The Problem with Asking Michael Shermer to Speak at Carleton’s Convocation: Part 1

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual assault/harassment. Laura will be cursing.

Note: You can (eventually?) watch the full convocation recording here.

A brief context for people unaware: on January 9, Dr. Michael Shermer, a renowned skeptic and scientist, founding publisher of The Skeptic magazine, and a man of TEDtalk fame gave a convocation in the Carleton College Chapel entitled “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time”. An appropriate title as I left the chapel absolutely stunned. For very different reasons than I believe the talk intended.

Further context: Dr. Shermer has over the past several years been surrounded by multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault ranging from unwanted intercourse following the plying of drinks and drunken gropings to general consistent “sleaziness”. If you Google Dr. Shermer, the sixth link leads to an article from freethoughtsblog.com that links to a history of these allegations as well as a discussion of what is the appropriate response beyond court action. One of the suggestions was NOT INVITING THIS MAN TO SPEAK.

I’ve tried my best to remain “objective” or whatever in this situation to avoid accusations of bias, but that is also complete bullshit. Sexual harassment and assault are a reality of our society, and IT’S NOT OKAY. Let’s just take a moment and recognize that there is a known drug in our society called the “date-rape drug”. If I read about that in a sci-fi book I’d think it was unbelievable. BUT IT’S A WELL-KNOWN PART OF OUR LIVES. IT EXISTS.

I’m pissed. I’m pissed that Dr. Sherman has the power and means to avoid serious consequences for his past actions. I’m seeing the injustice of being a wealthy, white, straight, cis-gender, highly educated, atheist man in the United States working before my eyes, and I’m angry. He is able to get away with despicable, sub-human actions, with seemingly no consequences.

FURTHER, I AM OUTRAGED THAT CARLETON COLLEGE, THE PLACE OF HIGHER EDUCATION I HAVE BEEN ATTENDING FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS AND WHICH HAS TOLD ME REPEATEDLY THAT THIS IS A “SAFE SPACE” ENCOURAGING TOLERANCE AND SUPPORT OF HUMAN BEINGS WOULD INVITE A MAN WITH THIS BACKGROUND TO OUR CAMPUS.

This is unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable.

Even if you believe as Dr. Shermer said that “the burden of proof is on the person making the extraordinary claim” and that “you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet”, let’s be good skeptics and determine what has the higher likelihood:

1.) That numerous women in the skeptic and atheist world, a world already fairly anti-women (another article here if you’re unconvinced), would risk their reputations and their well-being in order to defame one of the biggest names and most powerful people in the skeptic community (Fun Fact: A recent report has shown that the percentage of false accusations of sexual assault are right around… 2-8% this in contrast with the massive 68% of assaults that go unreported).

OR
2.) That a wealthy, powerful, straight cis-gender white man who has plenty of evidence from the society around him that he won’t be held accountable for anything he does would take advantage of women (multiple sources have witnessed him pushing drinks on women, flirting inappropriately etc.) and rely on his lawyers and the general sentiment that victims of sexual assault are somehow a) lying or b) responsible for their victimization (BOTH OF WHICH ARE ABSOLUTELY FUCKING RIDICULOUS BY THE WAY).

Let’s just think about that for a little bit.

With these two scenarios, accounts of the second which are easy to find by a simple GOOGLE SEARCH what would you do? Would you invite this person onto campus? I WOULD THINK FUCKING NO, BUT THEN WHO AM I? JUST A STUDENT ON SAID CAMPUS.

I went to the convocation, though, in the hopes of asking some questions. However, in addition to condescendingly telling us not to believe everything we read online, and that the burden of proof is on the person making the claim, Dr. Shermer refused to take questions at the end of the convocation despite having the time to do so.

AND THEN THERE WAS THE ISLAMOPHOBIC RANT. But I’m realizing this post got really long, so I’ll be making a second part to deal with that.

 

 

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