If there’s anyone left who doubts there is a sexism problem in the skeptical movement, allow me to fix those doubts a coffin right now: There is a huge problem with sexism and sexual harassment in the skeptical movement. One of the more prominent figures of our community has just been accused of delivering a nauseating torrent of unwanted attention to another, over a long period of time.
Benjamin Radford ( “The deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine, A Research Fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Science-based paranormal investigator” [From his website]) has been accused of the long term sexual harassment of Karen Stollznow (linguist, columnist and the author of God Bless America, Haunting America and Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic. She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of New England, Australia, and she lives in Denver, Colorado).
Although she doesn’t name him, Karen details the harassment in a guest article on Scientific American blogs:
From late 2009 onwards I made repeated requests for his personal communication to cease but these were ignored. He began manipulating the boundaries by contacting me on the pretext of it being work-related. Then came the quid pro quo harassment. He would find opportunities for me within the company and recommend me to television producers, but only if I was nicer to him. One day the company offered me an honorary position that I’d worked hard for, but he warned me that he had the power to thwart that offer. I threatened to complain to his employer, but he bragged that another woman had accused him of sexual harassment previously and her complaints were ignored. According to him, she had been declared “batshit crazy”. Then, he saw me at conferences and took every opportunity to place me in a vulnerable position. This is where the psychological abuse turned physical and he sexually assaulted me on several occasions.
“The company,” is being alleged by other sources to be the Center for Inquiry which is lately finding itself in a position of defending against backlash from one sexism fail after another. Shaking your head yet?
It seems Karen is apologetic about even bringing it up. Even though it’s not necessary in my eyes, she spent a good deal of the article explaining why we need to keep talking about this stuff even though it makes us weary, and she makes a good case. She also makes it clear that she and other feminists aren’t trying to make skeptical conferences into gulags and that they or anyone else wouldn’t enjoy that.
The man, who went unnamed in Stollznow’s article, has been alleged to be Benjamin Radford, this in a post on Pharyngula. Radford has, in the past made oblique criticisms of feminist activism while claiming not to be sexist. (Warning: article contains sappy attempt at satirical poetry.)
Radford wrote this:
I am over the myth of ‘the passivity of good men,’ suggesting that many or most men are complicit in rape culture when in fact most men are not rapists, and condemn those who are.
Apparently this has been somewhat of a public secret for a while among certain people in the Skeptical Movement. What other ugly, rotten Easter eggs are we incubating beneath our skeptical kilts? If indeed Radford is the one responsible for the harassment Stollznow detailed in her article, he’s not only–in my opinion–a terrible human being, but one of the biggest hypocrites on this pale blue dot we call home.
We should do everything we can to increase transparency and make it easier for victims of this kind of abuse to disclose it without fear of reprisal. I really don’t want to read more stories like this.