Current Affairs

Integrity starts at home

Yesterday, I received a notification about a comment on a previous blog of mine. When I logged in to approve the comment, I noticed that the visits to my blog had spiked unexpectedly, and when I viewed the comment, and my site stats, I found out why. My blog was linked to by Jennifer Ouellette in a blog which was published on the Scientific American website. Understandably, I was curious as to what had brought my blog (relatively small as it is) to the attention of someone posting on SA, so I headed on over to see. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that thrilled with what I found. The blog was about the recent “elevatorgate” furore, and about sexism in science in general, and it seemed that my blog had been referenced in, what I believed to be, a rather unfavourable light.

After the link was brought to my attention, I posted about it on twitter, wondering whether Ouellette had actually read my blog (since she seemed, in my estimation, to be misrepresenting what I had said, and indeed, who I am). You can also see her (slightly confusing) reply in the tweet linked above. I attempted to continue the conversation, by explaining that I wasn’t offended, but didn’t agree with how she had referenced me (those tweets read from last to first, to get the sentences in correct order). I had hoped to engage in further discussion with her on the point, but that hope was quickly quashed by, arguably, one of the more dismissive responses I’ve received in recent times – “Interesting that in a 3000 word post with 25+ links, you’re making it all about you.” My final reply (again, read from bottom to top) attempted to call her on this behaviour, but she obviously considered the matter closed, as I’ve received no further reply.

Many of you may wonder why I’m even bothering to blog about what is, let’s face it, a relatively minor slight on twitter. Well, the truth is, I’m not really writing about that; I’m writing about the value of integrity and honesty, and the will to stand behind something that you have written, even if others do not agree. I’ve pictured the paragraph in question here. The truly astute among you will probably notice that, although I’ve obviously taken a screenshot of the paragraph in question, there doesn’t appear to be a link there. That’s because there isn’t … now. Some time after my twitter comments, the link to my blog was quietly removed without comment. I received no message to tell me it was done, and no comment appears on the article to indicate that it was further edited after being published. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have web data records to prove the visits coming from the blog, the link might never have existed. And, frankly, that’s more than a little pathetic.

People say that newspapers are dying, and that internet media (particularly blogs) are the way forward. With this in mind, a great many bloggers have been catapulted from relative obscurity to internet-fame as the modern journalists and commentators of our time. Being able to put together a blog, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that what you have to say is worth anything. What makes certain blogs stand out is the quality of the writing, and often, the willingness of the writer to stick with their beliefs and convictions, even if others disagree; it’s much harder to ignore disparaging comments than to accept praise. Standing behind your writing, possessing integrity, means that you don’t bend at the first inkling that someone might not agree with what you’ve said; it means that you write what you believe to be true, you check your facts, you check them again, and you maintain a standard that doesn’t bend whenever you’re too lazy to maintain it; no secret-editing, no phone hacking, no shady journalism.

There was a time when being a writer, or writing for a major newspaper, was a respected profession, and one I even thought about entering into myself. As we uncover more about the phone hacking, lazy journalism, and illegal dealings of News International (who are, sadly, not alone in engaging in these activities), it’s more important than ever that those of us who write hold ourselves above this. When I write here, I write what I genuinely believe in. I source and check my facts, and if it’s not certain, or not legal, it’s not in my post. I don’t change my posts after I’ve written them to better suit my mood, or to avoid something that I don’t want to deal with. I stand by what I write, even if others don’t like it. If a small-time blogger like me can manage, surely someone like Jennifer Ouellette can at least try?

72 replies on “Integrity starts at home”

Well said. She was totally out of line and constructed a weak straw man. Worse, I *hate* that “sisters in skepticism” line – the author is essentially telling you that you are wrong because you do not see a SUBJECTIVE thing the way she does, and rather than merely saying “I disagree”, she paints you as some kind of traitor. This is not skepticism – this is a dogmatic approach to a subjective argument.

Have you read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies? It’s a very good look at some of the things that are rotten in Newspapers. I just thought of it because you mentioned ‘lazy journalism’.

Grr WordPress. Deleted my first draft because I hadn’t filled in my name and address. Glad it wasn’t an essay type commment!

I have indeed read it. It’s a fine example of excellent writing that exposes some absolutely rubbish journalism. I read it immediately after finishing Bad Science, and thought I might never smile again…

Hmmm, not impressed by the deletion of the link – some perspective has been lost in her article, and while she no longer illustrates her second point for her ‘Manifesto for Change’ with a reference to your article, the irony of the link removal isn’t lost on me.

For someone to campaign against the ‘Chilling Effect’ that males might introduce to meetings/discussions groups, but then goes on to a) Accuse you of not taking the subject seriously due to your point of view differing from hers, then b) removing you from the discussion without any acknowledgement, just like she brought you in to it, smacks of hypocrisy. To be honest, it’s more than a little crap – it’s a rubbish way to try to make your point, and a rubbish way to back down without a ‘mea culpa’ or even an attempt at an apology.

Just my 2p worth – it’s a complex discussion regarding an important subject, but dragging people into it like she did to you, then dumping them again without any reference to the deletion of that link is NOT the way to get towards a resolution. It’s not a proper discussion – she brought you into it, then decided to rewrite history as if it didn’t matter. Maybe it didn’t matter to her, but as your traffic stats show, you were the poster girl that illustrated the second point of her manifesto, and that counts for something. It’s your reputation, her misunderstanding of your point isn’t your problem, but it’s become your problem to a lot of people.

Sorry for banging on. I believe that people should stand by what they say, and if they can’t, should explain why in an honest manner.

Thankyou for posting this.
I mean it.
Integrity is important.
Integrity is something that the Watson/PZ tribe appear to have neglected for the interim, in favour of a base reactionary and dogmatic “group-think”.
It seems that it is rampant amongst those who wish to present as feminists, but without having done the required homework.
The scrubbing of the link indicates that at least they have recognised fault on their behalf for having included it in the first place.
They now have the burden of admitting such fault to the injured party(s).
I’ll lay odds of 10 to 1 that they do no such thing!

Thank you for your previous post about the false dichotomy that formed around these issues. I care about problems for women, but that does not align me with Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers.

And thank you for this very elegant post with your screen caps. I see the screen caps as confirmation that Ouellette’s point “(2)” was a maneuver to preemptively dismiss any woman who would disagree with her narrative. And I find her phrase “sisters in skepticism” doubly bullshit: A) Ouellette dismisses “sisters” who disagree with her narrative, and B) Ouellette originally linked here as evidence for her narrative, but once she realized the evidence here didn’t fit her narrative, she deleted her link to the evidence. With “skepticism” like this, who needs dogma?

I cringe at PZ Myers endorsing these layers of bullshit.

How exquisitely condescending of Ouellete! I might point out that her treatment of you is pretty similar to the way Watson treated Steph McGraw. Watson blindsided her from the stage, knowing there was no good way for McGraw to defend herself. In your case, you DID try to defend yourself and what did you get? You got dismissed by an outrageous remark. “You” weren’t the one who made it about “you”; they did! By posting the link to your blog. Which they removed, without apology or discussion, when you called them on it. Cowards and bullies, the lot of them.

My regard for PZ Myers and Steve Novella has plummeted over this. I was beginning to have my doubts about PZ anyway and had been backing away from his blog. If nothing else, his posse of rude and crude commenters, who revel being in rude and crude for no reason, made me cringe. The group-think there is appalling.

Ever since I started listening to the SGU podcast, I thought Rebecca was the weak link. I wondered why she was there since her contributions were mainly inane remarks made in that affected, blase way of speaking that makes my teeth hurt. Well, so much for the SGU. It’s disappointing, because I used to look forward to that podcast. Lately it wasn’t as interesting as it used to be, but I hadn’t given up on it until now.

Oh, and I’m 60 years old, female, and retired from the criminal justice system. Yep, I had some sexism directed at me, in the beginning, but I dealt with it by getting in their faces when necessary, and earning their respect. I had no problems later in my career. Believe me, these guys would not have responded well to a woman whining “Don’t DOOO that….” Rebecca Watson is lucky she wasn’t alive in the 60’s and 70’s. I think she would have ended up a sniveling, whimpering heap in the corner.

Completely agree Esmeralda… It´s hard to see Steve Novella just… back off of this. After all the rigorous application logic and talk of avoiding emotional bias the hypocrisy is painful. He even told me that he didn´t claim to be unbiased on this issue. Why the f not?

Great post, Buffy. These things are important.

I am gobsmacked by Jennifer O’s shockingly arrogant response in which she accuses of you “making it all about you”. There is no way you were doing that. You were merely making the specific link to your blog about you, which all reasonable people would agree is perfectly fair.

I also think that it’s exceptionally bad form to remove the link to you in the silent and, frankly, underhand manner that she did. Obviously she realised that she screwed up by linking to your blog in the context that she did, and the mature thing to do at that point would be to post an apology, rather than trying to pretend it never happened.

You make the good point that many bloggers are now more trusted than mainstream journalists. I wonder if there is a danger that when bloggers have achieved a certain amount of success, that success goes to their head and the integrity that got them there in the first place can get overlooked.

Story time with ERV–

This time last year, SciBlogs was all up in arms about a PepsiBlog. I KNOW RITE?? OMFG!!

Anyway, I was immediately in The Out Group for suggesting:
1– The skeptic community needs to place a greater influence on encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Part of that healthy lifestyle is a healthy relationship with food. Labeling foods ‘GOOD’ and ‘BAD’ is not only futile, its not helpful psychologically (beat yourself up for eating ‘bad’ food, sneaking ‘bad’ food), and a better approach would be to include all foods you like into your diet in a reasonable manner (ie you arent going to die if you love Mountain Dew if you work it into your calorie allotments).
2– We wait to see posts on PepsiBlog and respond appropriately.

Oullette responded to #1 by giving me the nickname ‘The Situation’, because making fun of a females physical attributes just never gets old (I do have nice abs, though, lol), and proving my point that the skeptic community has a Problem with health.

#2 by ranting and raving and wailing and gnashing her teeth about how she was a WRITER and she had to worry about her INTEGRITY! A PepsiBlog COULD NOT BE TOLERATED!!!

I was like “Um, arent you the chick who helped them make ‘The Watchmen’ movie against the wishes of Alan Moore? You didnt give a rats ass about writers integrity back then?”

lulz ensued.

Shes a joke.

Seems to me that she probably threw the link in because she had only skimmed your blog and needed to find “an example”, and when you pointed out that no, it wasn’t really a good example, she realized this, and deleted it?

In which case it’s nothing to be proud of but if that’s a sin, I’m not sure which blogger is honestly going to be able to cast the first stone, we’ve all linked to someone without really reading it. 99% of the time it’s fine because skimming usually gets the gist, but not always and maybe this is one of those times.

The issue I really have is that, after I commented saying that I didn’t think the link really represented my blog or standpoint, she roundly dismissed me as making it all about me, and then deleted the link without any notice of the editing. There’s nothing on the link to say that the post has been edited post-publication. At the very least, there should be a note declaring that an edit was made. I’m not saying that this needs to be done for every typo, but when you change a substantial point, remove a link, etc. I think that you should make readers aware of that fact, and to do so without notice is like hiding from the issue. I never asked for the link to be removed, merely said that I thought what was said about it was wrong – in response, the link was deleted, further tweets ignored, and if I hadn’t posted my blog about it, no one would be the wiser.

Silent editing of blog posts is a long way from the phone hacking scandals of the News of the World, but it still represents a lack of integrity and it is one small stepping stone to the kind of problems we are seeing in modern journalism, where no one is held accountable for anything at all.

That reminds me of one time I was reviewing a scientific paper, and I commented that one of the references did not support what the authors claimed it did. When I got the revised version, they had simply deleted the reference and left the claim, without substituting an alternate reference. Maybe not a big deal in itself, but it did not inspire confidence in their attitude to adequately sourcing their claims.

Well said. I come from a science background, if someone inappropriately referenced my work I’d be annoyed, but I’d expect to be able to tell the person in question why the reference was inappropriate so that they can learn from their mistake. Obviously websites are different, but it’s totally wrong to just delete something like that and pretend it never happened! Surely if you are humble enough to admit your own mistakes people will appreciate you for it all the more?
As for “elevatorgate”, I haven’t spoken about it yet for fear of being labelled a sexist pig/feminazi (delete as appropriate) but I will say this: it must be tough for Rebecca Watson to get attention, as she’s the only skeptic I can think of who is “famous” for being a skeptic. While I do think that feminism is hugely important and I’m against discrimination of all kinds, you only have to look at her twitter feed to see that she was only too happy to blow “elevatorgate” out of all proportion AFTER Dawkins stuck his surprisingly pig-ignorant head into the fray. It looked like Watson was trying to score points off of Dawkins at the expense of unity within the skeptical movement, which obviously I find rather unsavoury.

“As for “elevatorgate”, I haven’t spoken about it yet for fear of being labelled a sexist pig/feminazi (delete as appropriate) but I will say this:”

I think that sentence says more than you think, and it’s not good. (not against you, it’s reflective of the stupidity this situation has created.)

Thanks, zenbuffy for being another voice of reason in this whole embarrassing affair. After this has all subsided it’ll be hard to listen to certain folks denounce religious dogma and others’ “right to not be offended” without the irony-meter exploding.

DRG: I’m also enjoying the Twitter conversation!

Thanks for standing up to PZ on twitter. You come off sounding like the rational one whereas he seems unhinged.

As I read this story, I really don’t see it coming down to an issue of integrity. Based on my understanding of the situation, it seems likely she thought you were not pleased with the link, so she removed it. If someone says their words shouldn’t be taken in a particular way, you can either basically ignore it, and leave a link that might be ill placed and confusing to readers or seen unfavorably by the link’s author, or remove it.

Is removing a link without announcing it secretive? Well, it really depends. In this case, she doesn’t change the point she was making in the article, which is really important. ‘Some women are out there who believe X’, sure, she no longer cites an example of one possible ‘some women’, but she didn’t change her argument. While she may not link to a particular example of a woman with a differing view, it doesn’t mean that the reader can’t assume they exist (because, of course, they do). Knowing if you are one such woman really doesn’t change the message of a piece at all. If she had changed her position on the subject and done an edit without pointing out that she had done an edit, that would be strange, but this isn’t the same thing. If she thought you didn’t want to be linked or that you (and thus possibly readers) felt the link didn’t provide the argument she wanted, she’s in her right to remove the link. If I linked to the wrong wikipedia page in an article, I’d remove it, and I wouldn’t provide a note saying I edited the article to do so. I genuinely don’t believe the edit was meant as anything more than clearing up a possible error or source of confusion.

While you may have liked her to “@” you with notification that she had removed an offending link, that’s just not always feasible. As unfortunate as it is, it’s really hard to know who, online, if you aren’t personally familiar with them and their work, you should engage in lengthy conversation with. I say this because if I’ve had a particularly well read piece, sometimes I can get dozens of emails (and twitter @s and even weirder Facebook messages) a day from people asking for all sorts of things from me (usually for some paper or blog post of theirs to make it into a link/reference) and I just can’t respond to all of them to the full degree that they would like (and at least half of them are also from total lunatics telling me that “Big Science” is a shame :/). Someone like Jen, who has a much broader readership than my own, probably gets flooded with communications from people that she doesn’t know, and it’s not always possible to detail answers to every single one in the depth that the communicator would like. Conversations have to stop somewhere, and, on Twitter, where you have a short format imposed on you, sometimes exchanges probably do seem rather curt.

Sure, I’m biased because I personally like Jen, but I don’t think this should be taken as anything more than her clearing up a link that you, the author, weren’t happy about, and then just not publicly announcing it. If the inclusion/removal of the link in any way changed the point she was trying to make, then commenting on it would be important, but in this case, that didn’t happen (as that paragraph wasn’t actually about you personally, and I say that without any hint of condescension meant).

If Ouellette had taken two minutes of her time to respond to the author of an article that she had linked to, in order to placate/reassure the bewildered author who felt that she had been unfairly misrepresented, then this would not have turned into an issue. Instead, Ouellette arrogantly and patronisingly dismissed ZenBuffy’s concerns (“it’s all about you”) before deleting the article. This smacks of Ouellette realising that the link was not, in fact, appropriate to the point thst she was trying to make, and her secret removal of the link is her trying to cover up her mistake without anyone knowing. Once again the “there is a rampant sexism issue in the atheist community!” “side” of the argument comes across as having completely lost their marbles.

And may woe betide anyone who dares to use the word “female” instead of “woman”!

(See: “Femalegate”, if you are confused by that remark.)

Sarah, that’s fair enough – but it’s slightly more complicated – after smearing someone by mischaracterization, she removed the link after being challenged on it. What she wrote was snide and wrong, her twitter responses little better.

Sure, people make mistakes but this line really offended several of my colleagues, especially the female scientists I work with. The line in question was..

“Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters in skepticism. Remain open to the possibility that you, too, might be unconsciously influenced by cultural baggage.”

So basically – if you disagree with the RW thing, you’re wrong. If you disagree and you’re a woman, you’re diminishing other women. This is false and is frankly pathetic logic. If you disagree with someone, diminishing doesn’t come into it – you can either debate it until a common viewpoint is found or realise it’s a subjective matter of opinion and nothing will change it. To dismiss ANYONE like that is unbecoming of a self proclaimed critical thinker.

I know the women in my lab who read it were not impressed with Jen either, and several of the Irish feminists I protest with thought it “counter productive”. You cannot insulate a position from critique by smearing those of a different position – it’s a class of logical fallacy.

Honestly though, while that’s a completely valid point, that has nothing to do with this issue. I don’t actually agree with the entire content of Jen’s article, but I have no problem with her removing a link. Is it an integrity question to remove a link that was apparently not really relevant without publicly announcing it? No. Does that mean that I completely agree with her take of “Watsongate”? No. This is just a matter of internet etiquette, not politics.

This is going to sound like an ad, but it isn’t. I’d have loved to see the tweets _in the post_ and so I recommend Storify to you.

Secondly, I was reading the post, and from my understanding of it … she had referenced the wrong blog, it happened to be yours. You protested, she removed it.

Depending on the kind of readership she had, it’s completely within her right to simply delete the link. Sure, it would have been polite to tell you, but it isn’t wrong to not do that… If it didn’t change her point, then she did not need to point out that it was removed. If someone notices that it’s gone, then she can always be like, “yeah, that author was offended” and point it to you.

She didn’t quote/blockquote you and destroy that, she removed a link which may or may not have been noticed once removed: non-central to her point. It’s not an issue; pointing out that there was a change would have made it an issue. Seems fair to me 🙂

Once again, the Rebecca and Jen Fan Club just blows past the issue. They completely ignore the snide put-downs from their pal Jen and say that she has the “right” to delete the link. Well, sure she does, but the fact that she couldn’t be bothered to treat the blogger with respect says a lot about her and it isn’t good.

I, too, have noticed their un-erring ability to concentrate on one trivial aspect, whilst ignoring the massive elephant in the room.
Which might be understandable until one realises that the elephant has been pointed out them hundreds of times, has trumpeted in their shell-likes very loudly, and trod on their feet.

I expect the religious to exhibit this very behaviour.
I also expect so-called skeptics to try their damnedest not to do it!
Instead, I am finding the opposite.


Actually, I think the removal of the link does have a small but significant effect on the message of the article. when I first read it, the link to Buffy’s blog significantly affected my reaction. It was the sole example of what the author considers to be a woman who would “diminish the experiences and emotions of [their] sisters in skepticism” and who is “unconsciously influenced by cultural baggage.” And that did have an impact on the conclusions I drew from the article. Indeed, I think that was the intent.

Moreover, I’m suspicious of the theory that the subsequent deletion was just to satisfy Buffy. If Ouellette were concerned about upsetting the one person she was holding up as a negative example (in Scientific American no less) in a “manifesto” about sexism, why wouldn’t she give some kind of “heads up” before hand? It still seems more like evasion to me.

I’m sorry, but you were not misrepresented. You strawmanned Rebecca Watson’s position, saying feminism was “fighting for something beyond equality, where women are untouchable, and every conflict is a sexist issue. It is such a hot topic that any man saying disagreeing with the majority feminist viewpoint risks being publicly named and shamed in the manner of a sex offender.” That is diminishing the real issues, and Jennifer Oullette was making a perfectly valid point in using your post as an example. I’ll also point out that currently, the only person being “publicly named and shamed in the manner of a sex offender” is Rebecca Watson; if you’d like, I can send you a long list of blog posts that dehumanize her for a very mild statement.

I also see Oullette’s action in a very different light. I don’t write to blog authors and make vague noises when they misrepresent me; if I’m concerned about it, I might write something on my blog rebutting them. I’m not even clear on what you wanted Oullette to do: apparently it was not enough for her to remove the offending link. You wanted her to rewrite an entire section of her article to suit you? You wanted her to revise her whole opinion on the issue? You wanted an article on her site to reflect your opinion?

Seriously, if you want action, be specific. Don’t just nag that you’re unhappy with something.

What I saw in this exchange was that Oullette apologized, and quickly responded to your vague complaints by removing the link that bothered you. That was the action of someone who was busy, didn’t want to make a big deal out of a minor issue, and thought that would resolve it all. And your reaction is to turn it into a loud attack on Oullette’s integrity.

And I really don’t understand why. Because you expected a prominent public acknowledgment of a trivial change? Because you expect to be personally notified whenever a blogger adds or removes a link to your site? Because you want even more attention paid to your views?

It’s just weird. You got a prominent blogger to respond to you and change an entry in response to your complaint. You can’t keep complaining that it wasn’t the change you wanted when you never bothered to say what you wanted in the first place!

As I’ve covered this on Twitter fairly extensively, I apologise to any who are reading it yet again. I haven’t asked for any of the things that you present as my unreasonable demands in your reply (or on Twitter), you’re merely straw-manning them yourself in an attempt to make me look wildly unreasonable. There are two major points which I continue to reiterate, and that you continue to ignore, which are as follows:
1) I didn’t ask for the link to be removed. I commented that I disagreed with her use of the link. I’m sure I am not the only person to have ever told an author, via twitter, that they disagreed with something they had written. I wasn’t expecting a response from her, but felt that I had the right to express my disagreement, which I did via my first tweet. As I was tweeting directly about her, it seemed polite to @mention her rather than ignore her twitter presence. When I attempted to clarify my position, I was brushed off as “making it all about me”, and then subsequently unilaterally ignored. Shortly afterwards, I received several tweets saying that they couldn’t see the link, and I then noticed that it had been removed. There was no need for her to be so dismissive of me, but that’s not my major quibble. That, would be point number
2) She removed it without notification You (and some others) seem to be misinterpreting this as my desire for her to notify me personally that she was going to remove it. Well, you’re wrong, and there’s no other way about it. My quibble is that she didn’t inform any of her readers at all. I wouldn’t put in an edit footnote for a typo correction, but I most certainly would for a removal of a link or any other significant change to the text. As the article was already published, had already been read, and had already sent a number of visits and comments (many nasty) my way, I would have expected a footnote or similar to say that the link was removed. No such note has appeared.

I’m sorry that you don’t agree, and I don’t honestly see why you don’t agree, but one shouldn’t just change blogs after publication because one feels like it without some sort of acknowledgement of the edit. It’s just not right. It’s hardly world shattering in my case, but it’s the kind of lazy, sloppy morality that leads to far greater transgressions (e.g. NOTW hacking) and the fact that it’s just happened to little old me is not going to stop me calling it out. It’s not ok to ret-con things simply because you’ve been criticised, it’s not ok to hide behind smug pat-back attitudes, and it’s not ok to step all over me because you think that a prominent blogger threw me a crumb and I should be grateful – was it not yourself who spoke out about discrimination only a few blog posts ago?

I was extremely specific in what I saw wrong, and what I wanted, and I don’t see how I could have been more so. I didn’t ask her to rewrite the “entire section”, as you’ve suggested. Hell, I didn’t even ask her to remove the link in the first place. I simply said that she should acknowledge a ret-con edit on her piece rather than simply secretly deleting it and pretending it didn’t exist. Had I lodged some sort of formal or legal complaint I could understand speedy link removal and silence, but that’s not what I did. All I did was criticise her understanding of my link – not her inclusion of it – her understanding of it. As I wrote it, and understand exactly what I meant to say, I reserve my right to do so. I also reserve the right to call out what I see as disingenuous behaviour from someone who should know better, especially as the piece in question was quibbling about the morality and behaviour of others.

If, after all this, you honestly can’t understand where I’m coming from, then it really is lost on you. I won’t insult you by saying you’re making it all about you, or that you’re a complainer. I won’t make smug twitter comments or tongue-in-cheek remarks about it. I’ve said my piece, and I will continue to hold myself to a higher standard than that, regardless of what you choose to do with the information.

You disagreed with her use of the link. Fine. If someone told me that, I’d think it was a request to remove it. You were not specific or clear on what you wanted to do.

I would have ignored such a request (oh, wait, not request…I still don’t know what you hoped she would do.) I’ve heard from Oullette, she assumed that a remove was what you wanted, and she obliged.

And that’s the thing. She was nice enough to try and do what she thought you wanted. And now, suddenly, you’re demanding more! You want acknowledgment! You want more edits to the post! You want a footnote! She’s a nice person, and she might well try to accommodate you, but perhaps you should think more about why an author of a very popular blog post would be reluctant to get involved in bowing to these kinds of requests — they just grow and grow and the demands get more intense, and before you know it, actually trying to do what a correspondent was thought to be asking leads to accusations of a lack of integrity.

And now you’re doing some ret-conning yourself. No, your original complaint (“I disagreed with her use of the link”) was not specific at all about what you wanted done. Now you’re getting more specific, after the fact, and couching it in terms of an ethical violation. That’s a bit of bait-and-switch.

Also, please think about it: what would a note that said “A link was removed” accomplish? It would raise more questions than it answered, unless it included a link to the link that was removed, and there we are, back where we started.

Dr. Myers, you’re side stepping the issue – as I said (and others did) previously, feminism is not some black and white movement – there are dozens of different shades and levels. I would suspect most women would want equality to a reasonable degree. But Zenbuffy’s point (and Stef McGraw, Paula Kirby et al..) is that it is disingenious to paint all issues as gender / subtle sexism issues when that is not in fact the case. You can read the history of feminism if you like – and you’ll find for example, 2nd wave and 3rd wave feminists have huge idealogical differences.

In any case, the one being dogmatic is you here – RW does not speak for all women any more than you or I speak for all men. Please realise that is a huge bone of contention – her feelings should of course be respected, and there wasn’t much wrong with her initial comment, but she has made some pretty unsubstaniated follow up claims that are not in keeping with the ethos of skepticism. I have linked you to my blog if you wish to see the point.

So does Zenbuffy deserve to be annoyed ? You’re a scientist, like myself – imagine it in media terms – a local paper references your research, but totally misrepresents it or twists it. You complain. The paper, if reputable, makes a small clarification it may have been wrong on it’s source. Only a rotten newspaper would not publish a VERY small apology and correction. Worse would be if they not only didn’t apologise, but were damning in their correspondance to you, then simply removed it – the damage is done at this stage. In the minds of their readers, your work has already been slighted. I’d be annoyed, wouldn’t you ?

Dr Myers, I respect you. But I don’t respect straw man arguments – is an issue IS subjective, then you cannot expect full agreement. If an issue is emotive, rational discourse is difficult. But that does not give anyone the right to smear or misrepresent, on any ‘side’. You are well known and respected. Please show the same respect to others, even if their viewpoint is different from yours. To paint Zenbuffy as a publicity seeker is very unfair – how would you react if someone said that about say, RW ?

People are saying that constantly about Rebecca Watson.

No one is trying to paint feminism as all one thing (except, maybe, the people who shout “Militant radfem!” when women politely ask not to be hit on). No one is claiming that Watson, or Oullette, or Zenbuffy, are the sole authoritarian voice of women everywhere. Zenbuffy was not misrepresented: I read the article, and it did, as Oullette reasonably characterized it with a link, dismiss the experiences of some women and distort the goals of feminism into an extremist caricature. That’s fair. If you disagree, then you write a blog post that explains your position better and you link to it on twitter and in comments elsewhere.

And no, I’m not characterizing zenbuffy as some kind of publicity hound. I think a lot of her writing is interesting and stands well on its own. What I am saying is that she’s got a strange perspective on this issue, and she’s making a lot of demands of other people.

I see your point, but the problem is the word “experience” – RW felt uncomfortable sure. But the question is does experience equate to rational thought ? Not always. You for example would offend the deeply religious, who might claim you diminish their experience – but their experience, you argue, is not a rational one. So clarification is needed there.

I do semi agree AND disagree but terminology is important. Blog post is written, would love your input so we can have civilised discourse 🙂

PZ, I find it really strange just how widely you are missing the point here. Buffy has already explained well, but I’d just like to add my 2p worth too:

The change to Oullette’s blog was made silently. That’s OK when you’re correcting a typo, but it’s really not OK when you’re making a change to something controversial. It’s lazy and dishonest. A good blogger would either leave the link as it was or post an explanation for why it was changed.

You make the point that Oulette is a “prominent blogger” (so what? Is there a subtext here that her views are more important than Buffy’s?) and that she’s too busy to explain why she’s making changes. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. If she’s a prominent blogger, she has even more of a duty to blog responsibly. And if she’s too busy to correct a blog when she’s screwed up, perhaps she shouldn’t be blogging in the first place.

Before today, you were someone I respected greatly. My respect is now diminished.

Man, people are determined to misrepresent me, aren’t they?

Stating that Jen Oullette is a prominent blogger does not in any way imply that she’s more important than Zenbuffy. It is not my intent to imply that Zenbuffy is begging for crumbs from someone more important than she is. Only that as an author of a popular blog post with many people demanding her attention over it, she did acknowledge Zenbuffy’s complaint and acted reasonably and charitably in responding to it.

She did not change anything controversial. She removed a link at, she thought, the linkees request. That’s about the only thing you can do when you remove a link: adding a footnote explaining what link was removed really defeats the purpose of removing it in the first place.

And please, telling me “My respect is now diminished” is silly and pointless and self-defeating. You’re really just saying you respected me as long as I said things you agreed with.

“She did not change anything controversial.”

Count the number and range of comments the link has generated, and ask yourself if you really believe that there was nothing controversial.

“…we were not at war with Eastasia at all. We were in alliance with them. The war was against Eurasia. That had lasted for four years. Before that –”
– George Orwell.

“She did not change anything controversial.”

Everyone I’ve talked to finds the way Jen’s blog was characterized in SciAm was, at a mininum, controversial. From comments appearing here and elsewhere, I suspect we are not in the minority.

“And please, telling me “My respect is now diminished” is silly and pointless and self-defeating. You’re really just saying you respected me as long as I said things you agreed with.”

Hardly, and that comment is in itself disingenuous. Respect has *at least* as much to do with conduct as it does with content; I have respected a number of religious individuals I have debated with over the years, despite not agreeing with their content in the slightest, because they held themselves to high standards of conduct. In other words, these individuals did not insult me, they did not slight my views, they did not make strawmen out of my statements, and they did not ignore me or talk over me. They showed me respect, and I, in turn, had respect for them.

Mr. Myers, based on comments I am seeing, your conduct recently has not been held in very high regards. Based on what I, myself, have seen of your comments, you have given little if any respect to most people who disagree with you, with little regard to how respectful or rational they are in doing so. Ignoring that and saying “Whatever, you just don’t like the stance I have” is simply one more in what is becoming a laundry-list of your acts which are demonstrative of poor conduct.

“What I saw in this exchange was that Oullette apologized, and quickly responded to your vague complaints by removing the link that bothered you.”

Ah yes, the ol’ sorry-you-were-offended non-apology followed in short order by I’m-still-right-you’re-just-too-self-centred-to-see-it, which is a new one on me to be fair.

I am finding this entire #elevatorgate situation interesting. The ironic part is that I tend to agree with Rebecca Watson’s basic position. What the man did WAS creepy. And while this specific situation was benign, too many women (myself included) have ignored the “creepy” to avoid insulting the possibly benign clueless male – only to wind up raped. Feminist issues aside, I think that this reality is an important discussion for women AND men to have.

Fast forward to the current squabble… Jennifer Ouellette links to a blog written by Buffy as an example of “diminish[ing] the experiences and emotions of your sisters in skepticism.” Now, I liked Jennifer Ouellette’s article – even agreed with most of it. But when you link someone else’s article as an example of something you disagree with, you are effectively calling that person out by name. (Much like Rebecca Watson did regarding Steph McGraw and vice-versa.) So if that person choses to disagree with your characterization of of them just as publicly, it makes you look really really bad when you respond like a condescending boor: “Interesting that in a 3000 word post with 25+ links, you’re making it all about you. Again, sorry if you were offended.”

@PZMeyers, no matter what you may claim in defense of Oullette, that was NOT an apology. It was pure snark quickly followed by the deleting of the link without further comment. In my opinion Jennifer Oullette was wrong – NOT for disagreeing with Buffy, and not even for deleting the link. Had she ONLY deleted the link, I don’t think any of us would be having this discussion. But she let her fingers fly first with her rude comments to Buffy, quickly followed by deleting the link without notice. It appears to me that Ouellette was trying *disappear* the situation rather than resolve it.

PZ Myers has been losing his mind over the past couple of weeks regarding the whole “Elevator Gate” issue. His continued refusal to even broach the subject of Rebecca Watson’s bullying behaviour in relation to Stef McGraw has been very disappointing- from reading what he has to say you’d think that anyone who isn’t 100% behind Watson (and Ouellette, for that matter) is a misogynist and a “part of the problem”. The militant radfems can do no wrong in his eyes! So very, very disappointing from someone who you’d think would know better.

I wouldn’t dismiss Watson’s feelings of discomfort and request that she not be treated that way as “militant radfem” thinking. I can understand that she would feel that way, give the context.

What I do find troubling, however, is attitudes like “you’re misogynist, gender-traitor, patriarchy enabler, anti-woman, mansplainer, MRA, sexist, chauvinist, etc… because you don’t think or feel the way I do.” This is where I think “militant radfems” is more apt description.

Disagreement with aspects of third-wave feminism is treated the same way a fundamentalist demagogue condemns “heretics” or “unbelievers.” It really is apalling and an anathema to freethought and skepticism.
See Feminists can be bullies too on Miranda’s blog.

Nor are we the ones losing our minds by turning an invitation to coffee into an act of misogyny, sexism or stating “all men are potential rapists”. Or pulling a creationist stunt of quote mining and trying to misrepresent the person you’re quoting to be something they’re not. Oh the hypocrisy.

Talk about mischaracterizations.

John Yates is spot on. PZ has been shaking his fists angrily and impotently at the sky over the supposed injustices. Buffy represented the whining of PZ and associates quite correctly but they refuse to accept that someone might see through their BS assertions. Their cause is not, and has never been, equality. All they are doing is trying to divide and conquer by creating supposed mutually exclusive camps. Their entire position is based on self-loathing apologetics and the construction of bludgeons with which to beat opponent strawmen. If the skeptic community is to grow (and if we actually want a fair mix of the sexes) it would be wise to cut ties with PZ and his harem of harpies. Then, maybe, we can work towards actual equality without their constant derailment and bickering.

Maybe we should give Jen the benefit of the doubt, here.

Maybe after it was brought to her attention she realized how idiotic it was to have the link/comment there, to begin with. Maybe she realized that she was doing exactly what creationists do by quote mining and falsely suggesting that someone is saying something they aren’t.

It’s possible that was her reason for removing it.

I’m fine with giving her the benefit of the doubt, but the issue then is the need to add a statement that her original post has been edited. It could be as vague as “This article has been edited since it was originally published” though it would be better to provide some indication of what was changed (e.g., “A link to an external site has been removed.”) I’d expect such a notification if a story in an on-line newspaper were edited. If her blog post is meant to be substantive in any way, I’d expect the same there. Otherwise accountability as well as any attempt at permanence suffers.

Of course it’s also troubling that she apparently misconstrued (or didn’t read) the article she linked to in the first place.

I would have no problem giving Jennifer the benefit of the doubt if she had said something like: “she realized how idiotic it was to have the link/comment there, to begin with. Maybe she realized that she was doing exactly what creationists do by quote mining and falsely suggesting that someone is saying something they aren’t.” instead of “Interesting that in a 3000 word post with 25+ links, you’re making it all about you. Again, sorry if you were offended.”

Someone please explain to me how “disagreeing with” is equivalent to “diminishing the experience of”. And why in a community of skeptics it should matter if it were. How does “experience” differ from “anecdote”? I thought anecdotal data was generally not highly regarded.

Because I know it can be hard to tell online, these are sincere questions, not sarcasm.

You experience that X is a problem.
I experience that X is not a problem.
Your experience counts and mine does not? How does that work?

Sorry for the double comment; I’m just trying to make sense of this.

As a non-heterosexual, left wing rape survivor, it always amazes me how that whole “phallocratic tool” thing happened to me ;-)Did I miss my vaccination or something?

It was a comment on the “Do not diminish the experiences of your sisters in skepticism…” portion of Ouellette’s “Manifesto for change.”

My take on the section in question:

Essentially, that portion was saying that, in the following hypothetical situation:

1) Woman A experiences nothing that they perceive as sexism at the conventions.
2) Woman B experiences what they perceive as sexism at the conventions.
3) Woman B states publicly that sexism is a problem at the conventions.

Then, in the above scenario, in order to not “diminish the experiences” of Woman B, Woman A should remain quiet rather than pointing out that they themselves had never dealt with anything that they considered to be sexist.

This starts to become an issue if the people experiencing sexism are in the minority, as there is a possibility that they are misinterpreting peoples’ actions; for example, if only one woman in one-hundred experiences what they feel is sexism, then it is rather unlikely that sexism is some pervasive problem in the venue in question, and is more likely a failure of communication between two (or more) people (which is not anybody’s fault; miscommunications happen, and it is just a fact of life).

It is furthermore an issue if people have rational reasons to believe that something was not sexist, but are encouraged to remain silent in the interests of “solidarity.” Solidarity is not inherently virtuous; after all, religious solidarity has led to countless numbers of wars, removals of freedoms, and institutionalizations of oppression, has it not? Therefore, as rationalists and skeptics, do we not owe it to ourselves and each other to speak out in favor of what is correct (or, at least, best supported by the available evidence), rather than simply following the crowd?

I’ve seen the same claim made by immigrants who have been lucky and have never experienced the typical immigrant life, that is, crappy jobs with no contract and no rights at all, constant fear of the police, etc. Some of the lucky ones believe immigrants who do experience that typical life are just lazy and whiny and should just work more, and then everything would work out well. My comment was another analogy.

Woden didn’t get the point in the comment below. It’s not “those who haven’t experienced the problem should shut up”. No, it’s not that. I don’t know if s/he misrepresented the point willingly or unwillingly, and it doesn’t matter. The point is “those who haven’t experienced the problem shouldn’t say the problem doesn’t exist”. They shouldn’t say it simply because it isn’t true. Their good experience only proves the problem doesn’t affect every single individual, but that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist. If suddenly 40% of the US population caught malaria, wouldn’t that be a national health problem, even though it doesn’t affect every single individual?

A woman who gets paid the same as his male co-workers shouldn’t deny the pay gap. A guy who is 6’5 shouldn’t deny that the average male american is about 5’9. A rich person shouldn’t deny poverty. Misogyny among atheists is a problem, it exists. People who haven’t seen the problem shouldn’t say there isn’t one.


The point is “those who haven’t experienced the problem shouldn’t say the problem doesn’t exist”. They shouldn’t say it simply because it isn’t true. Their good experience only proves the problem doesn’t affect every single individual, but that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.

And yet you have completely neglected to even consider the possibility that there might not be a problem.

Whether a woman feels that she is being treated in a sexist manner is entirely subjective; how in the world are you supposed to rationally weight the subjective experiences of two individuals against each other to determine which one is universal and which is just an exception? You can’t.

Furthermore, nobody, as far as I can see, has bothered to take any sort of poll or otherwise gather quantitative data on this; instead, people are making assumptions left and right. For example, if 80% of female attendants at a conference don’t feel that they are being treated in a sexist manner… wouldn’t that suggest that sexism is not likely a pervasive problem at the conference? Yet, for no reason that I can see, you have refused to consider such a possibility, and appear to be taking the stance that if any women feel that they are being treated in a sexist manner, then it is a real (and, based on the examples you are comparing it to, pervasive) problem. However, this also ignores basic human psychology; some individuals, whether due to different upbringings (e.g., country vs. city, American vs. European, secluded vs. outgoing, conservative vs. liberal, etc.), psychiatric conditions, and whether or not the individual has suffered from abuse, among other factors, people can vary greatly in their sensitivity to comments. Combine this with the gulf between a speaker’s intended meaning and the listener’s interpreted meaning, and you have a situation that can and does result in people unintentionally getting offended.

Combine this with the huge variety in sexual slang, and it’s actually not that difficult to unintentionally offend some people. Heck, just to point out an example, a pro-Watson poster on ERV recently (and presumably unintentionally) made what could easily be viewed as a sexist comment… by referencing pop tarts. Yes, pop tarts, as in the breakfast pastry. Turns out that it’s also a derogatory slang referring to popular women with… eh… “negotiable virtue,” I believe is the polite way of stating it. Once again, his comment was likely not sexist in meaning, but it certainly can be interpreted to be sexist, and it certainly offended some people.

So, really, the situation is not so black-and-white as you are making it out to be. First of all, what one woman finds sexist, another may find perfectly acceptable (even among feminists; this is particularly noticeable between the different “waves” of feminism, which often have quite different views on what is and is not acceptable behavior). Secondly, when a woman feels that an action was sexist, it was not necessarily intended as such; it can easily be a result of miscommunication. Thirdly, because it is so difficult to determine who is “right” in subjective matters such as this, it is entirely acceptable and healthy for there to be debate on the topic; it should not be viewed as “diminishing” the positions of others. To draw a parallel that should not be lost on this audience: Would it be acceptable to ask people who feel distant from God to not “diminish the faith and emotions of your brethren in religion,” particularly if this is then used to justify vilifying those who don’t follow along (as Watson and others have been doing to a number of women and feminist men who have disagreed with them)?

(This might be a little bit incoherent; I haven’t slept in over 36 hours.)

Woden, it’s okay for you to deny the problem, as it isn’t my job to try and convince every person I meet of the contrary. I noticed you didn’t ask something like “what is the problem?” or “well where can I see it?”. No, you simply denied it a priori by claiming subjectivity and lack of numbers. That’s a pretty clear indication that you aren’t really interested in such examples, since you have already dismissed them even before seeing them. So instead of trying to convince you, I’ll just reiterate one point: not having seen something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You could have asked me where it is; you didn’t, because you have already made up your mind, before considering the arguments I might have given you. Have a nice day.

Actually, jose, I did not deny the problem exists, I expressed uncertainty as to whether it exists, and listed possible reasons that could possibly lead to it being incorrectly inferred to exist.

Last I checked, this is a discussion about the skeptical community–correct me if I am wrong, but is it not a core principle of the skeptical movement that the validity of a claim is based on the evidence supporting it? So, therefore, wouldn’t “It does exist, and I know because [A] said it does, even though [B] disagrees” be very weak support?

I’ve never even been to one of these conferences, so I most certainly don’t know what the things are like… but I have definitely not seen anything presented to convince me that this problem of sexism actually exists. If I was provided with more evidence and less assertions, that may change, because I am what it says on the tin: a skeptic.

Furthermore, I did not say that subjectivity makes the issue meaningless, but I did say that the subjectivity means that you can’t just compare two accounts and determine which one is “right.” If there was a poll taken, and significant (say, 30% or more, for example) numbers of respondents were saying that they did feel that they were being treated in a sexist manner, I would take that as strong proof of sexism being a problem.

Hi Jen,

Congratulations on managing to remain civil and rational in this discussion while everyone else seems to be losing it.

Just a thought:
Did Rebecca Watson kick off Elevatorgate wearing her feminist hat or her skeptic hat? Should not a distinction be drawn between the ideological ground occupied by feminists and that occupied by skeptics? I’ll not pretend to understand either camp particularly well but it seems to me that feminism may trade off experience more than skepticism does. Anyone willing to set me right on this?


Well done Buffy on your handling of this. Some people say blogs are the future of the media and to be honest I certainly hope it isn’t true. I’ve been going around blogs for a while and it never ceases to amaze me the way some people get so full of themselves that they are blind to the fact that they have become nothing more than jumped up forum trolls with fancy language; all because they have a few followers to bolster their egos.

Not everyone can fend off an egotist who thinks their thin disguise of a reasoned argument hides their douchebaggery and “you’re wrong because I said so” mentality. The fact that you did so in a level headed manner, considering it is very easy to get upset and lose your head when facing someone running their mouth from behind a monitor, knowing there is little you can do to defend yourself and anything you say will be met with cries of “strawman”, makes it all the more impressive

Am I the only one who thinks the term strawman will ultimately replace Nazi as the default bullshit rebuke for debates?

harassment in the workplace is any behaviour that’s unwelcome by the recipient.

so the gal in the elevator is right to call the conduct inappropriate, intimidating and unwelcome

and no one gets to challenge her on that – it was unwelcome, thoughtless and intimidating.

people need to view their actions not by their own intentions, but how the other people around them percieve it.

“harassment in the workplace is any behaviour that’s unwelcome by the recipient.”

Mmmm…not true. Your choice of word “any” makes that a weak point. Someone may accuse a guy whose constantly smiles at them in the workplace as “harrassment.” Just because it makes the other person feel uncomfortable, doesn’t make it harrassment.

The ironic thing about this is, Watson did to this guy exactly what she was complaining that guys were doing to her at conventions. She objectified him, making his intentions about something other than what he stated, as opposed to seeing him as a thinking human being, first, which is what his words implied. And this guy, was doing exactly what Watson said she did want….to be seen as a thinking human being, first. He said he found her interesting and extended an invitation for more conversation. He didn’t say he wanted to jump her bones or shag her.

Now, imagine the outrage, if a woman said “no” in a situation, yet the guy, instead of taking her word at face value, assumed she meant something other than what she said? See the hypocrisy here? The double standard. And these people who have, not only been jumping to conclusions, where there is no evidence to support it, but go even further to create fallacies about this guy. These people are suppose to be skeptics?

Is it any wonder that these people are not taken seriously in the skeptic community?

If everyone had to act according to other people’s perceptions of what is “appropriate” regardless of the fact that no rights are violated, we’d all be in danger. We’d all have to stop speaking to others, stop smiling at others, stay outside of arms length of others, stop blogging, etc.

No one has a protected right to never feel uncomfortable and no one is obligated by any law or dogma to never behave in a way that may make another person feel uncomfortable, especially when civil rights are not violated.

There’s a good logical reason why “making someone feel uncomfortable” isn’t a law. We’d all be in jail.

On another note, here is a list of ways guys can “flirt succesfully” with women. So, in other words, guys, these are other things you aren’t allowed to do.

1. You can’t wear red. Women take this as being flirtacious because it demonstrates power.

2. Don’t eat celery. The cytoplasms will have women hooked.

3. Don’t play romantic music. It will cause women to go into fits of uncontrollable swooning.

4. Chocolate desserts are off limits. It raises the woman’s oxytocin level. (More proof of EG’s innocent intentions. He only suggested coffee. Not chocolate.)

5. You bust a dance move, you’re done for. Women obviously like guys who are able to dance.

Whoa! After reading some of these comments, I thought I stumbled onto a creationist debate for the existance of god.”Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”

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