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Archive for June, 2012

Let’s go from the specific to the universal today.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe is a podcast and panel of skeptics “dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and the public understanding of science through online and other media.” I don’t know about the demographics of the listening audience, but a cursory stroll through the discussion board audience via threads on the forum reveals that by far the majority of posters are men. A stroll through the blogosphere reveals that there are far more skeptics who are men than women, to the point that the conversation frequently revolves around how to involve more women. (Hence this blog.) A recent uproar reveals that it is such a point of concern that too few women have registered for The Amazing Meeting 2012 that the president of the hosting organization (James Randi Educational Foundation) attributed this decline to women bloggers discussing the unfriendly environment women encounter in real-life and online communities. In fact, one specific woman blogger, Rebecca Watson–SGU panelist and podcaster–was named as especially responsible and she has decided to sit out this event to make a point.

Because it must be the women warning other women about potential opportunities for personal and online harassment who scare the women away (and maybe it is) and not at all the fault of the people (usually men) harassing women in person and online. Or the behavior of skeptical leaders big and small that sets the tone for what kind of behaviors general members can engage in, how they will be tolerated, and what women can expect.

For example, the moderators of the SGU Forums feel free to fight against the women who are trying to make skepticism a more welcoming place for women, and so the forum itself has become a place where people can go to fight women who are trying to reduce misogyny and sexism in the skeptical community. And you get gems of threads like this one…

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There are rumblings. There is hand-wringing. There is lamenting and gnashing of teeth, and skeptics who proudly wear the badges of Can’t Herd This Cat and Rugged Individualist and Keep Your Politics out of My Skepticism and Not a Member of a Monolith and Groupthink Not Welcome Here are doing a lot of active worrying about the impending disaster of skeptical women finding new ways to practice their craft. And new places. And eschewing the old ones.

The gist of the complaints that occur whenever a woman says that she’ll be sitting out something skeptical (event, product, forum, et cetera) to make a point (which, by the way, is perfectly rational) include:

  • She is being divisive! (She, by the way, is not.) If we don’t stand together, we’ll all fall apart!
  • She’s just looking for something to complain about.
  • She should expect these things to happen.
  • Assume she’s lying unless she provides proof.
  • I’m getting awfully tired of always hearing about women’s perspectives all the time.
  • Feminism is unscientific and out of place in skepticism.
  • She should focus on things that really matter.
  • And she’s being so divisive!

Well, color me cognitively dissonant!

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It’s hard work pulling off a conference, of any kind. Even the “cushier” conferences for membership groups (like the PYAH–Put Your Acronym Here) have to take into account that people often pay their own way and must be convinced that attending an event will be worth their while. Hence the struggle/search (some PYAHs have an easier time than others) for big names in the field that will draw a crowd (and money), and build/maintain momentum for the conference as a Can’t Miss Event and help propel attendance in subsequent years.

It’s tricky. I get that. I’ve helped with that at a tiny company that put on an annual large event. You want to get the big names, but you also want to get the big new names, and you have to balance what you can charge for things against what you have to pay for people, and it’s a lot to put together. You also want people to get excited about who’s coming to speak, and they’re often the people who’ve generated a buzz in recent times. And we all know what they say about buzz: Buzz means controversy, somewhere, somehow.

OK. So I’m the only one to say it that way. But you know. If people are talking, it’s because they are saying things to each other, about a speaker, about a book, about an interview, about something that gives a lot of people lots to talk about, which has to include disagreement because people only like agreeing out loud for so long. So you get this of-the-moment notable person to come to your event, and everyone is excited, and they all buy the tickets to hear the keynote speech the very first morning. Victory is yours!

Unless…

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