On admitting error

June 2, 2015 • 3:00 pm
It is a fact universally acknowledged that an error, once discovered, must be admitted and made public—especially when you are a scientist or a skeptic, for what is skepticism but winnowing away the error to find truth?

Hemant Mehta (the “Friendly Atheist”) is to be commended for pointing this out on an issue that has been extremely corrosive and inflammatory on atheist websites; so corrosive that many, myself included, chose not to write about it at all. I’ve deliberately refrained from accusing others of criminal acts, harassment, and the like on this site, for I feel that serious accusations like these are properly adjudicated by the authorities—usually courts of law—rather than by the commentariat of blogs, who, inflamed by rhetoric, often bay for blood.

But there comes a time, and the time is now, when those who traffic in such accusations must be called to account, particularly when they’ve erred, tarred someone’s reputation, and then, when their accusations prove to be false, quietly ignore them rather than admit error. This behavior is shameful and reprehensible, and Hemant properly calls it out. Go read his piece.

139 thoughts on “On admitting error

  1. I’ve been reading the comments. Lots of excuses.

    1) accusing someone of stalking and assault is just a “misunderstanding”

    2) she had to have been pressured into signing, therefore, the accused is still “guilty”

  2. I agree. Legal systems are far from perfect and there are a lot of injustices that are not dealt with properly as a result.

    But trial by media (or blog) is a disaster every time.

    1. This is why if bloggers are contacted by people who accuse other of crimes they shouldn’t post sensationalistic pieces about the next scandal du jour.

  3. As a lawyer, I have to craft mutual settlement releases all the time. Ones where neither party admits any allegation made by the other. They’re often not as simple as they might sound.

    But this one struck me immediately as odd. It doesn’t say that there are no admissions, and it doesn’t say “he didn’t do it.” This “But it would be wrong for anyone to believe…” is just weird–neither fish nor fowl.

    Granted, this is a public statement for the blogosphere, and not a legal document. But it’s still just weird. Almost as if it were designed to raise more questions than it answers.

    1. Yes, it is quite puzzling. I’m guessing that they have come to an agreement that they want to drop the matter, but they still don’t agree on what actually happened, hence the tortured wording.

    2. Here is my expert legal analysis. After the acrimonious split, the accuser had a real problem with the fact that she was intimate with this person that she now loathed. This disgust and hatred might have provided sufficient motivation to misremember or fabricate certain details of their past. Knowing that her mere accusations would carry significant weight with certain parts of the blogosphere, she went ahead with a public smearing of the accused.

      Only there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support her accusations, and he fought back. But since her version of the situation has become the truth to so many people, she really has achieved her initial goals of revisionism and revenge. Signing this ambiguous statement stops the time-consuming legal wrangling, and does nothing to change the narrative of her as victim in most people’s minds. It’s not like anyone other than a few bloggers like Hemant will mention this settlement.

      It is win/win for her.

      1. There is a parallel to the Emma Sulkowicz “Matress Girl” case. She started to spread serious allegations against “Paul” (despite that she wrote him affectionately after the alleged incident). She didn’t want to involve the authorities however involved the university in this matter. This entailed that both, Paul and Emma could no longer publically say anything about the case. The gossip was still spreading, of course, to Pauls detriment. When the university closed the case “acquitting” Paul, Emma involved the authorities and in that case, names could be made public. Again, to the detriment of Paul. Now it could make news nationwide, together with her performance art. But soon afterwards, Emma retracted her report as she wasn’t interested in fighting it through. But the name and the allegation of course was “out” now. Mission accomplished.

        The belief system we now see, “social justice warriorism” treats especially controversial cases as a tenet of a belief system — the more controlversial, the better, for social justice warriors can show here how much more social justicer than thou they are. If this wasn’t controversial, you wouldn’t earn much SJ points with it.

        The real puzzling thing is: why is this possible in an — allegedly — atheist *skeptics* movement? Are American skeptics just Chupacabra, Bigfoot and Aliens debunkers? (I know I don’t make much friends with such views, but that’s how it looks like). It ought to be relatively simple. You know nothing, or little, so you reserve judgement corresponding to the confidence you can have.

        1. I have to say, when this first came out I was in Emma’s corner, especially since there were multiple accusers. But being more informed about the details, I now think that Emma is either extremely confused, mean-spirited, or a combination of both.

          The biggest problems with her case are: 1) she was unable to clear the relatively low bar of preponderance of evidence set by the University 2) she has been inconsistent in her details and appears to change her story when convenient, while Paul has pretty much given the same account of the incident from day 1 3) she flouted the University’s confidentially policy 4) the “multiple accusers” are not independent of each other, but in fact are buddies of Emma and were approached by her to make accusations about Paul. None of these accusations stuck, by the way.

          Paul seems to be an innocent guy who has been severely mistreated. And the University has not distinguished itself at all in this case.

            1. The larger issues of how Universities are dealing with the glut of sexual harassment, and even if there is a glut, are what interest me. The skewed coverage in favor of Emma is also enlightening as to whether the media is performing its duty to objectively report the facts of these matters.

              1. I guess I can see trying to figure it out in terms of evaluating general positions of policy. For example, while I don’t feel I have a huge duty to figure out whether a particular cop was justified in shooting a particular suspect, the general trends, and whether my sense is that cops are out of hand in their use of force, or are racist in their use of force, is something that does seem responsible to engage in. But it’s always risky, looking at these individual cases, since you’re inviting emotion to take over when statistics might be a more useful tool.

              2. Regardless of what you think either way about the Sulkowicz case, you should know that the media are not being objective, as they almost never are in any case.
                In all of the years I spent working as a producer and editor in TV and radio news, I very rarely saw anyone performing their duty to objectively report the facts. Narrative always wins out over the objective truth. There isn’t a news director in America that wouldn’t rather be wrong first than right second. They report the news (which in this context means the narrative which is most likely to produce ratings/clicks) as quickly as they can, then sort out the facts later.

        2. “Are American skeptics just Chupacabra, Bigfoot and Aliens debunkers? (I know I don’t make much friends with such views, but that’s how it looks like).”

          Not all, of course, but quite a few.

          To my mind, being a skeptic involves being skeptical about everything – social justice issues, gods of various kinds, bigfoot, and UFOs are all fair game.

          Of course, it’s possible to specialise and to focus on one issue or one area. But, a number of skeptics (particularly in the US), like to define certain things out of skepticism all together. Many, for instance, simply will not treat religion with the same skeptical attitude as they treat bigfoot. The same goes in certain circles for social justice issues, and there are some who think that we should always believe the victims side of the story by default, and to put aside (even if temporarily) matters of evidence, due process, and the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

          They put these things aside at their (and our) peril.

    3. Based on history and rumor it seems the oddity of the statement can be justified by “believing”

      1) Stollznow’s insurance paid for much of the suit
      2) She had 60K in addition to toss into the pile
      3) Her case was failing but she had money to drag it out for years
      4) A new kid increased her desire to settle
      5) Radford was running out of money
      6) Radford knows you can’t get blood from stones.

      So Radford could not get the complete public retraction he wants or your might advise but this sort of “shit happens in a bad breakup, mistakes were made, things were said, ignore and let’s move on” accomplishes most of what he wants.

      I am not a lawyer, I know none of these people, but the explanation above seems to explain the odd statement given the history as I’ve seen it unfold on idiot websites I spent too much time at.

    4. “But it would be wrong for anyone to believe…”

      Yes, the phrasing seems very odd. So does the lack of any notarization, witnesses signing, or so much as a date.

      I really don’t know what to believe.

    5. I’m grateful to Professor Ceiling Cat for keeping his website free of the kind of toxicity that has surrounded this series of back and forth allegations within a portion of the skeptical blogosphere – it’s a large part of why I read about science and religion here and not over there. However, I don’t know that we have been conclusively shown that there has been an error one way or the other. The joint statement or whatever it is doesn’t actually contain a retraction. It contains some oddly worded phrases signed under unknown circumstances that don’t really tell me anything concrete other than the desire of the two parties to move forward, assuming both signatures are in fact authentic and genuine.

      1. I’m grateful to Professor Ceiling Cat for keeping his website free of the kind of toxicity that has surrounded this series of back and forth allegations


        I had never even heard of these people before today (thank Ceiling Cat!!) And if I had, I’d have no interest in trying to judge, from the comfort of my couch, which of these people I should believe. That’s a stupid task, any way you slice it. There are people involved in this situation, people with knowledge, and people who might have some stake in it, including the law. I am not one of those people, nor are 999/1000 people on the internet.

        I’m constantly astonished that so many people feel it is not only their right to judge random people they encounter on the web, but some kind of duty.

        1. I had never even heard of these people before today

          Oh, how I envy you! Although, if not for their antics, I may have never discovered WEiT.

        2. “I had never even heard of these people before today”
          A pity. The Monster Talk podcast was really good, and Stollznow’s column for Skeptic magazine is always insightful and well-written.

        3. Absolutely. I’m hardly the most engaged atheist, so it’s hardly a surprise, but I’d heard literally npthing about these two apparently rather fucked up people.

          WEIT is the only site I frequent, partly because it’s free of the vicious in-fighting(which both sides seem to think only the other is guilty of) that makes for such a poisonous atmosphere at places like Pharyngula.

          I like to think I have no dog in this fight(although everybody thinks they’re uncommonly unbiased I know). It seems like quite a few of the bloggers mentioned in the Friendly Atheist article genuinely didn’t know, and if I were them I’d be pretty sceptical about such a nebulous statement too.

          I’m aware she’s not popular with some but I thought Rebecca Watson’s response was pretty reasonable. From what I can gather both parties come out of this pretty badly, with Stollznow appearing shifty and unreliable and Radford a bit of a misogynistic tosser. The basic problem seems to be that many bloggers took the lazy approach of deciding the guy’s guilt based on how much of a dickhead he was. This is enormously tempting, especially if you feel the constant need to establish your feminist credentials. It feels like taking up a position simply to remain neutral. As a result you get trials by twitter and people like Myers whose position on the matter has ossified to such an extent that this legal statement by the pair will only serve to entrench his position. His reply to The Friendly Atheist post was so instantly unpleasant, so blinkered and vitriolic I was almost compelled to think that his loudest critics have a point, until I remembered just how fabulously awful people like The Amazing Atheist and Thunderfoot, and their supporting cast of furtive, hateful misogynistic trolls, are.

          I really don’t know what’s going on with these two people. I differ from Jerry a little in that I don’t think this is an entirely clear-cut retraction by Stollznow, but I agree that it should at least have some bearing on one’s opinion of the guy’s crimes. More than anything I again thank my lucky stars, by which I mean the deterministic laws of physics, that I stumbled upon a relatively non-partisan, sane, friendly place to comment.

          1. “The basic problem seems to be that many bloggers took the lazy approach of deciding the guy’s guilt”

            I think the basic problem is that they took it upon themselves to decide his guilt. Whether they were lazy or not, that was a bad choice. It’ll be a bad choice tomorrow when someone else is accused of something too.

          2. I know you qualified your statement but still, you are accusing Radford of being a misogynist and a tosser.
            Got any evidence, or are you just going with, appears to be?

          3. You are very accusatory for someone who is not the most engaged atheist.
            I would suggest you are one of the most wrong atheists while you are still accusing Radford of being guilty of ‘crimes’ while venturing an absurd opinion of Thunderfoot and The Amazing Atheist, both of whom are careful reasoned reasonable speakers compared to the FTB types.
            They have thousand of supporters of all different stripes so painting them with such a nasty brush, which is not largely true, really only paints yourself as someone who’s opinion is not reason based, but a dogma driven, context free literalistic non understanding.

            Unfortunately it is this type of non thinking that is the current downfall of the illiberal non sceptical left.

    6. She can’t admit to lying. It could open her up to her former employer coming after her to recoup the cost of the initial investigation.
      Hence the odd language

    1. Nonsense. He makes truth claims in his post about things which are not stated in the document in question. “Stollznow now says the allegations weren’t true” – it certainly does not say that. Further, he seemed quite aggrieved that none of the bloggers who had posted about this story (which I do not recall ever hearing about before) had posted a followup – what? One thing seems clear from the comments here, this is an insignificant story. And why didn’t Mehta simply email the bloggers in question and say “Hey, did you hear about this?” – sounds awfully convenient that he “scooped” them and used the opportunity to call them out – in fact, having just read the responses from 2 of the bloggers in question, both plainly say they did not know about it until they were alerted to Mehta’s post. Does not seem like fair ball to me, and I don’t see how Mehta deserves any kudos for his half-baked sensationalist post.

      1. Sigh.

        As gluonspring noted, case studies are fraught with error, statistics is much better.

        To wit, you have no evidence for any of your claims made here. Asking for admitting to error, after a 2 week leeway in a matter that those bloggers once were so active in, is not trying to be “sensationalist” or trying to “scoop”. It is, as Jerry also notes, asking for everyone to do the sensible thing for the best of everyone.

        Whether or not the note is “insignificant” is iffy. Certainly the furor with which some react would seem to put it as significant. =D

        1. “Certainly the furor with which some react would seem to put it as significant. =D”

          Oops, pushed submit too early.

          I meant to note that this was sophistry for illustration. The real claim was in the sentence before.

        2. What I mean was that the entire issue is insignificant and my intent was to imply that these bloggers should not be expected to follow every story which they make a comment about over the last several years. And it would have been quite simple, if he were playing journalism, for Mehta to simply ask them for their response to the settlement. Instead, he posted what I consider a condescending attack on those bloggers.

      2. It may be an insignificant story to you but it was not an insignificant story to those involved and quite a few others ‘in the movement’.
        Some of those people had plenty to say on the matter, in direct attack on Radford, and as part of their disingenuous ongoing narrative. They unashamedly sided with Stollznow and accused Radford of sexual assault. Watson placed a highlighted paragraph stating just that in her blog.

        Hemant Mehta was correct in calling them out.

        You may think it is ‘insignificant’ being accused of, or accusing someone off, sexual assault, but it is not, and it behoves those who do to be extra aware of the truth of their statement.

  4. The older I get, the more naïve I feel. I had no idea that this sort of thing went on in the blogosphere. And frankly, I think you’re right to keep well away from it, Jerry.

    The whole affair looks like an adolescent slanging match in which neither side could possibly know who is right and who is wrong. Fertile ground for look-at-me grandstanders. Eek. x

    1. I think I’m too sensitive to follow the things that happen in the blogosphere. When I hear of scandals, I get really upset by them for some reason…funny because I don’t get as upset in real life. I think it is something that is disturbing about non meat world that freaks me out.

      1. @Diana MacPherson, I get uncomfortable with these online feuds also, partly because of the amplification/conflation effect that inevitably occurs. The result of this effect is nearly always polarization with loss of any chance of actual calm discussion about the initial event. There are past online storms that I won’t even mention out of concern that I would attract the attention of the peripheral intensifiers (that is, the trolls).

        1. I’m always amused by the fact that it was Pharygulans who put me onto “Mistakes Were Made–But Not by Me,” when they so often epitomize the author’s point.

      1. Then you’re doing it wrong. Seriously, you can learn a lot just following the right people on Tw***er. See comment #10 below for an example. Pinker often links to interesting articles. Field scientists post info and pictures on location. Astronauts tw**t from outer space. Social media can be informative and entertaining if you know what you’re doing.

    2. Eek indeed!

      [Said by a person who can’t even stand political analyses because they have so little fact and so much grandstanding. :-/]

    1. Rebecca Watson has had more than her fair share of web-crap to put up with, which may explain her defensiveness, but I found her description of the affair enlightening nonetheless. The man seems to have acted nastily in posting photos of the pair in bed, while the woman seems to have behaved even worse. Rebecca’s opinion, that two terrible people behaved badly, seems about right to me.

      1. I read both this response and the original and found neither enlightening. Both sound like basic character assassinations. These articles seem not at all concerned with whether or not some allegation is true or false, but rather whether certain people can be labeled as “terrible people” or not (He cut me off in traffic so obviously he’s a jerk, so who would be surprised if he assaulted someone?). Once on the “terrible people” list, specific guilt or innocence in any particular instance seems to be irrelevant. “Terrible people” deserve all the approbation and hardship that comes their way for being “terrible people”. If they didn’t do this specific thing, well, they did something else certainly.

        Maybe I’m missing the nuance, but that’s how this, and a whole lot of things I read in the so-called skeptics world come across to me.

        1. There is no nuance to miss. It is just the same juvenile, clique-oriented mentality you had hoped never to see again after high-school.

        2. That was roughly my reading of the articles too.

          Watson claimed that her earlier article was not much more than a neutral reporting of the facts, but it reads more like ‘I believe the accusations, without evidence, because I think the guy is a jerk’.

          Watson then goes on to say that she’s glad his name is out there, because he’ll suffer professionally and socially, and his name will be tarnished.

          She also says that this should happen to more accused people.

          Is this what their idea of social justice looks like? An accusation is all the proof that’s needed? Guilty until proven innocent? Reputation dragged through the dirt before any formal evidence or conviction is obtained?

          Harassment, assault, or indeed any other crime is abhorrent – but you can’t just toss aside important concepts like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and vandalise someone’s life and reputation just because you consider yourself part of some ‘social justice’ movement.

          Claims of sexual harassment or assault should be taken very seriously be whatever authorities are involved, and the victim supported. But evidence, logic, due process, and equal justice under law must be applied, as they are in every other case.

          1. “An accusation is all the proof that’s needed? Guilty until proven innocent?”

            Indeeed no. It’s guilty even if proved innocent. Some “skeptics” will believe anything at all based on their own prejudices and, like the religious whom they so despise, will not change their minds no matter what evidence is presented.

          2. but you can’t just toss aside important concepts like ‘innocent until proven guilty’

            Or important concepts like, ‘People in romantic relationships behave like crazy people. People in disintegrating romantic relationships doubly so.’

            There is no gender bias that I have observed to the crazy that often ensues. I wouldn’t believe either of them as far as I can spit. Staking one’s reputation as a critical thinker on the statements of ex-lovers about one another is… interesting to say the least.

        3. That seems pretty spot-on. Although I think Watson’s response was pretty reasonable the main flaw in her ‘side’s’ reasoning seems to have been that they decided on the guy’s guilt on the basis of some apparently lazy character-profiling – he posted intimate pictures(?) of himself with her, along with a load of other douchebag moves that point to arrogance and misogyny.

          The atheist+ lot seem to have missed out the bit where you have solid evidence for your claims, especially if the claims are as serious as they were here. The bewilderingly numerous misogynist atheists(and they do exist, Watson and Myers aren’t making that up) did the opposite, concluding with equal vigour that Stollznow is a lying slapper. It’s almost as though twitter isn’t the best place to convict someone of stalking and sexually assaulting their ex.

          1. You neglect to mention that Radford posted said photographs precisely because they refuted Stollznow’s accusations against him. The nerve of Radford, trying to clear his name against false accusations!

      2. So … here’s my problem with this.

        The whole point of Hemant’s piece is that these people who leap to conclusions and do their best to smear someone they do not like, should have the moral integrity to admit it when they are wrong and apologize for trying to falsely smear someone’s reputation.

        Ms. Watson’s response, as I read it, is basically: “nuh-uh, I never did that!” And besides, he’s still a bad guy (so it doesn’t matter).

        That doesn’t conform very well to moral/social integrity or the skeptical outlook.

        As noted, I would have nothing to do with someone with that level of integrity.

      3. Watson behaved just as as badly. She didn’t just report Stollznows allegations as news, she highlighted a paragraph accusing Radford of assault, with a typical disingenuous ‘alleged’ separate from that paragraph.
        I didn’t see those photos Radford ‘allegedly’ posted but I do know he was trying to construct a reality based narrative to counter the false one Stollznow was presenting. She was accusing him of sexual assault. That is very serious, and defending oneself from it is difficult.
        There is a lot more to it than, she said bad things, he did bad things.
        Watson is being disingenuous.

  5. This is fairly predictable.
    When allegations like that are made, they are made in 72pt. type above the fold. If those same accusations are discovered to be unfounded, it gets squeezed into the tiniest news hole on the 2nd to last page.
    I found the dreadful skepchick response to be sadly and predictably Watsonian.

    1. Dreadful it was. I understood Mehta proposed it was better for all around to apologize, and she responded with ‘if Mehta wants this …’.

  6. Hemant wrote: But several{1} bloggers{2} were{3} quick{4} to condemn{5} him{6} (or at least perpetuate{7} the story) based on what Stollznow said.

    The links go to…

    1: SkepChicks/Rebecca Watson
    2: Adam Lee
    3: FTB/PZ Myers
    4: FTB/Ophelia Benson
    5: FTB/Greta Christina
    6: FTB/Greta Christina
    7: FTB/PZ Myers

    This line-up is totally surprising! FreethoughtBlogs, SkepChicks, Adam Lee, who would have guessed!? I mean, what about Stephanie Zvan? What about Amanda Marcotte?

    Somehow it’s always the same group of people (the “Social Justice League”), and it’s so predictable that it’s almost uncanny. Now you can simply look for it, and et voila…

    Amanda Marcotte’s piece was pulled from Salon (you can find it archived, though){A}

    On Aug. 7, 2013, Slate published a blog post headlined: “Skepticism and Secularism Have a Serious Sexual Harassment Problem.” The article did not meet our standards for verification and fairness, and we have taken it down.

    Stephanie Zvan lobbied {B} to fill up Mrs Stollznow’s warchest. The initial goal was $30,000 but they managed to collect over $60,000. I guess, since Mrs Stollznow cannot be reasonably portrayed as one who was bullied to settle out of court, our favourite Social Justice Warriors find themselves out of story. Not a good year for them.

    Alas, in my perception the (US) secular movement is still tolerating this newest brand of unreason called “social justice warriorism”


    1. Marcotte’s logic in these cases is very simple: because the majority of rape or sexual abuse accusations are true, we should assume the guilt of the accused.

      Also, most feminists of Marcotte’s ilk believe than the majority of men have committed some type of sex crime in their past, so they are probably guilty of something that is worthy of punishment.

      The problem is that any system of justice built on this principle would be horrible.

      And when we apply it to populations other than white males, as in “since most black males accused of violent crime have in fact committed that crime, we should assume their guilt,” the cruelty and idiocy of that thinking becomes immediately apparent.

      1. The same “most accusations are true, therefore we better assume this one is true as well” is commonplace among the usual suspects (above) when they want to rationalise their feelings in another case as well. Sometimes it’s prettied up with poor Bayes. It imakes no sense intuitively already, but it also has a name: Ecological Fallacy. You likely never see a correction or retraction, either.

        1. There’s a particular problem with making the assumption in this context.

          Suppose it is true that most accusations of a certain kind are accurate. Why is it true? Part of the reason will be that the accuser won’t be automatically believed, and will have to meet burden of proof hurdles – so if they are coming to the table with a false accusation, there will be a cost.

          If we all automatically believe accusations because they are generally true, it will soon cease to be true that they are generally true.

      2. Let us not forget that Ms. Marcotte posted claims about the alleged guilt of the Duke lacrosse players after it had become obvious that the case was pure horse feathers and that the DA, one Mike Nifong, was the poster boy for bringing false charges. I haven’t followed her career since that blog post but, AFAIK, she at no time apologized for her error.

        1. No let’s not. I think she has made a few more evidence free assertions since, although I only know that incidentally.

    2. Speaking of prediction. I guess I was wrong. I would never thought it possible that PZ Myers apologizes or admits he was wrong.

      I sincerely concede…

      Of course he doesn’t. You get a prediction point by correctly guessing that he links to Rebecca Watson. Also interestingly, he claims Radford used 100k to go to court (source?) but omits the 60k his community has factually collected to help Stollznow. Why? The rest of his piece is typical of him. Goal post shifting with an Appeal to Emotion.

      This is propaganda and has nothing to do with critical thinking, scepticism or being ethical.

      1. Note the comments on PZ’s blog by his syncopates which are even worse then his non-apology.

    3. Yeah! who would have guessed? The usual suspects. Good sites to stay away from (which I have for at least the last two/three years). I’m almost tempted to see what the slymepitters are making of this but I don’t want to have to take another shower just yet.

      Thankyou PCC for keeping out of this sort of toxic nonsense.

    4. What do all of the aforementioned bloggers have in common? They all want to be big names in the atheist/skeptic movement but none of them have the ability or inclination to do the necessary work to get there. They want the respect, conference invites and speaking fees that people like Dawkins command, but they don’t have the record of accomplishment that warrants it, so they think that drama, and clickbait rage blogging is their fast track to stardom. Adam Lee looks like he’s trying to make a career out of attacking every utterance Dawkins tweets. I suspect Hemant and Jerry will soon be on their hit lists as well.

      1. I got the impression they already were!

        The bloggers and commentators are far too eager to toss arounds insults like “areshole” and “narcissist”. The latter is especially rich when some bloggers … oh, um, er, people with websites … actually have published successful textbooks and popular science/philosophy books (not just lazily editing together conger eels of blog posts!


            1. That made perfect sense to me as a metaphor for a long string of blog posts. Even better for being serendipitous. I think I’m stealing that.

  7. I am surprised that P.Z. Myers thinks that Karen Stollznow was unable to of her own free will settle her dispute with Ben Radford, but was pressured into it unfairly at the last minute, although this matter has been going on for months now. So it looks as if Myers won’t be honoring Stollznow’s request to take down his own blog’s posts on the matter, but on the contrary is stubbornly doubling down on his hostility towards Radford. Sigh.

    1. Wasn’t P.Z. himself accused of sexual harassment of a student? Didn’t he claim that it was a misunderstanding on the part of the student and that everything was fine in the end? Wouldn’t he say that the student was in no way pressured to agree with his version of the events, even though he is in a significant power position relative to her?

      So clearly he believes that 1) not all rape accusations are true and some are the result of misunderstandings or outright lies and 2) not all retractions of accusations are the result of manipulation of the accused. Yet for some reason he refuses to accept the possibility that such a misunderstanding and honest retraction has happened in the case of Ben and Karen. Does he have a valid reason for this?

  8. I see no real change in positions or opinions here. I see a joint statement that, as pointed out above, could very well mean that neither party is actually retracting their position but are instead agreeing to try to move on and rebuild their lives after much mutual damage has been done.
    I see activist bloggers continuing in their views of both parties, convinced that this event only proves their opinion.

    1. “Karen and Ben were in an intimate, personal relationship that ended with acrimony and misunderstandings. But it would be wrong for anyone to believe that Ben Radford stalked, sexually harassed, or physically and sexually assaulted Karen Stollznow.”

      That last sentence certainly sounds like a change in her earlier position.

      1. The last sentence doesn’t say that the allegations were false, it only says it would be wrong to **believe.** And speaking of belief, I do not believe that the wording of this joint document was accidental. I’m not saying the allegations against Radford were true, I really have no idea either way and no dog in this race, I’m simply saying is that the joint statement is not actually an unqualified absolution, and it is not an actual retraction of statements admitted to be false, it is an oddly written document of unconfirmed provenance under unknown conditions.

        1. She’s moved from position A, which is an assertion that she was a victim of a crime, to another position, which is that it would be wrong to believe that she was a victim of a crime. While I agree that this is oddly worded, it is a shift in her position. Otherwise, her defenders would not be moaning about her being pressured and manipulated.

        2. Assuming Karen falls into the category of “anyone,” it is logically incoherent for her to currently believe her earlier accusations. So she doesn’t believe her earlier accusations. So she thinks they are not true. It may not say they are “false,” but that can be inferred from the statement.

        3. It is oddly worded, but, the inclusion of the but, I think alludes the change of position.

  9. Trial by blogosphere is an ugly ugly thing. What’s to be achieved other than a projection of anger onto people who they barely know and circumstances they have anecdotal details of? To see supposed rationalists engage in this sort of thing is appalling. This is the kind of stuff for those awful TV shows about celebrities!

    Whatever the truth of what happened, the bloggers did a disservice to that. It’s nothing more than a trial by media, but with even less ethics!

  10. People like Karen Stollznow, Greta Christina, Rebecca Watson and P.Z. Myers make their rape and sexual harassment claims/accusations on blogs/the internet, because they know that none of them would hold any water in a court of law.

    As someone that has been involved in the investigations of thousands of rape cases, I have nothing but disdain and cold hatred for people who make false reports/accusations of sexual assaults

    1. We also recall P.Z. Myers engaging in the underhanded innuendo of rape allegations of a magazine editor whose celebrity greatly overshadows his. Instigating prosecution through the court of public opinion by spreading rumours amounts to persecution i.e. inciting lynch mobs. Has Myers issued any retractions?

      I commend the Professor for raising our consciousness on this problem!

    1. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good faith must be in want of a fact. x

      1. You did better than I did — and I’m a native English speaker!

        Now, in my defense, I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice; but, but! I recently loaded it to my Kindle, so it’s on the pile now.

        1. I watched the PBS Masterpiece Theater version of it. If the book is anything like that, have stimulants on hand.

          1. P&P, the novel, is an absolute treat fizzing dialogue, masterful characterization and deep moral seriousness presented as chick lit – and it’s not even her best, imo. x

            1. Btw. Austen, via Mr. Darcy, nailed the context of this post.

              “I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.” x

            2. Austen was a master ironist and satirist. Without Austin, there probably would have been no Dickens, no Thackeray, no Trollope.

              1. Second mention should also have been Austen. (Not my fault a fancy-schmancy Brit novelist like JA didn’t know how to spell her own last name.)

          2. The 2005 film with Knightley and MacFadyen is, IMO, brilliant. One of our recent favorites. I’ve seen the previous ones (major films) and the 2005 film is superior. (And, great cinematography and music.)

  11. Almost everyone confuses the claims they accept as true with their personal identity and worth. It is telling that this notable characteristic of religious people is, actually, a bit more general.

    I have found that the ability to acknowledge an error, especially when you are invested, is one of the best markers of someone who is worth talking to. I personally know only a few people who make a serious effort to do this, however, which is quite sad.

    1. Another good point:) That’s a rule of thumb I use too, although the general belief in one’s own intellectual and moral rectitude is incredibly comforting from a mental health perspective. People who are prepared to listen and change their mind are vanishingly rare. I think there’ve been studies that show a relationship between a person’s level of depression and how realistic their view of the world is. A certain level of self-delusion about one’s personal qualities is apparently important in maintaining healthy levels of self-esteem.

      I like to think I have an open mind, and that I’d be prepared to change my mind if evidence came along, but if I’m really honest I’d trade it in for a little more self-delusion and a touch less dark moods.

    1. Why? They’re made up of humans. Humans are tribalistic and vicious, just like most other primates.

      being “freethinking” and “skeptical” only means you’re very adept at pointing out everyone else’s mistakes. Yours are just as easily a complete mystery to you as other people’s are to them.

      “skeptic” and “self-awareness” are not the same things, hence the use of different words for those concepts.

  12. More dishonest rhetoric put to bed.
    I would have liked a more concise withdrawal but this will have to do.

  13. I agree that having supported one or other of these people one should then finish with an item describing this document. But I also agree that keeping out of this sort of thing altogether is the best option. You really can’t know enough about what went on to have a firm opinion, and those who thought they did have now been asked to back down. The whole thing is just nasty and best avoided.

  14. Predictably, none of the SJW will apologize. They seem to be claiming that they are disinterested reporters rehashing a story with no personal stakes or bias. Except for PZ, who is doubling down on his asshattery.

  15. It’s totally unsurprising to see the notpologies and doubling down. Self-righteousness limits their ability to see and admit error, just like certain religious leaders.

  16. This post is dangerous! I had completely forgotten that the atheist/skeptic world has a foul, nasty and viscous side… This post took me right there in just a couple of clicks. Where is a trigger warning when you need one?!

  17. Stephanie Zvan is … also the associate president of Minnesota Atheists and one of the hosts for their radio show and podcast, Atheists Talk

    Good to know — I’m pretty sure I want to avoid that organization (now).

  18. I just read through (well, skimmed briefly) the responses.

    Wow, not a single one of them said, well, I was wrong about this.

    Every one of them said:
    1. I didn’t know/care about the resolution (of a case about which I whipped up plenty of noise)
    2. Radford is a bad guy, so it was all OK (regardless of the facts and the retraction)
    3. I’ll never apologize, what I did was perfectly correct.
    4. Some even said, in essence: He forced her to sign this retraction, or was evil for demanding a retraction of false accusations.

    And, where their favorite person was involved, it was: He misunderstood [her]

    But where it was the other party: They were culpable (and evil)

    I am grateful for this post mainly for one reason: Knowing who to avoid in the “skeptical” community.

    I already knew about PZ, stopped clicking his site long ago.

    I had a lot of sympathy for R. Watson (though I didn’t follow her situation at all, I’d heard about it. I err towards believing a woman who says a guy did something bad to her.) Not so much now.

    I kind of liked occasionally looking at “Daylight Atheism” until this piece on WEIT.

    The rest I hadn’t really heard of before.

    Good to know.

  19. Grinding out personal issues in public whether it is on the web or TV or Hollywood should be avoided as much as possible. It attracts a following that is anything but attractive.

  20. I visited Mehta’s website, and found he had notified PZ Myers, among others, about the story. When I followed the link to Pharyngula, I found the place almost literary dripping with spittle. The proprieter and seemingly all his commenters were furious about Mehta’s piece for some reason, and were raining down anathemas on all and sundry, including Prof. CC, whose skin is no doubt thick enough to handle the abuse by now. I suppose we should construe it as yet another demonstration that, as noted in FvF, morality is unlikely to disappear with the demise of religion.

  21. This whole episode has been depressing, and has, along with a couple other incidents where emotional thinking trumped anything else, led to neither my partner or I having much enthusiasm for many atheism and skeptic communities online.

    I should say that both of us once tried to reform a local offline atheist/skepticism organization that we were members of and that we felt was far too often sexist. We were not overly successful. So when this story first emerged we were both strongly emotionally pulled towards the side that was strongly represented by FTB. What we both strongly objected to was the lack of self-awareness at FTB and other locations that their positions seemed to be based on emotion and strongly held despite minimal evidence. We felt that many of those blogs morphed into poorer examples of skepticism and rational thinking then your average church meeting.

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