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Why I’ll never return to JREF Forum or The Amaz!ng Meeting


I loved the JREF Forum. I loved TAM. I met my husband at TAM and continued our relationship on the JREF Forum.

I’ve made plenty of friends at the JREF Forum and at the two TAMS I’ve attended.

But recently, I’ve had enough.

First, the Forum.

I made the mistake of voicing my opinion regarding the theme of the Skepchick party at this year’s TAM. I found the idea of a Wild West Bordello hosted by a women’s skepticism group a bit distasteful. I tried to make it clear that I am sex positive, that I think women should have a right to be sexy, but just that I thought it was not an appropriate theme for a party at an event where women are already in the minority. By dictating the role of the women (i.e. prostitutes, i.e. sex objects) they basically reduced the women in attendance to their sexuality alone. The suggestion in the fine print of the invitation that other costume ideas are encouraged, still doesn’t change the fact that the THEME ITSELF is necessitating that women sexualise themselves with their very presence at the party.  If the party were just “Wild West” themed and most of the women dressed as saloon girls or prostitutes, that wouldn’t bother me either. It leaves the option open and doesn’t necessarily sexualise all women who decide to attend. For me, it was the last straw with Skepchick. I don’t agree that the party girl image is effective in promoting skepticism. I think it’s nice someone’s out there saying “Skeptics aren’t all humourless old cranks” and but I don’t like that they are the most visible face of women in skepticism. They come across as cheerleaders to me, nice to look at, and I’m cheering for the same team, but I’d rather see more women players on the field. They come across to me as the popular girls in high school, and some are just as mean. (I think Heidi Anderson said it better than me in her blog.)This is not to say there aren’t some nice Skepchick people, but it’s the general image I have a the biggest problem with.

At any rate, by voicing my concern with this one issue, I stepped over the party line into the “against us” territory. I was labeled a hypocrite, a femi-nazi, a hater, anti-sex, anti-feminist. I was accused of being a troll, a drama queen and worse. Sure, I had a few people who were on my side, or who at least could understand my point of view, but the loudest, most obnoxious voices threw words at me that stung. My darling husband got into the fray to back me up, and after getting into several pointless arguments, he finally left the Forum forever. I followed soon after.

Second, TAM.

The Amaz!ng Meeting is expensive. Prohibitively expensive. I live in Australia now and getting together airfare alone is obscenely dear, and then there’s registration, hotel rooms, etc. I thought that the upcoming TAM Oz would be nice, but the cost of registration alone is insane, add to that the hotel room again and there is no way we could afford it. But when I think about the event itself, I don’t really feel the need to go again. My first TAM was truly amazing. It was the first time I was in a room full of skeptics, young, old, men, women. It gave me the sense of belonging I had only ever previously experienced at Church Camp. I made new friends and met my husband. It was fantastic. The next one, not so much. I saw it for what it had become: less a place to learn or get new strategies to teach critical thinking to the public, less about the work of doing skepticism, but a place to rub elbows with the skeptical celebrities. It was a place to see Penn and Teller, or the Mythbusters. The first time around, that was cool, but I’ve DONE it already now. I don’t need to do it again.

I attended the Global Atheist Convention this year. It was the same feeling I had at my first TAM, but instead of some pointless talks by the Skeptical Elite, there were interesting, varied talks about philosophy, social issues and science. It was inspiring in a way that TAM no longer was.

And so, I don’t need to go back.

This year, I see at TAM there are some good workshops and events that I hope will produce some positive things, and I’m glad that is building a profile as an alternative to Skepchick’s “smart is sexy” image of women in skepticism.  But I won’t be there.

I hope all my skeptic buddies will still be my friends, but I’m ready to let go of my cherished JREFf community.

  1. 21/06/2010 6:25 am

    Thank you for this brave post. I would have a blog entry about the Skepchick party theme myself if it was not announced when I simply could not spend significant time writing. As you know, criticisms like this often spark discussion which cannot be ignored. I promise you, however, I will be writing soon about some of the things you discuss here and other issues I think are somewhat related – if not before TAM, certainly shortly thereafter.

    Regarding TAM, I there have been TAMs which have seemed more like a party at which some of the attendees seemed to think that anyone whose forum name was not displayed more prominently on their name tag than their real name was crashing. If every TAM felt like that, I would have stopped attending a long time ago, even though it is within driving distance for me.

    Although I feel that the sense of community is a wonderful reason to go, my primary purpose is to discuss the activism and education to which we profess to be committed. The atmosphere should remain professional in nature if the movement and its self-identified members are to be taken seriously. This is not a limit on personal expression or “fun”, but rather a culture of mature, respectful, and rational people who have gathered to discuss important work. There is plenty of free time in the evenings for drunken debauchery or whatever floats everyone’s boat.

    Funny, Dragon*Con is about outreach (not a skeptics convention), people wear incredibly silly costumes to their talks, no less, and yet the culture there is 5x more professional than what I saw among audience members at TAM5, despite what I think was a stellar line-up of speakers. The difference? Boudaries. No mixed messages.

    Although I think that JREF has tried to accommodate both people like myself and those who are there to have fun with friends, I have seen an effort on their part to maintain a minimum level of professionalism and I hope it continues.

    • 26/08/2011 8:30 pm

      I’m sure the “bordello” was added on for the same reason the male blues dancers put on pajama dances. It puts everyone one physically and mentally one step closer to the bedroom. This one has the foul odor of a cry for attention for extra charm. Some of us have ways of being noticed outside of being a party girl and would rather not have that shoehorned into TAM weekend.

      I actually had no idea what the theme was for last year’s party before reading this, and when I read the first sentence criticizing it here I stopped to question it in my head before reading any more opinion. I imagined what it would be like to go into that party, a 22-year-old girl dressed how I like to dress – corset, boots, dark lipstick – in a room mostly packed with nerdy older men. Tack on an official slut theme and those who would hit on me politely now have no reason to not overtly make prostitute jokes (anything to get her talking about sex). Which are cute the first few times but quickly become grating as it becomes clear I am boner fodder and not a sophisticated young writer with a knack for fashion among a crowd of intellectuals who take notice of me for my visibly distinctive persona. (I know that was a pile of compliments for myself, but it’s supposed to be wishful thinking for how I’d want to be seen.) I have no way to know that that’s what would have happened, but it would be the millionth time if it did.

      Bottom line: Men in large groups with alcohol frequently and clumsily hit on the minority of young, confident, well-dressed women as it is. We don’t need to add carte-blanche to the mix, socially lubricating to some as it may be. It puts young, precocious women who desperately covet their intellect (because no one will give anything but their college-aged boobs the time of day) in a position where the likelihood of conversation going beyond calculating corset “mishaps” probabilities is slim to nill. It’s really discouraging; I have a hard enough time defending my refusal to choose between getting taken seriously and the shade of lipstick that makes me the spitting image of my kickass late grandma (herself a fierce writer, lindy hopper and world-class dresser). But getting it from the one group of intellectuals I count on to recognize and value substance too would be heartbreaking. Who else is there after that? I know it’s just a party, but it’s the biggest social event of the weekend. Come on. Talk about creating an encouraging environment for women in skepticism.

      We’re not asking to put limitations into place. We’re requesting that they not knowingly INVITE unfortunate social situations for those who fight an uphill battle to enjoy every other non-superficial/non-sensual aspects of the party. Some are there to sit through lectures and then get drunk and flail-dance in prostitute costumes so they’ll get hit on all night at a party. I’m there to nurture ideas and profound social connections.

  2. 24/06/2010 1:46 am

    Still (newly) your friend.

    Wagon circling sucks. I know. I have tried to raise issues about critiquing aspects of our movement, and been told I was doling out personal attacks, and then personally attacked with surprising venom.

  3. 24/06/2010 2:03 am

    I have been asking myself the question of how to best promote skepticism. Now I love going to big meetups and would dearly love to go to TAMOZ this year but I think its worth stepping back and asking if this is the best thing to do for skepticism, for spreading critical thinking. I think of the cost of the event, the money shelled out for it, the tremendous strain it puts on organizers needs to be weighed against the gains.

  4. 29/06/2010 10:51 pm

    Thank you for speaking up against what I agree may indicate at the occurrence of a fundamental flaw within areas of skepticism. Not only in the inappropriate and uncalled-for use of sexuality in the portrayal of skepticism by some of its publicity-wise leading women, but in the existence of pockets of social hierarchies, of which the JREF Forum is one, that fiercely defend select personal opinions and battle opposing views, held in place not by the true values of skepticism, but by some of the actually unfit individual members that try to entitle themselves to carrying the proud title of skepticism.

    By no means should women, in the field of skepticism, feel the need to resort to the use of sexually suggestive symbolism as a means of trying to earn representation within the skeptical movement. Skepticism, perhaps more so than any other movement, is based on placing value on critical thinking, making it inherently non-discriminative in its foundation.

    Something similar happened to me earlier this year. After spending some time with mentalist and skeptic Mark Edward he decided to write a blog about how women in woo throughout history have used their sexuality as a weapon against men in skepticism Without explicitly expressing it, although later admitting to it, his blog entry was inspired by his idea that this applied to me. As a female Skeptic who happens to have a paranormal claim, I bring into the skeptical community a paranormal claim and its ensuing controversy as I wish to engage in its investigation with the skeptical community. My investigation is sophisticated and contains none of the elements suggested by Mark. I was highly offended by his degrading, unflattering and inaccurate remarks, yet received no support from the skeptical community when I spoke up against what indeed was a mild form of sexual harassment by a representative member of the skeptical community. My attempts at self-defense were dismissed, simply because Mark was a high-end skeptic, and I regarded as a woo.

    Skepticism, and in particular at its amateur, at-home level of participation, often becomes populated by the strongly opinionated, who wish to use our valued skepticism as their personal platform, using all its arsenal of righteousness to defend views that often are their own personal ones, rather than ones derived through the skeptical method of humility, tolerance, and objectivity. Social hierarchies and pecking orders form around these bully-type persons, and opinions that go against the locally appearing personal opinions of its most charismatic members, are fought down and violently quieted, often with the use of personal attacks, slander, insults, and what ever other hostile means necessary, similar to what goes on at the school playground among children.

    Skepticism is nourished by the continued inflow of new ideas and by the open and respectful debate, such that skepticism may continue to attempt the selection of the very best truths out of the many that are suggested, yet in many areas of skepticism, it becomes abused by the simply vulgar and opinionated.

    I know of a skeptical group which is headed by someone who happens to be a rather vulgar personality, who brings all of her personal qualities when she intends to represent skepticism for a group through the resulting unflattering drinking get-togethers. I do not attend.

    I once commented on when two JREF Forum members were displaying Nazi symbolism in their Avatar images. When the Forum as a whole rejected my objections, I even went as far as writing to the Forum management, whose opinion was that no rules were violated. I found the supposedly fun and cheerful use of such strong and obnoxious symbolism highly offensive and inappropriate in the context of Skepticism. I was attacked for having opposed the behavior of popular Forum members.

    On the amateur level, popularity in skepticism is often earned by those with offensive and intimidating personality traits, similar to the pecking orders that form around schools and in other areas of societies. Whereas on the higher, and often academic layers of skepticism, there does occur a form of elitism, in which a highly regarded and popular skeptic is entirely entitled to making serious blunders, such as when referring to soybean powder and vitamin C as forms of woo (Brian Dunning, in his Here Be Dragons). As a student of chemistry, I opposed, and was quickly fought down by his blind supporters who act like around the emperor with invisible clothes.

    I would encourage you not to abandon skepticism simply because of poor representation by some of its members, and for you to take your good values and common sense with you and grant this to skepticism as you become one of its more dignified representatives. Skepticism needs to be defended sometimes even against some of its own members, and you should not be discouraged by the intimidation by its bully-type personalities, nor by the corruption and elitism of some of its most popular characters.

  5. uncayimmy permalink
    01/07/2010 4:19 pm

    I, too, spoke out about the party, and I was met with derision. It was a decidedly unskeptical discussion. It’s interesting that I should see this blog today because I had just (out of curiosity) decided to check out Rebecca on the JREF Forums.

    I had heard the name mentioned a number of times, so I wanted to see her contributions in the trenches, so to speak. She posted there nearly 7,000 times before being banned for acting like an adolescent. Do you know how many posts she had in General Skepticism and the Paranormal? A mere 124. Science? 130. Religion and Philosophy? 140.

    How in the hell did she become some Skeptic Guru? Well, it ties into what you describe about the forums and TAM. It’s about popularity. She spent most of her time hanging out in Community, chatting it up and goofing around. She’s undoubtedly fun and somewhat charismatic. She certainly did NOT rise to the top (so to speak) for her insight and skeptical approach to things.

    Truth is, the JREF Forums have become (or maybe they always were) too much about friendships and hanging out and too little about skepticism and critical thinking. It’s actually hard to become popular as a critical thinker because all too often it means going against the grain and questioning sacred cows, like the Skepchick party. There’s definitely an “in” crowd there. It’s not too hard to get accepted so long as you play along and don’t actually approach things skeptically.

    I haven’t gone to a TAM and don’t plan to, and I base that primarily on what I see on the forums. I don’t see stories about how much people learned or how inspired they were. I hear about parties, drinking and making friends. At best that should be secondary, and for me personally, it’s not really something that interests me.

    If you take a look at the TAM and Community Forums (and Humor), you will find a number of members who quite literally post nowhere else. A very large percentage of people posting in Community make probably 75% of their posts there, rarely venturing out to the important forums like GS&P, Science, Religion, or the Million Dollar Challenge.

    It’s more a social club than a forum to discuss skepticism, critical thinking, the paranormal and science in a friendly and lively way (like it says at the top of every page). In fact, Community is the single busiest forum in terms of posts. Humor has more posts than at least 20 other forums on the board. I think that says a lot about the board and TAM.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with friendships and a sense of community, but that shouldn’t be the focus.

    P.S. For those who are not familiar with Anita Ikonen (who wrote the post above), she thinks she’s a 300 year old part alien, part breatharian from Arcturus who thinks she can see inside the human body, read minds and cure migraines among many other crazy claims you can read about here:

    • noblecaboose permalink*
      02/07/2010 9:20 am

      The main contribution Rebecca has made to skepticism is in creating the Skepchick website and co-hosting The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. Skeptic’s Guide was one of my first introductions to skepticism, and I have Rebecca to thank for getting me involved in the first place.
      I don’t think it’s fair to judge her based on her post count on the JREF. If I were to do that, I’d definitely be calling the kettle black. I admired her, at first, as someone who actually went out and made herself into a celebrity of sorts in the skeptical community.
      Over the last few years, my idea of what constitutes a valuable contribution to the skeptical movement has changed. I think it’s more impressive that there are people out there doing actual work, and Rebecca’s image deteriorated into basically being skepticism’s answer to Paris Hilton, (a party girl who is famous basically for being famous). One thing I will say for her, is that she’s a hell of a marketer and she’s got the savvy to know how to sell herself (in a marketing way, not a prostitute way). And she can be very funny and clever. And she looks like me. 🙂
      For a lot of people, the JREF forums are a social place to talk about whatever with people who share similar beliefs. I don’t see anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s a very valuable thing and personally, I think it’s kind of the point of having a forum. It’s when that safe space is no longer safe, and people feel bullied when they voice a dissenting opinion, that I have a problem with.

    • noblecaboose permalink*
      02/07/2010 9:29 am

      Please note that posting that ‘P.S.’ and that link is very close to being bullying. This is not the forum for ‘debunking’ other commenters. That wasn’t necessary. She was being very polite and not making any of her paranormal claims here. I thought she had some good points, and it’s nice to get the perspective of someone who isn’t necessarily part of the movement. We can learn a lot about how to better communicate and reach out to people on the ‘other side’ if we listen to their experiences, no matter how kooky her claims may be.

      • 07/08/2010 7:32 am

        I found uncayimmy’s postscript quite relevant, actually. To quote Anita: “As a female Skeptic who happens to have a paranormal claim, I bring into the skeptical community a paranormal claim and its ensuing controversy as I wish to engage in its investigation with the skeptical community.”

        After I read that, I very nearly asked her what exactly her paranormal claim is, so I’m glad uncayimmy offered the answer. I think there’s a relationship between Anita’s unorthodox beliefs and her sense of rejection from the skeptical community. I also think this relationship may be entirely fair.

    • noblecaboose permalink*
      02/07/2010 11:28 am

      Oh and you have made some valid points. I don’t want to seem as if I am picking on you.
      I just remembered one of the things that first started to bug me about Ms. Watson. At my first TAM, I went to the ‘Skepchick Pajama Party’ which was a ‘ladies only’ gathering (though some men did show up). It was different from the Forum Party which was hosted by Rebecca, but I still expected to see Rebecca there, since she was a prominent female in the movement and she was THE Skepchick. What I found out was that the men were having a “Scotch and Cigars” party at the same time for men only, as a counter-party to the all female Skepchick Pajama Party. The year I attended, Rebecca didn’t even make an appearance at the pajama party, preferring instead to crash the men’s party and hang out with the boys, who were her clear fan base. I found it incredibly rude of her, as it devalued the women’s party and it also showed that she was more interested in being the token girl than part of a group of women. Far from being interested in bringing more women into skepticism, she seemed to just wanted to be fawned over by drooling men.
      I’m glad I went to the pajama party. I met some wonderful women and had a great time, and also got to hang out with Hemant Mehta (one of the men who crashed the party) who I have come to admire a great deal as a positive voice in skepticism and outreach.

  6. 02/07/2010 3:16 am

    Anita, I have no opinions on your claims (paranormal things are not my particular interest) but I know that I came down very hard on Mark Edward for his horribly sexist post. Some other friends of mine did as well.

  7. uncayimmy permalink
    02/07/2010 12:15 pm

    Sorry, but I don’t buy into the notion that people can be “bullying” via blog comments or forum posts. It’s a level playing field – words against words. If there’s an “imbalance of power” (the crucial element of bullying), where is it?

    I pointed out who she was and linked to a site talking about her, just as if she were the mayor of Idaville or producer on Mythbusters. Your response is an emotional one. Trust critical thinkers to take the information (I posted no opinion about her, just the truth) and act accordingly.

    You should also get your facts straight. You say she didn’t talk about her claims, but she did specifically mention having a “paranormal claim” and some well designed “investigation.” She links to a blog about herself. It’s the same self-promotion she’s been engaging in for years.

    It’s interesting that you would play into her “bullying” comment considering that Miss Ikonen was banned from the JREF Forums for repeated personal attacks and harassing the admins. She was banned from my board for that as well. When it comes to the people who disagree with her, she has threatened lawsuits repeatedly, harassed them by phone and e-mail, and even contacted employers of those who anger her. That, my friend, is bullying. As a critical thinker, I would think you would appreciate the facts being known rather than hidden.

    As for the pot calling the kettle black, the truth is the truth. Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I disagree vehemently that skeptics “need” some sort of on-line community where they can joke around and talk about their cats. It doesn’t advance skepticism in any way that I can see. As I tried to point out to you, the least skeptical members of the board hang out in Community while the ones who make the most effort to engage claimants, explain statistics, and reveal the truth about what science says about things like vaccines barely ever post in Community.

    Skeptics spend far too much time preaching to the choir. Skeptical blogs all link to one another, and everyone loves to pat themselves on the back. Few make the effort to take the fight into the trenches where a real difference can be made.

    Critical thinking is contagious, but we have to expose people to it one at a time. Unfortunately, far too much time is spent with skeptics yacking it up with skeptics about unimportant and even trivial topics.

    • noblecaboose permalink*
      02/07/2010 5:08 pm

      I disagree with you about some of that. However, I do agree with your last two paragraphs.

      I apologise if I offended you by calling it bullying, but I felt your statement was an unnecessary provocation. You posted “no opinion about her”? Sorry, but calling her claims “crazy” is an opinion. It’s an opinion I happen to agree with, but it wasn’t necessary. I do not think being critical of someone exempts one from being courteous or polite to them.

      The point of Ms. Ikonen’s post was about how her claim has been dealt with by members of the skeptical community, rather than about the claims themselves. She stated that she had a claim and linked to her site, which I went to and made a judgment on my own, without having to go to another site debunking her. It was pretty easy to see the problems with her claims and the unlikelihood of their validity. I wasn’t aware of her antisocial antics, but I’d rather not have people drag that kind of baggage into my comments area. She was being nice, didn’t piss on the carpet, I feel no need to throw her out of my party, even if she has ruined other peoples parties in the past. However, I’ll take your experiences into account, should things get nasty at all. I don’t want to provoke anyone here, you or her.

      Having a difference of opinion on the value of community does not mean I think you are “wrong” per se. We have different values. I hardly see the JREF as being a scholarly organisation. That is one of the problems with it. For an “educational foundation” it is much more focused on reinforcing its own community rather than actually trying to educate the public. As much as I’d like to see that change, I still see value in having a community of like minded people.

      I maintain that basing someone’s validity within the skeptical movement entirely on their post count on the JREF forum is not entirely fair. Some people do their work elsewhere and go to the JREF forums to “play.” They created those areas of the forum so that people would have somewhere to go to discuss other topics. If you’re not interested in those things, don’t go there. You have a point, though, that the Community area is where a lot of people like to sit around patting themselves on the back. Hence, why I left. For the record, I found when I did read or post in the more scholarly areas there was more nitpicking, back and forth nastiness and people trying fruitlessly to educate the willfully ignorant than I had patience for.

      I also think that calling it a “fight” is not productive. I think more can be done “in the trenches” but using the language and imagery of war just reinforces an us vs. them mentality that ultimately isn’t going to help get the message across. Outreach, education, these are not weapons in a war, but tools for building a bridge to welcome others into the light of critical thinking (I know, I’ve been guilty of using war words, myself; nobody’s perfect).

    • 03/07/2010 5:50 am

      I was making a comment, not as a paranormal claimant, nor in any promotion of my own investigation, but as someone with a great deal of experience of involvement with the skeptical community.

      I mentioned my paranormal claim briefly to show where my experience in skepticism comes from, but the context of my post was of course the fundamental flaws within the skeptical movement, that I believe are due to typical social phenomena by its participants, rather than being within the construct of skepticism. Rather than commercialize and exploit with my claim as most woos do, I investigate it carefully and together with skeptics, and my website is an open documentary on that process.

      The other elements that you mention, which by the way are entirely irrelevant to this blog commentary, are not things that I promote. You, Jim Carr/UncaYimmy, are the foremost promoter of the irrelevant fact that I do consider myself to be a Star Person, something which does not detract from my opinions otherwise which should be taken for what they are, impersonal of gender, race, age, religious beliefs, and other personality characteristics which are protected forms against discrimination. Your attempts at using my personal life against my paranormal claim reminds me of when Brandon Thorpe resorted into name-calling about whether his chosen woo Chip Coffey is gay Totally irrelevant to resort to personal attack of this form, especially when our beloved James Randi is gay, proving that personal matters neither add or detract from the quality of thoughts and ideas. My comment in that blog urging the two to reconcile and engage in civil discourse resulted in negative votes by the skeptical readers, who I thus assume are rather enjoying this form of harassment against paranormal claimants.

      Personal attack, including as well your many comments about my weight and appearance Jim, does nothing to detract from the claims, but rather comes to portray skepticism as something negative. Skeptical battle is won with good arguments, not comments of a personal nature that were intended to harm.

      The reason I was banned from the JREF Forum was for defending myself. Repeated posts were being made by Forum members with specific accusations, not suggestions, of mental illness against me. Since I am certifiably not afflicted by those conditions, accusations of such come across as they also probably were intended, as personal attack. My objections against these were denied, so to illustrate the inappropriateness of making mental health accusations against Forum members, all I did was simply to link to a post where one of these Forum members discusses her own issues with schizotypal disorder. Other JREF Forum members are permitted to make rude and unfounded accusations against my mental health when they run out of arguments against my claim, but I am not allowed to link to a post where one of these Forum members discusses her own and admitted mental health disorder. This illustrates a clear example of the corruption that lies within the management of the JREF Forum, which is run more like a social club, rather than being the representation of skepticism which it once pledged to be.

      As for being banned from Jim Carr’s Forum, I merely pointed out that a member of his Forum was behaving inappropriately by posing in her position as a member of the staff of our school – which she was – and gossiping from faculty meetings and making up lies that I would have flirted with a professor and for personal insults against my appearance, conduct which is prohibited by our school rules. All I said was that I would bring this up with the school administration, which I did. Jim then banned me for posting “threats against Forum members”. Meanwhile Jim permits any amount of personal attack against me in his Forums.

      Meanwhile, Jim Carr is frequently suspended from the JREF Forums for various forms of inappropriate behavior, some of which I agree is justifiable grounds for suspension, and others that I find to be just strange. Jim Carr is an outspoken individual, and has made some comments critical of the JREF foundation, a possible source of some of the unfair treatment against him as well. The JREF Forum comes across as not a place of skeptical debate, but a place for personal relations and social hierarchies. By the way Jim Carr makes good points relating to this in his above post.

      As for harrassment over the phone, I called Jim Carr when his Forum was portraying me as a racist against black people. As the owner of that Forum I needed to contact him to ask it to stop. I was very upset, it breaks my heart what black people have gone through, and I do not wish to be construed as being part of the also ongoing discrimination against people, especially when such allegations are entirely unfounded. The seriousness of racial discrimination, makes false accusations of this nature among the most hurtful.

      The only time I did contact an employer of a forum member, was that one instance when I did have a meeting with the school administration regarding the inappropriate behavior of a staff member who was engaging in Jim Carr’s Forum. Meanwhile, Jim Carr and several other Forum Skeptics have contacted persons in my personal space, including persons at my school and personal friends of mine, something which I find both offensive and violating.

      Jim Carr is blinded by his visions of aspiring to be the next Robert Lancaster, and as he says in the JREF Forum, he knows that I am not a Sylvia Browne, nor does he care. I am of a rare if not otherwise nonexistent form of woo that investigates the claims and together with skepticism and does nothing to exploit or harm. If Jim Carr were to target his focus on any of the more plentiful of harmful woos he could accomplish wonders. Perhaps he is too embarrassed to change course now.

      I will be attending my first TAM this year and am excited to mingle with the skeptical community and absorb some skepticism, through osmosis if not otherwise. So far I have received an overwhelmingly positive welcome from its other attendees, making it more pleasant as a paranormal claimant to put the fate of my paranormal claim into the hands of skepticism, hoping that the outcome be based on skepticism, not personal agendas or personal opinions.

  8. uncayimmy permalink
    02/07/2010 7:19 pm

    I apologize if you believe I was attempting to get into a mud-slinging discussion in your comments area, but I stand by my assessment that her ideas are crazy as not being opinion but fact: she is not a 300+ year old alien who can live without food and water and who can see inside the human body. To call it anything else is to lend credibility where none is due. Her website conveniently leaves out most of the outrageous claims she has made as she presents herself as some sort of skeptic.

    Furthermore, she is complaining about being treated unfairly regarding Mark Edwards blog about sexuality in the seance room. My website documents how Miss Ikonen has used sexuality to her advantage by making false claims about myself (claiming I solicited nude pictures of her) as well as calling me an adulterer. At the same time she lies when she denies repeatedly flirting with me in a sexual nature. You won’t find that information on her website, which is why I linked to mine.

    As for the term “bullying” I take great offense to that term. I have dealt with bullies on behalf of those less able since I was a kid and continue to do so. I have read extensively about bullying (including scholarly studies in PubMed), and it’s defined as repeated “abuse” using a real or perceived imbalance of power. What I did and what I do is not bullying in the least. Holding strong opinions and stating them forcefully and consistently is not bullying.

    While you may have a more gentle approach to skepticism and critical thinking, I do not. What I find most frustrating is that those such as yourself criticize those of us who take a stronger, more aggressive and active stand. I don’t criticize your type of approach. I believe the criticism people like myself receive is based on emotion, not results.

    The majority of people I want to reach are in the middle. I do not believe it’s a good idea to give them the impression that there are “two sides” to the story, which is what they hear from in the media. People need to hear how ridiculous and downright dangerous and harmful some of these beliefs are. They need to have their beliefs challenged strongly. Sometimes the best reaction is when somebody is bound and determined to prove me wrong, but in the process of putting together a sound argument, they finally do the research and ask the right questions.

    There are plenty of “I’m ok, you’re ok” people out there. We don’t need one more. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it doesn’t. When we’re talking about things where there is most certainly a right and a wrong, we don’t “vote” on the facts. Homeopathy does not work. Vaccines do not cause autism. Psychics are either deluded or fraudulent. There’s no middle ground.

    Building bridges sounds good, but where has it gotten us? It gives us Discovery Channel showing Mythbusters and Ghost Hunters back to back. It gives us school systems thinking it’s a good idea to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution. It gives us mainstream press calling it a “debate” over vaccines and autism.

    I think the woos of the world should be very afraid of being called on the carpet for their ideas. They should worry about strong, relentless challenges. You see, they want to build bridges, too, only their bridges often lead to death and misery. I want the bystanders to think, “Why is this guy so forceful?” People like to argue that the message gets lost, but where’s that evidence?

    My wife is on a couple of private discussion boards for mothers (based on the month of birth) where these ladies got together during pregnancy. I’ve become the go-to guy when there’s woo floating around. I’ve written blogs and rebuttals for her. Sure, some get a little pissed, but you know what? People still say, “why don’t you ask your husband about it?” My friends come to me with things that sound dubious.

    The reailty is that many people do listen. People learn a lot from heated debates. I’m not interested in converting hardcore woos because there’s little chance I’ll succeed. But I know very well that lots of lurkers follow the discussions.

    If you want to engage differently, that’s your prerogative. I won’t criticize you for it. Not everyone is wired to approach things like I do, and it would be unwise to try to fake it. Likewise, it’s unwise for me not to be something I’m not.

    As for the “post count” thing, I don’t seem to be making my point very well. How did someone like Rebecca become “popular” among the skeptics on the JREF? From what I can tell, it wasn’t by setting a great example of through applied skepticism – that’s simply not possible with her post counts. What I am illustrating is just how much of a social club the JREF and the so-called Skeptical Movement really is.

    Were you ever active in a church or any type of club that had a purpose other than being social? If so, you probably saw a lot people who were there for the pot-luck dinners, dances, and field trips. They paid basic lip service to being a believer or otherwise promoting the values of the group, but they, at the risk of being accuses of the True Scotsman fallacy, weren’t “real” members.

    The difference between a “woo” and a skeptic is not what they believe, but how they arrived at that belief. I see on the JREF and other skeptical sites far too many people who are what I consider woos with skeptical beliefs. On the JREF they are given a safe haven – believe the right stuff and joke around with the crowd, and you’ll be okay. If you challenge beliefs – the heart of skepticism – you’ll be rejected and even ostracized if you challenge the wrong ideas or people.

    Again, I’m sorry if these comments have gone in a different direction than you intended. I have nothing personal against you. If you’re ever in Phoenix, let me know, and I’ll buy you a drink. I’m actually a really nice guy. I also have a big ego, but that’s just part of my charm!

  9. R.J permalink
    10/11/2010 12:26 am

    Quick history lesson: Sheila Gibson is the first recorded woman in the skeptical movement who insisted on being “the skepchick.” She, along with people then-school girl Emily Rosa, were premièred in the 1999 calender the SkepChicks, a response to the calender “the Studmuffins of Science.” It shows females of all ages (although, yes, caucasian but that’s another issue) .
    So far as I know, Sheila is still active in the skeptical movement.
    Should take you to the first calender ever that bore the Skepchick name with pride and respect.
    And yes, it was edited by a man, David Palmer

    “I see on the JREF and other skeptical sites far too many people who are what I consider woos with skeptical beliefs”
    I have observed that people adopt philosophical notion when there is a lot of emotion attached, and then are asked to defend rationally the conclusion they came to emotionally. Hard to do. Principals and beliefs, I think, are meant to guide us, but not be so unyielding that we can’t develop as people instead of become more dogmatic.

    • librarylady623 permalink
      06/08/2011 6:32 am

      I was Miss June on the original Skepchick calendar in 1998.

      I can’t comment much here, as I’m at work, but the bordello party distressed me. I didn’t attend, and felt much as Anita and Noblecaboose did.

  10. Soapy Sam permalink
    28/05/2011 4:40 pm

    “Opinion” is “onion” with (pi) added to make it look logical. In fact , the layers of an onion indicate less complexity than regularity and growth.
    We all have opinions and they are all valid, from our point of view and more or less so to others.
    Fact is something quite different.

    The fact is, JREF and the forum has been important in raising awareness of scepticism and putting like minded folk in touch. That no such organisation or website can be all things to all people goes without saying. You find what serves you and use it as such. When it changes, or you do, you find something else.

    I agree TAM is expensive. I also agree there is a sameness about meetings of sceptics as there is about any meeting of people with shared interest- much preaching to the choir goes on. Yes, some people attract attention by simply being attractive rather than for any other outstanding quality.
    I can’t find anything surprising in any of this.

    I doubt I’d do another TAM, but I did enjoy the experience. I find the low cost sceptic in the pub approach preferable to the big bash myself. Perhaps that’s the way forward.
    Is TAM significantly pricier than other such events? I have nothing to make a factual comparison.

  11. blobru permalink
    16/07/2011 1:28 pm

    Any comment on “Elevator-gate”? In hindsight, your concerns about the direction the Skepchicks were headed in seem quite prophetic (not to suggest you have any woo powers of course) and to have been vindicated, if their current stance against being sexualized means they would now be against the Bordello theme, that is. Who knows. I get the impression they’re not terribly eager to revisit and clarify the issue at the moment.

    Was sorry to learn that you and your husband had left the JREF forum. Used to enjoy reading posts from you both very much.

    • 16/07/2011 2:19 pm

      I refuse to weigh in on that particular teapot tempest, as I think my views on it should be fairly easy to guess and others have said it better than I.
      My views on what I see as appropriate etiquette at cons was covered in my ‘how to compliment a woman without sexualising her’ post, long before this entire fiasco so I don’t think I have much to contribute beyond linking to what I’ve been saying for quite a while.
      I could say “I told you so” I suppose, but I really don’t see any value in that.

      • blobru permalink
        16/07/2011 3:35 pm

        …don’t see any value in saying “I told you so”??? Does athon know he’s married to a saint!!! 😉

        Thanks for your reply.

  12. Aratina Cage permalink
    13/11/2011 2:51 am

    By dictating the role of the women (i.e. prostitutes, i.e. sex objects) they basically reduced the women in attendance to their sexuality alone.

    This is completely disingenuous. That is not what they did. It was a costume party and the theme was Wild West Bordello. It wasn’t dictated that you had to dress a certain way any more than any other costume party would have been. Take a look at actual photos from the party. Not everyone had a costume, and no one was being a real prostitute or a real john. I really can’t believe how worked up people got over this. It’s also supremely hypocritical for the very people so hostile to Watson at the moment post-Elevatorgate to be pointing to this post when the main objection here is this:

    I think women should have a right to be sexy, but just that I thought it was not an appropriate theme for a party at an event where women are already in the minority.

    It’s all about what is proper for women to do, never mind that we are talking about an after-event party.

    • 24/11/2011 9:26 am

      The theme was ‘Bordello’. What is the role of women in a bordello? Prostitutes. That is the unstated expectation.

      You clearly disagree with my objections, but I know for a fact this kind of thing does alienate a good portion of the female skeptics – they’ve told me so themselves. I never said anyone was actually being prostituted, that would be silly, but for an organisation with the potential to make the skeptical movement more inclusive of females, I think the theme of the party was a big misstep. When I raised my objections I got such a hate-filled misogynist response, it made it very clear that some skeptics are out to keep it a boy’s club, with only hot, DTF ‘skepchicks’ allowed, no feminists need apply.

      If people are pointing to this post Elevatorgate, I agree they are being hypocritical. What are they saying, exactly, “Rebecca’s a hypocrite because look at ((this))”?
      That’s bullshit. I think everyone should have the right to learn and to change their tune.
      I certainly would have been on the other side of this about 5 years ago. ‘It’s all just for fun’ blah blah blah.
      And yes, I realise it was a party. It was not officially associated with the JRef, but most JRef forum members would likely attend. However, the response from JRef members made it clear that my voice was not welcome. THAT was my problem.
      I completely avoided the whole Elevatorgate fiasco because I had experienced some of the same abuse as when this incident happened. Same shit, different chick.


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