As many of you know, I co-host one of the most popular science podcasts on the web, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. For the past few years, I’ve been doing a “This Day in Science and Skepticism” type of segment at the start of each show. I took the segment over from Evan (who has his hands full with the weekly puzzle Who’s That Noisey) and like Evan, I try to pick events in history that our listeners aren’t necessarily familiar with, so that it can be a bit educational.

Today, we received the following email from a disgruntled listener named “Sharon:”

From: Sharon
Email: [email protected]
Location:
Category: Feedback
Subject: Feminism and SGU
Message: Stop the masturbatory charade of having a “This Day in Scepticism” segment. Rebecca is making it into a “This Day in Feminism” segment. It’s disgusting and off-putting. I do no like Rebecca because of her obvious agenda that lies outside of general critical thinking and scepticism. There is nothing special about females, just like there is nothing special about males. Both are human beings and should be treated equally.

As of show 446 I have stopped listening. It’s sad because I have been a fan since day 1. Rebecca just has ruined this podcast for me.

We tend to ignore these types of emails, but today, my co-host Steve Novella decided to respond:

Sharon,

Thanks for your feedback. Sorry you are unhappy with the “this day in skepticism” segment.

To investigate your claim that the segment overemphasizes feminism to a disgusting and off-putting degree, I tallied the last 52 TDIS segments (essentially the last year). This is what I found:

Topic did not involve a specific person – 24
Topic was a man – 21
Topic was a woman – 7

It seems you feel that men should be the focus of TDIS more than 3 times as much as women, or that using 13.5% of TDIS segments to highlight women in science is excessive.

I don’t share this view. In fact, part of the mission of the SGU is to promote science and enthusiasm for science. There is a large gender gap in science, partly because women are not as encouraged as much to pursue STEM careers, and there are fewer role models. (I wrote about this recently here – http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up/ – if you are interested). Making a little effort to highlight some awesome women in science (13.5% of topics) is just part of promoting enthusiasm for science where it is most needed.

In fact, if anything we have not been doing this enough. I thank you for alerting us to this deficiency.

Cheers,

Steve

Steve’s email bounced back – apparently “Sharon” wasn’t brave enough to share her or his real information. But, I felt Steve’s response worthy of sharing with a wider audience. I hope the response’s awesomeness gives a bit of hope to those of you worried about the future of skepticism.

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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44 Comments

  1. Avatar of Amy Roth
    February 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm —

    Yay Steve!

  2. Avatar of mccorvic
    February 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm —

    After listening to this week’s episode of SGU I had the thought that there were going to be a couple sore guys out there that would write in about it. I don’t know why, but I just knew. I guess I could just feel a rustling in the force.

    I really hope “Sharon” comes upon and reads this.

  3. Avatar of spokesgay
    February 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm —

    I realize there are plenty of anti-feminist women out there, but “Sharon” really pinged my dude-pretending-to-be-a-woman-fecklessly radar.

  4. Avatar of spokesgay
    February 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm —

    I mean seriously.

    “There is nothing special about females, just like there is nothing special about males. Both are human beings and should be treated equally.”

    Can you hear that in anything other than a robotic voice lacking intonation or any indication of sentience?

  5. Avatar of Mr. Herrmateeyowish
    February 7, 2014 at 12:22 pm —

    Hahahah awesome

  6. Avatar of jemory
    February 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm —

    Awesome. Glad to know there are still skeptics worthy of respect.

  7. Avatar of Gary Lyons
    February 7, 2014 at 12:28 pm —

    My super mature response – In your face Sharon :P

  8. Avatar of pieterb
    February 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm —

    Kudos to Steve for the response, and to you for being the catalyst of the SGU chemistry.

  9. Avatar of spokesgay
    February 7, 2014 at 12:35 pm —

    Remember, it’s “Sharon.” :)

  10. Avatar of frogmistress
    February 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm —

    Representation has been skewed for so long that if you bring up women, they are taking over the topic!

    Geena Davis talked about a study she found:
    “We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

    And you haven’t even hit 17%, yet. Sharon is just a bit ahead of the game.

  11. Avatar of delphi_ote
    February 7, 2014 at 12:53 pm —

    Hell yes, Steven Novella, for an amazing response!

    Hell yes, Rebecca Watson, for the times you have emphasized women’s role in science and skepticism!

    Hell no, “Sharon,” for being an ignorant coward.

  12. Avatar of Danarra
    February 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm —

    Nice!

  13. Avatar of boyofd
    February 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm —

    Lots of awesome to go around on this one.

    Pretty amazed that Sharon has hung on as long as he has if Rebecca is ruining the podcast for him. Isn’t that about 400+ episodes of torture for him?

  14. Avatar of tonymonje
    February 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm —

    It’s good that this email was posted, and I for one, being a male, and also having been a long time fan and listener of SGU, applaud Steve for his response. I also have to say that anytime Rebecca is away from the SGU podcast, I do miss her point of view and input on the show.

  15. Avatar of wolsey
    February 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm —

    That’t funny, because I started listening to SGU because you were on it. I know if you and/or Skepchick is involved in anything it has a quantifiably reduced chance of making me pull my hair out at fedora wearing nice guys. Thanks for being my canary in the coal mine, so to speak.

    • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
      February 7, 2014 at 1:53 pm —

      Actually, I started listening to SGU because you (Rebecca) weren’t on it :-) You were stuck some where due to the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland, so a friend filled in for you, and she asked me to listen. I did, got hooked, and immediately downloaded all 200 or so episodes then available to my new ipod. Been listening ever since. I love the camaraderie, mix of news and history, interviews, impeccable (or very rarely peccable) reasoning, and intense nerdiness. Please never leave, neither you nor Steve nor Evan nor Bob nor Jay.

      • Avatar of delphi_ote
        February 8, 2014 at 6:21 am —

        I started listening to SGU before Rebecca was on it. Adding her boosted the quality of the show in a big way. Everyone thinks of her as adding a female perspective. Sure. And that was much needed. But she also added a younger perspective. And a non-researcher perspective. And a newer skeptic perspective (i.e. someone who hadn’t been chasing Bigfoot for 15 years.) All of these gave the show a wider appeal. She also had great chemistry with the other hosts from her first interview. Everyone became a lot more playful, which made the show funny (her interactions with Perry were just hilarious.)

        “Sharon” probably never would’ve heard of the SGU if it weren’t for Rebecca.

  16. Avatar of Brian G
    February 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm —

    Oh that was great! Good on you Steve.
    I remember doing the same thing here with a commenter who said that the ratio of women-centric articles had become overwhelming.
    So I went and counted a months worth of content and what do you know?
    Hey Presto! Similar result.

    Fuckin’ statistics… How do they work?

  17. Avatar of Jules0512
    February 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm —

    I love that response!! Good on Steve!

  18. Avatar of Will
    February 7, 2014 at 2:51 pm —

    “There is nothing special about females, just like there is nothing special about males. Both are human beings and should be treated equally.”

    Feminism. You’re doing it.

  19. Avatar of Nathan
    February 7, 2014 at 3:26 pm —

    Yay Steve! Seriously… SGU just gets better and better.

  20. Avatar of Tammy
    February 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm —

    This is awesome!!!! The SGU was my gateway into skepticism…I remember thinking, “these are my people”. I’m so, so, so happy to see Steve provide the best possible response to this kind of bullshit.

  21. Avatar of Steve Cuno
    February 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm —

    Sigh.

    I find this Obsessive-Expulsion Disorder regarding Rebecca Watson not just troublesome but tiresome. Or perhaps it’s the other way around: not just tiresome but troublesome. These folks need a new hobby. I doubt that Ms. Watson could rescue a kitten from a tree without coming under blogospheric attack.

    I do not agree with Ms. Watson 100% any more than I agree with anyone else 100%. She broadens my perspective when I find myself in agreement and broadens it more when I don’t. By listening and weighing, rather than remaining at the ready to pounce, this middle aged white male has learned a thing-r-two about what it’s like not be a middle aged male. Not that that’s all she writes or speaks about. She deals with other stuff, too, you know.

    I might add that, a couple of years ago, Ms. Watson emailed me to ask about one of my JREF articles rumored to be about her. She was direct and fair.

    Oh. I happen to LIKE her on SGU.

  22. Avatar of mjkrone
    February 7, 2014 at 5:26 pm —

    I particularly like that the author used a dummy account to send the original e-mail. Everyone knows real men hide behind fictitious women to spread their misogyny.

  23. Avatar of Anne S
    February 7, 2014 at 5:40 pm —

  24. Avatar of Anne S
    February 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm —

    Poo, I do not know how to post images properly. Someone want to fix this for me behind the scenes? =D

  25. Avatar of natalie
    February 7, 2014 at 6:25 pm —

    Oh how I needed that laugh today. Great job!

    “Sharon” for sure. LOL.

  26. Avatar of Michael Monikowski
    February 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm —

    Well played Steve, keep up the good work Rebecca.

  27. Avatar of chionactis
    February 7, 2014 at 10:17 pm —

    That is awesome. ^_^

  28. Avatar of W?LLY
    February 7, 2014 at 10:42 pm —

    That was a badass smack down of a silly email. Go Steve. And go Rebecca. Show me the data! But the only reason I commented was to let you know that may be the coolest tshirt I have ever seen. Do want. Go space dinosaurs!

  29. Avatar of Nathan
    February 8, 2014 at 1:02 am —

    Is there any chance you’ll do a “This Day in Feminism” segment on an upcoming episode just to piss off people like “Shannon”?

    Honestly… I’m kind of hoping so. It’d be awesome for so many reasons.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      February 8, 2014 at 6:27 am —

      I hope Steve presents this data on the show. Some heads might explode, but it also might teach some people to be skeptical of their own perspective.

  30. Avatar of jryde
    February 8, 2014 at 12:10 pm —

    While I agree with the points that Steve makes in his response, I think that the most awesome part of this whole exchange is Steve demonstrating that the other members of the SGU maintain their solidarity with you, Rebecca. I know that you are certainly capable of handling your (sometimes unfortunate) critics yourself, but I do really appreciate that you share with us how the guys on SGU have your back. It just makes the whole show and the group you all are stronger and more wonderful. Sexism in science, and in other aspects of human life, is still very institutionalized and oft-times taken for granted. I’m so glad you are willing to share these exchanges with us so that we understand what you’re going through, but more importantly, the support you have to keep doing the great work you are doing. Thank you, and keep working towards making female presence in science and skepticism a norm!

  31. Avatar of Ophelia Benson
    February 8, 2014 at 1:35 pm —

    Well that was very good. Five stars.

  32. Avatar of Jon Brewer
    February 8, 2014 at 5:02 pm —

    A 7-to-1 ratio in favor of men is ‘overwhelmingly female’? Seriously? In what species? Also, kudos to Steve for schooling “Sharon” maturely. And to you for showing there’s more to skepticism than just proving that Virgin Mary sighting is just pareidolia or pointing out the zipper on that Bigfoot’s back.

  33. Avatar of blaisepascal
    February 10, 2014 at 11:45 am —

    What is the ratio of pro-Rebecca emails to anti-Rebecca emails that SGU get? I’m assuming that the Rebecca-neutral emails are the majority, of course.

    If anything, I think that the SGU doesn’t speak about skepticism and feminism enough. I would enjoy having another Skepchick on as a Guest Rogue sometime — or as another regular rogue if a vacancy opens up.

  34. Avatar of delphi_ote
    February 10, 2014 at 6:20 pm —

    A vacancy, huh? Look out, Evan. Do better on Science or Fiction… or ELSE! Heh.

  35. Avatar of ironmaiden54
    February 25, 2014 at 11:45 pm —

    HAHAHAHA!!!! Wow Steve sure is great…

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