Proof of Heaven
Ghosts in the Media

Sexist Sceptics Revisited

This article by a female sceptic is worth looking at. The author, Rebecca Watson, is one of the main writers on She's very active - a big fan of Randi, critical thinking, etc. etc. - and always assumed that she was part of the same community of likeminded folk. That is, until one day she took the men gently to task for hitting on women at sceptic conferences. Cue a tidal wave of misogynist abuse. Then Richard Dawkins weighed in with an extraordinary comment on Pharyngula and all hell broke loose.

Watson has now stirred the pot with this much fuller article on It gives an interesting slant on the sceptic movement, and is worth a read. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a lot of discussion about it, and about what it means to be a sceptic.

It's not just sceptics who behave badly online, obviously. But they seem oddly prone to it.


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Two comments. Ms Watson is undoubtedly correct when she states of the "skeptic" movement:

"we continue to fester as a middling subculture that not only ignores social issues but is actively antagonistic toward progressive thought."

Although one can only deplore what happened to this lady, she has at least gained insight into the "skeptic" mindset as a result of her ordeal. She has begun a journey towards wisdom.

But she would do well to reflect on her initial comments in the article. "We hate guys who think 9/11 was a conspiracy"...."we enjoy seeing psychics and homeopaths taken down"

HATRED. And ENJOYING THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS. Ok, phoney psychics might deserve everything they get, but gloating over their takedown is not very nice either. (And as for hating your enemies....well, Yeshua Bar Yosef had a somewhat more constructive approach 2000 years ago!)

If Ms Watson reflected on this a little more, she might see that she is part of the problem - the whole "skeptic" movement is rife with hatred, contempt and self-righteousness. Is it altogether surprising that more extreme forms of nastiness, such as that which Ms Watson experienced, can emerge from a community which encourages these negative attitudes?

This affair, if nothing else, has proved that if governments were to be made up of atheists we'd have no reason to presume they'd be much more rational. It hasn't produced much insight but it has showcased a lot of horrible behaviour.

There will always be spiritually bankrupt people and I very much doubt that anything will turn them around. I found that article chilling in the extreme, and I can't help but wonder what attracts Susan Blackmore to that community. What does she have in common with them? From Rebecca Watson's description, they appear to be sociopathic in nature. And what an ugly, sneering sense of humour Richard Dawkins displays.

What is the point in engaging with such people? And, surely, the urge to do battle with them only makes one the other side of the same coin? 8/

Fortuitously, the Committee for Scientific Investigation (formerly CSICOP) is having a major conference in my hometown of Nashville, TN this weekend. Rebecca Watson will be one of the speakers.

I've got to be there, and I'll be sure to take along my copy of Randi's Prize, although I may have to stash it in my jacket. These folks are mean, and I am not under the illusion that they are open to civil discourse.

Otherwise, I will be happy to report back here and share a some of my impressions. It outta be fun. :D

Wow. What a sobering article. It has to be read to be believed. I just don't get it. But what she reports is a (far) more blatant and extreme version of what I saw lurking in some of those skeptical responses to Eben Alexander. This is the concluding line of PZ Myers' post: "Here’s a deep message for you: brain damage can persuade you of the truth of some real bullshit."

For myself, I guess I'll take comfort in the "deep message" that Myers was sneering at right before that line:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

“You have nothing to fear.”

“There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Let's hope those words are true for the angry skeptics and for all of us.


Great another conference of egomaniacs sitting around congratulating each other on how smart they are. If the paranormal is such a joke and a waste of their time, why does it consume 2/3rds of the conference ?

Further to my comment on Ms. Watson's ordeal and the psychopathology behind it....

Has anyone read the following article by a "recovering skeptic"?

Note especially the following:

"Such is the character of skepticism that good intentions quickly get swamped by bad ones. Look past the crocodile tears on any online debunking forum, and you'll quickly find that the majority of visitors are not drawn there by concern for the victims of irrationality, but by contempt. They're there to laugh at idiots. I'm not going to plead innocence here: I've often joined in with the laughter, at least vicariously; laughing at idiots can be fun. But in the context of skeptic sites, the laughter takes on a bullying and unhealthy tone. It's never pleasant to watch a group of university graduates ganging up to sneer at people denied their advantages in life, especially when for some of them it's a full-time hobby. It's an unfair fight between unequal resources, and far too few skeptics care about this inequality or want to do anything about it.

"If anything, I'm convinced that most of them would prefer to keep the resources unequal. The average skeptic has little time for spreading the word of reason to the educationally or intellectually lacking. His superior reason is what separates him from the chumps around him, and he has no interest in closing the gap. For him, the appeal of the skeptic clique is its exclusivity. It's a refuge from the stupid masses, and a marker of his own special privileges. It's Mensa rebranded."

Is it any wonder that true hatefulness, such as Ms Watson endured, can emerge from this hothouse of self-righteous intolerance? And isn't it ironic that Ms. Watson, someone who by her own admission enjoys sneering at fortune tellers and psychics, simply cannot see that she herself is part of the problem?

"It's Mensa rebranded."

As a former chairman of British Mensa (their first ever lady chairman) I concur with your analogy, Rupert. There's a smug and very unattractive insularity about many active Mensans who appear to be unable to make social relationships outside the high IQ society. It's not an altogether healthy place to hang out, and I can spot the signs of such emotional/intellectual insecurity at a hundred yards these days. The collective narrow mindedness in such groups is truly breathtaking, and quite frightening too.

Well, go figure. The whole organized skeptic movement has always appeared to me to be made up of nasty individuals who can't see outside their limited worldview. And they hold hatred for anyone who doesn't conform to them.

Blimey! Working towards a better and more egalitarian world's obviously working in the skeptical world....

Trouble is it's always the most vicious and vocal few that set the tone and lead their more sheepish followers into hostilities. I believe that most people are basically reasonable people. It's just that sooooo very many allow others to do their critical thinking for them and prefer not to get on the wrong side of the bullies. 'Tis a story as old as time.

"Fortuitously, the Committee for Scientific Investigation (formerly CSICOP) is having a major conference in my hometown of Nashville, TN this weekend. Rebecca Watson will be one of the speakers."

If you go to that site announcing the conference, you'll see that a full 2/3 of the "About" page is devoted to their detailed "Policy on Hostile Conduct/Harassment at Conferences". What does it say about a group when so much attention needs to be directed towards the simple act of keeping things civil?

I'm trying to imagine the IANDS site, for example, having to lecture its members about hostile conduct. (Maybe a single sentence would do: Please behave in a manner that will reflect well in your Life Review.)

I also like this little bit of cheerleading on their page: IT'S TIME TO GET EMPIRICAL.


The Church of Randi and Dawkins. Everyone needs a god I guess...even the skeptics

Bruce, you missed out the rest of it!

It’s time to get empirical
Cos I’m so intellectual
I hate the supernatural
Because it’s quite unthinkable.

I’m very evangelical
About the biochemical
And know my mind is physical
Exactly like my testicle.

I’m very evangelical
About the biochemical

I like that! :o)

@ Ben
Is that a hymn from the Church of Materialism you draw from? They don't call them hymns though, they call them "Hymans"...get it *groan*

Well George P. Hansen's expose on the skeptics -- I think this is structural misogyny that goes even deeper as Professor David F. Noble exposed in his book "World Without Women"

So scientifically speaking this is a dopamine problem -- as was pointed out in an earlier comment when the feminist says as a skeptic she enjoyed putting down people -- this clearly indicates a dopamine rush. Western science and secular society is based on the "win" as dopamine rush and the skeptics are just the cutting edge of this. Now Stanford's Robert Sapolsky has studied dopamine as per male physiology via his primate studies.

"What happens next, if you are male? You are having a terrific time with someone.
Maybe you are breathing faster, your heart rate has increased. Gradually parts of
your body are taking on a sympathetic [nervous system] tone....After awhile, most
of your body is screaming sympathetic while, heroically, you are trying to hold
onto the parasympathetic tone in that one last outpost as long as possible. Finally
when you can't take it anymore, the parasympathetic shuts off at the penis, the
sympathetic comes roaring on, and you ejaculate." Robert Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (Holt Paperbacks, 2004), p. 124.

So what happens is that sexual stimulation is a dopamine rush but for males the external ejaculation triggers a switch to the stress nervous system with a spike of cortisol as stress hormone. This creates a "positive feedback cycle" of addiction -- meaning the male goes to sleep and then wakes up wanting more dopamine. But each time it's worse as it just spikes more stress. The female climax stays in the parasympathetic nervous system as the vagus nerve connection to the cervix so that the dopamine then increases serotonin and then oxytocin as the heart love hormone.

If it stays in dopamine as with males then it increases violence and stress from cortisol. Sapolsky reveals the secret to "alpha males" is actually increased serotonin levels -- so the skeptics have it all wrong: scientifically.

Don't you think someone should tell them? ;)

There's an interesting blog post on The Daily Grail about the original elevator incident and some of the comments are quite interesting.

I found a comment by 'Red Pill Junkie' to be of particular note. He/she states that:

"Maybe, just *maybe*, this little incident will make the leaders of the modern atheist/skeptical community to take a long, hard look at themselves. Maybe they'll realize a large majority of their devoted followers decide to join their ranks for all the wrong reasons — not because they want to engage in critical thinking, but because rudeness is not only tolerated, it's encouraged... provided it's aimed at the other side."

That does seem to be true amongst some sceptics to an extent. Like 'Red Pill Junkie' says, some of the "leaders" and members of the sceptic community do seem to not just tolerate rudeness towards those they disagree with, but also encourage it.

I think most sceptics are decent people who genuinely want to know the truth of the world and how it works - but it does seem that the encouragement of sneering, ridicule and general bad manners towards the paranormal community may attract some people who simply want an excuse to engage in mockery and unpleasant behaviour towards those they consider beneath them.

Don't you think the common denominator here is the urge to bully? Weak people often gang-up together behind a thug whom they admire. It makes them feel strong. One of the very worst things one can do when in the company of such folk is to show any sign of vulnerability - which, unfortunately, is exactly what Rebecca did in revealing her anxiety about unwanted sexual advances. Likewise, those who have a leaning towards a belief in the afterlife are displaying their soft underbelly: they are speaking from the heart and leaving themselves vulnerable to ridicule from the pseudo-sceptic thought police.

It is for this reason that I so admire Eben Alexander for his willingness to stand, metaphorically, naked in front of the likes of Dawkins et al. To those who possess genuine strength of character, he will appear as the truly morally courageous man that he is. To the rest . . . . . well, let's just say that from them he can expect plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth; and those that have no teeth will just have to gnash their gums behind their more strident leaders.

"Is that a hymn from the Church of Materialism you draw from? They don't call them hymns though, they call them "Hymans"...get it *groan*"

Ray - Perhaps, but why not "hymens"- a thin membrane between this world and a darker one they only care to explore in elevators.

"Ray - Perhaps, but why not "hymens"- a thin membrane between this world and a darker one they only care to explore in elevators.W

Well, excuse me! Can we please cut out the sexism here.

Ps. Or I'll tear off your arm and beat you to death with the wet end. ;)

Lol my reference was to Ray Hyman not the female anatomy

You are forgiven. 8)

"Ps. Or I'll tear off your arm and beat you to death with the wet end. ;)"

Now that's sceptic talk!
(I was keen to stay on topic, inspired by your own vocabulary -"naked", "soft underbelly" etc ;-)

Steady on, old chap! I can see where all this is heading!!

Ultimately, we do NOT want to be negative towards "skeptics". They're utterly sincere about what they believe in, just like Christian Fundamentalists or Scientologists. And this may actually be very beneficial for the eventual verification - or otherwise - of spiritual experiences.

The fact is that "skeptics" are SO committed to atheistic materialism, that they will do absolutely ANYTHING to counter evidence for the existence of a spiritual dimension to existence.

And this is actually very, very valuable. Take "psi", for example. The "skeptics" will find the weak points in any experimental evidence - which will result in more tightly-controlled experiments next time.

The "skeptics" will inevitably find fault with the experimental method the next time round as well, and the next, and the next ..... until every possible, conceivable loophole has been closed apart from the patently absurd (and the "skeptics" will choose the patently absurd instead of the rational if it maintains their worldview.)

In this way, the "skeptics" may end up contributing greatly towards establishing the reality of psi - if it genuinely exists. (And it may not, of course; the "skeptics" could indeed be correct.)

In much the same way, I believe that Richard Dawkins will go down in history as the individual who triggered a renaissance of religion in the 21st century!

Why? Well, theology has had to "up its game" intellectually since the New Atheists appeared on the scene, and many sophisticated ideas have appeared which may eventally reconcile the scientific and religious (or maybe mystical) worldviews.

So rather than arguing with "skeptics", we should wish them well and leave them alone to pursue their own path. They will help to establish the truth behind spiritual experience, even if this truth turns out not to be what they expected and certainly not what they wanted.

"So rather than arguing with "skeptics", we should wish them well and leave them alone to pursue their own path. They will help to establish the truth behind spiritual experience, even if this truth turns out not to be what they expected and certainly not what they wanted."

I couldn't agree more, our Rupert! 8)

Also: it's actually no surprise really that skeptics are displaying their misogynist ways as "rigid rationality" can be traced to rejection of feminine (intuitional thinking/emotional development). And these skeptics certainly show a lack of mature emotional development.

"And these skeptics certainly show a lack of mature emotional development."

But is that, necessarily, their fault?

I begin to feel as if I'm mocking the afflicted. 8/

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