylie.

    (1) TAM and the JREF have no affiliation with The Global Atheist Convention or Jim Jeffries. There seems to be some confusion in the comments here about this point.

    (2) The JREF is not an atheist organization and TAM is not an atheist conference. Topics surrounding secularism, church state separation, humanism, social values, etc. won’t generally be found at TAM, with rare exceptions. For more on this, see: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1081-new-atheist-directions-at-the-jref.html

    (3) A third of TAM registrants this year do not identify as atheist or agnostic. Only 47% of registrants for this year’s TAM identify as politically liberal or progressive. There is a lot of religious and political diversity among skeptics at TAM. Also, over half of attendees are under 45.

    (4) Contrary to misinformation regarding skeptics events being only focused on Bigfoot and UFO’s, the focus of our events is actually largely on critical thinking, and the harm that results from undue credulity. Here is an example of the kinds of talks we feature at the event, apropos of current conversations: Carol Tavris on “Dissent and Dissonance: The Science and Art of Argument. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSYF4hzCHKA

    (5) TAM is the only major conference of its kind to feature half women speakers on the main program. No other skeptic (or atheist or humanist) event has come close to such parity on the program. Of course, we don’t program the event this way out of some commitment to “quotas,” but because we know our events are better if we do not ignore the talents of half of the population.

    (6) TAM is the only major skeptic or atheist or humanist event so far that has ever had a harassment/Code of Conduct policy. Last year’s statement was distributed to all attendees in the TAM printed program.

    (7) Women are the only demographic we’ve seen such a sharp percentage drop in attendance this year, as Kylie’s quote of mine states, and from the emails we have received we think it is the result of misinformation. We have gotten emails from women on our lists vowing never to attend the TAM because JREF purportedly condones child sex trafficking, or condones violence or threats of violence against women, and the like. These are false, harmful and irresponsible claims, even if they are made by well-meaning folks.

    (8) From a planning standpoint, the concern is less about a small number of people who do not to come back to an event, but about new folks who are scared away from attending in the first place, because they are told that if they go to such events they will be accosted or harassed. Events like TAM, because of growth over recent years, have a high percentage of new attendees each year.

    (9) It should be said that there has never been a report filed of sexual harassment at TAM to my knowledge and there have been zero reports of harassment at the TAMs we’ve put on while I’ve been at JREF.

    Of course that doesn’t mean such didn’t happen. But because of our concern regarding repeated claims by some that sexual harassment is rampant at such events, we attempted last year to see if we could get some data about the issue. So we distributed a survey to attendees of TAM last year. Of 800+ responses to this comprehensive survey, only two people reported feeling “unwelcome” at the event. Both of these respondents were men. One was a conservative who felt several speakers insulted his political beliefs. The other was a retiree who “hates” magic.

    11 respondents to the survey did report a problem with an interaction with someone else that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe (this was a difference question on the survey). 3 of them were men who did not elaborate on the interaction and 3 were from women who did not elaborate on the interaction. Another was a woman who reported a speaker was rude to her when she asked for a photo. Another was a woman who was made fun of for not being an atheist. Another was a woman was ridiculed for being a vegetarian. Another was a woman who reported no specific incident but claimed her enjoyment of the event was negatively affected by the “drama surrounding elevator gate” and “having to hear everyone talk about it.” Finally, one person did report feeling uncomfortable around an attendee, fearing future possible sexual harassment, and while we are concerned about such concerns, there was no complaint of any actual activity that had happened that the hotel or security or law enforcement or others could take action on. Importantly, every one of these 11 respondents nonetheless reported feeling welcome at TAM. It is inaccurate to say that “women do not feel welcome” at these sorts of events, judging by the 40% women attendance last year at TAM and these survey results. Similarly, I think it is an irresponsible message to tell people that women are “unsafe” at these events.

    (9) As skeptics we have to work off the available evidence. I think we should balance our sincere concern about these important issues with a resistance to developing firm views based solely on rumor and hearsay.

    Regarding how ugly rumor and hearsay can be, let me provide a personal example. For years I have heard from various quarters an unsupported rumor about me: that I refuse to hire heterosexuals and that I only hire gay and lesbian people. I believe this started when I was with CFI (because I was their first openly gay employee and subsequently hired both gay and straight employees, and both women and men; I personally hired half of the women professionally working in skepticism, for what it is worth) and after I moved over to the JREF and Randi came out at 82, the rumor became that the JREF only hires gay people, and that I forced Randi to come out as gay, etc. Indeed, some people started calling the JREF the “gay-REF,” and assumed that several of our straight employees were gay.

    These are the sort of unhelpful and sometimes destructive backchannel stories that go around and I think we need to take these sort of rumors with a grain of salt, and to try hard not to spread them. I have heard from a handful of people the same story of one young woman having sex at TAM with a speaker, one who left his book on the nightstand for her afterward, and this story is used as sort of a warning to many new young women attending the event. Such stories appear to have been some of the background for discussions at the recent Women in Secularism conference in DC and serve as context for a number of recent blog posts. But rather than a report of harassment, this ends up being nothing more than a distasteful locker room story (which might not even be true, obviously) that is repeated in a mean-spirited and distasteful way. (Also, to state the obvious, it is not JREF’s job to police the sexual activity of consenting adults.)

    As we endeavor together to continue building community, and to support and build the growing skeptics (and, for some, the atheist) movement(s), we need to take care that rumor and gossip may undermine those efforts, and be unnecessarily divisive. Everyone should feel welcome at these events, and while we should redouble our efforts to make sure everyone feels safe, I think we should also avoid telling women they should feel unsafe at these events.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      To be clear (and as I wrote to DJ Grothe in an email), I don’t think anyone is confusing the Global Atheist Convention with TAM, or Jim Jefferies as ever having presented at an Amazing Meeting. They are (as I said in the end of my blogpost) different conventions, the same way an atheist convention may not be a skeptic one, and a secular one may not be an atheist convention, and so on and so forth.

      NOTE - a sequence of emails about the Global Atheist Convention and some commentators here have been sent and as a result of those discussions, I have contacted a committee member of the GAC to get more information. Thank you to those people who were kind enough to give me feedback, as I was under the impression that there was a public statement, as well as a easily-reached feedback system for the GAC that people accessed.

    • screechy monkey

      DJ: “Women are the only demographic we’ve seen such a sharp percentage drop in attendance this year, as Kylie’s quote of mine states, and from the emails we have received we think it is the result of misinformation.”

      What percentage of women who attended last year have registered so far, and how does that compare to men’s returnee rates?

      If your “misinformation” hypothesis is correct, I would expect to see that the drop in women’s attendance is due to potential first-time attendees being discouraged.

      If, on the other hand, women who attended previous TAMs are returning at lower rates than men do, then perhaps it’s not the women who are “misinformed” about the climate at TAMs.

    • Lauren

      Let’s say women attending TAM experienced the same amount and variety of background sexism we are accustomed to in any venue we ever went to. So we report everything was fine, meaning no worse than usual. But “usual” is a lot of sexism when you think about it.

      Then some women bloggers shine a light on the bullshit we have put up with and taken for granted our entire lives, and say, “we should be better than this.” Then MRAs show up in astonishing numbers ferociously defending teh men’z right to impose on any woman at any time because … you can’t outlaw FLIRTING.

      The issues were there before the event – we just got especially incensed about it afterwards because of the defensive, hateful, and explosive reaction to women who pointed out that the status quo sucked.

      So, DJ, please stop pissing on the women who called the fire department when the problem is the assholes who lit the match – some of whom grace your dais and stage.

    • Sarah

      WHATEVER YOU DO, don’t quit JREF, D.J!

    • Anne Marie

      @D.J. I attended last year – and I’m returning this year – but I had several moments where I felt uncomfortable (e.g. hearing a prominent male speaker loudly and publicly denigrate a female speaker in the hotel bar for no real reason other than that she was a woman and she interrupted a man during her panel). I emailed Brian at the JREF (I believe he asked for feedback on TAM) and got no response (it’s been over 8 months).

      Regardless, I think it’s extremely unfair to assume that the response of women must be irrational or wrong rather than the result of the situation. We’re not idiots.

      • Kylie Sturgess

        I don’t see that as what DJ is saying, quite frankly.

        • Anne make

          It’s the message I see across facebook and blogs: women are just gossiping and there’s no problem and if there is a problem it’s that the women are scaring other women away – not anything any man has ever done. The issue is more than one story of a consensual sexual encounter. Portraying women’s experiences of sexism and/or harassment as gossip is insulting.

          • http://icbseverywhere.com badrescher

            He has not done this. He has (accurately) noted that there is a hell of a lot of what can only be described as “gossip” going on and he commented on how unhelpful such gossip is.

            He did not say “that’s all this is” or “there is no problem”. He has discussed what reasonably can and has been done to address the issues. He’s being demonized for it.

          • kitten

            It clearly isn’t dismissed as gossip as otherwise the Code of Conduct in 2011 would have never been put in place! This isn’t fair to DJ Grothe or the other people like Sadie Crabtree and JREF employees who have listened and have acted on the information they were given. Isn’t it a catch-22 when people won’t talk and then act out online and in the media about how they can’t talk [irony]?

    • Martha

      D.J., I’m basically an outsider. I’ve only been reading a few skeptical/atheist blogs for a short time, and I freely admit that I have no understanding of the distinctions among the different groups that organize meetings. As a female academic scientist, I spend a lot of time among men, some of whom are perplexed about the difficulty of recruiting women to our field, and some of whom just pretend to be perplexed. So the tenor of this discussion isn’t at all new to me.

      I don’t know enough about this community to point fingers at individual groups or people, and I have no desire to do so. However, I surmise from your comments that you’d like to attract new people to your conference, and you’re concerned about attracting a critical mass of women. So let me share with you the reaction of a new person to the comments you’ve made above.

      1) If you have a 50% drop-off in registration among female attendees, there is a problem. It’s likely that the problem is real, though it may be due to factors in part beyond your control, such as a perception that skeptical/atheist conferences as a whole are not welcoming to women.

      2) Points 5 & 6 above are helpful, positive comments that are likely to make women feel more welcome. I read those and thought, wow, good for you. That’s better than any conference I’ve ever attended on any topic. That’s a big deal.

      3) My first reading of point 7 nearly destroyed the good will you had built with 5 & 6. After I read your personal story under point 9, I understood better your greater point about the danger of innuendo. But you come across, both there and especially in the original quote posted here, as dismissive of the concerns of women. It sounds to me that you’ve tried very hard to reach out to women. Still, you have to remember, women are dismissed all the time in the workplace, at doctors’ offices, and other parts of day to day life. We don’t want to spend our leisure time being dismissed. So I think you’re better served to highlight the positive things your group does. Then, instead of talking about irresponsible comments, ask women who have attended whether there’s anything going on behind the scenes (or on the associated forum) that the organizers need to know about. It’s a tough thing to talk about on a general survey.

      4) You’re right to be concerned about the issue, as there’s a huge difference in the feel of a gathering that’s 20% women compared to 40%. Men and women generally behave differently in single-sex than in mixed settings. In my experience, no matter how well-meaning the men are, the atmosphere doesn’t really become comfortable for women until the ratio is 30% or so. At lower ratios, women are very much seen as the “other.” I suspect that quite a few skeptical or atheist women seek out like-minded people to get away from being the other. Trading one way of not fitting in for another might not seem worth the trouble.

    • Stacy

      I personally hired half of the women professionally working in skepticism, for what it is worth


      • satanaugustine

        That was my response to that comment as well. I had to read it a couple of times to confirm that DJ really said this. Maybe he meant something a bit more narrow, but that particular part of his comment comes across as “If it weren’t for me there wouldn’t be nearly as many women in skepticism as there are!” which reminds me of Al Gore claiming that he invented the internet or Sarah Palin who, when asked what newspapers she reads, responded “All of them.” I have trouble believing that 50% of female “professional skeptics” (whatever a “professional” skeptic is) exist because DJ made it so.

  • http://skepchick.org/author/heina/ Heina

    Simple answer: the cost. I live within driving distance of Vegas, but dropping several hundred dollars on just a con, not including accommodations and food and such, is simply not in my budget. I’m a recession-era grad and I have to be careful.

    • satanaugustine

      Exactly. I’m not a woman, but TAM is prohibitively expensive for most people, though the sad fact that women continue to make less money than men means that women are disproportionately affected by this than men. I’d like it if they saw a drop in overall attendance (female, male, queer) and received enough complaints about the cost that this changed. No conference is worth $450 (or whatever it is this year). They’d also get a lot more diversity – at least in terms of gender and age – if they dropped the cost.

      I’ll stick with Skepticon. It’s free, a lot closer to me, and not in Las Vegas (a place I personally have no desire to ever visit).

      • badrescherr

        The cost is what it is. TAM itself is not a fund raiser for the JREF; they might make a few dollars on each tcket, but not much more. The price includes some meals and covers the costs of putting on the event. Most people really have no idea how much these things cost and remember that they do not have corporate sponsors or a lot of vendors.

        So, the price would need to go up with low attendance, not down and if attendance dropped enough, the conference itself would go away.

        • Kylie Sturgess

          Being behind the scenes at a number of conventions has demonstrated that cost of running events is a tremendous hurdle that isn’t often communicated to attendees.

          I think this is why scholarships and donations are so vital; the last Australian amazing meeting, I paid for two attendees to go – they both ended up being on panels, so they got a half-discount, but they wouldn’t have been able to attend at all if I didn’t help out.

          There’s also opportunities within conferences I’ve attended for companies to donate to one aspect, which interested me: the free coffee at one science communicators conference was solely from one sponsor and they got a lot of kudos for helping us get to early sessions without blurred vision! And although I know that Penn Jillette isn’t someone I admire (especially after how he treated a friend), his party that he throws at the Amazing meeting is a fundraiser?

        • satanaugustine

          Barbara (badresearcher) – Yeah, the price increase due to decreased attendance thing did cross my mind as I was posting – just wish I could do something to affect a change in the cost, thus my suggestion that fewer people attend TAM as a protest (which I admit was a poor suggestion). I’m just frustrated that I – and so many others – can’t go to a conference with so many great speakers and topics because of the cost which, it seems, could be improved by not having TAM in Vegas every year. Surely there are US cities where the cost of (nearly) everything (speaking hall rental, food, accommodations) is less than it is in Las Vegas (I realize that they would still have to pay the speakers their standard fees). Moving TAM around would also make it more likely for a more new people to attend who otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of the cost and/or time involved in flying or driving across the country. Is there a good reason why it’s always in Vegas? Surely something could be done about the cost, especially if the TAM organizers are genuinely concerned about decreased attendance and have a desire to get their message to a larger portion of the US population.


          • http://icbseverywhere.com badrescher

            Unfortunately, Vegas is actually one of the least expensive places for that sort of thing, due to the fact that it puts people in casinos. It’s also within driving distance of an area with a disproportionate number of active skeptics (southern California) and the Skeptic Society. I wish I had solutions.

            The main reason that TAM costs more than, say, an academic conference has more to do with its lack of for-profit sponsorship. Academic conferences invite textbook publishers and other related industries, which offset a lot of the costs. I’m sure that there are companies who might be interested in the demographic, but I don’t know how it would change the environment. It’s risky.

          • Kylie Sturgess

            New York (well, NECSS is there) and Boulder, Colorado (back when the BA ran the show) have been suggested in the past – but yes, I’ve heard the facilities in Las Vegas have pretty much settled it there.

            Not many pro-skeptic companies; the only publishing one I can think of is Prometheus but they’re not a big group.

  • https://twitter.com/nicoleintrovert Nicole

    It’s far too expensive for me. I am the primary “breadwinner” in my household. The economy made my husband’s employer tank and we’ve taken a HUGE hit in the cash flow.

    Even hearing the craptastic stories of sexism and harrassment, I am not afraid to attend conferences, but I simply cannot afford them.

    I get rather jealous of steep student discounts (I’m looking at you Women In Secularism… $25 vs $219 was a punch in the gut.) I could have easily afforded accomodations for one nite had I only paid $25 to attend. The flipside seems to be conferences that are inexpensive in admission but steep in travel expenses from where I live.

    Such is life, I suppose. I have been unlucky with the economy and my home purchase so I cannot do everything I’d like to be able to do.

  • Amber S K

    There are a couple of reasons not to attend TAM this year, my primary reason being money, money, money. I went last year and had a good time, but setting aside about a $1000 annually for a long weekend is not something I can afford, especially if I’m paying for smaller local conferences during the year.

    Another reason is that coincidentally, San Diego Comicon and STP (the Seattle to Portland bike ride) are on the same weekend. I had already pretty much decided that I couldn’t do TAM this year, but by the time the dates were announced I had already signed up for STP (many of my friends will be at Comicon) and that weekend will cost me about $200, two days and about 3000 calories. That I can afford. I hope to come back to TAM next year.

    Maybe I’m in the minority (ha!) but sexism, atheism or harassment aren’t reasons why I won’t be attending TAM this year. I was rather clumsily hit on in a bar one night, but I don’t blame the conference or JREF for that. It was just one drunk guy with poor social skills who took no for an answer.

    One thing though…last year’s conference was 40% women? It sure didn’t seem that way to me. One clue was going to the restroom during a break on Saturday, when the line for the men’s room was out the door and down the hall and there was no line at all in the ladies. It sure didn’t seem like there were four women for every six men there, but maybe that was just bias on my part. I was very surprised to see that statistic.

  • Godless Heathen

    I don’t identify as a skeptic. I engage in critical thinking and support the use of the scientific method and all that, but the skeptical movement is unappealing to me. I’m completely unconcerned with UFOs and Bigfoot and other things like that and I’m not particularly interested in psychics.

    Plus, as someone said earlier, it’s frustrating that so-called skeptics feel that they should spend their time debunking Bigfoot sightings, but not debunking and confronting their lack of critical thinking and acceptance of the pseudoscience that supports sexism and racism.

    I also really dislike the disdain for the social sciences in skeptical (and atheist, for that matter) groups. There are scientific ways to study people, but it’s sometimes more difficult because of ethical issues that don’t exist in the study of physics or chemistry.

    Also, I’m not at all interested in spending much money beyond the conference fee to attend a conference. If I have to pay for airfare, a hotel, and all meals, I’m not going to go to a conference.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      “…but not debunking and confronting their lack of critical thinking and acceptance of the pseudoscience that supports sexism and racism.”
      You don’t see the lectures on psychology that have been done at some skeptical events challenging that? I was thinking of AIDS denialism, holocaust denialism…
      I’d also suggest looking at the ICBS Everywhere posts that I linked to at the start to see the points made about value-judgements.

      • Rob

        Dragon*Con conventions have had plenty of panels on those topics, as I recall, like feminism and inclusivity (I went in 2009 – you were hilarious on the live podcast show, Kylie!) There was also the Diversity panel at the Amazing Meeting about sex, race, etcetera.

        Someone mentioned it once before on a forum board: there should be a list of the topics that are covered at these events so we don’t just think it’s all bigfoot and UFOs.

        • Godless Heathen

          Hmmm, thanks for the tip, Rob. I don’t know what Dragon*Con is, which would explain why I didn’t know that! It’s good to hear, though.

          Kylie-I’ve only been to one con, so I’m looking at it from the perspective of my local groups. I’ve definitely experienced antipathy towards the social sciences in these groups and I’ve extrapolated that, rightly or wrongly, to the skeptic movement as a whole. I’ve also seen some of that from skeptics on the internet. I’ve also seen some of it’s counterpart-not understanding social science research and how to use it or do it (e.g. Ben Radford’s ridiculous thing about pink and girls and skin color).

          So, if there is an effort to talk about these things more at skeptical cons, that’s great, but based on my experiences so far with skepticism, I’m not willing to pay money to attend a conference.

          • Kylie Sturgess

            Dragon*Con – skeptrack.org

            Some of the topics in the past have included (audio and video of some of these feature on the Skepticality podcast and on the Token Skeptic podcast – do check out the Abrupt Media collection):

            2011 - Skepticism and the Humanities
            - Educating Debunking, What’s the Difference
            - The Truth about Conspiracy Theories
            - The Legend of the Ztarr (skeptical graphic novel)
            - Great Superhero Skeptics in History
            2010 – Skepticism, Scams and Consumerism
            - Fiction Writing and Skepticism
            - Skepticism and Sexuality
            - Naturally Skeptical? Psychology Behind Skepticism
            - Raising Skeptical Geeks
            - Women, Myths, Feminism and Skepticism
            2009 – Luck, Coincidences and other Charming Delusions
            - Quackery and Media Commentary
            - Darwin’s Bulldogs, Teachers on the Front Line
            - The Gender Gap in Science – Myths and Realities

            This is just some I’ve got records of, from one conference, Dragon*Con. There’s probably a lot of SkeptiCamps and other conventions that haven’t got lists easily found online, with similar content.

          • Kylie Sturgess
          • satanaugustine

            Kylie – you think Ben is right about girls supposedly preferring the color pink because it’s the color (according to him) of a caucasian person’s skin? I’m fairly certain that’s what Godless Heathen is referring to. I do not do podcasts (I’d rather read or watch an interview than to merely listen) so I don’t know if you addressed that particular issue there.


          • Kylie Sturgess

            Firstly, I think that’s a misrepresentation of what Ben Radford said. I suggest that you check out the articles he’s written again (particularly this one) or the summary that Barbara Drescher has of the research here if you want to hear a professional with some experience in the field has to say about it. It also includes relevant research papers on the matter.

            Secondly, the podcast gives a fairer overview, but here’s a partial (not complete) transcript here. I’d suggest listening to the whole thing, please, if you want to know my views.

          • badrescher

            I am very sad to hear about social psych bashing. I see it on Facebook at times, so I know it’s out there. Just to echo Kylie, both Dragon*Con and TAM are FULL of psychology and even humanities. TAM in particular hosts a number of psychologists each year. Elizabeth Loftus spoke last year and Carol Tavris will make her third consecutive appearance this year. Bruce Hood is returning, too. Several other psychologist have spoken or are scheduled for this year (the list is pretty long).

            And I am kept rather busy at Dragon*Con. I think you’d enjoy those crowds. Most greatly appreciate social sciences.

          • Godless Heathen

            Sweet. I’m glad they have lots of psychology talks! TAM is still not happening for me, though. Too far away. Dragon*Con is a maybe, but probably not this year.

  • JoeyH

    I don’t plan to return to TAM or any skeptic conference while all discussions of feminism have been popularly framed as “you’re with us or you’re against us,” nor while the propagaters of this situation are held up as skeptical inspirations. It’s bad enough in everyday life when people (“skeptics”) make gross assumptions about me because I am a skeptical feminist woman, such as what side I either must be on, or ought to be on. This is absolutely toxic. While it is not the fault of TAM or the JREF, I still can’t stand the idea of being around all this in person.

  • Simon

    Something very different about this year is also that Reason Rally took place which depleted the annual conference budget for a lot of folks across the country.

    Not an event exclusively targeting skeptics by any means, but JREF did sponsor and Randi spoke.

  • Simon

    Some additional food for thought:

    1) What as the percentage of women at previous TAMs? It may well be that the high female turnout in 2011 was outlier in which case the question might be: “what made TAM 2011 different?”

    2) The only TAM I went to was last year and my own anecdotal impression was that there were a lot of young female/male couples. Conference organizers also know that is very typical for people to travel and register as couples. If starting from a base of high male participation, a reduction in attendance by female/male couples would entail a decrease in the percentage of female attendees as you are witnessing. Below is a demonstration of how this would work with smaller numbers just to illustrate the point:

    Say that 2011 the registration looked like this:


    8 attendees total with 3 women ie 37.5% women

    Say that 2012 registration looks like this:


    4 attendees total with 1 woman ie 25% women

    In this scenario the percentage of women falls substantially however the reduction in men and women is equal.

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  • http://www.skepticcanary.com Tom Williamson

    Just a small point, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we could compare absolute numbers rather than percentages? A decrease in the percentage of one group could be caused by an increase in another for example.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Are numbers in general down for the entire convention? Good point.

  • http://skeptifem.blogspot.com skeptifem

    I saw sexual harassment personally at TAM and never wanted to return after that.

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  • carovee

    I find it kind of weird that Grothe jumped to blaming women discussing harassment for the low numbers of women registering. It sounded like he was basing the hypothesis on some feedback. But as someone else noted, there is a lot of other stuff going on in this country right now. The economy is bad and women tend to be harder hit than men. Then there are the political attacks on women. Personally, I’ve given a ton to pro-choice groups this year and don’t have a lot left over. Also wasn’t the first ever women in secularism conference held this year? Most people probably can’t go to multiple events, so perhaps a lot of women chose the Women in secularism event over TAM? It just seems like there are lots of reasons that go beyond “women got scared off”.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I don’t think that’s what DJ did, but I do agree that financial decisions are a tremendous factor.

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  • http://twodifferentgirls.com Geek Goddess

    I’ve been to quite a few TAM, both London TAM, DragonCon, and founded a local skeptics groups. I am just getting burned out on TAM. At first, I decided I would go forEVER because I had so much fun. I also paid for one or two other people to attend each year, PLUS contribute serious money to the forum scholarship fund every year except the first year I went. And maybe somewhere not so frickin’ hot and smoke-laden. I have the means to do a bit of traveling, and Vegas is so far down on the list you near binoculars to see it.

    Last year, I skipped most of the conference and hung out with friends. I have a great number of friends that I see only at TAM, and this year, about half of them aren’t going. I registered rather late, and I haven’t contributed to scholarship funds nor did I offer to pay other people’s registrations. I’m losing interest. There were some good speakers (for my personal definition of good), but as I look at the list this year, I wasn’t interested in them or the topics. I am ONLY going to see some friends – and I will just miss the other ones or find other ways to see them.

    Second, I’m sick of the drama and in-fighting. Instead of working together on common causes, we have to call names, fight about Topic of the Year (don’t be a dick, atheism-vs-skepticism, elevatorgate, etc etc). Why do I want to go somewhere and spend money to be around people who are so ANGRY at each other? I try to stay off the blogs, the forums, and not read comments. A few months ago, two well-known skeptics had an argument about framing and tone, and one ended up ‘unfriending’ the other on FB and then proceeded to trash him and his years of excellent work in the skeptic’s movement. Seriously, because of one disagreement?
    I have too many things to see and do, too many places to go, too many positive people to be around.

    Third, as a friend of mine put it, TAM used to be something you were a part of, and now it’s something you attend. They don’t use volunteers much any more, it’s less interactive and less personal, more impersonal and structured. That comes with size, no doubt, so I don’t think there’s much to be done. I have several good friends who have attended every TAM, from when it was less than 200 people, and so even through I didn’t start until TAM 5, I had a sense of the camaraderie and commitment of the earlier attendees. I went to hear the speakers, yes, but I also went to be with my tribe. And the tribe has scattered.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Quite a lot of this resonates with me, which is unfortunate. I hope it’s not the same for all long-term attendees.

  • Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Hmm. I’m still stuck in moderation. Let me retry, with cleaned up language

    I’m dropping out of TAM because I have a more limited amount of fun-monies to spend on non-necessities this year. And I’m definitely not going to spend that money on an event whose Powers That Be have plainly told a woman who’s been the focus of psychotic hatred and threats for a year by people who presumably attend these conferences that its her fault women don’t feel safe, when they have absolutely no proof that is the reason for the drop in female attendance.

    Addendum: people keep saying ‘where’s the proof’ wrt sexual harrassment at cons. Where’s the proof that bloggers talking about the problem is the reason less women are attending? DJ offered no proof.

  • ischemgeek

    I’ve never been to a skeptic con, but I have been to others, and here’s what plays into my decision to go or not go:

    1) Indoor smoking, carpeting, and generally asthma/allergy unfriendliness of environment. As mentioned above, I have asthma, and my reaction to cigarette smoke is serious and potentially life threatening in the presence of other triggers. I don’t want to pay for the privilege of feeling like I have a bad case of bronchitis all weekend or pay to needlessly play dice with my life. And setting up smoking sections is usually not good enough because the majority of smoking sections don’t have independent ventilation, so the stale smoke is cycled into the rest of the air anyway. Other triggers for the same reason, though smoke is my worst. I’d hesitate at a place with carpeting and live flowers, but I flat-out refuse a place with smoke.

    2) Cost and location. I’m a Master’s student. Tight budget comes with the territory. The most I can gather at any given time is maybe $300, for which I’d have to cover room, board, admission, and travel. Since most skeptic cons are on the opposite side of my country or international, it’s probably not gonna be feasible for me any time soon. An inexpensive, local con is probably the only thing I’ll be able to afford for the near future, and sadly, none of those exist.

    3) Topics and speakers. From a skeptic con, I’d be interested in talks about activism, social issues, education, tech, and new developments in areas outside mine. I’ve seen homeopathy, naturalistic fallacies, chiropracty, etc debunked a million times, and I’m pretty sure so has everyone else attending. If the talks will be on the old staples, I’d like to see talks about how to take things to the next level: How to engage and educate someone who’s getting taken in by woo, how to teach critical thinking, and the theory of critical thinking itself. Regarding speakers, I’d be more inclined to go to a conference with a lot of diversity in speakers in age, background, race, sexual orientation, and nationality.

    Different experiences lead to different perspectives, and many times it’s taken someone outside the typical group I’m exposed to as a female white bisexual academic from Atlantic Canada to talk about something to get me to “get it”.

    By all means, have the old straight white men. But have young people. And middle-aged people. And kids. And gay/lesbian people. And Bi people. And poly people. And trans people. And women. And black people. And First Nations people. And Asian people. And… you get the idea. I want to hear talks from people different from those I usually hear from. Thats why I go to public talks at my uni, and when I can afford to go to conferences, that’s why I’ll go.

    4) Code of conduct and plans for bad stuff. Nobody likes to go to an event and think something bad might happen. No organizer likes to think bad stuff will happen at their event. But bad stuff happens, and I trust an environment with a clearly spelled out, strict, and effectively-applied policy to deal with the bad stuff. This includes anti-harrassment plans, but also includes stuff like having clearly-marked first aid stations staffed with trained volunteers (maybe supervised by a doctor or nurse so that a pro can make the decision to call 911 if needed – there are volunteer, not for profit organizations that offer such services and will deal with all the legwork for a nominal fee). Like having disaster plans. Like having a lost & found. Like having a place where lost kids and/or party members can be reported and a staging area for searches in case of lost/missing kids. Like ensuring that there are allergy-safe food choices for people with food allergies. And so on. All of which should be clearly communicated to attendees everywhere possible.

    Lastly, 5) Presence of people I trust. This last one increases in importance as #4 becomes less and less satified. I don’t have as much issues with my breathing as I did when I was a kid, but at the same time, if a place doesn’t have first aiders at all, I’m going to want someone who knows me and knows what needs to be done when I’m having an attack, just in case it happens. If the environment feels unsafe (and most do for me – goes with the territory of being a tomboyish woman), I’m going to want someone who I know can keep an eye on my drink and/or help me extract myself from a bad situation (and someone who trusts me to do the same for them).

    Fact of the matter is, if I get the impression that the organizers are not anticipating problems and not being proactive about safety and well-being of attendees in general (and this typically takes the form of naievely assuming that because they’ve never had, say, a medical emergency at the event, they never will), I don’t feel safe in being alone there. Since most of my family and friends aren’t all that interested in skepticism in general and and even less in skeptic cons in particular, if I didn’t feel comfortable going without a buddy, I probably wouldn’t go.

  • bpesta

    My question to the ladies: Is there any place (with men present) where you feel safe and non-harassed? I imagine– all else equal– the base rate for crossed-the-line harassment at TAM would be much lower than at most other similarly sized conferences.

    Is there something unique about TAM (compared to other skeptical conferences, or conferences in general) that makes it stick out as unsafe?

    If not, it seems like a take my ball and go home mentality (driven by blog-politics more than genuine concern that TAM is uniquely unsafe). Unless TAM is worse than average, I think this is unfair.

    Men are ultimately pigs. We make (often awkward) advances on women. Sometimes the advances are successful, and so we advance even more on the variable ratio schedule of reinforcement. Do ladies deserve this? No. Should they tolerate it (in those cases where the advance is unwelcome), Probably not. But, reason will not prevail here, even given we’re supposedly all skeptics.

    Scotus has considered these issues in the context of work settings:

    “The prohibition of harassment on the basis of sex requires neither asexuality nor androgyny in the workplace; it forbids only behavior so objectively offensive as to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment.”

    “The Court in Faragher stresses that hostile environment claims under Title VII should not be used to enforce a general code of civility for the workplace.”

    I wonder if many of the claimed examples of harassment fail the three-pronged test the court uses to determine whether harassment has crossed the line:

    1. It must be offensive (to the victim and a reasonable person in the same environment as the victim)

    2. It must be sex based

    All the examples I’ve read to date easily meet the above two criteria, but I think they fail on the third:

    3. The behavior must be so severe or pervasive that it poisoned the work (conference) environment.

    Creepy guy asking about coffee– even in the confines of an elevator– doesn’t seem to rise to this standard (at least imo). A single instance of “let’s fuck” doesn’t cross the line either. Is it possible people are being hypersensitive?

    Also, if an organization has an effective policy in place (which presumably the JREF now has) and the victim knew about the policy, but failed to use it, the organization is simply not liable for the harassment. Sure, consequences follow from reporting acts like these, but without specific details, how can an organization react appropriately (or be blamed for not acting)?

    bpesta (JREF # 34!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/mgafm ashleymiller

    Before this past year, TAM seemed like the most important event that happened and missing it was missing a lot. I guess because of the improvements in other conferences and the Reason Rally, it doesn’t seem to be all that special, it’s just another conference. I’ve discovered that other conferences have been more friendly and personal, the speakers are just as good or better, they cost less, have hotels I can breathe in, aren’t in Vegas, and, for the first year, I don’t feel like I’ll be missing anything by not going.

  • mikee

    Next year, once the mortgage is paid of finally, I was hoping to save up and attend a TAM meeting but these repeated fights around sexual harassment and other issues where the community becomes so polarized I’m not sure I will bother.
    Part of the problem seems to me to be that there are always people who misinterpret and exaggerate the positions of those on the “opposite” side of the argument. Some also react incredibly viciously to a perceived mistake. Just look at how some attacked Randi when he made misguided comments about climate change, even after he apologized – some people have become so used to vigorously attacking irrationality anything that moves outside what meets their standards is seen as a target.

    The levels of gossip and rumors I see on line seems inconsistent with skepticism and rational thinking.

    With regards to sexual harassment at meetings it needs to be dealt with, and putting in place policies and processes to deal with it is great. I think DJ could have phrased his comments better, but extrapolating what he said to mean he condones sexist and other poor behavior is unnecessary hyperbole.

    With regards to GAC, I never want to hear Jefferies again, but I will be going to the next GAC because the rest of it was fantastic. A statement from the organisers saying he was a poor choice would be good, but I am not expecting one ormbasing my attendence at a future confene on it. IIf at a future conference there are speakers I don’t like then I will not attend their lecture or I will work out of a lecture.

    I like the skeptical community because there are some wonderfully articulate, rational and engaging people in it (Kylie being a great example) but unfortunately there are also afew who gossip and argue viciously and irrationally. I try and avoid these toxic personalities as much as I can.
    I am not interested in anything other that rational debate, interesting pele and civil conversation.

  • Kylie Sturgess

    I’m closing off comments so I can collate and make a short post summarising what has been said here – then I really have to get back to studies and stay off the blog for some time.

    Thank you, very much, to everyone who has read this post – especially if you took the time to comment.

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  • Kylie Sturgess

    I’m thinking of opening this thread again – suggestions as to why/why not can go to my email, thanks.

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