Saturday, February 23, 2013

Skepticism spiralling

PZ Myers wrote a post called "I am so over the skeptical movement", criticizing a couple leaders in skepticism for their negative comments on feminism.  I will reproduce a comment I left there:
I find this a disturbing turn for The Great Internet Atheist-Feminist Wars–the increasing identification of skeptics with anti-feminists. And I can hardly fault PZ for that, when skeptical leaders are being so obtuse and/or disingenuous. I’m especially disappointed with Harriet Hall, who I’ve long respected.

Can we not let this happen? Harriet Hall and Ben Radford don’t own the skeptical movement anymore than Dawkins owns the atheist movement. We can change the culture by naming and shaming the bad (such as in this post), and highlighting skeptical leaders doing good.
As an example of Harriet Hall's obtuseness/disingenuousness, she was trying to defend her shirt that said, "I am a skeptic.  Not a 'woman skeptic.'  Not a 'skep-chick.'  Just a skeptic."  She wore this at a major skeptical conference, and it was largely seen as a "take that!" towards the Skepchicks, because I guess she doesn't like the Skepchicks, despite all their hard work.

Here's what Harriet Hall says in her defense:
 I have never criticized others for identifying as women skeptics; I only said I personally prefer to be identified as a skeptic rather than as a woman skeptic.
And then she approvingly cites the following comment on her shirt:
Harriet Hall’s T-shirt was brilliant! It encompassed free speech and equality. (just think we are all equal…we are all skeptics, not female skeptics and male skeptics but simply skeptics)
Which is it?  Is it her personal preference to not identify as a woman skeptic, or is it a public statement that we are all "just" skeptics?  Amanda Marcotte catches her saying lots of other things that betray her intention.

She's also largely missing the point.  Skeptical women's organizations and skeptical women's discussion spaces are not about separating skeptics into the men and women.  It's about dedicating a part of our time discuss and respond to specialized issues (if any).  Women's organizations are not just needed in skepticism, they're ubiquitous in all sorts of institutions.  For example, at my university, there's a society of women in the physical sciences.  Not a big deal, you know?

In my comment I talk about taking the skeptical movement back, and I'm semi-serious about that.  There's no reason organized skepticism has to be identified with second-wave feminism.  I totally appreciate PZ Myers criticizing prominent skeptics, and it's okay to disidentify with organized skepticism.  But we also need skeptical leaders to stand up and say that's not okay.  Where are they now?

Unfortunately, I am not what you call an "skeptical leader".  I'm just this guy with a blog with "skeptic" in the title.