NECSS Thinks Richard Dawkins is Alright After All

UPDATE: Richard Dawkins has declined NECSS’ re-invitation, citing his health. 

A couple weeks ago, serial tweet-vomiter Richard Dawkins linked to a distasteful video hosted created by serial harasser Sargon of Akkad (ed: this work of brilliant satire was apparently created by Sye Ten Atheist, and hosted by Sargon.) . Shortly after, the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NECSS) made the choice to remove him as a speaker. The move was surprising, as it’s increasingly rare to see a major skepto-atheist conference or organization take a stand against Dawkins.

Now it seems that NECSS has, in an extremely confusing PR move, decided to retract their retraction:

We wish to apologize to Professor Dawkins for our handling of his disinvitation to NECSS 2016. Our actions were not professional, and we should have contacted him directly to express our concerns before acting unilaterally. We have sent Professor Dawkins a private communication expressing this as well. This apology also extends to all NECSS speakers, our attendees, and to the broader skeptical movement.

I’m curious what changed between now and their previous statement (emphasis mine):

We believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom to express unpopular, and even offensive, views. However, unnecessarily divisive, counterproductive, and even hateful speech runs contrary to our mission and the environment we wish to foster at NECSS. The sentiments expressed in the video do not represent the values of NECSS or its sponsoring organizations.

Sargon of Akkad’s video (and Dawkins’ endorsement of it) wasn’t somehow more divisive or hateful two weeks ago. But perhaps Dawkins will get yet another chance to explain himself… during the panel that NECSS has asked him to be on (in addition to his regular speaking slot):

NECSS 2016 will therefore feature a panel discussion addressing these topics. There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity. We have asked Professor Dawkins to participate in this discussion at NECSS 2016 in addition to his prior scheduled talk, and we hope he will accept our invitation.

One of the most divisive men in skepticism on a panel about the divisive issues facing the movement. I wonder who they’ll ask to represent the opposing side. I have a guess as to who it won’t be.

Yep, no way this will go wrong.

Featured Image by Michael Josephson

Alex Rudewell

Alex Rudewell

Courtney Caldwell is an intersectional feminist. Her talents include clogging your social media with pictures of her dogs (and occasionally her begrudging cat) and ranting about comic books. She's also a political nerd, whose far-left tendencies are a little out of place in the deep red Texas.

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  1. February 14, 2016 at 8:25 pm —

    Well, I guess we’ll see how the panel goes. Maybe it’ll be a train wreck, maybe it’ll only be moderately annoying. We’ll see.

  2. February 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm —

    Maybe he’ll be rendered mute or locked-in from that stroke he had. Then everyone wins.

    • February 15, 2016 at 8:33 pm —

      Absolutely NOT cool. Even a mild stroke is no laughing matter. Stop it.

    • February 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm —

      Not cool, dude. Criticize Dawkins for his bigotry, not his health issues. Christ.

  3. February 14, 2016 at 9:38 pm —

    Now what? Do I boycott, or go to help represent modern people?

  4. February 14, 2016 at 10:11 pm —

    Maybe the thing that changed was that on January 30th Dawkins re-retweeted the link to the video that he took down, and NECSS wanted to applaud his courage? What must it be like to live a life where a single disinvite results in an immediate gracious apology, while your years-long campaign of blacklisting and inciting harassment results in not one consequence? I”m glad he’s recovering from his stroke, and understand that he has no corresponding empathy for those he’s targeted.

  5. February 14, 2016 at 10:49 pm —

    +1 to Kelly. And yeah let me know when the other side of this discussion is represented on that panel by outspoken women like Rebecca or Amanda Marcotte or Lindy West or any of the rest of us who have put up with bucket loads of garbage harassment from the “fans of Dawkins” and protectors of the old guard.

    I’m sure they will be sending us their invitations, plane tickets and apologies any moment now.

  6. February 14, 2016 at 11:29 pm —

    Well, Alex, I’m… confused about why you’re confused about why it might be considered unprofessional to invite someone, then retract the invitation publicly without telling them first, then to be honest about that that’s what you did. If I did that and didn’t consider myself unprofessional, I hope my friends would… you know, at least say something gentle. Wouldn’t you?

    You’re curious what has changed about that paragraph of their statement?

    Presumably one explanation is that “we believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom to express unpopular, and even offensive, views” has *not* changed, plus they’ve decided they trust this speaker will consider their particular goals and objectives when selecting his material for the conference environment itself?

  7. February 14, 2016 at 11:48 pm —

    Wonderful. What was a courageous move to stand up for decency has now become proof to the Dawkins-bots that screaming “freeze peach” loud enough and hard enough will let you get your way.

    Telling bullies that bullying works is never a good thing. I now have one more skeptical organization that I have diminished respect for.


  8. February 15, 2016 at 12:12 am —

    Maybe they ran into some contractual obligations? They may be required to be nice to Dawkins.

  9. February 15, 2016 at 2:13 am —

    Well, that spine didn’t last long.

  10. February 15, 2016 at 2:57 am —

    I can’t believe this. They want Dawkins on a diversity panel? He says enough horrible things when not asked to speak on that topic precisely.

    This is a trainwreck. Every time I think the Skeptical movement is gaining a modicum of self awareness it apologises profusely and re-asserts it only cares about old white dudes.

  11. February 15, 2016 at 4:43 am —

    Sounds like the Novellas listened to Blumner’s convo with Mehta and realised that skepticism IS all about the celebs. Because this whole thing reeks of “superstar picking up the phone” mentality. Did Bill Nye put in a word for the Dawk?
    It’s the hight of hypocrisy to unprofessionally flip flop on an invite without giving the reason

  12. February 15, 2016 at 7:30 am —

    Changing their minds about disinviting him is one thing, but then asking him to participate on “a panel discussion addressing these topics” is a whole new level of mind-fuckery. If nothing else, they should be conscious of the fact that Dawkins is the worst on exactly those divisive issues they’re asking him to pontificate on. He should be given a reserved seat in the audience, not a spot on the panel.

    I’ll also be curious to see who the other members of that panel will be. I fear they’ll put together an ace team of sycophants, and not one word of criticism of Dawkins’ attitudes will be uttered.

    • February 15, 2016 at 10:09 pm —

      I’ll also be curious to see who the other members of that panel will be. I fear they’ll put together an ace team of sycophants, and not one word of criticism of Dawkins’ attitudes will be uttered.

      Sadly, you’re probably right.

  13. February 15, 2016 at 9:21 am —

    Let me first say that after years of comments, PZ blocked me because of one comment on a video of a weight-challenged redneck. I suspect that that wasn’t the only one he disliked. But I got here from a link at his site concerning Richard Dawkins.

    Now I read his post commentators differently. There seem to be a great majority of sycophants. As to his comment here, what is wrong with speaking maybe against a consensus on a divisive issue, if that be the case? If Dawkins is censored, not answered or corrected, by atheist groups, what can we expect from the MSM?

    Moreover, I find it odd, strange, bizarre that with all the contributions Dawkins has made that he should be treated as a pariah over one contentious issue. Everything else is forgotten. We’ll see he goes and how he handles a potentially hostile audience.

    • February 15, 2016 at 11:56 am —

      I’m utterly confused by your comments, particularly regarding the relevancy of something that happened over at FtB.

      The idea that NECSS will be hostile for Dawkins is laughable. The movement kowtows to him, as demonstrated by NECSS’ backtracking.

    • February 15, 2016 at 1:03 pm —

      We haven’t forgotten Dawkins’ contributions. We’re just not giving him a “get out of jail free” card for them.

      Maybe you think this is a Star Wars computer game, where an evil deed can be canceled out by a good one. However, in the real world, when you hurt someone, the pain doesn’t go away, no matter how many other people you help.

      The only way to make up for your mistakes is to acknowledge them, apologize and work to correct them. Dawkins has consistently refused to do so, for literally years. And that’s LITERALLY literally.

      Dawkins needs to seriously change his behavior and until he does, we shouldn’t be coy about our condemnation. He’s a big boy. He can take some fucking responsibility for his actions.

      • February 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm —

        Dawkins does take responsibility for his actions, and that is why he is so criticized by many atheists who don’t agree with him. I don’t know what mistakes he has to apologize for. Is a “mistake” just something you don’t agree with?

        For months now he has been denigrated for expressing a couple of his many opinions. If this is the way the “nones” treat one of their own, I don’t see a way forward to enlarging our audience. Prospects might well say, hey, I don’t want to get into this in-fighting and dumped on. They won’t feel the confidence to express an opinion or even pose a question for fear of the reaction of we insiders. They may be honestly inquisitive but don’t know the lingo. We need to be more tolerant and open.

        • February 15, 2016 at 4:46 pm —

          That’s just the point. He is not required to apologize, he can have his opinions. He can also whine, and cry persecution, and even suggest that the stress of all those meanies being mean to him gave him a stroke. (Yes, he actually did that)

          But nobody is required to accept his apologies, and nobody in the atheist/skeptical community is required to give him a platform, and it is not a free speech issue regardless of what the Dawkins true believers say.

          This is far from the first time Dawkins has contracted foot-in-mouth disease and refused to give more than a begrudging “I’m sorry if you were offended” not-pology. I personally am tired of that sort of obliviousness being rewarded just because the offender is able to rouse an army of pissants to swarm social media crying “unfair” or because said person can draw a crowd. (Often for the wrong reasons)

          I was excited that NECSS had decided to do the right thing by dis-inviting him after one too many self-inflicted bouts of communicative diarrhea. But unfortunately the backlash for questioning Herr Doktor in the skeptical realm is too dear.

          Good thing we as a community don’t have and gods, isn’t it?

        • February 16, 2016 at 9:40 am —

          If you think that being “one of our own” gives you immunity to criticism, then I don’t think we’re part of the same group at all.

          I do note that you’re entirely unconcerned with excluding people who are put off by Dawkins’ never-ending stream of bullshit, though. Apparently, they don’t count.

          Bottom line: The people you’re so worried about offending are treating me and my friends like shit. If you’re not willing to stand up for us when that happens, then you’re no friend of mine.

    • February 15, 2016 at 4:04 pm —

      “after years of comments”…there must have been something wrong. I thought I was supposed to block someone milliseconds after a faint whiff of dissent.

  14. February 15, 2016 at 10:08 am —

    The current organized atheist/skeptic movement seems like kind of a waste of time. They’re doing what they want to do.

  15. February 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm —

    Damn. After wavering for weeks, I bought my NECSS ticket (and hotel and travel tickets) on Friday. Now I have to decide if I should go and protest in some way, or cancel. Any ideas?

    • February 15, 2016 at 8:10 pm —

      I would go and demand to know who voted in favor of reinviting Dawkins. And if, as I suspect, the Novellas were the force behind it, I’d propose a massive boycott of the NECSS, SGU, the Neurologica Blog and the Science-Based Medicine blog.

      • February 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm —

        I am almost desperately hoping that the Novellas were not behind it, and were in fact behind the original disinvite, but… if I’m being honest…

        You’re probably right…


      • February 15, 2016 at 11:45 pm —

        I think it’s a little premature to pull out the pitchforks and attack the novellas.

          • February 16, 2016 at 12:45 am

            I wrote my comment below just before you posted this link. I just read that and I am seriously disappointed with the NESS and the SGU.

          • February 16, 2016 at 7:11 am

            The SGU’s hope for a “balanced” panel is impossible if for no other reason than Dawkins’ health. Lindy West on the panel could kill the man, and I think that would be a terrible outcome. At least I have no false hope that the panel will be anything but a travesty.

          • February 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

            hrm. Disappointed. I strongly dislike it when I am very clear about what is bothering me and someone else tells me that, no, actually it’s that other thing.
            The problem isn’t dawkins doing and saying the things he does… it’s ‘trolls’. Oh well then. I guess that’s solved. I thought it was Dawkins and the things he was saying in his own damn voice, but apparently it was these trolls I don’t read causing the problem.

          • February 16, 2016 at 3:33 pm

            So much that. I get the feeling that some people are very reluctant to admit that a big name star like Dawkins could possibly be part of the problem.

            No, it must be someone else. He must have been misunderstood/made a mistake/been mind-controlled by aliens. Any excuse to avoid criticizing the big star.

      • February 16, 2016 at 12:27 am —

        I have heard from a usually reliable source that the Novellas were not pleased by Dawkins’ original invitation and were happy it was withdrawn. I haven’t talked with the person involved since the re-invite.

  16. February 15, 2016 at 4:05 pm —

    They will give you a full refund — I got one yesterday. And I got trolled to no end for voicing why I asked for a refund on social media. :)

    • February 15, 2016 at 9:58 pm —

      I saw that! The whole thing was very silly. As if none of them asked for refunds after Dawkins was uninvited.

  17. February 16, 2016 at 4:31 am —

    Poor Richard had a mini stroke on the day he got the rejection reversal. Let’s all hope he recovers and continues his excellent work. Sometimes we atheists have to stop acting like the Sunnis and the Shias and work together for what’s important :)

    Peace and love.

  18. February 16, 2016 at 6:40 am —

    From the link above that Nathan posted:
    The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe [wrote]: Both sides are telling me that the issue is simple. They have moral clarity. There is nothing to talk about. Forgive me for rejecting that position.

    Sigh. Just no. Disappointed beyond words. At least you won’t disappoint me again, Steve Novella and the SGU!

  19. February 16, 2016 at 8:52 am —

    NECSS has announced that Dawkins will not be attending because of his health concerned.

    Perhaps now there can be a true discussion of this issue without having to tiptoe around him actually being there.

    • February 16, 2016 at 9:19 am —

      Dawkins’ behavior will not be addressed. The fan boys will just whine that it’s totally unfair to even mention Dawkins when he isn’t there to defend himself.

      It’s just conceivable that a productive discussion could occur in the abstract, but let’s face it, if anyone had the spine to do that, Dawkins would never have been re-invited in the first place. I think it’s quite unlikely.

      Here’s what I think will happen: They’ll have a fluffy-bunny panel that ultimately will result in a vague statement about how we should all just get along. Then a few months later Dawkins will say something outrageously offensive again, and then we can start this all over one more time.

  20. February 18, 2016 at 8:05 am —

    Funny how this “treating one of your own” never applies to the things Dawkins et al do to feminists. Dawkins is shocked and stressed because of the hostility he’s receiving from people he thinks whose side he’s on without ever doing the obvious thing which would be to ask himself whether maybe he’s wrong?

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