September 15, 2014

Michael Shermer latest skeptic in hot water

Although former James Randi Education Foundation President D.J. Grothe is not mentioned, the issue of sexism and misogyny in movement skepticism gets a thorough walk around the block by Mark Oppenheimer in Buzz Feed. The biggie? Naming Shermer's hitherto-nameless 2008 accuser. Shermer, in turn, has issued a long denial. That said, as with other forms of abusive behavior (Ray Rice and his wife) an (alleged) abusee remaining amicable with an (alleged) abuser, whether sexual or physical, is not all that out of the blue. It's surely a minority, but how small of one? On the third hand, and I know the social justice warriors don't want to hear about it — if alcohol was involved, nobody put a gun to your head to make you drink, did they?

It is interesting that Shermer didn't comment on this Randi comment from Oppenheimer's piece, though:
“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference. 
“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember.”

Very interesting, especially since Shermer claims, at least on the 2008 issue, to have been sober.

Let me put it this way. At age 60, Shermer is old enough, and has been around movement skepticism enough, to be part of the old guard in more ways than one. 

The overall truth, on Shermer in particular, and Oppenheimer's piece in general, is probably somewhere in the murky middle. And, again, why I can declare at least part of a pox on Skeptics™as well as Gnu Atheists.

To riff on an old cliche:

"Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. ... And, there's also often someone fanning the flames."

Know what I mean? If not ...

In other words, there's probably problems and issues on both sides of this street.

Does Oppenheimer's original piece infantilize women? I don't think so. I 'm not as much inside "movement skepticism" as some, so I don't know.

Did it perhaps put lipstick on a pig in its discussion of Rebecca Watson? Probably yes, on second read.

Update, Sept. 13: Shermer's now drawing fire from many humanist types for a letter he wrote supporting sentencing leniency for convicted conservative icon Dinesh D'Souza, who pled guilty earlier this year to a campaign finance violations charge. I agree, per a Facebook comment, that it's not that Shermer agrees with D'Souza on everything, but that, due to the number of times they've debated each other in front of paid audiences, it's a "follow the money" issue.

Special update, Sept. 26:
Special update, Sept. 24: Jeff Wagg, a non-immediate predecessor of D.J. Grothe's, albeit under different title (assuming that "general manager" = "president," and with the stipulation that at least Phil Plait was intervening), supports Alison Smith's account about an alleged sexual assault by skeptic Michael Shermer at the 2008 The Amazing Meeting, part of this piece by Michael Oppenheimer on misogyny in the skeptical community.

Per the whole thread on which Wagg comments, he adds that Smith told him at that time that Shermer had raped her, as well as her being very drunk before she went to her room.

And, Wagg says Smith's story hasn't changed.

That said, did Wagg contact police himself? It doesn't look like it. He reportedly talked to Randi, but obviously Randi didn't call police. As for why Smith didn't? Well, many rape victims, especially if away from their normal surroundings, are hesitant to do that. And, it looks like, per an Ophelia Benson post at Free the Bullies, that Smith apparently didn't want outside action.

At the same time, even if Shermer was "trying to get her drunk," nobody put a gun to her head. Nobody forced her to let Shermer in her room, either.

However, that said, we also at a minimum seemingly have further confirmation further confirmation about what Randi said about Shermer in the Oppenheimer piece: That he blamed alcohol for alleged bad behavior like this. We also have further confirmation that, in Shermer's reaction to said piece, he seems to have been lying about his relationship to alcohol.

And, per the original header of this piece, if all Randi can do is call Shermer a "bad boy," we also seemingly have further confirmation of founder's syndrome at best and toleration of unethical and possibly illegal behavior in the name of money and PR at worst.

Meanwhile, I'm going to respond to a general train of thought on Ophelia's comment list.

Per a number of the comments, reporting an alleged crime is not necessarily legally limited to the victim. In fact, adults in most states are **required** to report allegations they hear about child abuse, especially child sexual abuse. Even if the victim is an old enough juvenile to theoretically talk to police himself or herself, or even if the victim is now an adult, but statute of limitations has not expired.

Nor is someone who has heard about an alleged crime perpetrated by one adult on another necessarily morally limited. Let's say something similar to this happened in 2012, and the person to whom Smith, or some other victim, talked to, knew that Shermer had an alleged history by that time. Were I, at least, the person getting my ear bent, I would at least consider going to the police on my own.

Again, none of this is meant to blame Wagg for not doing more than he did.

And, there's further evidence of founder's syndrome at Randi anyway — the nepotism. Randi's then-boyfriend, now-husband, "Jose Alvarez," Devyi Peña of identity theft infamy, was the board's secretary at JREF. Even for an unpaid board position, that's not best practices.

Meanwhile, related to this? If more and more of this starts panning out, will skeptics, at least one of them a refugee from JREF, stay on board with Shermer's new blogging platform, Insight, at Skeptic? Again, this isn't an immediate question, as both a question to said participants and a rhetorical one, but ... it is one that at some point, per my "if," may need to be answered.

On the apparent drunkenness level of Smith, there's also the issue of liability. And not just of the hotel or whatever. If JREF had its own wet bar, and that's where she was getting sloshed, if outsiders were running it, they're responsible. If JREF ran it, ditto.

Update, Oct. 7: At the same time, an overall good roundup here of why PZ Myers has no business criticizing anybody else's sexual behavior. Liquor him up as much as Shermer may have been at times, and the yucky behavior toward women he sometimes has shown himself would probably be at the level of rumors of criminal behavior on his own part.

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