Atheism news: Hobbesian civil war among atheists - blog by Gurdur


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Atheism news: Hobbesian civil war among atheists
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Posted 02-Jul-2012 at 10:45 PM (22:45) by Gurdur
Updated 02-Jul-2012 at 11:35 PM (23:35) by Gurdur

Sunday, 01 July 2012, was a very dramatic day for atheists. This all will demand much explanation, so first to the events. A lot of explaining the background, people and motives will have to wait for my next blog posts. Onto the most important events:

Paula Kirby, a writer and project manager who lives in Scotland, and who is a noted and famous figure in the atheist movement, and who has worked for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS), has now on Monday made a public statement saying she will no longer be silent on "witch-hunts emanating from certain self-labelled freethinking quarters". Part of whom she means is the Freethought Blogs (FtB) portal group run by Ed Brayton and PZ Myers.

Paula Kirby tweeted (sarcastically), "It's still part of Feminazi doctrine! Pharyngula, Skepchick and B&W, by contrast, have of course been bastions of calm reason!", and tweeted too, "No, just like me, thanks. I quite like Femistasi too. One form of totalitarian thought is, after all, much like another", and also tweeted that, "The allusion is to totalitarian thought and no tolerance of dissent. FTB is currently awash with it".

Displaying less than a good grasp of irony, Ed Brayton, owner of FtB, responded by calling for Paula Kirby to be "shunned by the atheist community".

The bloggers Greg Laden and Thunderf00t were cast out of the Freethought Blogs (FtB) portal group. The reason given for both sackings was "behaviour we cannot condone or support", which on Greg Laden's part seems to have been an email he sent to fellow-FtB-blogger Justin Griffith. To be fair, Greg Laden has stated he resigned earlier before being canned.

In Thunderf00t's case, Ed Brayton refused to specify or clarify why Thunderf00t was being thrown out. It is no doubt related to the fact Thunderf00t made four blog posts critical of certain people and themes: "MISOGYNIST!!!", then, when PZ Myers flamed that one in a blog post of his own, "FFS PZ Myers, enough with the strawmen!", then, when that got flamed too, "FFS PZ MYERS, PLEASE – LEARN – TO – READ", followed up by "Is it ‘Freethoughtblogs’ or ‘Group-think-blogs’?".

A fifth blog post, "SkepchickCON and the Harassment LOL-icy", definitely does not seem to factor in this since the decision to throw Thunderf00t out was clearly already taken well beforehand (as of July 1, 2012 at 9:47 am) before he posted it (as of July 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm).

The issues in all of this are (as I see them):

Control of the atheist and skepticism movements as they are (including whom gets to speak at conferences, themes and so on, evidenced for example by how PZ Myers and others have spoken against Abbie Smith, a young woman scientist, blogger and atheist, being allowed to speak at atheist conferences).

It has long been a point of contention on FtB, above all on PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula, that TAM (The Amazing Meeting, the annual get-together of the James Randi JREF foundation folks of the skepticism movement), JREF and the skepticism movement itself should be subsumed under the atheism movement. This wish has been gainsaid by the JREF folks themselves who keep pointing out that JREF is a skepticism organization, not an atheist one.

The conflict has been added to recently by criticism on FtB of DJ Grothe, president of the JREF. Various bloggers had been saying loudly they wanted conference policies in place against sexual harrassment; DJ Grothe pointed out that the JREF TAM already had such a policy in place, and criticised the actions of some in return. From there it went downhill, with many personal atacks on DJ Grothe.

Many of the FtB bloggers, commentators and others see themselves as fighting against alleged misogyny. It gets odd when for example in the name of fighting misogyny and sexism PZ Myers goes in for a good deal of personal abuse of Abbie Smith, but there it is. Some say they are against abuse, which is also odd in view of just how famous PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog and its regular commentators are for abuse; some reply to that criticism that abuse is OK as long as it's not "gendered slurs", which does seem a very artificial way of saying, "My abuse is OK, yours isn't".

Others in opposition to the FtB lot and so on are a very mixed range of people, with no one clear unifying characteristic apart from opposition to the FtB main lot, and working from different stances. Genuine, actual misogyny seems to be only active in a very small way with only a very few. On Twitter you can find much about the whole thing through the hashtag "#FTBullies"; the FtB supporters have made a hashtag of their own, "#WeLoveFTB".

More on all this later.

Separately from everything else above, Josh Timonen is now suing RDFRS, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). This is a continuation of the legal and other conflicts between Timonen, Dawkins and others, and is also partially a result of the RDFRS having been woefully unprepared when they sued Timonen.



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  1. Old Comment

    With respect to the lawsuit…

    Just a quick word with respect to the initial lawsuit that RDFRS et al filed against Timonen: they were indeed woefully unprepared, and took many wrong turns and goalpost-shifts in their dealing with the case - but Josh's side also alleges (as you could probably surmise) that the ENTIRE CASE was a fabrication and a wilfull distortion of history. They claim that Josh was specifically told by Richard Dawkins, in 2007, that the store was to be Josh's for-profit venture, with which he could essentially reinvest into doing further projects for RDFRS.

    Now, I'm sure you'd agree that that sounds like a really mad arrangement to have made with someone - particularly without a contract, and particularly without checking the guy's books in three years - but the more you hear about the management of RDFRS (which, indeed, the 'secret email addresses' at least give a whiff of), the more it really does begin to sound par for the course. And the fact that RDFRS's case was in the end dismissed with prejudice probably doesn't help, either.

    And I won't say much more now, except just to note that there is a lot more going on there than meets the eye.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 03:20 AM (03:20) by Heather
  2. Old Comment
    Twitter hash tag competitions now? Can this get any more childish?
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 06:06 AM (06:06) by theArmchairSkeptic theArmchairSkeptic is offline
  3. Old Comment
    To add to Heather's comment--if I recall correctly, at least part of the RDFRS lawsuit against Timonen claimed that they owned the content he produced for them. (Courthouse News Service said: "But Dawkins says anything Timonen created for the Foundation was ‘a work for hire, commissioned and paid for by plaintiffs.’ Dawkins says he and the Foundation own the rights to everything Timonen created for them.") But in the absence of a written contract or a copyright transfer agreement, that's just not how copyright works--copyright is retained by the author on anything he creates unless there is a "work for hire" agreement, which can't be a verbal contract. Similarly, RDFRS was unable to produce evidence of an employment contract.

    It wasn't just a matter of being unprepared, it was a matter of being staggeringly incompetent in management of a charitable foundation, and making false legal claims.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 04:17 PM (16:17) by lippard lippard is offline
    Updated 03-Jul-2012 at 04:18 PM (16:18) by lippard (added last five words)
  4. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Many thanks, Jim Lippard, for your comment. But:
    Originally Posted by lippard View Comment
    .... It wasn't just a matter of being unprepared, it was a matter of being staggeringly incompetent in management of a charitable foundation, and making false legal claims.
    To what degree is actually the lawyer side to blame? I.e. the lawyer(s) RDFRS hired? They should have seen and tackled this.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 04:20 PM (16:20) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  5. Old Comment

    What he said

    The ArmChairSkeptic is absolutely right - and this is a horse that was flogged to death and then some, during discussion amongst the skeptic community at the time - and yes, again, now that news of Timonen's follow-up lawsuit has broken.

    It's not just that RDFRS was 'woefully unprepared' - it's that they waged a LAWSUIT against a man - at one stage for the criminal charges of larceny and embezzlement - when they had not audited the man in three years, had no written contract, and apparently even no unambiguous 'official agreement' that could be pointed to, to support their case - and were ultimately unwilling or unable to produce the necessary evidence that might have made their lawsuit successful.

    Irrespective of whether RDFRS felt genuinely aggrieved - or it was an act of calculated 'vengeance' against Timonen (or some other mixture of motives) - they really, really dropped the ball on that lawsuit.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 05:28 PM (17:28) by Heather
  6. Old Comment
    Originally Posted by Gurdur View Comment
    Many thanks, Jim Lippard, for your comment. But:

    To what degree is actually the lawyer side to blame? I.e. the lawyer(s) RDFRS hired? They should have seen and tackled this.
    From what I read, it was a bad case--a good lawyer would have refused to take it forward. Perhaps the lawyer advised against it, but was willing to give it a shot at his client's insistence.

    RDFRS should have hired a lawyer much, much earlier--when setting up the arrangement with Timonen in the first place. This case demonstrates the very reasons why we use lawyers and contracts.

    The view from here is that 99%+ of the responsibility for the outcome falls on RDFRS.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 07:27 PM (19:27) by lippard lippard is offline
  7. Old Comment
    ... or at any rate, a good lawyer would have suggested arbitration or mediation, rather than punting for criminal charges through an expensive lawsuit, on the basis of jack shit evidence...

    And on top of all those other attendant embarrassments - those concerned also now have to live with the fact that through said lawsuit, it was also embarrassingly revealed to all who might fall upon the information, that Richard Dawkins was dealing with some of his charity's business via pseudonyms and 'secret email accounts' with Robin Elisabeth Cornwell - who charmingly styled one of her pseudonyms as 'Marion Mistress'. Ahem... (And another as 'Robert Diamond' - the name of the very recently resigned CEO of Barclays (the bank that RDFRS UK operates through, IIRC).)

    I can't help but get the feeling that RDFRS is for critical thinking and evidence-based understanding, in much the same way that the People's Democratic Republic of Korea is for the people, democracy and republicanism.
    Posted 03-Jul-2012 at 09:47 PM (21:47) by Heather
  8. Old Comment


    Oh the irony.

    The man looking to unite the rationalist community under a single banner of multi-issues has divided the community. Awesome. The best part is the meta-fallacy.

    I think this statement by thunderf00t found here says it all:
    "As such I personally see ‘freethoughtblogs’ as unrepresentative of the wider rationalist community in:

    1) The disproportionate amount of attention it gives to sexism compared to other issues.

    2) The way that those who disagree on the matter of sexism are attacked with a disproportionate amount of strawmen, invective and branding (misogynist, MRA, etc etc). This is a behavior more in line with bullying than free thought."
    And then the whole thing concludes with a slippery slope argument about where FTB is headed.

    Firstly, proportionate means you have a grasp on what is the whole. Since he hasn't actually listed other defining issues, he is in a sense defining the wider rationalist community, by what it is not. In doing so he implicitly states that the community is largely comprised of either men who don't relate to women's struggles, or women not effected by sexism.

    Begging the question much?

    He then further disenfranchises feminist bloggers by making number two no different than number one, *except* that he adds a statement tacitly suggesting that these same bloggers are *not* rational skeptics in that they argue using logical fallacies. So not only are they a proportion of the whole, misrepresenting the larger faction, but they are the dreaded "other". They should not be considered part of the the whole to begin with.

    This argument makes me proud to not be a FTB community member. And it reminds me of the divisive issues the Afrocentric organizations of the 70s faced, like when local male leaders of the Black Panthers deemed the women's movement counter-revolutionary. I don't routinely read FTBlogs, so I can't say if feminist bloggers on FTB are guilty of bullying in the sacred space, but I can say that discrediting an issue by attacking the speaker is an *ad hominem* attack. Don't let your rationalist community be bamboozled by that kind of thinking.
    Posted 04-Jul-2012 at 02:18 AM (02:18) by Unregistered
    Updated 04-Jul-2012 at 04:07 AM (04:07) by Gurdur (fixed slightly miscoded link)
  9. Old Comment
    Makbawehuh's Avatar
    *grabs popcorn, sits on the sidelines*
    Posted 06-Jul-2012 at 12:04 AM (00:04) by Makbawehuh Makbawehuh is offline
  10. Old Comment

    lolcows go Vegas

    Originally Posted by Gurdur
    "It has long been a point of contention on FtB, above all on PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula, that TAM (The Amazing Meeting, the annual get-together of the James Randi JREF foundation folks of the skepticism movement), JREF and the skepticism movement itself should be subsumed under the atheism movement. This wish has been gainsaid by the JREF folks themselves .."
    I have a hunch the only thing the Skepsters wish to "subsume" is Randi's regrettably soon-to-be-read will and fortune.
    Hence the bonkers onslaught on Grothe, and anyone else who stands in the way of installing their own little monster in his place. Mod powers were easy-peasy. Now for power of attorney.
    (Unlikely I know, but it won't stop them defying reality in that way as well, and trying it on).

    What the funicular is it with Americans, and getting suckered by cultists? I mean, they're very obviously Not Stupid. So what is it?
    I can't imagine The Toad of Minnesota outlasting five minutes of the ridicule and contempt he'd cop anywhere off the right-hand-side of the map, if he had to hack it here, without the free ride of adulation and sycophancy (and undemanding, leisurely occupation, it seems) that he gets Over There.

    Right. Now I'm off to see if Scotsmen are in fact constitutionally incapable of doing the tennis-bat thing right. <fume>
    Posted 06-Jul-2012 at 05:50 PM (17:50) by dustbubble
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Paula Kirby and the Sisterhood | insecular

03-Jul-2012, 05:40 PM (17:40)
witter hashtag #FTBullies. If you want more detailed coverage, I suggest looking at Gurdur’s post on what he refers to as a Hobbesian civil war among atheists. Kirby is now asking for messages if

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