The European Skeptics Congress 2019 will take place this year in Ghent (Belgium), from August 29 to September 1st — this, the 18th European Skeptics Congress (ESC), is themed after The Joy of Skepticism.
Given how the current postmodern zeitgeist has managed to poison a not inconsiderable number of atheist and so-called skeptic organizations, turning them into toxic spaces for free thought, it is always a good idea to take a look at the roster of speakers of these events, to see whether inviting bigots and giving them a stage is in fashion, which in the past five or so years has become the only acceptable factor for me to decide whether I will go to ‘skeptic’ labeled events and meetings or not. Skepticism (the brand I’m used to, anyway) is rooted in an objectivity-based world-view, and the use of evidence, facts, and data to approach our understanding of the world. Post-modernism, by definition, is a subjective approach to understanding the world (hence the emphasis on identity and lived experiences), and is, thus, anti-thetical to anything skepticism-related. I would not go to a ‘skeptic’ event where homeopaths are invited to stage, and, by the same token, I am not going to events where the exact opposite of skepticism is given a free pass, let alone pay to go.
So I took a look at ESC 2019’s program. Most names I did not recognize; however, I noticed Edzard Ernst was invited to the panel about “the never-ending struggle against quackery”. I would love to see that! Ernst has been a consistent and ethical researcher, who embodies the most rigorous intellectual honesty. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you might want to change that now.
Ernst’s, though, was not the only name I recognized on the speakers’ list. To my dismay, Kavin Senapathy was also been invited. Senapathy has been a Forbes columnist and science communicator (on GMOs mostly); in the last few years she has also been invited to speak at several ‘skeptic’ events — she will take part in the ESC 2019’s Green Skepticism panel.
Senapathy first caught my attention, skepticism-wise, when she contended that intellectual diversity was fancy code for bigotry (?)… only a few days before she went on stage at a ‘skeptic’ event titled “Celebrating Science & Intellectual Diversity“.
In my humble opinion, labeling a bigot anyone who dares to disagree with you is anti-thetical to skepticism. Had it not been for intellectual diversity, for instance, we wouldn’t have got Edzard Ernst to stop working for pseudo-science to become one of its most effective and rigorous denouncers.
The next time I heard of Senapathy, was during CSICon2018, where she was also an invited speaker. While attending a panel in which Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry talked about all kinds of things, she threw a temper tantrum and left the room when Dawkins inquired what Fry’s thoughts were on the rising authoritarianism in some circles of the political left. Senapathy couldn’t stand to hear Fry challenge her cherished belief that she lives in a system of society and government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. Fry, a gay man whose lived experience includes suppressing his sexuality during Thatcher‘s and most of Major‘s years, eye-rolled at the concept of cis-het privilege, and that was enough for Senapathy to leave the room and summon her woke army so they all could further the ongoing smear campaign and label both men all the names in the book. Intersectionality, yay! She started with a “respectful disappointment” comment and, then, things quickly escalated into a Fry and Dawkins hating-fest. Not the best way to prove Dawkins and Fry wrong about authoritarianism and zealotry gaining momentum in some circles on the left, if you ask me.
The week before her temper tantrum, Senapathy was announced as a podcast host for the CFI-Richard Dawkins Foundation — a position she still holds. How she can live with herself while working at a brand named after Dawkins himself will remain a mystery to me.
What I do know for sure is that I will try to be a tad more consistent than her, and not attend any event where she has been invited as a speaker. I think that is the ethical thing to do — giving a platform to people who behave the way she did is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing. So I won’t be a part of that. By its very nature, skepticism challenges people’s beliefs, that’s how it works! So, maybe, people who can’t stand having their beliefs challenged, mocked, questioned, criticized or scoffed at are not the most suitable to speak at skepticism events.
Hopefully, moving forward the European Skeptics will have a more rigorous vetting process and won’t have any bigots on stage. I think then, and only then, we should consider going.