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You Might Think Twice Before Signing Up for a “Skeptics” Conference


Thoughtful reader Steve noticed this on the website of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), which recently merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Steve asks, “I’m curious. Do ID [intelligent design] conferences ever have to post something like this?”

He’s referring to the “Policy of the Center for Inquiry on Hostile Conduct/Harassment at Conferences.” Now I’m aware, obviously, that every community of likeminded individuals is subject to the familiar human frailties. But we also know, as noted here a while back, that “The ‘New Atheism’ Has a Problem with Women,” having been plagued of late by “rampant accusations of sexual harassment.”

With that in mind, the policy on hostile behavior and harassment sounds like the CFI is reading its followers the Riot Act. The warning runs to 812 words, and I can only assume it was composed with the assistance of attorneys.

There are sections on the “Purpose and Scope of Policy,” “Prohibited Conduct, Consequences of Hostile or Harassing Conduct,” “Reporting Hostile or Harassing Conduct; Investigations,” and “Record-Keeping.”

Prohibited conduct extends from formal conferences to informal social events:

In general, prohibited conduct includes any abusive conduct that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with another person’s ability to enjoy and participate in the conference, including social events related to the conference.

It includes non-sexual behavior:

Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, yelling at or threatening speakers or attendees, or any significantly disruptive conduct. By way of example, repeated interruption of a speaker by an attendee is prohibited.

And sexual behavior:

Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment. By way of example, unwelcome sexual attention, stalking, and physical contact such as pinching, grabbing, or groping are prohibited.

Well, good for them. If a policy like this weren’t needed, they would not have published this one — and in such detail, including the reference to “pinching, grabbing, or groping.” Notice that they couldn’t leave it at “pinching” and trust fellow skeptics to extrapolate the rest, or even merely “pinching or grabbing.” They had to specify all three! This is a sociologically revealing document.

Behavior and belief walk hand in hand. You would have to be naïve to assume there’s no sociology that goes along with knowledge and opinion.

CFI has some interesting events coming up, including CSICon 2016 in Las Vegas featuring “skeptic stars like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science education champion Eugenie Scott, SETI astronomer Jill Tarter.” Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss will be a headline attraction. There’s also Women in Secularism, to be held in Arlington, VA, with a focus on “fight[ing] back against the intrusion of religious dogma on women’s lives.”

“Religious dogma”? It sounds like the behavior of “skeptics” themselves poses the more immediate threat of “intruding” on women’s privacy, including that of CFI fans themselves. Before I’d sign up for one of these events, I’d want to think carefully about it.

Photo: CFI Lecture Hall, by Sgerbic (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.