Author Topic: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?  (Read 52665 times)

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Offline MisterMarc

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Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« on: August 08, 2009, 06:01:19 PM »
I thought the interview and discussion on today's episode (#211) was pretty interesting, and deserved a dedicated thread.

I just wanted to comment on the suggestion that meetings like TAM7 should make a special effort to include women (and other minorities) in the speaker lineup, rather than having the same major players speaking every year.
 
I guess I'm ambivalent about this sentiment. On the one hand, I agree that the movement would be benefitted by more diversity, and that attracting people from all walks of life should be a goal. On the other hand, I feel like a skeptical conference in particular should base their speaker selections on merit rather than on the sex, race or background of the speaker. I mean, if more white males are active and playing major roles in the movement, then is it unfair to have more white male speakers at that event?

Just curious what other people think about this subject.

PS- Steve failed to mention one of the female panelists attending TAM. Namely, Rebecca. ;)

Offline seaotter

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2009, 06:32:29 PM »
Just the other day I was listening to Rich Ormans special guest hostess and thinking how great that there were a lot of female skeptics around these day.

Not that this means anything, but 20 of my 100 twitterers that I follow are females. Course two of those are Oprah and McIdiot.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2009, 06:37:19 PM by seaotter »
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Offline KarenX

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2009, 06:37:53 PM »
I haven't heard the podcast. End of proviso.

Quote
if more white males are active and playing major roles in the movement, then is it unfair to have more white male speakers at that event?

I don't really consider myself part of the skeptic "movement," but I agree that what I observe from here is all the white guys talking about what all the white guys are doing. I am not pointing fingers at anyone or trying to bring up an "old boys' club" observation, but it is very easy for a bunch of educated white guys interested in the same things to become friends with each other, and stay interested in what they all are doing to the point where they are too busy to look further. People become friends with people like themselves, and it is very easy to form a clique. It's not even a bad thing to form a clique. But if TAM represents the biggest thing in the "skeptical movement" right now, it's a very insular group with limited appeal. Once you've covered ghosts and atheism and acupuncture, you just start repeating yourselves.

It's one thing to go looking for just anyone of the right color or sex to create "diversity," but it's another to really step back, examine your definitions of what you consider the "skeptical movement," and see if there are other groups of people doing similar things that apply to different topics. For example, the interests of the SGU panel and forum participants seem to be mostly scientific. And that's cool. But people seem to go out of their way to limit the conversation topics to subjects that fit neatly into the boundaries they've devised. It probably would be a good thing to go looking at what women and people from other ethnic groups are interested in, and see what topics they've taken a skeptical attitude toward--even if they haven't defined it as "skeptical" to themselves.

The postmodernism thread in the Religion/Philosophy forum reminds me of this. There are academics out there skeptical of academic movements that have nothing to do with alternate medicine or paranormal phenomena or fringe science. There are people out there working hard to debunk historical misconceptions, or theoretical frameworks, or myths about education, or political policies, or sociological concerns. If you aren't interested--let's use an old example from this board--in whether or not Shakespeare the fellow is Shakespeare the author, do you really care who's working to promote or debunk the theories and gathering the evidence? Do you want to hear about artists who are skeptical of what other artists are promoting? Do you care about controversies in market research or advertising? If not, and you are happy to stick with the topics that you like, then I wouldn't worry about diversity for diversity's sake.

If diversity of viewpoints is what you are after, I'd look at diversity of topics. You don't really need to go find a woman who is running a paranormal debunking website. You all already know everything there is to about debunking the paranormal. Why bother getting someone else? But if you really expand what you consider skeptical pursuits, or really explore all the topics out there that have controversy, the women and minority leaders will reveal themselves.

Offline Dionysus

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2009, 07:00:42 PM »
I haven't heard the podcast. End of proviso.

Quote
if more white males are active and playing major roles in the movement, then is it unfair to have more white male speakers at that event?

I don't really consider myself part of the skeptic "movement," but I agree that what I observe from here is all the white guys talking about what all the white guys are doing. I am not pointing fingers at anyone or trying to bring up an "old boys' club" observation, but it is very easy for a bunch of educated white guys interested in the same things to become friends with each other, and stay interested in what they all are doing to the point where they are too busy to look further. People become friends with people like themselves, and it is very easy to form a clique. It's not even a bad thing to form a clique. But if TAM represents the biggest thing in the "skeptical movement" right now, it's a very insular group with limited appeal. Once you've covered ghosts and atheism and acupuncture, you just start repeating yourselves.

It's one thing to go looking for just anyone of the right color or sex to create "diversity," but it's another to really step back, examine your definitions of what you consider the "skeptical movement," and see if there are other groups of people doing similar things that apply to different topics. For example, the interests of the SGU panel and forum participants seem to be mostly scientific. And that's cool. But people seem to go out of their way to limit the conversation topics to subjects that fit neatly into the boundaries they've devised. It probably would be a good thing to go looking at what women and people from other ethnic groups are interested in, and see what topics they've taken a skeptical attitude toward--even if they haven't defined it as "skeptical" to themselves.

The postmodernism thread in the Religion/Philosophy forum reminds me of this. There are academics out there skeptical of academic movements that have nothing to do with alternate medicine or paranormal phenomena or fringe science. There are people out there working hard to debunk historical misconceptions, or theoretical frameworks, or myths about education, or political policies, or sociological concerns. If you aren't interested--let's use an old example from this board--in whether or not Shakespeare the fellow is Shakespeare the author, do you really care who's working to promote or debunk the theories and gathering the evidence? Do you want to hear about artists who are skeptical of what other artists are promoting? Do you care about controversies in market research or advertising? If not, and you are happy to stick with the topics that you like, then I wouldn't worry about diversity for diversity's sake.

If diversity of viewpoints is what you are after, I'd look at diversity of topics. You don't really need to go find a woman who is running a paranormal debunking website. You all already know everything there is to about debunking the paranormal. Why bother getting someone else? But if you really expand what you consider skeptical pursuits, or really explore all the topics out there that have controversy, the women and minority leaders will reveal themselves.

:o

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Offline Skeptic Bilby...

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2009, 07:05:58 PM »
I suppose what would be handy to know is how many of the people who are involved in the skeptical movement fall into the minority catagory. If it overun with the white males then I guess they will have a hard time placing more of the minority groups. Also we have quite a lot of Skeptics down here in Australia who would no doubt love to come to the TAMs but it is just not doable as it cost so much get to the event.

I would be nice to here more womens voices in this area, I think Rebecca adds a good balance to the SGTU podcasts. Maybe they could try and find some Skeptical women and interview them...

I shall now go and listen to the newest episode...
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Offline MisterMarc

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2009, 07:15:12 PM »
I haven't heard the podcast. End of proviso.

Quote
if more white males are active and playing major roles in the movement, then is it unfair to have more white male speakers at that event?

I don't really consider myself part of the skeptic "movement," but I agree that what I observe from here is all the white guys talking about what all the white guys are doing. I am not pointing fingers at anyone or trying to bring up an "old boys' club" observation, but it is very easy for a bunch of educated white guys interested in the same things to become friends with each other, and stay interested in what they all are doing to the point where they are too busy to look further.

A sensible observation, but I just don't see that happening with TAM. Yes, many of the same people are there every year, but they are also the people that are drawing members to the event itself. To exclude them would be shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. Even without taking that consideration into account, I don't think there's any overabundance of self-reference and insularity in the movement as a whole. If anything, I think we are quite welcoming of newcomers (look at Captain Disillusion, for example).

PS- Why don't you consider yourself part of the skeptic movement?
« Last Edit: August 08, 2009, 07:17:10 PM by MisterMarc »

Offline KarenX

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2009, 07:20:36 PM »
Captain Disillusion debunks stuff about ghosts and UFOs. That's not a new topic.

TAM has a very limited sphere of topics. It is what it is. Guys are interested in it. It's not a big deal, and it isn't "sexist" to have mostly guys speaking about it. But if you want to broaden the appeal of "skepticism," you have to broaden the topic set. There are a lot of women and minorities leading lots of other topics in skeptical ways that aren't paranormal or scientific, and it would be easy to find people to invite to speak.

You may not want to broaden the sphere of topics. It doesn't matter.

Offline MisterMarc

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2009, 07:29:21 PM »
Captain Disillusion debunks stuff about ghosts and UFOs. That's not a new topic.

TAM has a very limited sphere of topics. It is what it is. Guys are interested in it. It's not a big deal, and it isn't "sexist" to have mostly guys speaking about it. But if you want to broaden the appeal of "skepticism," you have to broaden the topic set. There are a lot of women and minorities leading lots of other topics in skeptical ways that aren't paranormal or scientific, and it would be easy to find people to invite to speak.

You may not want to broaden the sphere of topics. It doesn't matter.

So you're saying Captain Disillusion shouldn't be embraced because he's just talking about the same stuff other people have talked about. And the people he's copying are old news, and also shouldn't be talked about. Sorry but this sounds like a comic convention where someone complains that people are talking about comic books all the time.

Maybe some examples would help me understand. What would be an example of a skeptical topic that isn't about science or the paranormal?

Offline KarenX

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2009, 07:35:39 PM »
TMI Alert! You've been warned.

I don't think I am in the skeptical movement because I don't "move" skepticism. I am not an activist, and I don't seek out activities with people just because they are skeptical. I am a skeptical person, however, and I bet most of my friends are skeptical-minded, but I don't really worry (or even think) about why they come to the conclusions about the world that I come to. I don't promote skeptical topics online, I don't follow skeptical blogs, and I don't particularly enjoy going over the details of unskeptical drama over and over again. I'm just not a "fan" of skepticism. I don't "like" skeptical things on Facebook.

I sound like an uberbitch. I'm sorry for that. I'm not an uberbitch. I like all the skeptics on this forum and the ones I meet in person (with four exceptions), and I would be very sad if I couldn't hang out with my cyberfriends here. But if there was a People Shouldn't Believe in UFOs event in my town attended by people I didn't know, I wouldn't go. I already know why people shouldn't believe in UFOs, and I don't need any more information. I don't actually even care if people believe in UFOs. I just think the ones who do are stupid. There's no movement required for that.

OK, maybe I am an uberbitch. I guess I'm sorry for that.


Offline KarenX

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2009, 07:41:19 PM »
I didn't say Captain Disillusion shouldn't or wouldn't be embraced. I said that he is another person presenting information about a topic that is already on the list. It is not broadening the topics or perspective of the skeptical movement. (And he's another male speaker.)

Other Topics that Contain Skeptical Thought:
There are people skeptical that Shakespeare the Fellow wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare the Playwright. There are also people skeptical that Nielsen ratings have any meaning in this age of online television viewing, and that network advertising departments should come up with a different paradigm for ad space. There is debate in the firefighting air fleets about how and when to disperse water over fires, and if water is even the best material for it. Music teachers hotly debate whether the Suzuki method really teaches children to be musicians.

These topics may only be interesting to people in the fields of literary history, market research, firefighting, and music education, but they contain people who are skeptics.

Offline Skeptic Bilby...

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2009, 07:50:08 PM »
TMI Alert! You've been warned.

I don't think I am in the skeptical movement because I don't "move" skepticism. I am not an activist, and I don't seek out activities with people just because they are skeptical. I am a skeptical person, however, and I bet most of my friends are skeptical-minded, but I don't really worry (or even think) about why they come to the conclusions about the world that I come to. I don't promote skeptical topics online, I don't follow skeptical blogs, and I don't particularly enjoy going over the details of unskeptical drama over and over again. I'm just not a "fan" of skepticism. I don't "like" skeptical things on Facebook.

I sound like an uberbitch. I'm sorry for that. I'm not an uberbitch. I like all the skeptics on this forum and the ones I meet in person (with four exceptions), and I would be very sad if I couldn't hang out with my cyberfriends here. But if there was a People Shouldn't Believe in UFOs event in my town attended by people I didn't know, I wouldn't go. I already know why people shouldn't believe in UFOs, and I don't need any more information. I don't actually even care if people believe in UFOs. I just think the ones who do are stupid. There's no movement required for that.

OK, maybe I am an uberbitch. I guess I'm sorry for that.

Same here I would say I dont attend any meetings or get togethers mainly because there is a lack of them here where I live.. But I dont class myself as a mover in the Skeptical group. I got into this because I feel I can tell the difference between Lies and Truth.. As with you I think people who beleive in UFOs are misinformed or misguided.. I dont try and change there mind as that is immpossible, most of the time I will stay quiet if someone talks about ghosts, UFOs and other stuff that is pure BS.. I have found that it can land you in all sorts of trouble with friends and work folk... My neighbour for instance has a daughter who is a johovas whitness and I will not engage in any talk about this as it will end up in a huge fall out... My main reason for coming to this site is get some questions answered and learn some new things. At least here you know what is being discussed is true and not total BS....
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Offline MisterMarc

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2009, 07:51:35 PM »
Other Topics that Contain Skeptical Thought:
There are people skeptical that Shakespeare the Fellow wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare the Playwright. There are also people skeptical that Nielsen ratings have any meaning in this age of online television viewing, and that network advertising departments should come up with a different paradigm for ad space. There is debate in the firefighting air fleets about how and when to disperse water over fires, and if water is even the best material for it. Music teachers hotly debate whether the Suzuki method really teaches children to be musicians.

These topics may only be interesting to people in the fields of literary history, market research, firefighting, and music education, but they contain people who are skeptics.

And wouldn't all of these claims be evaluated using....wait for it....science?

Offline MisterMarc

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2009, 07:54:41 PM »
TMI Alert! You've been warned.

I don't think I am in the skeptical movement because I don't "move" skepticism. I am not an activist, and I don't seek out activities with people just because they are skeptical. I am a skeptical person, however, and I bet most of my friends are skeptical-minded, but I don't really worry (or even think) about why they come to the conclusions about the world that I come to. I don't promote skeptical topics online, I don't follow skeptical blogs, and I don't particularly enjoy going over the details of unskeptical drama over and over again. I'm just not a "fan" of skepticism. I don't "like" skeptical things on Facebook.

I sound like an uberbitch. I'm sorry for that. I'm not an uberbitch. I like all the skeptics on this forum and the ones I meet in person (with four exceptions), and I would be very sad if I couldn't hang out with my cyberfriends here. But if there was a People Shouldn't Believe in UFOs event in my town attended by people I didn't know, I wouldn't go. I already know why people shouldn't believe in UFOs, and I don't need any more information. I don't actually even care if people believe in UFOs. I just think the ones who do are stupid. There's no movement required for that.

OK, maybe I am an uberbitch. I guess I'm sorry for that.

I don't think you're an uberbitch, first.

I guess I can agree with you there, except that I feel that by consuming the products of skepticism (ie, books, podcasts, yadda yadda) I am contributing to "the movement." Maybe not directly, but contributing nonetheless.

Offline KarenX

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2009, 08:03:30 PM »
I guess they'd use scientific method processes, if not traditional science. I'm not sure why this is getting adversarial. The skeptical movement in theory encompasses critical thinking from all disciplines, but in practice (here and in the few TAMs I've heard advertised) finds its interests and leaders in a very few, and this small group happens to be (perhaps coincidentally, but it doesn't matter) populated by white men. Actively pursue skeptical leaders in other disciplines, and you'll find women and minorities leading groups. Voila! Broader perspective! If it's a wider audience you are looking for, these leaders will bring their people with them.

Offline Hanes

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Re: Sexism in the Skeptic Movement?
« Reply #14 on: August 08, 2009, 08:10:40 PM »
I put the podcast on my mp3 player and went shopping, and I was pissed when we got to the interview, because I wanted to vent online and couldn't.  So now I'm replaying the interview and I'm going to go through it in a non-demarcated fashion.

First of all, The Big Bang Theory is a remarkably non-sexist show.  First of all, Penny is every bit as smart as the guys, she just isn't an ubergeek (though, admittedly in the first half of the first season she's really dumb), and, furthermore, there are female scientists that work with the four guys, and there are smart women that they (the male charecters) interact with etc that are doctors or whatnot.  Yes, the four main males are geeks.  Yes the lead female is not a geek.  That doesn't make the show sexist.  In fact, it makes the show a more accurate reflection of reality.

Look, I go to an engineering school.  Guess how many women I hung out with at least once last year?  4.  One of them happened to be a ceramic engineering student.  Was she ostracised because she was intelligent?  Did I pidgeon-hole her, saying "oh, you have to be the ditzy girl who is stupid, while I'm the smart geeky guy who has to fail to get with you because I'm too smart, because that's what the media makes me think I should do?"  FUCK NO.  These things (premise of Big Bang Theory) exist in TV shows because, well, guess what kind of look I would have gotten from the other three girls had I talked anything nerdy to them?  Ya, "wtf are you some kind of nerd!?" looks.

Hey, here's an idea.  Maybe women were grossly underrepresented as TAM presenters because... women are underrepresented in science and skepticism!  Why is that?  Is it the media's fault?  Is it the culture?  Is it genetic?  I don't know.  What I do know, though, is that it's not because of any attitude within the skeptical movement.  The one smart girl I knew last year, I LOVED talking to her about engineering/science stuff.  Hell, just two days ago I broke the handle off my tea mug, and, noticing the odd pattern to the fracture surface, I pined that it was too bad she was gone for the summer, or I could ask her about what the cause of the pattern might be.  I think I speak for the entire skeptical male population when I shout, BRING ON THE NERDY CHICKS!

But they're not there.  Do you know how many female professors there are in my department?  Out of about 30 or so teachers.... none.  What percentage of people on this forum are female?  Is it even 25%?  Female members of the NAS?  I don't know what's holding the gender back, but it's not skeptics.

And she says she doesn't support tokenism (not to be confused with Tolkienism), she just wants the JREF to go to greater lengths to represent minorities and women as speakers.  Guess what, THAT'S TOKENISM.  Lets see... Dr. Tyson kicks ass, they had him speak.  Greydon Square kicks ass, he had a part in a TAM.  Dr. Scott rocks socks, they had her on.  They aren't excluding people.  If someone is badass, they have them on.  Should they have given, say, Penn's slot to a woman?  I'd have no problem with that, so long as the woman was on par with Penn.

and this is sad, because I think I know the majority of women more than these women do.  Yes, I may have better luck picking up a Skepchick talking about recent advances in protien synthesis or somesuch, but guess what?  For the majority of women, I'd have better luck by saying, "I'm a Libra, you?"  Seriously, it's like these women have never tried to pick up a girl at a bar.  NO, OF COURSE EXPLAINING WHY ASTROLOGY IS BUNK ISN'T GOING TO GET YOU LAID AND THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH POINTING THAT OUT.

You skepchicks are enlightened, intelligent, modern, sophisticated skeptics.  That's great.  I love it, and I love what you do.  I wish there were more women like you but the honest truth is there aren't.  I'm not going to get all pissy if a women makes a crack about dumbass frat guys, and guess what, stupid males are the majority of the male population.  GAH!  Just so pissed right now. 

Smart women are sweet water, and dumb ones are salt water, and right now I'm sitting in a dingy in the middle of an ocean.  I can see the mouth of a river, somewhere way over there, but right now I've got an anchor down.  It just pisses me off to have these river-women denying the existance of the ocean.

AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! >:(