April 02, 2014

"Scientific" skepticism, like #GnuAtheism, is no guarantor of moral high ground

I've blogged more than once in the past about how atheism in general, and more specifically, Gnu Atheism and its offspring, Atheism Plus, is no guarantor of moral or intellectual superiority to the general public.

Well, the so-called scientific skepticism movement, which I also call "movement" skepticism at times, shows the same. That's specific in the ongoing saga between Ben Radford and Karen Stollznow.

The two of them have worked together at various organizations for a number of years. (Or maybe not; see below.) During a fair part of that time, they also had a personal relationship. Well, after it ended, in a long blog post at her then-regular site with Scientific American, Stollznow accused Radford of sexual harassment which she said eventually became sexual assault. SciAm eventually pulled down the post. (In hindsight about Bora Zivkovic, I have to wonder if there weren't certain reasons it was pulled down. Or maybe there were other reasons; see below.)

Well, in mid-February, Radford sued her. The first page of the filing is on his Facebook feed.

He then did two things that hit, er .... below the belt, pun intended.

First, he had asked her to sign a retraction letter, in exchange for dropping the suit. He posted the letter on his Facebook feed, which, as you can now see, he's pulled down, probably as a result of getting caught on what seems like a skeevy move. (But see below on the request for her to sign this letter.)

Related to that, he and allies of his browbeat some other skeptics for their ongoing support of Stollznow, or their support for her in the first place, again giving the implication that she had signed the letter.

In even bigger skeevyness, after filing suit, but before announcing it to the general skeptical public, Radford wrote a blog post at Center for Inquiry which, as you can see, is about hypotheticals in sexual harassment lawsuits. It was bad enough that CFI Executive Director Ron Lindsay wrote a follow-up blog post a day later essentially rebuking Radford. Given that CFI gave Radford a slap on the wrist (not more, but not nothing), at the time of Stollznow's claims, why Lindsay, over this "spirit of fraud" move, hasn't suspended Radford, I don't know.

Radford's not hugely impressed me as a skeptic. He's a degree or two of informativeness above a Brian Dunning, but no more than that; his Live Science posts have generally been dreck-plus. Also, when discussion of his lawsuit started on Facebook, I had thought he was a plaintiff in another case, a personal injury case, but I was incorrect. It turns out that was a woman, eventually deceased, with first name of Benjamine (sic), so my apologies to Ben for the wrong implication there.

Anyway, Stollznow didn't sign the retraction paper, contra Radford's implication, so now she's seeking legal financial help.

I have no idea who's telling more of the truth, let alone if we've heard all of it from either one. I also don't know how much money Radford does or does not have himself behind his filing of the suit. I do know that some of Stollznow's defenders say she accused him of sexual assault as well as harassment. She did not, and states in her legal defense fund link that it was just harassment. Whether this is "telephone," poor memories on a SciAm article now pulled down, or deliberate claim manipulation, I don't know. Turns out it was correct that she accused him of both, and thanks to the person who got me the cached version of the article. And, doesn't a place theoretically as web-savvy as SciAm think about web caches?

And, a friend of mine who's a lawyer said that surely, in a place as big as greater Denver, she could find a lawyer to start work for a nominal retainer. I think the smell of tribalism is in the air. Related to that is that Skeptchick, with the one-and-only (thank doorknob there's not two non-skeptical but claiming to be skeptical Sarah Palin act-alikes in the Atheism Plus movement!) Rebecca Watson leading the charge. (And, no, not every move, or comment of yours, is fascinating. Good effing doorknob. Maybe narcissism is part of human nature, but social media and smartphones have sure added gasoline to the fire.)

Update, April 2: Now we may have more reason why Stollznow conducted a fundraising campaign for a lawyer. It may have been part of a PR campaign.

Radford has come out with a website with extensive, purportedly documented information on how Radford's claims of specific dates in their correspondence and relationship are wrong, perhaps even deliberately wrong, but how she has a history of making false accusations about relationship closeness, sexual harassment, and more, from fellow skeptics in her native land of Australia to the man who is now her husband, both of whom were arrested for assault charges against each other.

If a quarter of this is correct, she's all wet. And why she and Matt Baxter married one another, who knows. But, per the annual Darwin awards, I have a sexual selection variant of it: better they're with each other than with two other people.

Radford also claims she is misstating and overstating their professional relationship

And, if a quarter of this is true, I can understand his request for her to sign something.

SciAm might either have been tipped off about allegations in her background, or else maybe she was displaying some of this in the foreground while there.

Some skeptics think yet another of their number, Blake Smith, has been a dupe. Maybe he directly worked with her less than Radford and wasn't in a position to know differently; who knows?

In any case, nobody's reputation is perfectly clean; Gnu Atheists and Atheism Plusers, who have usd Stollznow as a "tool," least of all, though. 

Meanwhile, per talk amongst skeptics on Facebook, now about Ben's link, I want to add a bit more. (And may eventually do another post.)

How authentic Ben's claimed authentication is, is not ironclad. I figured that myself last night, hence my caveats, while at the same time making my "if a quarter" observation, and noting that the article in the Sydney Morning Herald isn't a thing that Ben could have faked, altered, etc. 

On the third hand, even if their personal relationship wasn't as close as Ben claims, why did he stay as close to her as long as he did?

On the fourth hand, a lawyer friend of mine, and a secularist, questions why she didn't just quietly hire a lawyer for an inexpensive retainer first, then do a fundraiser later for additional needs?

Everybody's sheets keep getting dirtier on this issue. And will likely continue to do so for some time.

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