This is sad.

I’ve been thinking a lot about women and skepticism lately, about how we can make things better. You know, more equal and whatnot. There’s something that’s been bothering me for the past few days, ever since registration opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 6. I considered holding onto it until my talk next Saturday in New York, but I’d rather get it out there, feel a lot better, and give you a preview of what will probably become a slide during my talk. So here goes: WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL THE FEMALE SPEAKERS? Further ranting and illuminating pie charts after the jump . . .

That’s right, 18 speakers and only one woman: Sharon Begley, science correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Hooray that we have Sharon, but boooooo that we have no one else. We have no Genie Scott, no Carolyn Porco, no Kari Byron, no Julia Sweeney. No Jennifer Ouellette or Tara Smith or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Mary Roach. And don’t even get me started on the lack of transsexuals. Which I spelled wrong in the chart, that’s how upset I am. Blinded with rage.

Here are two (2!) calls to action for you, dear reader. You may choose one, the other, both, or neither.

1.) Comment below with the name of a skeptical woman you’d like to see at an Amaz!ng Meeting. Either we’ll work to get them included in TAM7 or we’ll just throw our own damned conference.

2.) Apply (or encourage a female friend to apply) to give a paper presentation Sunday at TAM6. Ray Hall has just announced the call for papers, and he has been fairly consistent in choosing people who are interesting and well-spoken with fresh new ideas. Like, you know, me. Or Robert Lancaster, or Dr. Harriet Hall! Every year after the papers, pretty much everyone agrees that they’re the highlight of the conference. If that’s where we have to get some diversity, so be it. Click here for more info.

Oh, and just for good measure:

Click here to help Masala Skeptic bring an Indian rationalist to TAM.


Need a chaser for that rant? Go back and watch The Godless Girl, then read one of the funniest comment threads ever. Don’t high-hat my monkey.


Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. As this TAM is about Skepticism in the Internet Age, I think Swoopy (as Cethis suggested) would be a good choice, as would Dr. Pamela Gay from AstronomyCast (though I realize Dr. Gay isn't as skeptical as some folks might want, as she's a religious person and as her show is not dedicated solely to skepticism).

    That said, both women are part of the movement to bring science and its princples to the public via teh interwebotubes, and scientific principles are sort of at the heart of skepticism.Otherwise I think Rebecca's choices are pretty good ones. Maybe a contingent of female ScienceBlogs writers?

    But in terms of having our OWN conference…well, that'd be a fun project for all of the Skepchicks…each one comes up with a presentation and gives it at SkepchickCon somewhere here in Boston-land. I'd attend the hell out of that.

  2. I'd definitely love to hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak, and Nica Lalli (author of Nothing: Something to Believe in). I hear Lalli gave Hitchens a run for his money when they were on a panel together at Book Expo earlier in the year.

    Hell, I'd speak at TAM — or our own conference! — especially if my book is finished. OK, no one knows about me as a speaker becase so far I've mostly spoken about knitting and related stuff. :-) But why isn't Rebecca on the lineup for TAM6? What about a whole panel of Skepchick bloggers?

    I wanted to apply to do a paper for TAM6 but I'm leaving for Lithuania on the 21st or 22nd I can't postpone my flight because the classes I'm taking start on the 24th.

    And regarding Rebecca's previous poll, I think more women would attend events like TAM if there were more women speakers in the lineup.

  3. I'm actually thinking of the ScaperCon that Creation puts on in Burbank, and then AFTER that con, there's a big Scaper presence in New York at a second sci-fi convention.

    I thought we could do summat similar, in a skeptical vein.

  4. Sorry for this completely off-topic comment, but if you plan to present this data in New York, you should consider changing the type of graph that you use. The 3-D piechart, viewed from an angle, is especially bad because the apparent areas of the pie slices don't accurately represent the values being compared. Consider using a 2-D bar chart instead. See Edward Tufte's "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information".

  5. barry: Good point, I'll change that when I make the final slide.

    I was sort of kidding about having our own damned conference but sort of not. It would be a blast, but it would also be a helluva lotta time and energy. However, the pieces are falling into place to make it happen, for sure.

  6. So who decides on the invite list for speakers at TAM? Is it an individual or a committee? Was there any attempt on the part of this person/group to promote a diverse lineup of speakers?

    In my experience, unless diversity is a specific goal in these situations, then diversity is not an outcome. An example of latent bias? Sadly, probably so.

  7. Dammit, TAM! Stop high-hatting the monkey and invite some women and minorities to your conference already! Jeeze!

    I mean, yeah. I'm still going anyway. But, come on.

    Also: A Skepchick conference would be awesome. I'd certainly be there to keep the gender bias from being too skewed in the other direction. ;)

  8. flib: thanks, but I do tend to only use charts that amuse me on this site (and often in presentations). In this case, for instance, you really don't need a pie chart to tell how stupidly off-balance it all is, but the visual is funny. For another example, see the charts I used during the fry day party.

    That said, when I'm presenting data in a more serious context, I go for whatever will be clearest.

  9. Barbara Mikkelson from

    Dr. Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast

    Kari from Mythbusters

    Dava Sobel, author of The Planets and Galileo's Daugher

    Natalie Anglier, auhtor of The Canon and outspoken athiest

    Susan Blackmore

    Shelley from Retrospectacle blog

    bug girl!

  10. This has been an ongoing issue for women in science for decades.

    Conferences are organized, and there are no women as invited speakers–even though they are available.

    There's tons of stuff written about that somewhere–I'll try to find that.

  11. Genie Scott

    Carolyn Porco

    Kari Byron

    Julia Sweeney

    Jennifer Ouellette

    Tara Smith

    Mary Roach

    Barbara Mikkelson from

    Dr. Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast

    Dava Sobel, author of The Planets and Galileo’s Daugher

    Natalie Anglier, auhtor of The Canon and outspoken athiest

    Susan Blackmore

    Shelley from Retrospectacle blog


    Wafa Sultan

    Nica Lalli


    bug girl

    Skepchick panel

    Any of the women bloggers from

    Did I miss anyone?

    I could also add:

    Greta Christina

    Pam Spaulding from Pandagon

    Ann Druyan

    Ellen Johnson

    Rebecca Goldstein

    Shit, that's a great list. I don't know much about organizing conferences, but I think we should go for it! Any volunteers who do know anything about this to be a future conference organizer? :-)

  12. Further afield, may I add in Vicky Hyde, the Chair-entity(*) of the New Zealand Skeptics? (Yep, we've got a woman leading our skeptic club as well as a woman in charge of the country…)

    (*)Yeah, don't get started on that term…

  13. Just a couple things – I appreciate the suggestion that I be included in the impressive list of above mentioned SkepChicks. I actually have been asked to either present a paper or give a workshop at TAM 6, I just haven't nailed all that stuff down yet. I second the nomination of Dr. Pamela Gay, while she has discussed her thoughts about her faith she is still indeed a skeptic, and an excellent role model for women in science.

    I'm also thrilled that our BFF George Hrab is slated to perform at TAM this year. You likely know he has written an ode to SkepChicks everywhere in his song "Brains, Body, Both" and possibly he wouldn't be opposed to appearing in drag, if it would improve our overall statistics. He's just cool like that. :)

    Lastly, while this year there may not be time to have our own conference, many people know that there is going to be an entire programming track for Skeptics at Dragon*Con 2008 with many of the folks who will be at TAM 6 attending, including James Randi.

    Dragon*Con has an excellent history of representing not only female skeptics, but scientists as well. In fact the Space track at Dragon*Con is run by a fabulous chick, Lorraine Glynn. Past participants include not only myself and Dr. Pamela Gay, but also Alison Smith, Dr. Ginger Campbell, Ginny Mauldin-Kinney, and Kari Byron. We most definitely could, and would have at least one panel dedicated to SkepChicks this year if we get enough interest and participants, and if Rebecca were to give her blessing as I understand that unfortunately she's not going to be able to attend Dragon*Con this year.

    While I agree that so far the TAM roster this year may not yet represent enough women (or minorities for that matter), that hasn't been the case in the past and there are certainly other venues where we can try and increase those numbers.

  14. Hey there's more minority speakers than women? I win!!! :)

    Seriously, listening to Carolyn Porco at TAM 4 was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. Ditto Eugenie Scott at TAM 5. Bring them both back. Plus Harriett Hall, as phlebas suggested above.

  15. Makes me wish I had the time, money, and skill to do a proper presentation of the horrors of 'natural' HRTs for transsexual people. Yet another area that preys on people who are desperate for results with snake oil that does nothing. But it's natural! It must be better!

  16. Anotehr name to add to the list:

    Annie Laurie Gaylor

    She is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation ( Her bio is:

    ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR, co-president, is also editor of Freethought Today, published 10 times a year by the Foundation. Her book, Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So, first published in 1981, is now in its 4th printing. In 1988, the Foundation published her book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, the first book documenting widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Her 1997 book, Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters'is the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary women freethinkers. A 1980 graduate of the UW-Madison Journalism School, she was an award-winning student reporter and recipient of the Ken Purdy scholarship. After graduation, she founded, edited and published the Feminist Connection,a monthly advocacy newspaper, from 1980-1985. She joined the Foundation staff in 1985.


  17. Danica McKeller, author of Math Doesn't Suck, aka Winnie "Super" Cooper on the Wonder Years. She may not consider herself a skeptic but she deserves props for making an effort to turn girls onto Math and Science.

    Humanist author Joyce Carroll Oates

    And a workshop, just for fun: Debate: Madalyn Murray O'Hair- Maniac or Misunderstood?

    Also, how about a midnight showing of The Godless Girl? :D

  18. Correction: Joyce Carol Oates. Sorry about that.

    Also I'd like to add Linda Rosa RN and her daughter Emily (from JAMA article "The Truth About Therapeutic Touch") I would love to hear more from a skeptical nurse.

  19. Maybe we can get a woman on stage to read from Shermer’s new book, and save him a trip to Vegas.

    phlebas, LOL.

    Oooh, ooh, and Barbara Walker, knitter extroadinaire and author of The Skeptical Feminist!

  20. I can't believe none of you have thought of her yet!

    She's practically a female version of Joe Nickell, she's a member of the Oz Skeptics NSW committee, she's in your country, she's got attitude and she's hot. I speak of course of SkepBitch Karen Stolznow.

  21. Hi all new to the blog… funny you mention Annie Laurie Gaylor, I just recently started working with her on some website work… she really is a wonderful person. She would make a great addition to the community.

    For what it's worth I have a lot of female friends and hardly any of them even realize that skepticism is more than just anti-religious skepticism. Most of them look at skeptics in general as simply Doubting Thomas's. I've been working to dispel that illusion… and it seems to be taking.

  22. Late last year we asked Australian Lynne Kelly, author of The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal, to give a presentation to our group in Denver. Turned out very well. Great speaker.

    I wonder if Sarah Vowell would be a fit?

  23. writerdd wrote:

    And regarding Rebecca’s previous poll, I think more women would attend events like TAM if there were more women speakers in the lineup.

    Would they? Really?

    Because it could be akin to saying more women would watch footbaal if more women played the game. I doubt it's such a simple correlation.

    Rav Winston wrote:

    Well, Exarch, OF COURSE we wouldnae schedule “our” conference at the same time as TAM! TAM is a tradition, after all. We just need to start our OWN tradition. TAMette, or summat.

    Well DUHH!! Not during TAM of course. But not three months after either, because I can only afford one trip to the US each year (at most), and thus TAM is my period of choice to make it.

  24. flib wrote:

    The 3-D piechart, viewed from an angle, is especially bad because the apparent areas of the pie slices don’t accurately represent the values being compared. Consider using a 2-D bar chart instead. See Edward Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”.

    It is, except in those cases where the chart isn't really needed to push the point, but rather, a visual way of stating the obvious, as is the case here.

    In this case, a bar chart wouldn't add anything relevant to the precision of the data displayed, while at the same time adding a lot more details and elements that may clutter the illustration needlessly.

    It's true that pie-charts generally are "teh evul", but in this case, it's not an issue.

  25. Going over this list, I have to say:

    Eugenie Scott was a speaker at both TAM2 and TAM5.

    Carolyn Porco was a speaker at TAM4.

    Kari Byron came along with the Mythbusters at TAM4. The junior Mythbusters showed up for TAM5 as well I think, but without Kari.

    Julia Sweeney has been attending the conference since TAM2, and giving presentations/monologues on every TAM after that.

    And Barbara Mikkelson from (or rather "those snopes people") have been on the request list for a presentation probably ever since the first TAM, and I know for a fact they've attended (or at least intended to) a few TAMs, as I've assembled their conference packages and badges for TAM3. But they've simply never agreed to be speakers.

  26. (If one was to be *really* pie-chart-pedantic, one could point out that for a 2-way-split pie, you must always be able to draw a chart where the slice angle would be correct in an overhead view, and the slice-to-pie areas were in correct proportion in the 3D view.)

  27. I said: And regarding Rebecca’s previous poll, I think more women would attend events like TAM if there were more women speakers in the lineup.

    Exarch said: Would they? Really? Because it could be akin to saying more women would watch footbaal if more women played the game. I doubt it’s such a simple correlation.

    Yes, I think so. I would, in the former situation, not in the latter. I don't care about sports, so the mix of players would not change my interest level. I do care about skepticism, but I get discouraged when I see a lot of things totally dominated by white males (hence many of my previous comments about the "four horsemen" — you can't get whiter or maler than that group). That's why I intentionally try to have at least half of our reading selections written by women. Not sure if I have been successful because I don't actually count.

    BTW, exarch, in your other post you've simply pointed out the token women who have been included in the past.

  28. I don't think they've been included because they were women. They were included because they matched the topic.

    As someone else said, diversity was never really the goal, and so, diversity was not what we ended up getting.

    anyway, every year, right after the meeting, there's a thread asking for suggestions for next year's speakers. In fact, a questionaire is included with everyone's registration package asking that exact same question.

    Perhaps the relative obscurity of some of these women is a part of the reason they're never invited. But if enough people ask to hear them speak, I'm sure they'll end up on the roster.

  29. Great comments, everyone, I love all the suggestions!

    Exarch, I agree that the women who have been at TAM in the past weren't just tokens. My point in listing them in my post was to openly wonder why they either weren't invited back or didn't want to come back or weren't able to come back. A large number of speakers at TAM6 will be regulars, all of whom are (white) men. Julia Sweeney was a regular and I'm sad that she's not on the bill this year. A number of other women have the potential to be regulars but are missing as well.

    My point here isn't to sulk about it and let it go. My point is to help fix this in the future, because as Donna points out, it IS important to have women speakers and thus attract more women to attend. Is it a simple relationship between the number of female speakers and the number of female participants? Surely not, but I'm confidant that it has a very large effect.

    I think that diversity is important to the JREF but not necessarily a goal. That's fine, and it's why Skepchick is here — because it IS a goal for us, so we can work together with the JREF and other organizations to increase diversity.

  30. I suppose one issue with some potential speakers is that even if someone's known to be a really good writer, they may not be a great speaker. Presumably that's part of the point of having the paper presentations – someone who makes a good impression there has a better chance of ending up as a main speaker, especially if lots of people suggest them.

    Also, I guess there can be different viewpoints on what the overall aims are, in terms of a balance between psi-skepticism, scambusting, addressing dogmatic religion, celebrating science, magic, etc.

    In the magic, psi scepticism and scambusting fields, which I suppose is where jref essentially comes from, there just don't seem to be many women at all.

    That said, there's certainly a good argument that in the science + religion areas, women are underepresented.

  31. My suggestion would be Molly Bentley from the SETI: Are We Alone podcasts. I happen to know her personally, and she is a great person, and has expressed an interest in previous TAMs. Besides, SETI can be considered on the fringes of science by some. Would this not make an interesting topic for TAM?

  32. I noticed the lack of women speakers right away and thought it was unfortunate but not unusual. I belong to the Society of Women Environmental Professionals. It's a huge difference to attend meetings and go to our conference compared to "ungendered" associations. [Excuse the obvious stereotypes and sexism that follows.] Egos are nonexistent and everyone is friendly, not that I would suggest that happens with skeptic groups, its just rampant in business-related groups.

    I am learning the registration process for our conference this year. It's all paper so nothing high tech but it's not hard. It can take quite a bit of time.

    If a Skepchick conference was east coast, I would attend! I really want to go to TAM 6. (Still debating.)

    My votes: Jennifer M. Hecht, Susan Jacoby, Carol Tavris, Elizabeth Loftus, and I would cry to meet Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

  33. A bit late, but here's the full list of your suggestions. Feel free to add to it still!

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Genie Scott Carolyn Porco Kari Byron Julia Sweeney Jennifer Ouellette Tara Smith Mary Roach Barbara Mikkelson from Dr. Pamela Gay from Astronomy Cast Dava Sobel, author of The Planets and Galileo’s Daugher Natalie Anglier, author of The Canon and outspoken atheist Susan Blackmore Shelley from Retrospectacle blog Swoopy Wafa Sultan Nica Lalli Greta Christina Pam Spaulding from Pandagon Ann Druyan Ellen Johnson Rebecca Goldstei nVicky Hyde, the Chair-entity of the New Zealand Skeptics Dr. Harriet Hall Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Danica McKeller, author of Math Doesn’t Suck Joyce Carol Oates Linda and Emily Rosa Barbara Walker, knitter extroadinaire and author of The Skeptical Feminist Karen Stolznow, SkepBitch Lynne Kelly, author of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal Lori Lipman Brown, from the Secular Coalition for America Molly Bentley from the SETI: Are We Alone podcasts Jennifer M. Hecht Susan Jacoby Carol Tavris Elizabeth Loftus

  34. I recognize most of the names already mentioned and agree it would be fantastic to have them at TAM. I can think of a couple more women who haven't been suggested already.

    Lauren Becker is a science interpreter who has taught at museums and parks around the country. She is Public Relations Assistant for the Center for Inquiry. She has provided excellent commentaries in several episodes of the Point of Inquiry podcast, and she has a wonderful voice.

    Science blogger ERV (SA Smith) is a graduate student studying the molecular and biochemical evolution of HIV within patients and within populations. She also studies epigenetic control of ERVs. She has done a terrific job taking on some of the leading "cdesign proponentsists".

  35. exarch: Perhaps, but it turns out she used that exact list in her slide show as well. Filled up an entire slide with names of prominent skepchicks. :)

    nowoo: ERV is a good choice! I forgot about her, because hers is one of the blogs I don’t usually read unless I’m following a link from elsewhere, but she’s an excellent skepchick.

  36. Barbara Forrest, PhD. is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. She has been a critic of intelligent design and the Discovery Institute. It was an email about a lecture by Barbara Forrest that got Chris Comer fired from the Texas Education Agency.

    Jill Tarter, PhD. is an astronomer and the current director of the Center for SETI Research, holding the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute. She was the inspiration for the character Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

    Marilyn vos Savant is a magazine columnist, author, lecturer and playwright who rose to fame through her listing in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ.” Since 1986 she has written Ask Marilyn, a Sunday column in Parade magazine in which she answers questions from readers on a variety of subjects.

    Marcia Angell, M.D. is a physician, author, and the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). She currently is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    All these women are fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, along with Susan Blackmore, Ann Druyan, Susan Haack, Elizabeth Loftus, Eugenie Scott, and Carol Tavris, who have already been mentioned.

  37. Like, you know, me. Or Robert Lancaster, or Dr. Harriet Hall!

    Yes, those are three outstanding Skepchicks who… huh? Hey, does this mean that I can come to the Skepchick pajama party at TAM6?

    Hey, you want to get even further depressed/outraged? Find a list of the speakers at a woo conference – say a Hay House event – and do a similar graph on it. :(

  38. Hmm, you mean to say, when it's about presenting hard, scientific facts, people prefer it to be presented by a man, but when it's about touchy-feely emotional BS, they like to hear it from women?

    It might make sense, but it's definitely sad.

    Q: Where are all the women?

    A: At the Hay House event :(

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