On Echo-chambers, Skepticism, and the War on Women

In 2013- almost 5 years ago – I wrote a blog post about how the group who call themselves ‘Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia’ weren’t very good at communicating with people who believed in paranormal, supernatural, or conspiratorial ideas. I suggested that if they tried to communicate better, and found commonality with the people criticising them, they wouldn’t be so disliked for their editing of Wikipedia articles. I was naive, because I thought that all Skeptic activists- in their hearts -wanted to help people. However, what I now realise is that the people that many Skeptic activists want to help are often themselves.

I have recently made the decision to not attend or speak at Skeptic-orientated events as often as I do because I honestly believe that movement has a toxic element to it. There are events, campaigners, localised groups, and people who do great stuff, but their work is shadowed by the bad stuff. Sorry guys, but it’s the truth. A very sad truth.

I had this realisation while watching a recent video from Rebecca Watson about the Buzzfeed article on Lawrence Krauss and his (alleged) inappropriate behaviour towards women (which you can read here.) In the video, Rebecca says ‘… over the past 10 years I’ve become less and less interested in talking generally about sexism in these communities [atheist, skeptic] because I feel like I’ve said everything I need to say. Nothing is ever going to change, and talking about it constantly bores me.’

Rebecca is right. Nothing is ever going to change because organised Skepticism has several large problems that it will fail to ever address effectively:

  1. the movement often allows irrational people to be elevated to positions of power from which they’re almost untouchable when it comes to criticism
  2. the skeptic movement has its fair share of creepy men who don’t know how to behave appropriately around other people.
  3. the skeptic movement is full of the kind of people who support these bad people unquestioningly.
  4. the skeptic movement is prone to echo-chambers in which specific versions of truth are created and from which any information that counters this is shot down and, sometimes, even censored.

That final point is why I started this article by mentioning Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia – the self-appointed information masters of Wikipedia who operate from within a private internet forum and seem to focus on two things:

  1. working exhaustively to edit paranormal/supernatural related articles
  2. working exhaustively to edit the Wikipedia profiles of Skeptic celebrities, including people who are terrible people and criminals.

It is my opinion that their brand of skepticism is not the good kind. Recently, the Centre for Inquiry (CFI) appointed the head of the ‘Guerrilla Skepticism’ group, Susan Gerbic, as a Fellow which shocked me for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I don’t think Gerbic and her team of editors are very good champions of the skeptic movement. Secondly, when Dr Karen Stollznow spoke out about her experiences of harassment at the hands of a colleague at CFI, Gerbic’s son wore a t-shirt which stated he was on the “team” of the accused, to a lecture that Stollznow was delivering at an event. Secondly, it was Gerbic who added the photo to Wikipedia of Harriett Hall wearing an anti-skepchick t-shirt at TAM.

I personally think this is potentially divisive behaviour which should be unwelcome in a movement that champions rational thought. However, it has become clear that the Skeptic movement isn’t always such a movement, and no matter how many people try to make it inclusive and try to improve it, nothing will ever change.

What I’ve come to realise in recent years is that people who also call themselves Skeptics are often not as intelligent as they might think, and not able to spot the fallacies in their own thinking. This is especially the case when their heroes are called into question or are criticised, as has become very apparent in recent days after the Buzzfeed article about sexual assault accusations levelled at Lawrence Krauss.

I have had my fill of watching as decent, rational women are victimised by the Skeptic movement for speaking out about the wrongs done to them by people in positions of authority within this movement. I think I’ve had enough of dealing with people who know about the accusations and do nothing to solve the issues when they very well could, and I’ve had my fill of bullies, in-groups, and bitching.

I use scepticism and an open-mind to investigate and write about paranormal claims. Until there is a radical change, I no longer consider myself to be a part of the skeptic movement and will not be involved in the ventures of the movement. I stand with the women and men who have been harassed and it’s as simple as that.

Update: I should clarify here that I’m not suggesting Gerbic is responsible for her son’s behaviour, and I mentioned this incident only because of the connection between the two and the impression it gives to people observing the incident. I’m also not suggesting that Gerbic is responsible for covering up anything in particular about certain people.

About Hayley Stevens 442 Articles
Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

4 Comments on On Echo-chambers, Skepticism, and the War on Women

  1. Hayley, thanks so much for writing and speaking up about these issues. I’ve really had my eyes opened over the last few months to how regressive and downright conspiratorial and anti-evidence many in the Skeptical movement can be when it comes to women and minorities. It’s very frustrating, especially as its leaders claim to be the only ‘real’ liberal, progressive, and rational voices despite their behaviour demonstrating the contrary.

  2. Thanks, Hayley. It’s possible to be a skeptic (or at least scientifically sceptical, as you always are) without being part of a movement or supporting those whose attacks on others are knee-jerk and irrational. I’m afraid I blame the likes of Richard Dawkins – high profile individuals whose virulent remarks, for example, about those with a religious/paranormal interest seem to have persuaded less able ‘skeptics’ that it’s fine to make ad hominem attacks on anyone they disagree with. You don’t persuade people by telling them they’re stupid. Keep up the good work…

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