Skeptics Who Kicked Ass: 2011

Sure, I could have posted this back in 2011 when everyone else was doing year-end lists, but what if someone did something really awesome in the waning days of December? WHAT THEN?

Here are a few of the people who inspired me last year, in no particular order: 

Steve Novella
Sure, I’m a little biased because we do a podcast together every week, but this year Steve really brought it. This was, after all, the year Steve appeared on Dr. Oz, forever earning him a place in your mother’s heart as “Oh, the man who was on Dr. Oz”. In addition to The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, you can find Steve at Neurologica and Science-based Medicine.

Rhys Morgan
Rhys first came to our attention when he boldly challenged the pseudoscience of Miracle Mineral Solution, which is basically industrial strength bleach that’s sold to cure everything from HIV to Crohn’s disease. Recently he got back into the news by going and getting himself sued threatened with a lawsuit for pointing out that the Burszynski Clinic can’t cure cancer. You should follow Rhys on Twitter to find out who he’s going to go after next.

Jessica Ahlquist, Damon Fowler, Harrison Hopkins, and Zach Koplin
Rhys isn’t the only teen who made waves this year. Jessica, Damon, Harrison, and Zach stood up to their peers, teachers, administrators, families and communities to defend freedom from religion in the US. Here they are on a panel together at the CFI Leadership Conference:

Rachel Dunlop, Richard Saunders, and the Australian Skeptics
The Australian skeptics simply do not quit. Whether they’re helping authorities bust PowerBalance bands or relentlessly exposing the lies and underhanded tactics of anti-vaccination loons like Meryl Dorey and (I shit you not) Nimrod Weiner (shut up shut up shut up), they’re an inspiration for grassroots activists around the world.

Tim Minchin
He’s smart and hilarious and he has the best hair in show business, and we couldn’t be prouder of Tim’s successes this year. At the start of 2011, he released the incredible Storm movie, which was created by the talented DC Turner and lovely former Skepchick writer Tracy King. This past autumn he wrote the music for the immensely popular stage adaptation of Matilda, and in December he made the news for performing a song about Jesus that was too hot for TV. All in all, a pretty god damn good year.

Jennifer Ouellette, Carl Zimmer, and Ed Yong
For their valuable service to my Twitter and Google+ feeds, these three get a special mention. Jennifer and Carl completely fill up my Google+ feed with weird, cool science news, and Ed pretty much dominates Twitter with links to great science writing. Follow them!

Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, Jen McCreight, Amanda Marcotte, Stephanie Zvan, Greg Laden, and PZ Myers
It’s hardly a secret that last year was a challenging one for me in terms of a large number of people in our community shitting on me on a daily basis. Amanda, Stephanie, Greg, and PZ were with me at SkepchickCon last year when Richard Dawkins told me that sexism in this community didn’t matter because FGM. I’ll be honest: that was kind of a low point for me, and a big part of me just wanted to pack up and never interact with the atheist community again.

But seeing the reaction of Amanda, PZ, Greg, and Stephanie helped me put it into perspective and realize that I wasn’t alone in this fight, and that meant the world to me. In the weeks that followed, Greta, Ophelia, and Jen joined in to publicly denounce both Dawkins and others who were trying to bully me into silence.

Their support has extended far beyond the Dawkins disaster. When I recently pointed out that the Reddit atheism community is infested with people who think it’s okay to release a deluge of rape jokes upon a 15-year old, I was once again genuinely shocked (call me naive) that there would be so many people who refused to understand why that wasn’t cool. This group of badass feminists responded in support of my point, and it was awesome.

In addition to the support they provide, these voices are important because of the way in which they differ from mine. All of us tackle the same topics of feminism, skepticism, and atheism, but each does so in a way that complements the other. Take, for instance, my post yesterday about Ben Radford trying and failing to best a toddler. By the time I had read through most of Ben’s articles and comments on the subject, I was fed up to the point that I didn’t think he deserved a calm, understated, serious response. In fact, I knew from experience that writing a response like that was unlikely to ever get through to him. So instead I ranted.

Today, PZ posted a thorough shredding of the study Ben used to justify a point about women evolving to prefer pink. It’s the kind of post some people need to see, because they don’t understand where my frustration is coming from and I’m too frustrated to explain it to them again.

Another example: after my post about Reddit, Amanda posted a follow-up to expand upon one point I brought up – the false belief that women always post pictures of themselves with objects on Reddit while men only post pictures of the objects. She brought up something I had missed: so what if that’s true? Why is something worse just because women do it? Why shame a woman for engaging in a harmless social act that increases her involvement in a social network?

So these advocates are adding important new perspectives to the same subjects I tackle. Sometimes, we even disagree, and those disagreements are discussed in an amicable, productive way. I know – who knew it was possible on the Internet?

Finally, these voices are important because they’re helping to hit all the shit that I miss. Last night, I stared in awe at my Twitter feed as Jen took on Penn Jillette and a Special Snowflake (TM) who would like men to keep propositioning her despite what those nasty feminists recommend. There was just no way in hell I felt like unpacking all that at 11pm last night, but because of Jen and the others, I no longer feel like I have to. I no longer worry that if I don’t say something, no one will. And that is a tremendous relief.

The Skepchick Network Contributors
I hope this isn’t too self-serving, but this list would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the amazing job these writers are doing. In addition to the above feminist skeptics, this group has been outrageously supportive of me throughout the various shitstorms I’ve weathered, and everything I go through, I go through with them.

There are a lot of them, these days, but I thought I’d just write a little bit about why I love them:

  • Mindy Townsend and a group of new writers took over Teen Skepchick and helped turn it into an awesome place with well-written, timely articles focused on the younger set.
  • Surly Amy Davis Roth has done a fantastic job leading a team of creative, dynamic artists over at Mad Art Lab, and she’s done it all while continuing to post regularly here on Skepchick. The writers at MAL have done so well that they even brought the entire network down with their traffic a few weeks ago.
  • Felicia Gilljam helped create our first ever non-English blog,! She gathered an awesome team that includes all sorts of impressive women. One of them can build helicopters. They’re going to take over the world.
  • Daniela Meli helped create our second non-English blog, Esceptica! She made a special effort to recruit Spanish-speaking writers from a variety of countries in order to create a rich, diverse community.
  • Natalie has just helped us launch our most recent sister site, Queereka, a place for LGBTQ skeptics to gather and plan their heathen agendas. She’s done a fantastic job of writing thought-provoking articles here on Skepchick from a perspective that has been underrepresented in our community.
  • Elyse Anders has continued to rock out by taking on the anti-vaccination movement. Wherever they try to spread their misinformation, she’s been ready to combat them. I’m continually inspired by her determination and her ability to network with other skeptical bloggers in order to reach common goals. She and Maria were instrumental in running two very successful vaccination clinics in 2011, both at TAM and at DragonCon.
  • Amanda Leinbaugh and Jen Myers have spent years – years – posting a new batch of interesting links every single weekday morning on Skepchick. They are wonderful and have been a huge factor in building this community.
  • Kammy Lyon almost single-handedly saved SkepchickCon this year. Before we even added her to the roster, she put in many hours planning and fundraising for the event. She’s now working on next year’s event and it looks like it’s going to be stellar. The ridiculously cool Donna Mugavero is now going to be helping Kammy on events, so you can expect even greater things for 2012.
  • A Kovacs, Maria Walters, Bug Girl, and Sam Ogden help make up the heart of this site, both in their posts and behind the scenes. They’ve been here for years and I hope they’ll continue on for years to come.
  • Debbie Goddard, Heina Dadabhoy, and Jacqueline Hargis were all added this year, and each brings a perspective that we had been missing and every post they write makes it clear that they were awesome choices.
  • Maggie McFee is my good friend and fellow Boston Skeptic who is now contributing to Mad Art Lab. I’m calling her out here because her immense technological know-how got the Skepchick Network back up and running after our huge traffic spike last month. She’s been more helpful than anyone has any right being and I am honored to have a friend like her on my side.
Oh yeah, I went there. This is exactly like when Time Magazine picked you as person of the year and you were all “Whatever, that’s stupid.” But it’s true! I’m constantly impressed by how much ass you guys kick, in the comments on all the blogs, in the tips and support you send us, and in discussions elsewhere on the webz. You’re awesome.

I know there are many fantastic people I’ve missed, so let me know in the comments: who else kicked ass last year?

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. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Rebecca, thank you very much. I was always a scientist (well, for a long time anyway), and thus a skeptic by default (and a critical anthropologist) but I had no idea about the skeptical movement until I discovered you and the Skepchicks just a few years ago. I assumed at the time that all Skeptics were Chicks and thought at first “what a wonderful thing that is, there will be almost no misogyny in this community” but that didn’t last. But it’s still good to be part of the community.

    I’m looking forward to two things happening in parallel, Rebecca, over the next year: 1) The development of various projects such as CONvergence and other things, working with you and the other Skepchicks, and 2) our continued friendship, which I value immensely.

    I also feel lucky that the Twin Cities and Minnesota area have such a high relative concentration of both Skepchicks (do people know that not all Skepchicks write on the blog?) and allies of Skepchicks, like Stephanie, PZ, and when he’s in town, Jason, as well as Car2D2 (who has moved on but with whom I still hang), Brianne Bilyeu, Melissa Lee, Kammy Lyon, Kristine Harley, Ted Meissner, Chris Pederson, Emmily Cassidy, Mike Haubrich, about a thousand Minnesota Athesists, CASHers, Minneapolis Atheists, Humanists like Scott, artist-skeptics like Lynn Fellman, and so on and so forth.

    Come to think if it, you should move here.

    1. Yes please, let’s make Minneapolis-St Paul a haven for skepticism. I totally don’t have a conflict of interest due to living there.

  2. I think I created this account about a year ago but have never bothered to comment on anything. That doesn’t mean I don’t value both the Skepchick community and the stuff you do, Rebecca. This site is a daily stop for me. Thank you so much for your intellect, humor, grace, righteous anger, wit, and the ongoing challenges to my own misconceptions.

  3. I am continually amazed at the community here. It makes me sad when I see people knocking Skepchick. Not sad for me. Sad for them. They’re really missing out on being part of a great community of amazing men & women. #warmandfuzzies

    Thank you Rebecca for continuing to rock it, and thank you to all the wonderful contributers to the skepchick and sister sites. You guys are what make the internet worthwhile.

  4. I nominate future feminist and skeptic in training Riley from the “Riley on Marketing” youtube video, and not because I think she’s awesome(which I do) but because I just want to try and stick it to Ben Radford one last time.

    Also, I want more of your youtube videos, October was the last we’ve heard from you and I know you’ve got a ton of stuff you want to rant about. Now when you read that, you were probably thinking “this guy is totally selfish and demanding”… well I’ll just say that 1) you are correct in your assumption 2) I totally don’t care and 3) please don’t make me beg.

  5. Hey, you forgot Kylie (Podblack) Sturgess, from Token Skeptic… she’s been scoring a few goals in the last 12 months.. she never seems to rate a mention, yet she is always in amongst it.. How about it ?

  6. Kammy Lyon almost single-handedly saved SkepchickCon this year. Before we even added her to the roster, she put in many hours planning and fundraising for the event. She’s now working on next year’s event and it looks like it’s going to be stellar.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to this year’s SkepchickCon like you wouldn’t believe (hell, I might even have an honest-to-goodness smile to go with it this year!). Last year was a lot of fun, I enjoyed meeting the same Skepchicks who articles I voraciously read.

    Add me to the list of people who want to thank you, Rebecca, for sticking with us!

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. Last year’s SkepchickCon was my favorite con ever. Even more then TAM9 (blasphemy :).

      This year’s SkepchickCon will be even better, I am certain.

      And Rebecca, you are, without question, my favorite Skeptic in the world. I am very glad to be your friend, too.

  7. While I agree that Jessica, Damon, Harrison, and Zach did good work WRT freedom from/of religion, I don’t think they should be on a “*Skeptics* Who Kicked Ass” because what they were doign was atheist activism, not skeptical activism.

    I’m only newly openly atheist (came out to my family this past Labour Day and stopped going to church), but such a conflation of atheist and skeptic bugs me to no end and I feel it does a disservice to those skeptics who are not atheists.

    1. When skeptics take on conspiracy theories does that do a “disservice” to skeptics who think 9/11 was an inside job? Exactly where is this demarcation point, so we don’t tread on sensitive toes and maintain a type of ideological purity.

      Alt med claims by Bill Maher? Global warming denial? What else should we not conflate with skepticism? Or are we going to do some special pleading on behalf of religion just because it’s religion?

      Some of us think atheism is just a subset of skepticism. It’s just another topic like taking on homeopaths or alien abduction stories.

    1. Skeptics who kicked ass?


      Thanks for being part of my every day, challenging me, inspiring me, allowing me to comment on your site, educating me, fighting for logic and reason and fighting for women.

      I love your politics and your rants, I read every single word even though I don’t comment much.

  8. Thanks Rebecca Watson. As has been said & I’ll second (or third or nine hundredand ninety-ninth) *YOU* kicked ass last year – & long may you continue to do so. Thanks & cheers! :-)

  9. Thanks Rebecca, this is wonderful.

    Hopefully this year has some positive changes and that the skeptics who kicked ass list gets longer and longer.

  10. “Today, PZ posted a thorough shredding of the study Ben used to justify a point about women evolving to prefer pink. It’s the kind of post some people need to see, because they don’t understand where my frustration is coming from and I’m too frustrated to explain it to them again.”

    Able to recognize the glaring methodological flaws of evo psych.

    Unable to recognize the same in critical theory / pomo / “male privilege”, etc. which used to be enemies of the skeptical movement until this Godawful colonization by the academic left.


    1. Yes, why would one want to apply critical theory? To improve the human condition? F-ing commie leftist bastards.

      What I find interesting is how you found anything here to be post modern.

      Nice scare quotes around male privilege BTW.

  11. What you went through this year was a big eye-opener.

    Coincidentally, it seemed to be going on just as I made a dumb tweet about Vespas, so I’m sorry about that. I hadn’t caught up with the news.

    I haven’t made it to any conferences and thus have not had the privilege of seeing you speak, but your writing and work on the podcast has been entertaining and informative, and has greatly increased my feeling that I need to be more active. Thank you for all of that, and I think perhaps this year I’ll finally get out to a conference (the one in Missouri).

  12. Daw, shit… I got a little teary-eyed. Thanks and you’re welcome.

    Also, I’m chuffed to be on a ‘list of awesome’ that contains Elyse. She is, IMHO, made of 100% pure awesome.

    Also… come home some time, dammit! :)

  13. Rebecca,

    Just wanted to say thank you for everything you contribute to the skeptic movement. You’ve quickly become one of my favorite voices to listen to (I’ve been on the Pharyngula train for a couple years now) and its refreshing to get a new and feminist point of view.

    Please don’t let the goons discourage you too much. For every one of them out there, there’s just as many of us who value what it is you bring to light and take a great deal away from it.

  14. Dear Rebecca,

    I found you during Elevator Gate. Before that I was a skeptic. I then became a feminist skeptic. I can now laugh at commenters like dergegner who think you can’t use critical theory to be critical thinkers.

    Thank you

  15. I want to second the comments by BeardofPants and say “Rebecca, you rock.”

    So does everyone else on your list.

    Although I’ve never commented before, I’ve been reading Skepchick every day for over a year and I absolutely love and respect the community that you’ve built here. I spend *way* too much of my work day silently immersed in your awesome skepchickality (skepchickaliciousness?) and I don’t want you to ever stop! :-)

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