On last week's episode of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, I discussed the New Hampshire bill that would require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that abortions are known to increase your chance of breast cancer, which is completely incorrect. Here is how the bill is written:

 

It is scientifically undisputed that full-term pregnancy reduces a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer. It is also undisputed that the earlier a woman has a first full-term pregnancy, the lower her risk of breast cancer becomes, because following a full-term pregnancy the breast tissue exposed to estrogen through the menstrual cycle is more mature and cancer resistant.

In fact, for each year that a woman’s first full-term pregnancy is delayed, her risk of breast cancer rises 3.5 percent. The theory that there is a direct link between abortion and breast cancer builds upon this undisputed foundation.

The original bill called for a Class A felony for any doctor who failed to give the woman that information, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill passed in the House but was then called back for review, at which point the punishment was changed to remove the felony but still allow doctors to be sued for malpractice or held for disciplinary action (i.e., job loss) by the New Hampshire State Board of Medicine.

On SGU, I explained that prior to the mid-1990s, there had only been a few very small, flawed studies done on this subject, and some of them found that there may be a link between abortion and breast cancer. However, since then there have been several very large studies that have shown rather conclusively that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

Therefore, the New Hampshire law would require that doctors give unscientific, medically inaccurate information to patients or else lose their jobs.

On the show, my co-host Dr. Steven Novella (I include his honorific because it's highly relevant here) supported my points, saying that he had also looked into the research and found no link. He agreed that this was irresponsible anti-science legislation that should alarm our audience whether or not they agreed with a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

This is one response we got from a listener. I should note that I open each show with several minutes on this date in (science-related) history, and the date of this show happened to be the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster. To my memory it was a short, factual description of events during which I did not lose my breath once. Bolding mine:

 

Reason: Feedback/Suggestions

Email: REDACTED

First Name: Byron

Last Name: REDACTED

Location: Mn

Subject: Show content

Message: Over time I've noticed that your show content has drifted off message, a lot more "political science" rather than hard science.  In a recent show Ms. Watson indulges in a breathless Exxon Valdez anniversary remembrance with the obligatory round of predictable, tiresome outrage and sarcasm by all (a more appropriate discussion: recent data on the Prince William Sound ecosystem).  She goes on to opine on the contraception issue (this is science?).  And where is your skepticism when discussing anthropogenic climate change (the assertion alone seems a breathtaking leap given the scale of the phenomena. …What's more probable – simple solar output or complex man induced carbon based atmospherics. And what of Method? Falsifiability?).



I would like to suggest that you folks return focus to topical pseudo science debunking and let that drive your science discussion/education efforts, i.e. creationism-ID -> Darwin -> evolution.  You are not doing our cause any good by wandering into disputatious feminist, leftist, or insular academic intellections.



Unfortunately, I don't have time for payloads, right or left.  Good luck with the show, I'll probably stick with 5X5 for awhile.



Best Regards,

  Byron

You see, I always thought that “pseudoscience” referred to misinformation masquerading as science, which is exactly what the New Hampshire bill is. Let’s imagine that it was a bill that required doctors to tell men that scientists have proven that their dicks will fall off if they eat green Jello. Would that be appropriate for our anti-pseudoscience podcast?

I can only assume that Byron doesn’t know the meaning of “topical,” “pseudoscience,” or “debunking,” or for that matter “science,” “discussion,” or “education,” since our piece on the abortion/breast cancer bill was the very definition of a topical discussion debunking pseudoscience by presenting the real science for the public’s education.

And please don’t dismiss Byron as a one-off moron – there are plenty like him, and we hear from them whenever we discuss a topic that really matters to society, particularly when it matters most to a marginalized group.

That’s why it was disheartening for me to discover that a booth at this past weekend’s American Atheists conference was presenting the “scientific” argument against abortion:

That photo is from Surly Amy. By the time I arrived, he had been joined by a woman who was obviously well-versed in anti-choice rhetoric. I interviewed them for about an hour, and while I mostly kept my cool as they grinned and talked about how a fertilized egg deserves “the same” rights as me, I had to stop the interview shortly after the man insisted that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a 12-year old who has been raped and impregnated by her father. Then he went on to tell me that he’s one of the people who waves photos of bloody fetuses at women, and he refused to condemn the actions of anti-choice activists who surround and harass women attempting to enter Planned Parenthood. The best he could offer was that the strategy may be ineffective, and when I pressed him he agreed that specifically calling a woman a whore is “wrong.”

I told him he is a horrible person and I walked away because I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The Religious Right has successfully invaded a secular space to sell their anti-woman message, and in our ranks we have a sizable portion of people who declare that fighting back is too political. Too feminist! Too leftist. Too insular and academic.

Fuck that. If we don’t stand up and defend our values – humanism, skepticism, scientific inquiry – when they are under attack by those who would seek to further limit the rights and freedoms of the disenfranchised, then those values aren’t worth holding at all.

I’ll be editing that interview into something listenable soon, so be on the lookout for that. Also, in the course of speaking about the AA booth with Surly Amy, Amanda Marcotte, and Beth Presswood, I think we may have come up with a possible counter to this bullshit. We’ll be discussing that behind the scenes and I hope to have more to tell soon.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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79 Comments

  1. Avatar of snarp
    March 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm —

    I pretty much agree with everything you've written here, but I'm a little confused that you seem to be casting the email as a response to the story on the New Hampshire bill, but I don't see any mention of that topic in it. I see the relationship between his argument about politicized science and the abortion story, but I still feel like it's shoehorned in here the way this reads. For all we know, the emailer may actually support choice, but still be an apologist for the oil industry. Maybe it's just a missing transition….

    • Avatar of DiscordianStooge
      March 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm —

      The bolded part "(This is science)?" – He says contraception, but that's the only thing from the episode he would be refering to.

      • Avatar of snarp
        March 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm —

        Oops. Never mind, forget I said anything. How the hell did my brain manage to not process, or see when skimming over it a second and third time, the BOLDED part? 

    • Avatar of snarp
      March 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm —

      Shit. Apparently I'm an illiterate moron.

  2. Avatar of Molly Pinson Simoneau
    March 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm —

    Dear, Dear, Dear Rebecca,
    This is exactly why I had to stop you and creepily ask for a hug on Saturday.  Thanks for being amazing and refusing to accept the status-quo.
    Love,
    The blonde girl in the green raincoat.

  3. Avatar of Luna
    March 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm —

    It's a shame my home state has become so anti-moderate since I grew up there. What's more the anti-choice folks could have done a great job discouraging abortions by A. pushing for free birth control B. Demanding rights for gay couples to adopt children C. Supporting pregnant women in communities by offering services and resources. instead they opt for this obscene method of anti-woman legislation. The GOP cornered the market on this but I see secular / atheist men being control freaks as well.
    Just thought I'd chime in on Valdez, here is some disturbing research on the long-term effects it's had on fiddler crabs. At the very least it shows us that the unintended consequences could be far worse than we thought.
    http://www.whoi.edu/oilinocean/page.do?pid=52301&tid=282&cid=25746
     

  4. Avatar of Luna
    March 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm —

    Wow, that formatting sure was messed up. Any way to edit?    ;)

  5. Avatar of
    March 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm —

    I say THREE CHEERS for you, Rebecca, and the SGU for not being afraid to tackle controversial issues. Skepticism and rational thinking should NOT be limited to tackling quacks and UFO hoaxers. I really hate when skeptics immediately retreat when discussions enter the realms of politics, ethics, etc. So many other podcasts kill meaningful discussion as soon as it starts getting into politics, with the phrase I detest: "But let's not get into politics here." (Incidentally, I've noticed British and Australian skepitc podcasts seem quite comfortable talking about political issues.) It always makes me think about Carl Sagan's Cosmos, where he talked about how the destruction of the Library of Alexandria was proceeded by a culture where science was kept separate from the affairs of day to day life. He talks about how in all the great ideas written there, no one spoke a word against slavery, for example. Science and philosophy weren't integrated with society, so when the mob came to burn the place down, there was no one to protect it.

  6. Avatar of Benny
    March 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm —

    I actually listened to the SGU episode just about an hour before reading this.  I felt that you handled both the oil spill issue AND the abortion law issue extremely well – you kept on the science, talked about the specifics of how the proposed law is anti-science, and Dr. Novella even went so far as to clarify that SGU was not talking about the ethics of abortion, but about the problems of lying to patients about a medical decision.
     
    The secular pro-lifer guy completely confuses me.  I'm interested in hearing what arguements they made, because without an arguement for the existence of a soul (and specifically one imparted at conception), I really can't figure out what ethical arguement can be made for restricting abortion access.
     
    I have, however, met a LOT of anti-sex atheists and skeptics.  I can only guess his position comes out of a real fear of sexuality, and particularily female sexuality.

    • Avatar of Lux
      March 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm —

      The way that I think of fetuses (and, this just reinforces my pro-choice-ness, but a pro-lifer could take it the other way) is that it is a clump of cells that has the <i>potential</i> for viability. I.e. If I allow this ball of cells to continue developing, it will eventually become a sentient lifeform capable of living autonomous
       
      So, while I view it as "it isn't, but it will be someday", a pro-lifer might say "it isn't yet, but it will be someday, and itdeservesthatchancehowhorribleareyoutodenyitlife."
       
      It's the only thing I can think of, for a group that doesn't have the 'soul' argument. I thought of this because when my friend died, it was the fact that she was young and could potentially have had a long life that upset me most.

    • Avatar of adam.b
      March 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm —

      I usually get slippery slope arguments, “we’ll what’s to stop someone from wanting to kill there three year old because they’re an unwanted burden/ not autonomous/ not fully developed/ etc, we need a objective stopping point which is conception” .

      • Avatar of substance
        March 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm —

        This is the kind of thing that should be front and center. Debunking things like homeopathy and ghost hunting is all well and good but this is the kind of real issue that actually affects people and really needs to be addressed. People arguing against birth control or that a woman should have to birth her rapist's child are no less archaic or wrong than creationism ect. and can cause far more harm, much more easily.

        • Avatar of substance
          March 27, 2012 at 9:42 pm —

          Woops, sorry posted in the wrong spot, meant that as a general reply not a specific one.

    • Avatar of Godless Heathen
      March 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm —

      @benny,
      What types of anti-sex comments do atheists and skeptics make? I'm curious.
       
      Thanks.
       

    • Avatar of Drew Spencer
      March 29, 2012 at 10:10 am —

      Check out the Point of Inquiry episode from 9/17/2010, titled "Atheist Against Abortion." I disagree with their guest (and with Price himself, about so much), but it was still pretty interesting.

  7. Avatar of TheOmni
    March 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm —

    I'm super excited to hear about a possible counter to this bullshit. 

  8. Avatar of scribe999
    March 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm —

    "disputatious feminist, leftist, or insular academic intellections" …mwhahahaha. I'm sure a switchover to polemically patriarchal, arch-conservative, or psuedo-populist affirmations would suit the letter writer just fine. Anything with $5 words, in any case. 

    It's only when folks disagree they claim the other person is being too political.
     

  9. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    March 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm —

    Can someone explain the purpose of skepticism to me, if it can't be applied to things that affect people on a large scale?  If it only exists to allow skeptics to feel intellectually superior to a tiny group of fringe wackaloons, but can't be applied to the issues that confront people on a daily basis, then we might as well pack it in and go home. 

    • Avatar of Benny
      March 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm —

      This is a great point.  Skepticism isn't all that helpful if we only apply it to ghoast hunters and aura readers.  It serves it's best purpose when applied in all areas.

      • Avatar of Elyse
        March 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm —

        Fortunately, abortions create the opportunity for haunted vaginas giving us more ghosts to hunt and, conveniently, another excuse to creep women the fuck out of this movement.

        • Avatar of Improbable Joe
          March 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm —

          Seems like the goal, doesn't it? At least those women who think that they should be taken seriously and treated with the same dignity and respect as men. And political people, or at least progressive political people, need to keep quiet as well… probably in part because they tend to lean too feminist. Somehow "skepticism" about issues that lean politically right are more than welcome. But especially the hating, marginalizing, and eventually removal of women from the conversation. 

        • Avatar of daedalus2u
          March 27, 2012 at 7:46 pm —

          I don't see how a skeptic can argue from facts and logic that all abortion should be illegal without starting from the premise that women are not human beings with the right of self-autonomy but instead are merely vessels for growing fetuses in.
           
          Since human life is defined to end with brain death, then something without a living brain cannot be a living human. One might quibble about how many nerve cells it takes to constitute a living human brain, but that number has to be at least one or more. That number can't be zero.
           
          The whole point of being a skeptic is that you are not entitled to your own facts.

          • Avatar of bubblewrap74
            March 31, 2012 at 12:54 am

            Not that I'm an anti-choicer, but your argument doesn't really work, since brain cells are formed (by the millions) very early in development, earlier than many abortions are performed.

  10. Avatar of mary3
    March 27, 2012 at 4:02 pm —

    That reminds me of the horror I had when one of the Yearly Kos meetings had a giant anti-vaxxer booth set up. I called it the Troll Booth.
    It's particularly shocking when your presumably evidence-based cohorts do that sort of thing to you.

  11. Avatar of simonsays
    March 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm —

    I think before we give this group any more credence, we should start asking how "secular" they really are. Their president is Kelsey Hazzard and she recently spoke there: http://blog.secularprolife.org/2012/02/hazzard-to-speak-at-university-of.html
    She was was also at the table at the AA conference.

    Her undergrad was at the University of Miami where she started a group called "UM Respect Life". Here's what an article from 2009 says about her:

    UM Respect Life takes part in and organizes other events in order to bring this national debate within the borders of the UM campus. The 2008-2009 school year was their first year as an official organization. The two founding members, Laura Basulto and Kelsey Hazzard, were originally part of the Catholic Students Association.

    Source: http://www.themiamihurricane.com/2009/10/21/pro-life-club-active-on-campus/

    So I think it's a fair question to ask Ms. Hazzard at what point exactly she started to drift away from catholicism. If indeed at all…
     

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      March 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm —

      From their website:

      Happily, polls have shown that a greater percentage of young people are pro-life compared to previous generations. At the same time, church attendance and other measures of religiosity have been declining. If we are going to create a world where abortion is unthinkable for everyone, we must adapt to these new dynamics.

      I'm guessing that "we" isn't referring to atheists or agnostics, what do you think?

    • Avatar of weatherwax
      March 28, 2012 at 12:54 am —

      Thank you for posting this info.  I thought something seemed fishy, but was thinking it was some sort of "performance art" stunt.  Or maybe some mrm's trying to stir up some controversy.

  12. Avatar of simonsays
    March 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm —

    Ack. I meant to say she "attends UVA and recepntly spoke there"

  13. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    March 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm —

    And as far as secular anti-women activists… well, at least we KNOW they're anti-woman since they can't hide behind any religious nonsense that they might nevertheless sincerely believe. Anyone who can claim that a clump of cells with the potential of becoming a person holds the same value as a living, breathing, walking and talking woman standing in front of them doesn't hold a particularly high opinion of women… especially if you have to press him to conceed that calling women "whores" isn't a good thing. And "Secular Pro Life" is no fucking such thing. It is just religious people adapting to a more secular world, plus a couple of token "agnostics" who are to atheism/secularism what "Fox News Democrats" are to progressives. 

  14. Avatar of Martin Robbins
    March 27, 2012 at 4:17 pm —

    Spot on.
    I'd add though that I think this attitude is widespread all across science writing. I tend to write about stuff on the intersection of science and politics, and I've lost count of the number of times even editors will suggest that something isn't really for the science section because it isn't 'hard' physical science stuff. It's one of the reasons imho that evidence-based discussion of policy is so lacking in media.

  15. Avatar of Michael Waters
    March 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm —

    I take issue with this article and its flagerant lieing!!! EVERYONE know its the BLUE jello that is the evil menace  severing men's genetalia and sending missiles into the world trade center towers!!!!!! Powered blue jello is also one of the key ingredients in chem trails which THEY don't want you to know about!!!!!!  When will you turn your skeptical eye on the BIG JELLO!!!!!! You are OBVIOUSLY in the pocket of blue jello to spread disinformation and cover up their diabolical actions!!!!!!

  16. Avatar of Sebastian S
    March 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm —

    i just wish we could find someone who was anti abortion who was anti abortion in a scientific way.  like, by supporting contraception, support for single mothers, available day care, scientfically-backed comprehensive sex education, etc.  all of these things decrease abortion, lying to people doesn't. 

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      March 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm —

      Well, at least a conversation could be had. Funnelling lies and half-truths along to unsuspecting people sort of puts the kibosh on that one.

    • Avatar of lisavilisa
      March 27, 2012 at 7:09 pm —

      I've met one. She was the youth minister for the UU church in my town. Lovely woman. Doubt she's voted for a an anti-woman person/bill since she saw the light and started handing out condems instead of wasting her time with the 'pro-life' groups on campus.

  17. Avatar of tsarbomba
    March 27, 2012 at 5:01 pm —

    I'm surprised Byron didnt throw in your mis-pronounciation of the ship's name in his string of non-sequiturs.  BTW it is pronounced "Val-deez" because the ship was named after the town of Valdez, Alaska, which is pronounced "Val-Deez."

  18. Avatar of simonsays
    March 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm —

    Update. Kelsey Hazzard is a Christian by her own admission as of May 2010:

    SecularProLife.org isn't about Christian-bashing or arguing over church and state issues. We count many Christians among our membership, including me. 

    Kelsey Hazzard, founder and president of SecularProLife.org

     

    Source: http://www.standforlife.net/2010/05/secularprolifeorg-making-secular.html

    However, in 2012, they are billed as "an organization of atheists and agnostics who defend the rights of the unborn"

    Source: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/activists-will-bring-pro-life-pro-woman-pro-science-message-to-american-ath
     

    • Avatar of Alexrkr7
      March 27, 2012 at 6:41 pm —

      Very interesting. Thanks for the info!

    • Avatar of snarp
      March 28, 2012 at 11:16 am —

      Hmm,m so it sounds like this group is a bit of a Trojan horse. An attempt to convince atheists by pretending to be non religious and couching the discussion in sciency terms, when they're still using the same old lame arguments and are still, at least partly, religiously motivated.

      • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
        March 28, 2012 at 11:48 am —

        Snarp: I think the man actually is an atheist. When I questioned the woman, she said she was "agnostic . . . you know how it is, one day I believe in God and the next I don't" (paraphrased but that's close). So, yeah.

  19. Avatar of zylla
    March 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm —

    On one hand, I can understand a religious and even a secular belief that life begins at conception, and following from there wanting to persuade others that it's murder.  (If one can be an activist against the death penalty, and against war and trying to save lives in poverty-stricken, starving countries, then one can strive to save these perceived lives.)  And I understand that there are some who do use abortion as birth control, which is not just silly but needlessly dangerous.
    However, I do not comprehend terrorist tactics in order to accomplish it.  That includes all of the current legislation (past and proposed) that that badgers, scares, humiliates and otherwise emotionally tortures women who are caught in a situation ranging from inconvenient to desperate and impossible.
    As a man, I have absolutely no say over what a woman does about the pregnancy.  If I were involved in the pregnancy, I would hope the woman would talk to me, but utlimately it's her decision and I would be supportive either way, no matter what.  (And that doesn't mean that I would necessarily advocate having or aborting the fetus, it would depend entirely on the situation where my thoughts and feelings would go.)
    Considering the high rate of miscarraiges (what I like to think of as "god's abortions"), I think one needs to think of this as "potential life", not actual.  Potential just as much as the egg and sperm that preceed it.  It's something I had to think about long and hard in my youth, and it was actually a Parade Magazine article by Carl Sagan on the development of a fetus that brought me to that conclusion.
    Unfortunately, this topic is overloaded with emotion (on all sides of the argument), which makes it difficult to discuss rationally, no matter how hard one tries.  Especially now with the all-out war on women's health.

    • Avatar of momtfh
      March 27, 2012 at 9:07 pm —

      I don't understand the argument that abortion is used as "birth control". It isn't literalllly contraception. Yes, it does control whether or not one births.  And, birth control is not a bad thing, so how is characterizing it as birth control a bad thing?
      If you are arguing that some women get an abortion who were not using contraception at the time they got pregnant, that is true, even though it is the minority of women who seek abortion. If you are arguing that some women who seek abortion have had a prior abortion, that is also true. More than half also have a child already. None of this is particularly "dangerous", and an early abortion is monumentally safer than carrying a pregnancy to term. Also, safe legal abortion is much safer than illegal abortion.
      If you are really interested in women who get abortions and not just in creating a straw woman, the Guttmacher Institute is a great resource, and was the source of much of the information I used in this reply:http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

      • Avatar of zylla
        March 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm —

        Abortion as birth control is bad in the sense that <i>any</i> surgical procedure has risks that could be avoided by using contraception. (I never said abortion is a contraceptive.) Unfortunately, I was thinking of a specific woman I know who does not use any contraception but has had three abortions.  (And she does not have any children.) In a place where abortion is illegal, her surgical risk would skyrocket, but with proper use of any form of contraception she be unlikely to have to risk it at all.  

        • Avatar of Will
          March 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm —

          Your argument makes no sense. Abortion is birth control. When you say "using it as a form of birth control," you are equating it with contraception (which was the point of the first commenter's response to you). You also seem to be making the assumption that all abortion is surgical, but that is simply not true. Many abortions in the first trimester are induced (as discussed in the link provided to you). And there are risks with other forms of birth control, so I'm a little lost on how this is a relevant point.

          • Avatar of zylla
            March 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm

            I'm not really sure what your argument is.  It is obviously birth control and I never said it isn't.  I merely acknowledged that there are women (likely very few; I know of only one example, but it seems reasonable to assume there are others) who use it as their sole method of birth control. Yes, any form of birth control has the potential to have an adverse side effect to health to someone. Yes, there are abortion procedures that are not strictly surgical, so we're in agreement here as well.
            I think you're getting bogged down in pedantic details when my point was simply that we need to understand the opposition's viewpoints if we're going to counter them. You seem to be acting like I'm opposed to abortion. 

            As a man, I have absolutely no say over what a woman does about the pregnancy… utlimately it's her decision and I would be supportive either way, no matter what.

        • Avatar of momtfh
          March 30, 2012 at 8:38 am —

          It is still safer than the alternative, which is carrying a pregnancy to term. Saying an extremely safe procedure has risks is not the same thing as saying it is "dangerous", which was your assertion in your original comment. And, all contraceptives have failure rates 

  20. Avatar of Pugg Fuggly
    March 27, 2012 at 5:34 pm —

    I can't wait to hear the interview. I expect to cringe the entire time. 

  21. Avatar of Sasha Pixlee
    March 27, 2012 at 7:30 pm —

    Before we start patting ourselves on the back because one of the people from that particular group is a Christian, please be aware that they are but one of many anti-choice secualr groups and people. I wrote a bit about that (plus debunking of of that particular group's arguments) yesterday: http://www.morethanmen.org/2012/03/26/anti-choice-anti-woman-and-anti-honesty-atheists/

    • Avatar of simonsays
      March 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm —

      Robert Price and Christopher Hitchens weren't picketing clinics however. This group is part of something much worse and we have to be VERY careful about believing everything they say. 

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      March 28, 2012 at 8:53 am —

      That whole organization looks like it is devoted to a religion-based anti-woman stance but with the religious language removed, sort of the Discovery Institute of the anti-choice movement.  

    • Avatar of Amanda Marcotte
      March 28, 2012 at 10:38 am —

      Drawing attention to the fact that Christians are trying to exploit underlying misogyny in some parts of the secularist movement in order to recruit unwitting atheists to help impose religious dogma on the country isn't a waste of time. We can't get misogynists to step down on the simple claim that women are full human beings, but we can get them to think very hard about not letting a bunch of godbags use subterfuge to hoodwink them into doing their bidding. 

      • Avatar of simonsays
        March 28, 2012 at 11:12 am —

        All the more reason for us to loudly challenge of their "secular" credentials (or lack thereof). This is what their group's leader said in the lifesitenews article I posted (emphasis mine):

        “The pro-choice view has become a default for atheists, because nobody is reaching out to them,” the group’s president, Kelsey Hazzard, told LifeSiteNews.com

        The fact that group leader Ms. Hazzard uses the term "them" to refer to atheists would indicate that at the very least she does not identify with non-believers. which is consistent with what I've stated in previous comments.
        Namely: by her own admission 1) she is a Christian who had 2) grown "frustrated" with the situation that "Abortion proponents, not to mention the media, have seized on our pervasive Christian religiosity with delight" and was 3) previously a member of a Catholic student group.
        How many of the members of "secular"prolife are in fact non-believers? Is Ms. Hazzard a non-believer? How active are her members with religious anti-abortion groups? How active is Ms. Hazzard in the religious anti-abortion movement? Where does Ms. Hazzard stand on issues of church-state separation?

        • Avatar of bubblewrap74
          March 31, 2012 at 1:44 am —

          Hold on a second. Your article, and Sasha's on More than Men (http://www.morethanmen.org/2012/03/26/anti-choice-anti-woman-and-anti-honesty-atheists/), are both conflating secular with atheist. It IS possible to be a theist and be secular, and I feel that it's important to point this out. In fact, on Secular Pro-Life's website, it actually says they are a group of "atheists, theists and agnostics." Whether or not there are any atheists is in question, but the fact that their founder is a theist does not preclude atheist involvement. I don't think we have any way of knowing.
          Whether or not they are actually secular is a different question to whether or not they are atheist, but your post and Sasha's article are criticizing the group more for not being atheists, which I feel is less relevant. Note that I am NOT apologizing for their deceptive and blatantly mysogynist behaviour.
           

  22. Avatar of Tobasco da Gama
    March 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm —

    If we don’t stand up and defend our values – humanism, skepticism, scientific inquiry – when they are under attack by those who would seek to further limit the rights and freedoms of the disenfranchised, then those values aren’t worth holding at all.

    100% agreed, and this right here is why I was absolutely livid to find Bill Maher and Penn Jillette included in the Reason Rally. I simply do not see the point in participating in a movement that will cater to anti-science wingnuts who also openly disparage half of the human race.
    People talk about building a "big tent", and while that's important, what's most important is that those in the tent agree about why they're there and what they want to accomplish. Otherwise, it's just a pointless circle-jerk. I, for one, am not interested in having atheist or skeptic meetings where everybody just pats themselves on the back for being so very, very clever. I can do that at home, on my own time. If people want to have an organised movement, it needs to be moving towards something.
    Including people who are directly at odds with huge swaths of the movement — like Maher and Penn — just assures that the movement will be spinning in circles, because it won't be able to agree on where it should go or, indeed, whether it should move anywhere at all.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      March 28, 2012 at 8:55 am —

      Have you ever noticed that the "big tent" folks don't mind incuding rich older men who hold and even promote flat-out irrational, unreasonable positions… but feminism is simply a bridge too far?

  23. Avatar of Anne S
    March 27, 2012 at 8:16 pm —

    What do they say about their support (or lackthereof) for contraceptives? While I could never ever endorse their position, I might at least have some sympathy if they try to achieve their agenda by promoting contraceptive use.

  24. Avatar of redsky
    March 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm —

    I listened to that episode yesterday.  I seem to recall you dispelling some myths about the captain being drunk, and putting the scope of the spill into perspective.  Those seem to be good skeptical goals.  As for abortion, what use is skepticism if it's not used to inform public (or private) policy?  As long as you stick to the science and humanist ideals, you're golden.  Abortion is a topic that even skeptics often get emotional and irrational about quickly, but you and Steve handled it well and skeptically.

  25. Avatar of
    March 28, 2012 at 12:35 am —

    Women's reproductive health is a great science topic and a great skeptical topic, since there are plenty of highly-motivated cranks out there opposed to it. 
    "Secularprolife," huh? Riiiiight. These guys don't know their demographic very well. You see, I'm not going to take information at face value because any book "tells me so," whether it's The Bible or an Embryology textbook. So, someone missed the point there, but wow. Horrifying that they're even trying this.
     

  26. Avatar of snarp
    March 28, 2012 at 11:32 am —

    It seems there are a lot of people who think they are using reason and science to arrive at their conclusions, but who hold opinions that are totally at odds with the available evidence. These people proceed to tell the rest of us we're not being skeptical. The emailer is clearly part of this group. Part of the problem may be unsound reasoning, but even sound reasoning will arrive at faulty conclusions every time if the premises are false. Skeptics are supposed to be skilled at evaluating evidence and finding the wheat among the chaff, but it doesn't always work that way, especially when there's a lot of chaff and especially when one is strongly attached to a point of view. Of course, the comments about solar output and the fundeamental lack of understanding of the carbon cycle show a level of ignorance that seems almost willful on the part of anyone claiming to have a skeptical view on climate change and marks the difference between a denialist and a skeptic. A skeptic has made a good faith effor to understand the evidence and the arguments, which the emailer has not.
    Part of the problem here is that the emailer has not embraced a key part of skepticism: accepting the disomfiture and cognitive dissonance that will eventually occur to anyone who is being a good skeptic, unless they are somehow supremely skeptical about everything from birth and manage to avoid accepting even some pretty sound seeming scientific claims that eventually are proved wrong.
    Many people think skepticism is about being right, it's not, it's about being wrong and accepting it and changing one's viewpoint. I had this expeience with organic food, and I still get rankled a bit when it's discussed on the SGU. But I've accepted that sustainable agriculture and organic are not always synonymous.
    The emailer hasn't learned how to be wrong.
    Anyway, I think the fact that this email sent me off into thoughts on climate change and everything I've written here is why I lost track of the link to the abortion issue in my first comment. The abortion issue seems rather more pressing at the moment, but the email led me to these thoughts on skepticism and being wrong through climate change, rather than through reproductive rights, but the same issue applies – anyone who thinks that skepticism and reason confirms everything they believe, always has and always will, is doing it wrong.

  27. Avatar of jiuguizi
    March 28, 2012 at 11:46 am —

    Clearly you forget that science only counts when it validates your preexisting subjective opions.  Everything else is pesudo-science. 
    In all seriousness, may I suggest that for the sake of scientific experimentation, in a future episode, when a reproductive/gender/sexuality/etc news item is to be discusses, Rebecca's position is randomly assigned to one of the other Skeptics, and we compare the relative volume and tone of the invective that comes in response. 
    Just a thought

  28. Avatar of ganews
    March 28, 2012 at 11:51 am —

    What is with that black square in the picture, it looks like he's exposed under the desk and got censored.  Perhaps that's how the issue makes hime feel.

  29. Avatar of Siveambrai
    March 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm —

    The blatant misuse of the term falsifiability makes wish I could go back in time and punch Karl Popper in the nose. Also how can you read 1 philosophy of science bit and talk like you understand the whole thing? Shit, even Popper backed away from some of his claims based upon arguments that arose after he published.

  30. Avatar of alara-r
    March 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm —

    What I'm not getting is how any logic can ever come up with "abortion is wrong" if it isn't based in unthinking misogyny.
    Even if you believe that life begins at conception and that abortion involves killing a baby… we have the right to kill home intruders who are threatening our lives and stealing our resources if that's the only possible means of stopping them. Why would we have the right to kill a person who is in our home against our will, but not a person who is in our body against our will?
    The logic is probably "innocence", in that a baby isn't choosing to do harm. But if a human has invaded our home and is trashing the place and threatening our health and our lives without intent to do so (for instance, they are mentally ill), and it is impossible to remove them without killing them, the same people who are virulently anti-choice are generally the most in favor of the right to kill them. They aren't following an innocence doctrine there. And from a utilitarian perspective, the innocence of the person harming you makes no difference, if the only way you can get them to stop is to kill them.
    Some argue that consent to be pregnant is granted when you have sex, therefore the fetus is there by your permission. Firstly, this is the same logic that says that once you get married you can never refuse sex with your husband, that once you give a man permission to start fucking you you cannot tell him to stop even if you realize you're having a heart attack, and that once you have been sexually active with one man you can't refuse any man — it's implying consent to a much broader range than you actually consented to and it makes consent irrevocable. This would be illegal in any other context.
    And secondly, it's wrong anyway, because pregnancy is a fairly rare outcome of sex. The notion that humans are biologically "supposed" to have sex just for pregnancy is fallacious on the face of it — human women are sexually receptive all the time, not just when fertile; we are capable of having and wanting sex after hysterectomies; we are capable of having and wanting anal sex, oral sex, and sex with tools such as dildos, none of which can get us pregnant; and we're capable of having and wanting sex when we're post-menopausal. Our sex drive exists independently of our fertility in all respects (there's some tiny amount of evidence that maybe we're more lustful when fertile, but in comparison to, say, the evidence that exists that cats want sex when they are fertile, it is microscopic.) Human women are fertile approximately three days out of 30, and there's two additional days where if we have sex the sperm will last long enough that we'll ovulate and then conceive… so the odds of a woman getting pregnant on any given day are 1 in 6 in the absence of *any* contraception, and then early miscarriage makes the odds even higher. This is not the profile for a behavior that implies consent. It's much more like saying that when you get into a car you consent to have a car accident, so you were immoral to buy insurance and wear a seat belt.
    So even if abortion is the killing of a human being, it's not murder… it's justifiable self defense. And the only way you can argue it isn't is if you argue that women have so few rights that even though a man has the right to kill an intruder in his home, a woman doesn't have the right to kill an intruder IN HER BODY.

  31. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    March 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm —

    I kind of feel like expanding a bit on my earlier point:
     

    Have you ever noticed that the "big tent" folks don't mind incuding rich older men who hold and even promote flat-out irrational, unreasonable positions… but feminism is simply a bridge too far?

    It isn't just that, though… it seems to be that according to a pretty vocal faction the skeptics "Big Tent" is too small for all sorts of things that offend right-wing sensitivities: feminism, anti-racism, abortion rights, climate change, that sort of thing. And while those people and their spineless accommodationist enablers claim that they are avoiding "controversial" issues in order to avoid bias and alienating people, they are doing the exact opposite. 
    They don't want SGU(as an example) and skeptics in general talking about climate change or feminism, but they have no problem with Penn Jillette being a climate change denier and a sexist asshole… so by trying to silence one while supporting the other they are showing a very clear bias. And the so-called skeptic and atheist leaders who embrace Penn Jillette and Bill Maher and their irrational viewpoints while trying to minimize the voices of people who speak rationally about issues that ALSO bother people, they are absolutely taking sides. You can't say "we're trying to not alienate people" because by taking sides that's exactly what you're doing. What you are saying is "if we have to alienate someone, we'd prefer to alienate feminists, because we value them less than we do anti-feminists." Skeptical organizations over and over again show that they value men over women, white people over non-white people, right-wingers over progressives, by the choices that they make. There's no such thing as "neutral" when you decide what topics are fit for discussion, and which are not. 

     

     

     

  32. Avatar of slayersaves89
    March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am —

    For the life of me I can't understand some of these sorts of skeptics who insist that we stay away from political issues.
    Just what do they think we are discussing when we address consumer rights issues? I would be willing to bet you get barely any email at all when you suggest that perhaps the government should do something about Kevin Trudeau. Where are the complainy pants white dudes then? How about separation of church and state, as it pertains to the marginalization of atheists. The teaching of evolution and cosmology in schools. I guess those are not political issues after all.

    I'm forced to conclude that these the line being crossed is not the line between pure hard facts and ethics. Skeptics crossed that line as soon as they became activists. The line being crossed is the one between issues that directly and obviously effect them, and issues which don't.
    Please, someone tell me how I'm wrong…..I would love to be wrong here believe me.

  33. Avatar of Skave McGlade
    March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm —

    Just a thought… if a fetus has all the rights of a human, and a women dies in childbirth, shouldn't the fetus be arrested for manslaughter or negligence causing death or something like that?
     

    • Avatar of lisavilisa
      March 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm —

      hmm… if a personhood amendment passed in a state with 'stand your ground' laws, could you 'kill your baby' in self defense.

      • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
        March 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm —

        If fetuses are people and corporations are people, what's next?  Dead people are people, too?  I think we've discovered the wedge issue of the zombie rights movement!
         

        • Avatar of maggie
          April 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm —

          A corporation run by fetuses. With holdings off shore, of course.

  34. Avatar of maggie
    April 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm —

     
    Sirs, 
     
    While it has certainly become popular of late to dabble in the notions that engage the common female mind, I believe this rash experiment has gone too far. The disputatious nature of the woman you employ in your reports upon the status of the science and rations with which serious men engage themselves has no place amongst such endeavors. Frivolous female patter about babies and, for God's sake, reproduction, are among the last things a gentleman wishes to hear when putting himself to the task of listening to the Skeptical Man's Guide to the Heavens.
     
    As I'm sure you will agree, the value of one woman's opinion is not worth the cost of the loss of a single male listener.
     
    Sincerely,
    Basil Smugnuts, Esq.
    Smuggery, USA

  35. Avatar of simonsays
    April 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm —

     
    Update: They've now posted two new blog posts in reference to the questions that arise from the above. See below:
     
    Note from their president in which she claims that she grew up in a Methodist church (no mention of the Catholic group she belonged to) and that she has "stopped caring" about faith: 
     
    Blog post by the group with the title "Atheists don't believe in us" which once again indicates a lack of identification with atheism by the group: 
     
    In this blog post they also claim to have spent " a lot of time advocating for secularism in the pro-life movement;". Mind you, this is the same group who their president had claimed in 2010 that "SecularProLife.org isn't about Christian-bashing or arguing over church and state issues."

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