I’ve only been an atheist for about four or five years. I was raised Catholic, eventually became a non-denominational Christian, then a “well there’s SOMETHING out there” deist, to a “who really knows?” agnostic, and eventually became a solid atheist (around 2009 or so). This was in great part due to the writings of PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins.

So, in July of 2011, when I had just graduated college and saw that the Secular Student Alliance was hiring an Event Specialist to help plan a tour for Richard Dawkins’ children’s book, The Magic of Reality, well, of course I jumped on it. To my great surprise, I was hired within two days of

To Dawkins' credit, he's much better at avoiding red eye than I am.

To Dawkins’ credit, he’s much better at avoiding red eye than I am.

sending in my résumé. In a week, I bought a car, a smartphone, and packed up my entire life to move several states away. Little did I know what I was in for.

The first stop on the tour was Miami. Hours before the first event, there were people lining up outside the doors. As a member of the team, I was allowed in the auditorium before the event began. It was me, Dave Silverman (President of American Atheists), Elizabeth Cornwell (Executive Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation), Sean Faircloth (then newly-hired Director of Strategy and Policy for RDF), and Richard Dawkins himself.

At this time (September of 2011), Dave Silverman was heading up the Reason Rally Committee. There was still quite a bit of planning and promotion that needed to be done, so Dave asked Richard, Elizabeth, and Sean to make videos to promote the Reason Rally. (The video Richard ended up making is still viewable.) Richard was standing behind the podium, and he asked Dave something along the lines of, “What exactly is the Reason Rally?” Dave started explaining it, and as he did, someone who was waiting in the line outside opened the door to peek inside and we could all hear a lot of noise. I rushed up the aisle and made frantic “shut the door” gestures at the people peeking inside, and they did. As I walked the ten feet back, I couldn’t hear everything Dave was saying, but I heard the name “Rebecca Watson.” Richard suddenly had a very angry look on his face and I heard him almost shout, “No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.” and then Dave immediately replied, “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” Richard huffed for a moment, Dave continued to placate him, and then he made the video.

I was crushed. I couldn’t believe it. Richard Dawkins was my hero. I looked up to him as a beacon of truth and reason in a world of irrationality. I couldn’t believe he would act this way toward Rebecca. Before I left for the tour, I truly, honestly thought that the whole “Elevatorgate” thing was a miscommunication, and if someone (and I was willing to be that someone) would sit down with Dawkins, they could explain to him why it’s uncomfortable to be propositioned in an elevator by a stranger, and then Dawkins could apologize for the whole thing and everyone could move on. I really just thought it was just ignorance, not malice, that caused Dawkins to act that way.

I think it says a lot about the atheist movement, that a famous speaker can use his position in order to keep someone else off the lineup, and the movement willingly obliges. I’m truly not trying to blame Dave Silverman (I’ve spent a lot of time with him and I generally think he’s a good guy). I think the head of every single organization would have done the same thing, had they been in Dave’s position– and that right there is the problem. Yes, Richard Dawkins is a big draw. Yes, the Reason Rally was (for the most part) successful. But at what cost? Are we okay sacrificing the voices of some people in order to get others involved? Do we have too much of a culture of celebrity, so that we are willing to do things we otherwise wouldn’t do in order to get those celebrities involved? Is this indicative of a mindset that some people’s opinions are more important than others?

I spent two years working for the atheist movement (or to borrow Ashley Paramore‘s term, Big Atheism). I saw a lot of things that made me disappointed in a movement that claims it is dedicated to truth and critical inquiry. I made a lot of excuses for supporting things that I ordinarily wouldn’t have, claiming it all was for the greater good– for the movement, but also for the world.

I think the atheist movement has reached a critical point that will determine whether it succeeds or whether it flounders. I think we need to take a long, hard look at what we’re doing and decide if our actions truly line up with our values. Do we want to be a movement that refuses to change, simply because we think it’s too hard? Do we want to become a movement that doesn’t critically question people in leadership roles? Do we want to become a movement that only pays lip service to minorities, instead of actually working to include them? What do we want this movement to become, and how can we really achieve that?

As for me? I’m sorry it took me two years to build up the guts to share this story publicly. I’m sorry I didn’t have the courage to speak up when I saw things I disagreed with. I’m going to stop making excuses for why I haven’t been living up to my values and start actually doing it. I hope you’ll join me.

Sarah

Sarah

Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

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105 Comments

  1. Avatar of Kristjan Wager
    September 5, 2013 at 11:14 am —

    Thank you for sharing your story. I had heard before that Dawkins refuses to speak when Rebecca is invted as a speaker, so I am not surprised by this story, but I think it is important that people hear it.

  2. Avatar of crommunist
    September 5, 2013 at 11:22 am —

    “I’m truly not trying to blame Dave Silverman (I’ve spent a lot of time with him and I generally think he’s a good guy)”

    I am growing rapidly exhausted by “good guy” being used in defense of someone’s bad actions. I’ll bet Richard Dawkins’ friends think he’s “a good guy” too. I’ll bet EVERYONE has friends who would vouch for their “good guy” cred. That doesn’t change anything. Dave Silverman had an opportunity to push back against an unreasonable and frankly idiotic request (more of a demand, really) and, according to your account, folded faster than a t-shirt at American Eagle. I don’t see “good guy” there. I see “feckless politician without the courage of his convictions when the stakes are high”.

    Yes, this is a story about how Richard Dawkins is a disappointing figure. I don’t see how this story doesn’t paint Dave Silverman in the exact same light, despite the goodness of his guyitude.

    • Avatar of Carl
      September 5, 2013 at 11:40 am —

      Totally agree. I understand that Silverman was put in a horrible position, but when the chips were down he went with the politically easy decision rather than the fair one. It’s not easy to make a decision that goes against the political grain, but then again any schmuck can do the easy thing. I would have hoped for more from a leader of a major organization.

      • Avatar of Itchy Fisher Price
        September 5, 2013 at 6:41 pm —

        How it should have ended:

        Dawkins: No, absolutely not! If she’s going to be there, I won’t be there. I don’t want her speaking.
        Silverman: Oh, Richard, I’m sorry we’ll miss you this year. Thanks for letting me know.
        (scene)

        After reading Sarah’s post, I’m more convinced that Richard is basically a douchenozzle. When I read Rebecca’s account of what Dawkins said, I thought he was being a jerk and maybe a one-time thing. You know how you ask a celebrity’s opinion on something and it turns out their take is pretty much worthless? Exactly.

        Now with this account, it isn’t a one-time thing. Richard *IS* a misogynist prima donna. Someone ought to get him a diaper and a pacifier.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      September 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm —

      Well, this was 2 years ago. Dave has been more vocal and active in combating the anti-woman sentiments in the movement lately. Perhaps it was moments like the one Sarah described that led him to be more openly so? Who knows?

    • Avatar of vexorian
      September 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm —

      All right, this is true at the end. While Silverman may be doing things better now , it doesn’t mean his decision was justified. It would just mean he is redeeming himself.

      But Dawkins was the one with the most power in this. It would have been easy for Dawkins not to make that ultimatum. It was not as easy for Silverman to say no to it.

      • Avatar of scribe999
        September 5, 2013 at 1:35 pm —

        I also have to admit, that whole Reason Rally thing, from what I was hearing, seemed pretty much a tenuous house of cards to begin with. I imagine after a lot that effort to “herd cats” as they say, the “biggest draw” pitching a fit about not coming could be a bit panic inducing. Important thing … we need to get past hero-ification and build up more diverse stable of important draws so a fit of pique won’t be seen as so damaging to an event.

      • Avatar of Itchy Fisher Price
        September 5, 2013 at 6:45 pm —

        “But Dawkins was the one with the most power in this.”

        Only because others give him power. Tell him no thanks and don’t let the door hit you enough times and he’ll either figure it out or flame out like a 5-second sparkler.

        “It was not as easy for Silverman to say no to it.”

        Silverman consciously made that choice; no one forced him into it. Easy or not, only he can say, but that’s only an excuse (assuming he actually used it as an excuse). I personally have enough self-esteem to tell any jerk where to get off if they get out of hand, REGARDLESS of their “celebrity” status.

    • Avatar of cityzenjane
      September 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm —

      THANK YOU.

      I don’t want to pile on Dave – but I also do not want to give anyone the idea that being spineless in the face of powerful celebrity and exertion of privilege as an OK thing to do if you are “a nice guy”….Nice guys need to be checked just like everyone else.

      I am disappointed as HELL to hear this about Dave S.

      I would also like to ask Mr. Dawkins to get over himself.
      What a prima dona!

  3. Avatar of Lyr
    September 5, 2013 at 11:47 am —

    Dawkins is as big a blowhard as Rush Limbaugh. He also seems to look at women the same way as Rush…only Rush says women are inferior because of God, whereas Dawkins would say women are inferior because of Evolution.

    • Avatar of crommunist
      September 5, 2013 at 11:52 am —

      That’s just not true, and it’s an absurd allegation. The comparison is rife with hyperbole, and the hypothetical statement you attribute to Dawkins stands in ridiculously stark contrast to things he’s actually written. If you’re going to take the man on, and you absolutely should, stick to things he’s actually said and done, not lazy false equations.

    • Avatar of vexorian
      September 5, 2013 at 1:11 pm —

      My current conclusion from Dawkins’ actions is that he is not ill-intentioned, defs not Rush Limbaugh, but he is currently in an incredibly oblivious state. Of atheism’s internal social justice issues and of his own privileges.

      • Avatar of vexorian
        September 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm —

        But I must admit this post is making me less willing to give Dawkins that much benefit of the doubt.

    • Avatar of cityzenjane
      September 5, 2013 at 5:58 pm —

      ….no I wouldn’t imagine he thinks that.
      He only imagines people who disagree with him as inferior…which is demonstrates constantly.

      • Avatar of cityzenjane
        September 5, 2013 at 5:58 pm —

        sorry… which HE demonstrates constantly.

      • Avatar of PH
        September 5, 2013 at 7:12 pm —

        I suppose we’re lucky that only people on the Dark Side of the Force act that way.

        • Avatar of mrmisconception
          September 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm —

          No no, we all do it so we need to be careful to watch for it.

          Now, if those idiots on the other side would stop being so damned stupid it would make it so much easier. /sarcasm

        • Avatar of cityzenjane
          September 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm —

          That’s fair – and I am conscious of that dynamic and try not to do it. We are especially fallible in the atheosphere in this regard. There are lots of folks who take their lead uncritically from the actions of those they admire – and it bleeds out into the discourse in ways that do not improve our over all position.

          I am not one that thinks satire and derision are out of place at all times. I do think the kind of superiority RD displays is of another order entirely.

  4. Avatar of frogmistress
    September 5, 2013 at 11:48 am —

    I do love how many organizational leaders are so quick to tell us that they don’t have blacklists or they don’t want to exclude anyone from the movement.

    They seem to be perfectly fine excluding people. They just don’t care to exclude those with bigoted views. Imagine that.

    • Avatar of Stephanie Zvan
      September 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm —

      While we’re at it, how are people feeling today about the Dawkins Foundation selling merch to help cover the cost of Dawkins’ entourage being able to tour with him?

      • Avatar of embertine
        September 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm —

        Selling merchandise to cover one’s travel costs?

        WHERE IS MY FAINTING CHAISE LONGUE

      • Avatar of utidjian
        September 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm —

        Stephanie, I don’t have a problem with it. I might if I was a member or bought merch from the foundation store. The last book I bought by Dawkins was “The God Delusion” (pre-*gate) from Amazon.com. I went and looked at the store and it appears they are flogging an ‘A+’ T-shirt and Greta Christina’s “Why Are Atheists So Angry?” book. I bought that book already ‘directly’ at the 2012 American Atheists Convention.
        Incidentally… I really enjoyed the Reason Rally in Washington DC on March 24th 2012. I sat and/or stood in the rain all day and heard all the speakers. I really liked Greta Christina, Adam Savage, Tim Minchin, and Jessica Ahlquist. All I can remember about Dawkins speech was that it was completely forgettable.

      • Avatar of punchdrunk
        September 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm —

        I don’t know, what about the RULES and the SPIRIT of the RULES?
        WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE RULES?!?

      • Avatar of Nathan
        September 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm —

        That one’s fine with me. That’s just capitalism at work, and not something to be upset about, IMO. There’s no reason for them to not fund their tours.

  5. Avatar of smellincoffee
    September 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm —

    Given Dawkins’ general demeanor and the way he quit the field after “Elevatorgate” first erupted, I think it more likely he wanted to avoid being involved in a politicized debacle than he “hates women because they’re evolutionary inferior”. He strikes me as someone who puts a lot of stock in decorum.

    • Avatar of Stephanie Zvan
      September 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm —

      Yeah, he’s really voided any politicizing on the topic: https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/223116208835272705

      • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
        September 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm —

        I think you meant “a”voided but I like the idea of him literally shitting out his Tweets.

        • Avatar of scribe999
          September 5, 2013 at 1:24 pm —

          It would be somewhat explanatory about some things

          • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
            September 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

            My friend George has an expression “His head is so far up his ass, it’s coming out his mouth.” Jest sayin’.

        • Avatar of biogeo
          September 5, 2013 at 5:52 pm —

          Best typo save EVER.

    • Avatar of marilove
      September 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm —

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    • Avatar of cityzenjane
      September 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm —

      ORLY?

      • Avatar of cityzenjane
        September 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm —

        Richard Dawkins playing at “pownage” lingo fav of online dudebros everywhere.

        • Avatar of Dan
          September 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm —

          That’s a reference to a very well known xkcd.

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 6, 2013 at 12:07 am

            No shit….REALLY?

          • Avatar of Dan
            September 6, 2013 at 1:01 am

            So what you’re saying is that Randall Munroe / xkcd readers are all online dudebros?

            Otherwise the comment doesn’t make sense.

          • Avatar of Dan
            September 6, 2013 at 1:10 am

            To be clear: I think the reference is hammy, forced, and incongruous coming from RD, I just don’t see why you framed it in those terms if you are familiar with the source.

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 6, 2013 at 2:11 am

            I framed it in terms of the urge to express dominance via pownage. I am an xkcd fan myself…but beyond that pownage culture coming from a 70+ year old Oxford Don is …just depressing.

            If the shoe don’t fit, don’t wear it.

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 6, 2013 at 2:14 am

            and on that note

            http://xkcd.com/386/

          • Avatar of Dan
            September 6, 2013 at 3:45 am

            That’s not quite how I read your comment so thanks for clarifying.

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm

            Not to be snarky…but I thought maybe I should draw you a Venn diagram.

          • Avatar of Dan
            September 6, 2013 at 1:41 pm

            Because the internets need more graph jokes. We just had different premises about what was being appropriated here. I actually don’t think see it so much about xbro thirteen year olds showing dominance (either in the original or in RD’s take), so it was hard to see where your comment came from.

      • Avatar of skeith
        September 8, 2013 at 4:41 pm —

        This is super-interesting. His response gives no indication that he understood the question, and certainly doesn’t answer it.

        “Is the evidence-based paradigm an example of begging the question?”
        “XKCD BITCHES!”

  6. Avatar of drzach
    September 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm —

    This video of Dr. Jean Kazez commenting on the animosity between Professor Dawkins and Ms. Watson is, in my opinion, a must-watch. It provides some fascinating commentary and analysis: http://youtu.be/2irVyzKe3u8?t=1h30s

    • Avatar of lindalk
      September 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm —

      Yes that was a good talk, and had some good points, although a bit milquetoast. But then, if we follow Kazez lead, maybe the ones getting online and being scared off by the acrimony may not be.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      September 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm —

      “To immediately write him off as a wealthy white male…” Nope. That’s not even a little bit what happened. Rebecca and Dawkins have both been in the community for years. Rebecca didn’t “immediately write him off” based on his class or gender or race. Not even close. My first TAM was her first TAM, and she was as enthusiastic about the big names as I was back then. Rebecca was pointing out how absurd it was for Dawkins to tell HER that he’s perfectly comfortable being in an elevator and sees nothing wrong with the situation. Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” was entirely about race, culture, and class. Pointing out how absurd that was is entirely appropriate.

      “Very very nasty emails… that she called ‘misogynist'”. What the fuck else would you call them, besides misogynistic? She’s got a whole page of them. If you can go there and read them and come back with another name, by all means enlighten us.

      “I’m agnostic… demographics are a big big factor.” She doesn’t know what the problem is, but she knows what the problem is. Sorry, but that is just flagrantly dishonest. This is a really interesting hypothesis, though. Let’s follow it through. Demographics are the problem. Do those same demographics explain why there are fewer women in STEM fields? Do women just have soft little brains incapable of rational thought, or is society failing them? If you think it’s the former, you can probably fuck right off. If you think it’s the latter, well, these conferences and organizations are supposed to be about education and outreach. Working to change the demographics is the whole point. If atheists and skeptics aren’t concerned that their membership doesn’t reflect the population, if they’re not interested in communicating with the rest of the world, then it seems to me the real reason they’re gathering together under these labels is to slap each other on the back and talk about how much better they are than all the other dumb suckers.

      But I’m rambling on. Please, Dr. Zach, how about you tell us what’s so “fascinating” about this video?

  7. Avatar of scribe999
    September 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm —

    No gods, no masters … no idols.

  8. Avatar of anuran
    September 5, 2013 at 1:16 pm —

    If they had any sense of integrity they would have said “Sorry you won’t be speaking here this year, Richard”

  9. September 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm —

    Grr. “Elevatorgate”. When Rebecca Watson spoke about the incident in the elevator, it was to the benefit of the man in the elevator. Because now he has the information to understand why his overture was rejected, and now he can modify his technique to gain later success.

    Bleh, some men in the atheist movement are incredibly self-entitled with impossibly fragile egos, ultimately to their own detriment – how could it be otherwise; it is the opposite of maintaining an attitude of capability. That the “senior” leaders of the atheist movement see fit to indulge this jibber-jabber is nauseating.

  10. Avatar of delphi_ote
    September 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm —

    I would love to hear Silverman’s response to this. Actually, if he doesn’t have the courage to respond, that’s pretty consistent with this story.

  11. Avatar of woodworm
    September 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm —

    Yeah, ex-hero of mine, too. Quite a lot of centre-left liberals here in the UK (that’s most of the academic community) are now thoroughly fed up with him. Partly why he & cronies have set up their ludicrous private university.

    Last straw came a couple of weeks ago, when Dawkins shared the notorious ‘Mr Deity’ video on his site. I left a ‘good faith’ comment informing him that it was an attempt to discredit an accuser in a certain case (on the off-chance he didn’t know). He simply deleted the comment. I sent him a mail (from my university account, natch, complete with the British decorum stuff he seems to like). Nope, no reply. So I think we can conclude that he has Picked A Side (TM).

    Over here he’s become increasingly irrelevant to anyone who cares about equalities & social justice. He’s just making a grand job of poisoning his own legacy. If anything, these thinly-disguised conservatives like Dawkins & Harris have done us a service, by deflecting readership to FtB, PZ and so on. (Had it not been for Dawks, I for one would never have stumbled across Rebecca Watson’s talks, PZ’s squid-shack, or this site, for that matter.)

    So yeah, colour me surprised. An explanation from Silverman would be nice, though.

    • Avatar of vexorian
      September 5, 2013 at 4:47 pm —

      Last straw came a couple of weeks ago, when Dawkins shared the notorious ‘Mr Deity’ video on his site

      huh, I didn’t know of this.

      So it has come to this.

  12. Avatar of Giliell
    September 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm —

    Wait, wasn’t Rebecca saying she’d personally no longer buy his books the worst thing ever?
    I’m waiting for all those who howled out that day over the alleged “boycott” to start howling again against Dawkins. But with a healthy respect for my health I won’t hold my breath

  13. Avatar of Nathan
    September 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm —

    I’d also like to hear/read an explanation from David Silverman, but I should note that two years on, h seems to be taking a braver stance on the feminist side. After all, he was at WiS2 and he steam-rolled over Vacula on the BraveHero podcast (I’d have preferred he not go on, but his performance was great). So, depending on the response, I’d be willing to forgive Silverman if he recognizes it as a mistake and he’s wanting/trying to make amends.

    But we’ll see… there are reasons (racism controversy) I’m pretty unsure about American Atheists right now, so… yeah…

    • Avatar of scribe999
      September 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm —

      Well, American Atheists released a statement on Facebook:

      https://www.facebook.com/AmericanAtheists?hc_location=stream

      • Avatar of delphi_ote
        September 5, 2013 at 4:49 pm —

        A great response on their part, and it makes complete sense with the details of the original story.

        The comments over there are dumber than I thought possible. Embarrassing enough that I think I’m going to stop calling myself an “atheist” when people ask. Maybe “nonbeliever” will do. I don’t want to be associated with any of those fuckwits.

        I saw one commenter writing about how Dawkins wasn’t “blackmailing” anyone. You don’t say!

        • Avatar of Nathan
          September 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm —

          I guess it’s the best response we could get, honestly. I’d like to know if anyone else heard that exchange and what their thoughts are…

        • Avatar of scribe999
          September 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm —

          Yeah, it’s a remarkable exercise in facepalming. I mean, who uses “rabble” as an insult nowadays? Mitt Romney maybe?

        • Avatar of Joerg
          September 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm —

          A great response? In what respect? In that they managed to self-aggrandize while dancing around the ACTUAL core of the matter?

          • Avatar of delphi_ote
            September 5, 2013 at 5:50 pm

            That they condemned what was wrong, even if they don’t agree that it happened. Let’s be honest. We’re talking about an overheard conversation from two years ago. Either side could misremember specific details or have gotten the wrong impression. Silverman could honestly think he didn’t acquiesce, but still gave the impression that he did.

            Having his side of the story would be better, but as an organization, they flatly said blacklisting is wrong and needs more attention. I think that’s important.

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

            Let’s be honest….people don’t remember something from two years ago because it didn’t make an impression, and then hold on to the story for fear of being attacked the way we can predict Sarah will be now.

            If it was an inconsequential and polite request on Dawkins part (without the drama and ridiculousness Sarah described) – it would not have been remembered at all. She wouldn’t have cared – as she like many of us, admire(d) the man.

            You have to imagine nefarious motive on Sarah’s part to go any further down the “who knows what was said” path.

            I feel like I live in the Middle East these days…There’s no such thing as testimony that can come from a female which is not deemed a lie until it’s proven true.

          • Avatar of delphi_ote
            September 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm

            I don’t imagine any malice on Sarah’s part. Just that she might have misunderstood a conversation she partially overheard. I’m sure she remembers what Dawkins said pretty well. As you said, it was shocking. That’s the kind of thing you don’t forget. But maybe she misunderstood the details of David’s response. Or David might misremember his response. One of them has to be incorrect, and I don’t think either is being malicious.

            Read my other comments. I’m not implying what Sarah said is a lie at all. In fact, I’m pretty firmly on her side.

      • Avatar of Melanie
        September 5, 2013 at 5:13 pm —

        The implication in the AA post that Sarah didn’t have the facts is that those facts change anything, but they don’t. Whether they planned to invite Rebecca or not doesn’t change what Dawkins did or what Dave acquiesced to–making sure she wasn’t.

        • Avatar of samuliofdoom
          September 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm —

          Agreed. The response could have gone into some more detail, but this is probably the best we’ll ever get. Publicly, at least. I would still like to hear Silverman’s personal take on it, in a blog post for example. Not holding my breath, though.

        • Avatar of delphi_ote
          September 5, 2013 at 5:43 pm —

          I’m not sure whether or not that’s the implication, but I agree with you that it doesn’t change the facts. Compared to how other organizations have handled things, I think this is pretty good. They might dispute the facts, but they still agree blacklisting is bad and that this kind of behavior is bad.

          As an organization, I think it’s a good response. If this is all we get from Silverman, I’ll be a bit disappointed.

          • Avatar of Melanie
            September 5, 2013 at 6:05 pm

            I can’t think of a reason to include the statement if that’s not the implication (which could just be my own lack). If the facts don’t change anything, why point out that she didn’t possess all the facts? Just to clarify that Rebecca wasn’t disinvited? If she had been, we’d probably have heard about that sooner from her, so I think we all possessed those facts (and even if not, it still doesn’t change anything). So I do have a problem with that part of their statement, although I would love to hear another interpretation because I don’t like being disappointed in yet another organization. With that said, though, I agree that condemning blacklisting is a good thing.

          • Avatar of Melanie
            September 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm

            I should probably also clarify that I think Dawkins put Silverman on the spot, and although I can think of many responses that would have been far better, I know I frequently do or say the wrong thing when put on the spot. The best I can do (and what I hope for from Dave) is an unqualified acknowledgment that it was a mistake and an apology. The real issue here, to me, is that Dawkins put him on the spot and that our community culture is such that the most natural response for Dave was to acquiesce.

          • Avatar of Nathan
            September 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

            I want to second Melanie, here. Silverman isn’t the bad guy on this one. It’s Dawkins’ petty childish grudge-holding and the abuse of his celebrity to stick Silverman into a rather horrid position. I wish Silverman had given a better response, but I also can’t yell at him for it because… to be entirely honest… I’d fail when put on the spot like that, too. I think that’s common, in fact. So this certainly is not an attack on David Silverman (which is actually part of my problem with AA’s response… they act as if Silverman was cast as the bad guy, and he clearly wasn’t).

          • Avatar of delphi_ote
            September 6, 2013 at 3:08 am

            I meant the facts that are agreed upon by both parties (i.e. that Dawkins was being a garbage brained shitweasle.) They could’ve just ignored the situation entitely or denied it ever happened. Like mrmsconception below, I think it’s plausible that Dave and Sarah interpreted the situation differently.

            As for Rebecca’s actual invitation/disinvitation, well, we don’t know the facts there. They dispute that she was ever invited. I don’t know whether to believe that or not. That statement might be a political dodge, but I don’t think they’re being deliberately harsh to Sarah in saying she didn’t have the facts. I think they’re trying to say “Sarah didn’t know Rebecca wasn’t ever invited, and misinterpreted what Dave said.”

            They might be full of shit. They might be dodging. I don’t know. But I think responding immediately, acknowledging the conversation happened, and saying blacklisting is bad were all positive moves. I’m inclined to cut them some slack. They seem like they’re trying to do good here, with maybe a bit of ass covering and politicking.

        • Avatar of Christopher Becker
          September 5, 2013 at 11:07 pm —

          “or what Dave acquiesced to–making sure she wasn’t.”

          Ahem:

          “While Mr. Silverman does not dispute that an exchange with Dr. Dawkins took place in Miami in September of 2011, there was no acquiescence on Mr. Silverman’s part.”

          So yes, the facts DO change something. If the decisions of who to invite had already been made, then there was no acquiescence.

          • Avatar of Stephanie Zvan
            September 6, 2013 at 9:13 am

            Just because they said it doesn’t mean it’s right. In point of fact, I’d say they used the wrong word. They may be right that he didn’t accede to Dawkins’ demand, but if Dave had not acquiesced, his statement wouldn’t have settled the matter.

            Is arguing with niggling points like this really how you spend your time on the internet?

    • Avatar of cityzenjane
      September 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm —

      I missed that Nathan – can you post a link?

  14. Avatar of guymac
    September 5, 2013 at 3:47 pm —

    I don’t know what “elevatorgate” is all about, but the idea that he’d angrily use his influence to control who appears with him is about the least disturbing revelation I can imagine….

    • Avatar of Nathan
      September 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm —

      You are exceedingly lucky. The short version is this:

      All these “deep rifts” and controversies and whatnot we’re experiencing? Elevatorgate was the catalyst.

      And no, I’m not kidding…

      • Avatar of cityzenjane
        September 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm —

        I didn’t feel any deep rift until the rape threats started flying…but then it became clear that there was indeed a very deep rift. That rift however — was there before “elevatorgate” – which only made that rift emerge explicitly.

  15. Avatar of gregladen
    September 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm —

    OMG Sarah, I can’t believe you actually WROTE this post. I thought you were joking! You are on SOOO much trouble.

    No reason rally for you!

    But seriously, nicely done and I can’t really add much beyond what you wrote and the comments above, so instead I’ll tell a small story that puts Richard Dawkins (and the rest of us by extension) in perspective.

    Richard Dawkins had been invited to speak in at the University of Minnesota, at the biggest auditorium here (holds a gazillion people). PZ was coming to town, everybody who is anybody was going to the show.

    I had bought a ticket for myself and Amanda, and my friend Lizzie, and my daughter, but Julia turned out not to be able to go so I had an extra ticket. A bunch of us (remember?) went to eat first in Dinkeytown somewhere, then we walked to the auditorium.

    So I’m walking along with a bunch of people, it’s dusk, and there’s other people up and down the street mostly walking in the same direction. I’m thinking “this is going to be well attended.”

    And, remember, I’ve got this other ticket.

    As we’re walking along, I spy a young man standing along side the walk. As our group approaches, he steps onto the sidewalk a bit and says “Have any of you got an extra ticket?”

    So I think, this is great, I can give my ticket to someone. So I said “I’ve got one.”

    Immediately he said “I’ll give you 50 bucks.”

    Immediately I’m thinking, for 50 bucks, I’ll skip the Dawkins lecture, maybe he wants two! Or three, Lizzie would surely prefer to get 50 bucks than to see this lecture!

    I ask the guy, how many tickets to you want? and he sais “Two if you have them” and he’s pulling out his money and I’m pulling out my tickets.

    At this point I’m holding out two tickets where he can see them, he’s still messing with his wallet, and he leans over to look at the tickets. That’s when he said, “What the fuck?” and kind of snorts at me and walks away.

    Apparently, if I had two tickets to the Gophers Football game that was going on a block past the auditorium where Dawkins was speaking, which is where the streams of humanity heading off in the same direciton as us were going, I could have had a hundred bucks! But alas, all I had were tickets to this dumb Dawkins thing.

    • Avatar of Stephanie Zvan
      September 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm —

      Wait. You mean I was at dinner with Sarah two years ago and managed to not meet her? I sat at the wrong end of the table.

      • Avatar of gregladen
        September 7, 2013 at 11:40 am —

        NO! Sarah was not there. Sorry if I gave that impression. The point of the story was just to put The Biggest Thing That Ever Happened in Minneapolis’ Secular Community in the broader context of society in general, where people really care a lot more about gophers. Which are some sort of football playing rodent, as I understand it.

  16. Avatar of Joerg
    September 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm —

    American Atheists have issued a statement that dances around the main question at hand (what did Dawkins say, how did Silverman react) in favor of some strong self-aggrandizing. I’m very disappointed and will reconsider donating to them again.

    https://www.facebook.com/AmericanAtheists/posts/10151814433547418

    “A recent blog post by Sarah Moglia alleges that American Atheists President Dave Silverman acquiesced to a demand by Richard Dawkins in September 2011 that he choose between Rebecca Watson and Dr. Dawkins as speakers at the Reason Rally in March 2012.

    American Atheists and Mr. Silverman do not condone, support, or participate in the practice of allowing potential convention speakers, or convention supporters, sponsors, or attendees, to blacklist or attempt to blacklist other potential speakers and attendees.

    While Mr. Silverman does not dispute that an exchange with Dr. Dawkins took place in Miami in September of 2011, there was no acquiescence on Mr. Silverman’s part. At the time the exchange took place, Ms. Watson had not in fact been invited to speak at the Reason Rally, and that decision had already been made. The Reason Rally had many more requests from prominent atheists to speak than speaking slots to offer.

    American Atheists and Mr. Silverman appreciate Ms. Moglia’s effort to bring attention to the issue of blacklisting speakers despite that in this particular instance she was not in possession of all the facts. Like many other organizations, American Atheists has faced occasional criticism and threats of boycott for its choice of speakers, but maintains the stance that the growing atheist community is big enough, diverse enough, and reasonable enough to understand the value in diverse perspectives.

    American Atheists believes this is an opportunity for consciousness-raising and growth, and continues to encourage and support reasonable and open discourse about controversies for the wider benefit of the long-term goals of atheism activism.”

    Also, the fact that the comments are overrun by slimers, does that mean that’s their main support? Or are they just more vocal?

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      September 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm —

      Don’t judge by anyone by their associated Internet comments. Just go to any of Rebecca’s YouTube videos if you think that’s a good idea.

      But those comments are just so disgusting.

  17. Avatar of gregladen
    September 5, 2013 at 6:09 pm —

    Slymers might be sock puppets, people come to defense of their idols faster than they make thoughtful criticisms, and yeah, the AA community could have a problem or two. But not everyone there is a slymer.

  18. Avatar of cityzenjane
    September 5, 2013 at 7:07 pm —

    Sarah. Thank you so much for your post. I know it took courage. And yes, it is really sad and horrible when people we admire for one competence (or two) turn out to be so so so lacking in other areas…

  19. Avatar of mrmisconception
    September 5, 2013 at 8:43 pm —

    I want to say thank you to Sarah for telling this story and that I am not surprised at all by this type of behavior from Richard Dawkins.
    But I’m stunned that so many people can’t think of any way that both Sarah and Mr. Silverman’s accounts could be correct.
    I can give a couple of examples without twisting logic or credibility at all;

    Scenario #1) Mr. Silverman said that they weren’t going to be able to invite Rebecca and had already made that decision. (not surprising considering how many people wanted to speak that there would be big names left out). If he already knew she wasn’t going to be invited and he said exactly what Sarah reported he did nothing more than let Dawkins think he had won a point, the worst he did in that situation is feed the ego of an egomanic, hardly something most of us wouldn’t do especially if we could raise our standing with a prominent person. Please note that if this is what happened would be disappointed in Mr. Silverman but would see it as a mistake rather than a character flaw.

    Scenario #2) Mr. Silverman knew she wasn’t invited so when the ultimatum came down he said something like “Don’t worry, she won’t be speaking”. Not that I disbelieve Sarah, just that in her place (coming back and hearing the name drop, the hissy, the ultimatum, and the response) “You’re absolutely right, we’ll take her off the roster. It’s done.” and “Don’t worry, she won’t be speaking.” have the same implications (that Rebecca was now dis-invited) but mean something very different from Dave’s side (she’s now dis-invited or we couldn’t fit her in anyway).

    It was two years ago and memories are fungible so we may never know for sure but since Dave Silverman hasn’t given us good reason to doubt his word, well, anyway…

    As for Richard Dawkins, As an atheist leader he is a very good evolutionary biologist.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      September 6, 2013 at 3:12 am —

      Thank you for articulating very clearly what I was trying to write in a very muddled way.

  20. Avatar of cityzenjane
    September 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm —

    @mrmisconception

    I’m very willing to believe it wasn’t obsequiousness on David’s part and merely reflective of a decision which had already been made. I’d RATHER believe that in fact.

    What IS problematic still is the imperious demand on the part of Dawkins which no amount of Febreze could unstinky-fy.

    • Avatar of mrmisconception
      September 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm —

      Oh yeah, no Dawkins was being a big wank, absolutely. I thought he was hugely arrogant before all this, and not because he’s harsh with theists, I’m hardly an accommodation and have no problem calling bullshit bullshit.
      I would contribute it to his Britishness but Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais, err, scratch that, comes off a less than pompous most of the time, as does Patrick Stewart so it’s not only that. Maybe it’s because he’s a professor, or maybe it’s because he’s a wank.

      I just thought Silverman deserved at least the appearance of the benefit of the doubt.

      BTW – It’s rather satisfying to end a sentence with bullshit bullshit.

  21. Avatar of Cygore
    September 5, 2013 at 9:22 pm —

    Welcome to the major leagues of blogging Sarah. Good job!

  22. Avatar of sevlevboss
    September 5, 2013 at 9:25 pm —

    Not all that surprising really, it’s no secret that RD and RW do not like or respect each other. If those were indeed his exact words, that’s pretty childish. I think RD has done lots of admirable things, but that doesn’t mean he’s not capable of being childish or petty on occasion.

    • Avatar of cityzenjane
      September 6, 2013 at 12:12 am —

      and by extension – encouraging his fanboys to continue to be shitty to people…It’s not just about him.

      • Avatar of sevlevboss
        September 6, 2013 at 8:53 am —

        How so?

        • Avatar of cityzenjane
          September 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm —

          There is a lot of basic bad behavior among younger skeptics/atheists which I think is rot coming from the head of the fish in many cases. Perhaps I spent too much time on YT reading comments but there are a lot of people without the chops, the argumentation, the knowledge of all the arenas in dispute – who like the other side manage to carry all the snark and smart ass forward without doing anything but aping the postures and arguments of the grown men at the top. And then it goes the other way as well… when 70 year old dons play the pownage game… instead of say – take the Socratic path.

          • Avatar of sevlevboss
            September 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm

            Young people certainly try to emulate their idols and role models which can be good and bad. In this particular case RD acting petty can hardly be considered “encouraging his fanboys to continue to be shitty to people” considering that he didn’t share this behavior with his fans. (I’m not a fan of the term “fanboy” as it is a gender-specific derogatory term, let’s condemn the behavior, not the gender)

          • Avatar of delphi_ote
            September 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm

            “he didn’t share this behavior with his fans” Actually, did.

            http://www.redlightpolitics.info/post/7263060171/dear-muslima-stop-whining-will-you-yes-yes-i

          • Avatar of cityzenjane
            September 7, 2013 at 3:03 am

            Fanboy/fangirl…same thing.

  23. Avatar of mrmisconception
    September 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm —

    at-tribute.
    My brain is on holiday apparently.

  24. Avatar of Michael Waters
    September 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm —

    “(Or, Why You Should Never Meet Your Idols)”

    Like you might say hi right as they’re biting into a sandwich and there would be this awkward silence while they try to swallow O.O …..

  25. Avatar of lafranceprofonde
    September 20, 2013 at 7:21 am —

    I am a very, very long-term atheist,skeptic,freethinker or whatever and the first reading I did on the subject was Dawkin’s “The Blind Watchmaker”. Since then he has been massively influential in helping to get our voice heard and taken seriously, as have many others, writers, bloggers and broadcasters to all of whom I am indebted for a plentiful supply of mind food. Sure Dawkins is not perfect, and Shakespeare put it very elegantly when he said “And every fair from fair sometimes declines”. We need to understand that neither those we agree with are always right, nor those we disagree with always wrong.

  26. Avatar of Wayne
    March 23, 2014 at 8:13 pm —

    Sarah,

    It saddens me to hear this about Dawkins. I always expect the best from people. And when I hear of less than that, the bad news saddens me.

    I hope you do not go the negative route.

    Wayne
    Luvsiesous.com

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