My thoughts on the Shermer, PZ Myers dispute

So, if you aren’t keen, let me catch you up. The long standing dispute between noted skeptic Michael Shermer and Free Thought Blogs overlord PZ Myers more or less originated, from my understanding, when Shermer dared to criticize some aspects of modern feminism, and specifically, dared to criticize the person who is apparently above criticism: Ophelia Benson. Benson, in her critique of Shermer, lifted some comments out of context, as Shermer showed here.

In any case, an anonymous person apparently confided in PZ Myers that someone, possibly Shermer, raped her. Myers presented this unsubstantiated information on his blog without giving any names or any other details that might shed light on the incident. In a single post, Myers managed to smear Shermer without evidence and basically accused him of predatory behavior:

Women are still writing into me with their personal stories. This one isn’t so awful, but it’s mainly illustrative of his tactics…there’s nothing here that would form the basis of any kind of serious complaint, but most importantly, I think, it tells you exactly what kind of behavior to watch out for with him.

Thus, without presenting a stitch of evidence, Myers manages to paint Shermer as not only an alleged rapist, but as a sexual predator.

Do I have to say it again? Without a stitch of evidence, with some questionable first-hand accounts that, in any case, have no bearing since they are anonymous.

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About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

5 Comments on "My thoughts on the Shermer, PZ Myers dispute"

  1. Well, I don't know. I don't think you have to say it again, because saying it once was too much. Let's break this down:

    1. The person did quite definitely accuse Shermer specifically, not "someone, possibly Shermer". I know it's hard for the pro-Shermer people to do this, but GO READ THE ACTUAL ACCUSATION. IT'S THERE IN THE POST, VERBATIM.

    2. The person making the accusation is not truly anonymous, merely unnamed. Her identity is known to P. Z. Myers, and he felt they were trustworthy enough to make the information public on their say-so. Why not make the accusation publicly? Well, there's a long history of people like you attacking rape victims who make public accusations because "you're smearing the man's good name". (That's how the Catholic pedophile priests' victims were often treated, for example.) You wouldn't do that in a case of assault or thievery, but you'll do it in a rape, even though rapes are more common than plain assault (1/6 of all women in America, 1/4 in Canada — possibly the only crime I've ever seen statistics for where Canada beats out the U.S.). The fact that you're demanding a higher standard of evidence than you would for other crimes smells strongly of bias on your part.

    3. Several others have come forth to corroborate that (a) Shermer really has done the sort of things which are presented in the accusation as the public initiation of the rape, and (b) he is known on the lecture circuit as someone of whom women need to be careful. Read the massive comment thread on that post, and you'll see people, some of them with pretty well-established identities, say things about it in the comments!

    4. Shermer has been seen employing tactics which are known to be sexually predatory, so "he's not a sexual predator" is, at best, a misleading phrasing.

    5. Your post immediately assumes that P. Z. Myers is lying, motivated by a minor squabble another blogger had with Shermer. For someone talking about smearing people's reputations on insufficient evidence, you apparently have no sense of irony.

    What's scary is that even Shermer's apologists are merely being hyperskeptical, like you. "You don't have absolute proof he raped her, you just have her word, plus a bunch of people who claim he does do stuff along those lines, that's not proof at all". (In a legal sense, it IS considered evidence, though, were this to go to court. Possibly not enough evidence to convict, in fact almost certainly not because the conviction rate for rape is ridiculously low, but in the U.S. legal system, at least, an accusation of rape is legal evidence of rape. Just something to remember.) There has, so far, been nobody who has come forward to clear Shermer of the charge — made repeatedly, by multiple sources — of deliberately getting women drunk at conventions while remaining sober himself (the technique used in a surprisingly large chunk of rapes), nor of behaving in a womanizing way in person. In other words: this whole story is consonant with Shermer's behavior as observed by his peers. (Which possibly explains why, despite having such a specific story, the woman is still anonymous; Shermer does this kind of thing so often, apparently, that he can't even remember which incident this could be to find witnesses or publish the woman's name and let the attack dogs — there are A LOT of people who will attack women who make accusations of rape; that's why journalistic codes of ethics permit anonymity for sexual crime victims — have at her. But you still choose to believe in him, which is a little unnerving. Your stance is, de facto, "if he's guilty then I may be actually physically endangering women by not wanting them to be warned about him, but I value his reputation among the atheists who read blogs — which is as far as this goes, because this blog post wouldn't be enough to trigger an investigation, let alone a rape trial — much more than the safety of women who attend conferences".)

    One thing Myers is quite right about: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. This idea that women aren't allowed to warn each other about potental hazards, in a fashion that has no legal repercussions for the hazards in question, because They Might Smear A Man And That's Just Too Much, is pretty sickening, but that's what you're defending. Shermer's not going to be taken to court, or lose his job, or anything like that, as a result of this whole thing. (Unless, of course, the accusation is not just true but only the tip of the iceberg, in which case perhaps his victims will be inspired to take action, but in that case he really, really deserves it, and you are going to look very, very silly.) People won't get drunk with him any more at conventions? Maybe that the tiny handful of atheist conventions which actually take women seriously (in terms of inviting them as speakers and having anti-harassment policies in place) will decide not to invite him as a guest? Oh, dear, how terrible. Gee, you know, nobody invites me to conventions — and it's been YEARS since anyone accepted a drink from me. Why aren't you defending me in public?

    • I hope for your sake you are never labeled as a rapist and have that blasted out over the front page of your local newspaper or made the lead story on the 6 o'clock news for days on end.

      I feel awkward in saying this, but I feel slightly sorry for PZ Myers — he's put his actual name against this accusation. Most/many of the people (like you Vicar) are calling Shermer a rapist behind the protection of anonymity. If this is truly the "right thing to do" then why not use your real name when calling someone a rapist?

  2. Not Vicar, the news hasn't been blasted out over the front page of the local newspaper or made the lead story on the 6 o'clock news. It's been limited to atheist blogs and forums. Even this latest accusation against Shermer would likely not have gone much further than PZ's blog if it hadn't been picked up and spread by other bloggers which, ironically, seem to be mostly Shermer supporters.

    This has actually also been going for a long time. Reports of predatory behaviour from Shermer has featured on forums and blog posts for several months.

    • Pardon me Kris, but PZ Myers has over 130000 Twitter followers; and if we were to believe what comes out of FtB with respect to readership, there's thousands more right there. There's clearly splash damage with many people talking about it in the online community. Shermer makes his career in this space. Not sure why that's hard for you to grasp?

      So, since I don't live my life on hearsay or bad evidence any more, can you please provide links to the "reports of predatory behaviour" on sites OTHER THAN FtB please?

      • Here's a good summary. Of course, if someone accuses PZ Myers of rape, the Atheists+, FtB fem crowd would demand — Demand! — hard evidence. But if it's against Shermer, "Eh, we'll castigate someone on rumor and innuendo" and on Myers' infallible authority and unimpeachable character. And of course, just by posting that link, someone will probably come on here and accuse me of being an MRA nut, which is an absurdity too. Just getting that out of the way.

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