What is D.J. Grothe talking about?

As long as I’m still on this basic subject, there’s another claim that Grothe made which is being met with some serious skepticism, and rightly so. Here’s the quote, emphasis mine:

But I’d certainly hope that these “call-out” posts against various people in skepticism for real or supposed sins do in fact generate a lot of hits, because if they do not, I see little other real-world pay-off. I have been told by two people now who have been personally involved with one of the controversialist blogs that there has been explicit direction from that blog’s founder to this effect.

The overwhelming chorus of responses to this claim has been to ask for names. Who are these “two people”? What “controversialist blog” are they involved with, and what was the nature of the involvement? Why does Grothe apparently accept their claims at face value, over the statements of other bloggers on these so-called “controversialist blogs” who have provided information that shows this is not the case?

And those are all reasonable questions that Grothe needs to answer if this claim is meant to be taken seriously, and not as an intellectually (and otherwise) dishonest bit of mudslinging. But I had a different question when I saw this claim, one I haven’t heard anyone address: what the hell is Grothe talking about?

Because I don’t know of many blogs at all that are run in the way that Grothe’s claim suggests: a blog founder at the top, with writers (or other people involved) who are subordinate content-producers. In fact, of the blogs I follow (many of which, I suspect, Grothe would call “controversialist”), I can think of only two blogs that have anything like that structure: Friendly Atheist and Skepchick. Both of those sites have a (real or perceived) main blogger/”blog founder,” and a host of other writers.

Now, maybe these are the blogs that Grothe means to indict–in fact, I’d be surprised if Skepchick weren’t on his list of “controversialist blogs.” But how feasible is his claim if these are the blogs he’s talking about?

I’ve been scrolling back through the Friendly Atheist archive. So far, I’ve seen four posts on sexism/feminist issues; one written by Hemant, one written by a guest named Claudia, one written by regular contributor Megan Wells, and one (a comic) by regular contributor M J Shepherd. That’s going back to December 22nd, and touches specifically on the Reddit incident and Penn Jillette’s promotion of Mallorie Nasmallah’s letter–only one post mentions any names and could reasonably be termed a “call out” post. Other microscandals from the intervening period–Ben Radford’s bad science on dolls, the comments made to Greta Christina which have formed much of the discussion with Grothe–have gone unmentioned, so far as my quick survey found. In addition, I saw little if any evidence of other “controversialist” posts, going after prominent skeptical figures for “supposed sins.” If the decree went down from Hemant on high, then it doesn’t seem to have had much effect. There’s far more commentary on religion and atheism in the news than on insider pool between skeptics at Friendly Atheist.

So what of Skepchick? Well, they certainly comment on the sexism and misogyny issues, and were at the forefront of calling out Ben Radford, Mallorie Nasmallah, r/atheism, and last year, Stef McGraw and Richard Dawkins. Maybe this is the blog Grothe meant. Maybe MasalaSkeptic or Elyse Anders came to him and showed e-mails where Rebecca Watson sinisterly, tenting her fingers, ordered the Skepchick horde to attack the straight white men in the alls of skeptic power. It’s the only way to explain all those posts, written by such diverse Skepchick writers as Rebecca Watson, Heina, Rebecca Watson, Rebecca Watson, Rebecca Watson, and Rebecca Watson.


Well, clearly, if Rebecca’s order from on high to attack the privileged leaders of the skeptical community actually went out, it didn’t go very far.

Grothe’s claim is starting to look pretty dubious on his face, but perhaps his language is simply unclear. Maybe by “blog’s founder,” he meant “the founder of a blogging network,” like FreethoughtBlogs. Maybe someone over at FreethoughtBlogs shared some insider information on orders from Ed Brayton or PZ to go after the white male non-feminist hierarchy. And a bunch of the other bloggers, most of whom have been blogging for years with well-developed styles and spheres of expertise and influence, took this advice and started–or perhaps redoubled–their efforts to root out even the most trivial examples of potential sexism among prominent skeptics.

I suppose that’s possible, but I’d sure like to see the evidence. Especially since a major factor in the founding of FreethoughtBlogs was apparently the potential moderating/censoring hand of National Geographic when they took over ScienceBlogs. But surely bloggers who bristled at the idea of even sharing space with the corporately-owned Pepsi blog wouldn’t mind having new overlords dictate content.

As someone who followed Greta Christina’s Blog and Blag Hag (and to a lesser degree, Almost Diamonds and Butterflies and Wheels) before the FreethoughtBlogs move, I can’t say that I’ve noticed a marked difference in the blog content. What I have noticed is an uptick in the frequency of ridiculously sexist acts among the atheist/skeptic communities, and an uptick in the number of people willing to call out such behavior. Maybe there was an order from on high at FreethoughtBlogs to go after prominent skeptics (doesn’t explain Skepchick’s participation, but maybe they’re in cahoots), but it sure would look a lot more like grasping at straws and desperate attempts to paint skeptical leaders as misogynists if those same skeptical leaders weren’t doing things that can be so easily interpreted as misogynistic. No one from FreethoughtBlogs went over and started making rape jokes at a 15-year-old Redditor. No one at Skepchick forced Ben Radford to write a clueless article where he justified gender essentialism with appeals to antiquity and popularity and evo-psych in complete ignorance of the scholarly work on the subject. Grothe can complain about people calling out skeptics for “supposed sins,” but it’d be a lot harder to do if those skeptics stopped committing those sins.

The most charitable interpretation of Grothe’s claim here is that he’s accepted the words of actual people who have actual evidence that some blog founder someplace issued instructions to call out skeptics for their real or supposed sexism. He’s not denying the content of these “call out” posts (diminishing, but not denying), which amounts to saying ‘I’m upset that people would notice these instances of perceived sexism and talk about them publicly.’ The least charitable interpretation is that Grothe is maliciously lying to dismiss and discredit people with whom he disagrees, in the service of greater perceived harmony among the community–to set a policy of not policing our own. I suspect that the truth is somewhere in the middle, but in no case does it reflect positively on Mr. Grothe.

2 Responses to What is D.J. Grothe talking about?

  1. vjack says:

    I've been wondering the same thing: who was he talking about? It will be interesting to see if we ever find out.

  2. Don says:

    I think it's a very important thing to learn. If it's true, it will seriously change my opinion of whoever it happens to be true about.On the other hand, if it's false, it won't really at all change my current opinion that Grothe is at best kind of useless.But I don't think we should hold our breath.

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