• Calling Steven Novella’s bullshit

    Last week, NECSS booted Richard Dawkins out of their annual conference for no good reason.

    Now, Steven Novella tried to justify that decision but his arguments (let’s call them that) are as absurd as Islam (I hope that’s not too Islamophobic for you):

    Dawkins has dedicated much of his career and effort to charitable endeavors, to make the world a better place.

    All of this is why it has been very puzzling to many that his social media activity has often not reflected his reputation as a public intellectual. He has famously made tweets or blog comments that have come off as insensitive or worse.

    First red flag: why is Richard Dawkins held accountable for the feelings of other people? Is Steven Novella so blind by his new post-modernist dogma, that he’s incapable to see he’s denying agency to all those entitled brats whose feelings get hurt each time they hear something they dislike?

    This has been part of the smearing campaign against Richard Dawkins, ever since he was corageous enough to tell a spoiled brat that her tantrum was just that, and that women in the Muslim world have it ten times worse. If you feel bad because some guy asked you to his room (and took the “no” for an answer)… that’s your problem, not his, or anyone else’s.

    There’s this fad to go to DEFCON 1 about anything and everything Richard Dawkins tweets. To “come off as insensitive or worse” is something we, actual skeptics, are used to. We’re constantly popping believers’ bubbles about all kinds of stuff.

    I could go on, but I have other points to address. Back to Novella:

    For further background, over the last 5-6 years the skeptical movement has been rocked by intermittent controversy over sexism and racism in the movement. This is a complex topic I am not going to tackle or resolve here. Suffice it to say this controversy has caused many in the movement to form various camps, some championing free speech, others social justice. Others have tried to chart a course down the middle, while still others left the movement.

    Has Steven Novella been living under a rock for the last 5-6 years? There’s no controversy over sexism or racism, nor there are camps for free speech vs social justice ones.

    There’s only one controversy: “it’s between people who follow Enlightenment principles (freedom of speech and thought, free discussion of ideas, skepticism, tolerance for different world views) and those who believe in authoritarian principles (ideological purity, a list of topics which are beyond rational discussion, domatism, intolerance for anyone who disagrees)”.

    I guess, we now know where Steven Novella stands (and is not with the Enlightenment values). If you’re biologically impaired to understand that there are ends and means, and that I can support an end (equality) without accepting all of the means towards that end (bullying, thuggery, “listen and believe”, cultural marxism), then you have no place whatsoever in the skeptic community.

    If you can’t understand that answering “sexist” or “racist” to anything is a fallacy, maybe you’re not that a good skeptic after all. What kind of self-respecting skeptic sees these ad hominem fallacies all over the place and comes to the conclusion that there’s a contorversy over sexism and racism?

    But Novella had more intellectual gymanstics to show:

    The concern for some of us at NECSS was that by hosting Dawkins as a featured speaker we were making a statement we did not intend to make, a statement that could be interpreted as being unwelcoming and even hostile to many attendees.

    Well, guess what — you managed to do just that. NECSS is, as a matter of fact, unwelcoming and hostile to free-thought. Congratulations very much to Steven Novella and all his buddies at the NECSS committee. If you were concerned about making a statement you didn’t intend, there was an easy fix: state that! D’uh!

    But, you see, Novella wanted to save face, so he came up with this:

    Another frequent point is that we are against any criticism of feminism, as if it is a taboo topic. This is also not true. No topic should be taboo, and we favor open and vigorous discussion of all important issues. In fact, pointed criticism is good for the feminist movement – or for any movement. (This does not mean that NECSS is the proper venue for any particular topic.)

    No dude, go fuck yourself! First, there’s no evidence Dawkins wanted to address this point at NECSS. Second of all, you just disinvited the guy for posting a criticism of a real toxic brand of feminism. So you don’t get to say “no topic should be taboo” because, for you, there is.

    I really wonder where did all of your critical thinking skills went, because you’re so wrong on so many levels, it’s just shameful this even has to be addressed to point it out — there’s a difference between form and substance. You clearly are for punishing substance while making excuses saying it was the form, because, ohh, so rude, how could an empowered woman live with that kind of criticism (or criticism at all, for that matter)?

    So do us all a favor and leave the “no topic should be taboo” argument to the grown ups who actually believe that.


    I do wish Dawkins would recognize (perhaps he does) his special place within our community and the power that position holds. When he retweets a link to a video, even with a caveat, that has a tremendous impact. It lends legitimacy to the video and the ideas expressed in it.

    Once again: Richard Dawkins is not responsible for the actions or feelings of any other than himself. We, actual skeptics, hold accountable people for their own actions, we deal with bad ideas (just like I’m doing with your post) to show why they are bad ideas.

    And yet, you haven’t been able (or willing) to produce any worthy criticism of the video, other than the crybaby “It’s offensive!“. Wow! Your skeptic powers have faded away completely. (And, for the record —because I just won’t blockquote one line—: shame on you saying deleting the tweet was the right thing to do. It wasn’t.)

    To wrap it up:

    In my opinion, someone in his position, with his eloquence, knowledge, and intellect, with his academic background should be doing everything he can to elevate the level of discussion. He has the ability to address legitimate criticisms of feminism, or atheism or skepticism, if he thinks he has them. He could be a force that is helping unite our very small and critically important rationalist movement.

    Instead, I fear, he is helping to divide us, 140 characters at a time, and helping to lower the level of the discussion.

    Ohh, the irony, it burns! Richard Dawkins has been doing everything he can to elevate the level of discussion, and has leveled legitimate criticisms against third wave feminism, only to be met by moral imbeciles whining that he tweeted!

    You say he is helping to divide the science and skepticism community, yet you’re the one who disinvited him and are furthering the very-bad-Dawkins narrative, fueled by the Horseman Envy.

    The truth is there was only one right answer: you screwed up. Actually, you didn’t screw it up now; this is just a symptom. You screwed up the second you believed protecting feelings was more important than conveying facts (because, like it or not, the Muslim world does have less Nobel prizes than the West, and Muslim women have it worse than pathological liars saying they were asked to a hotel room inside an elevator).

    (image: Dave Fayram)

    Category: AtheismPhilosophySecularismSkepticism and Science


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker

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    • David Jones

      It’s more pusillanimous then that even. Novella writes, ‘He has famously made tweets or blog comments that have come off as insensitive or worse’ but then declines to provide any instances at all. i’d dearly love to see some that are ‘worse than insensitive’, let alone find any tendency or trend to do that. It’s just a hit-and-run attack by Novella.

      Novella has provided airtime to Watson while she has been running a claque of obnoxious, unreasonable abusers and liars. But when she was trying to knock lumps off Groethe, Novella was chuckling with her on the SGU. When she abused Stef McGraw by saying she was parroting misogyny, Novella and other SGU chums promoted her. As her thoroughly poisonous blog network spewed its rubbish, Novella and the SGU just motored on as if nothing was happening.

      But when Dawkins – describing himself as a feminist – tweets a link to a satirical video that he says applies to a *minority* of other feminists – which it does – then that’s beyond the pale.

      Novella’s obviously operating on LBJ’s adage about having the bastards inside the tent pissing out. I wish he’d dispense with the pretence of disinterest.

      • thegreatjombie

        @David_Jones Thanks for mentioning Stef McGraw. I had no idea she was part of the skeptical movement, nor did i know about her and Watson. I did have some idea that something happened between Watson and DJ Groethe, but I had not looked into it.

        Foolishly (and probably naively) I’ve been avoiding the arguments within the movement because 1) We are all human, and have faults and 2) I felt it detracted from the content and substance of the movement. It seems that within this space I’ve ignored, lots of substance (warts and all) have been illuminated and the fact that I have missed some extremely important discussions and exchanges is an embarrassment. I have been living in a (partially self-imposed…partly by design of the mainstream) bubble of feel good skepticism. I had no idea Skeptic ink or some of these other discussion spaces even existed until today.

      • Yes. So blind to Rebecca Watson’s lies and bullying, and so offended by anything Dawkins say.

        Did anyone say double standards?

      • Travis

        “come off as insensitive”

        Wow, that sounds a lot like what creationists say when their beliefs are challenged. When did that ever stop us from refuting the bad ideas?

      • Peter Mancevice

        With radical feminism unfortunately, the bastards are pissing from a squatting position.

    • There is even more ad hoc bullshit in the comments section:

      …this was not about a single tweet. It was in the context of a many-year controversy. This is unfortunate, because it was definitely a “final straw” type of effect, but then people focus on the last straw and claim it was an over-reaction.

      What Novella seems to be saying here, metaphorically speaking, is that NECSS saw an overburdened camel, just one straw away from collapse, and agreed among themselves to put that beast of burden at the very front of their camel train. Brilliant!

      • Bram Kaandorp

        Yes! That’s what was bothering me all this time. I finally have the words to say it.

        If someone is controversial, then one shouldn’t be surprised when that person says something controversial again.

      • Fortunately I didn’t get to read the comments (I rarely do).

    • Eduardo Lopez

      But . . . but … My fefes!

      Thanks David, as always excelently writen, great analisis and to the point, this is why I get called a misoginistic shitlord by many a so called skeptic, for daring to criticize feminism and “socail justice”. Gad Saad coined a term that suits this people #OstrichBrigade

      • Yes, I’ve seen Saad’s term. I quite like it.

        • Shatterface

          Search for Saad’s talk on political correctness on YouTube.

          Well worth an hour of your time.

    • ronmurp

      Team Myers -> Rebecca Watson -> SkepticsGuide (sponsors) -> Novella guys (at least Steve). Mere influences, or conspiring? Joining the dots: https://storify.com/ronmurp/living-just-to-hate-dawkins

    • Dawkins was not “booted” out of the conference. The conference hasn’t even happened yet, and, as I understand it, Dawkins is welcome to attend if he wants. He just won’t be given a stage and podium to speak there.

      Perhaps the organizers should have had enough common sense to expect at least five Dawkins-related public relations disasters in the interim between the announcement he’d be a speaker and the conference a whopping five months later. I mean, this is the guy who cyber bullied a 14-year-old for months. So yeah, shame on them for thinking Dawkins could mange five months without putting his foot in his mouth and further sabotaging his reputation as a once respected public intellectual.

      This is not a free speech issue because nobody is preventing Dawkins from speaking. He’s simply forced the conference organizers to strongly reconsider whether or not to give him a giant platform that further reinforces, not just his scientific views, but also his individual brand as well as reconsider whether they want to be associated with his ideological views outside of the field of evolutionary biology. I personally know several people who said they were considering not buying a ticket this year specifically on account of Dawkins. And some of them expressed strong disappointment in NECSS organizers for inviting such a contentious figure to speak. So at least in those anecdotal examples, I can say his negative PR led to direct blow-back against the organizations intending to host him.

      And that’s not an unreasonable reaction when someone has made themselves into a massive pariah among large segments of the public. For instance — and I acknowledge in advance this example is a FAR MORE EXTREME one and NOT MEANT IN ANY WAY to be seen as a morally equivalent — as I was saying, for instance, I think it perfectly reasonable to boycott any comedy club that would choose to now host Bill Cosby as a performer. Again, I’m not drawing a moral equivalence here, only illustrating a point with an extreme example. That point is that those who host controversial figures can and often do receive blow-back for their decision.

      And it would be one thing if Dawkins gave any indication of having learned to at least express his ideas in a more civil, rational manner without resorting to cheap strawman and name-calling that is so beneath someone of his intellectual and “rational” reputation. But he hasn’t. He continues to thoughtlessly call anyone he disagrees with the “regressive left” and use terms like “feminist” in a derogatory way. If he has a real intellectual beef, I personally think he needs to find a far better way of expressing his concerns (especially if he wants to continue to be treated as a leader in the cause of rationalism and skepticism) than such transparent childish name-calling and strawman.

      A skeptic doesn’t caricature his opponents’ positions; a skeptic starts with the consideration that they themselves may be the one in the wrong and then argues the most charitable version of their opponents’ argument possible. If you refuse to do that, you have no place speaking at a Skeptic’s convenion, in my humble opinion.

      • thegreatjombie

        While you mention not drawing a “moral” equivalency with Cosby and Dawkins, this would be the only way you could compare them. They are not “people who have done things that some group of people find offensive”, one is a rapist and the other a group of people disagree with him on stated opinions. The two populations who would be on either side are so far apart, bringing them up for any comparison makes no valid sense other than to disparage. Yes, a person would be totally in the right for saying “I am not supporting a (possible) rapist in any way shape or form until this thing is solved”….lets discuss slightly less divergent situations. Would it be perfectly reasonable for people to boycott any venue that Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks at (or has spoken at), because she speaks about Islam negatively? would it be reasonable for skeptics?

        While you personally think Dawkins should be less abrasive on topics, I am not sure shutting down conversation by dis-inviting Dawkins makes it any better. If he has made such horrible transgressions on skeptic thought, he should be called out for it and even debated on it. No one has explained why using “feminist” in a derogatory way is bad (nor using “regressive left” for that matter). Skepticism means there are no sacred cows. We discuss and dissect EVERYTHING. Skeptics are not supposed to shut down an opportunity for discussion and teaching. Like when giving Bill Maher an award for atheist thought, yet discussing the embarrassing and dangerous facts that he is into “Woo” and anti-vaccine. Or Bill Nye’s anti-GMO stance that, through discussion and inclusion, was changed. That is my skepticism. We are supposed to let the other side look closed minded and unreasonable no matter how disgusted we feel on the topic……I really do not have the words to describe whats happening except to say its very disturbing.

        Its is also quite confusion for us who follow skepticism’s “leaders” with great interest. I listen to the SGU just about every week, and do enjoy it, but I did notice a shift of tone, right around the Rebecca Watson’s elevator incident (which I still know very little about). The shift was that the SGU team would not discuss nor debate what happened, and basically said go somewhere else for information. I was kind of taken aback when I heard this. The only other topic treated with such a black-out that I know of is when they had a liable legal case against them.

        (full disclosure, I am a Patreon supporter of Watson)

        • You’re a Patreon supporter of Watson. What are you even doing here?

          • thegreatjombie

            Learning. Or do i get dis-invited?

            • Jeff Elberfeld

              Not by me, anyway, although I do not have a say in this. Welcome!

      • “He’s simply forced the conference organizers ”

        “I personally know several people who said they were considering not buying a ticket this year specifically on account of Dawkins”

        Ohh, poor them! When will all of these assholes start taking responsibility for their own feelings and actions?

        “a skeptic starts with the consideration that they themselves may be the one in the wrong”

        Go tell that to you bullies comrades.

        BTW, this blog is not for you: http://www.skepticink.com/avant-garde/2015/01/29/is-this-blog-for-you/

      • Linda Rosa

        I hardly think Dawkins is welcome at the conference when his contract is being broken on the grounds, in part, that people won’t feel “safe” in his presence.

      • Jeff Elberfeld

        “He just won’t be given a stage and podium to speak there.”
        “This is not a free speech issue because nobody is preventing Dawkins from speaking.”


    • Mitchell S. Lampert

      Regarding the line: “there’s a difference between form and substance. You clearly are for punishing substance while making excuses saying it was the form” – If there was any grand substance to that video, worth extracting and defending, I would like to know what it was. Putting the (also terrible) form aside, all I saw was slander against Muslims and females.

      I know some folks are taking Dawkins’ word for it, that it was only meant to apply to “a few” feminists. But, I didn’t get that impression from the video, itself. Dawkins was projecting that into it.

      I know there is value in comparing ideologies, but this video doesn’t really do that. It seems to bad-mouth a whole lot of people, instead. The author of the video didn’t seem to know much about the subjects he was mocking, to be able to compare them effectively.

      • Dawkins did project that into it, but wasn’t that his point? He wasn’t saying “the video isn’t about all feminists”. He was saying “the video would be correct if only it was talking about the minority of feminists. At least, that’s how I interpreted his caveat.

      • ronmurp

        It wasn’t a generalisation of feminists or Muslims.

        The video targeted two specific people, an Islamist and a feminist.

        The substance that you seem to have missed is that it lampooned the similarity in rhetoric employed by SOME feminists and SOME Muslims (Islamists in particular):

        + They shout down and shut down criticism:
        — feminists: https://youtu.be/iARHCxAMAO0
        — Islamists (later backed by feminists): https://youtu.be/kl0sI47tVgY

        + They use the victimhood of genuine repressed minorities to shame those that criticise them

        -+They attack ‘their own’:
        — SOME feminists hate on those feminists that don’t subscribe to the ideology
        — Takfir? To Islamists most other Muslims aren’t proper Muslims

        One criticism of the video I had, but which I let go as poetic licence, was that early on it did compare ideologies; but then went on to explain the similarities in rhetoric. It could have said ‘ideological rhetoric’, but I didn’t have to make that fit the song. Of course such a detail is there just waiting for the SJW to pounce.

        “The author of the video didn’t seem to know much about the subjects he was mocking, to be able to compare them effectively”

        This is ironic on a grand scale. Have you actually look at his channel? he’s acutely aware of his subjects.

        Take this one:
        Now he usually gets the voices pretty much right too; but not here. And here’s why:

        The thing is, none of Sye Ten’s work is any more outrageous than the rhetoric by Myers, Watson and others when they go after their targets. You haven’t seen what Team Myers have been writing about Dawkins for ages?

        On top of that, Dawkins was very specific.

        I really can’t see how people can misunderstand this, unless they are wilfully misrepresenting it, or have been duped by those that have done so.

      • allan

        “I know there is value in comparing ideologies, but this video doesn’t
        really do that. It seems to bad-mouth a whole lot of people, instead.”. It wasn’t to your taste? Fine. Carry on with your life. It was satire- brutal satire. The targets were two particular individuals who represent anti enlightenment ideologies. I had a good laugh. It is not anti-female to find 3rd wave feminists an obnoxious bunch of retards.

    • Linda Rosa

      Is anyone connecting the dots between NECSS and the very recent merger between CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation, leaving a Dawkins associate as CEO?

      • Travis

        Hm, I’ve heard something about CFI being run by misogynists but never bothered to look into it. Is this the idea you’re referring to? Any idea where I can look for more info?

      • Are you suggesting that with the demise of TAM, NECSS becomes the dominant U.S. skeptic conference, if only they can effectively poison the well against the reemergence of CSICON? Because that would be fucking amazing.

        Bit conspiratorial, though.

    • allan

      So that’s three of the Horsemen down (Dennet keeps fairly quiet so I suppose he’s safe). A Nobel prize winner humiliated and sacked. A rocket scientist and numerous academics publicly apologising in a splendid call back to the Stalinist show trials. The social justice warriors are gaining momentum. (Is Cecil Rhodes still in place?)

      • Shatterface

        I seem to recall Dennett is ill, hence the low profile.

    • Peter Mancevice

      Thanks for this explanation. NECSS needs to put an F in there somewhere, for feminist.

    • “Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing” – Michael Ruse

      So true. The man is a hypocrite, abjectly ignorant and among the worst logicians on the planet. He and all the new atheists area bloody disaster.

      Atheists are walking self-contradictions anyway so no surprise when the leading atheist high priest of materialist stupidity gets himself nailed for his stupidity.

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    • Enal Kreeny

      Well over a year late to the party, but I still want to say: That was a magnificent takedown, Ðavid Osorio…. With one F-bomb hidden in an otherwise eloquent rant, perfectly placed. That was the cream on the cake. Got a good laugh out of that.

      • Thanks, @enalkreeny:disqus. Glad you liked it. Hope you’re liking the blog and network as well.


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