Radford vs. Stollznow: Tempest in the Skeptic Community

On Wednesday of last week, Ben Radford, a well-respected and well-published member of what is broadly known as “the skeptic community,” published a website dedicated to answering accusations of gross sexual harassment made by Karen Stollznow, another prominent member of that community.  Radford announced that he is suing Stollznow for fraud, libel, defamation and tortious interference with contractual relations. Radford had earlier this year published a moderate column examining false allegations but had otherwise remained strictly silent on public allegations made against him by multiple members of the skeptical community.

Wednesday’s release by Radford follows months of controversy after Scientific American published a piece by Stollznow last August in which she claimed she was the target of sexual harassment  for years. The column, since removed from Scientific American, can be read at the Internet Archive: I’m Sick of Talking About Sexual Harassment by Karen Stollznow. (AVfM has archived its own copy for journalistic purposes if it should disappear from other sources.)

While Stollznow did not name Ben Radford directly, the indictment became more than implicit when in the course of a few days a number of “Atheism+” and “FreeThought” bloggers, tweeters, Youtubers and Facebook posters named him as the perpetrator. Included in the choir of finger pointers, speculators, and insinuators were Ian Murphy, P.Z. Meyers, Rebecca Watson, Jason Thiebault, Amanda Marcotte, David “Orac” Gorski, Ophelia Benson, and Stephanie Zvan. Enterprising members of the Skeptic community have strongly objected to this behavior for some time, though objections mostly fell on deaf ears while Radford remained silent.

Radford, in the meantime, was publicly ostracized by co-workers and close friends. His ties with the Center for Inquiry and many other professional relationships were severely strained as rampant internet commentary, based on loose speculation and poor understanding of research on false allegations, continued, with the common presumption among most of the speculators apparently being that men accused of rape and sexual harassment should probably be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

During the entire last quarter of 2013, Radford, through his lawyers, repeatedly requested that Stollznow publicly retract her statements claiming they were false and defamatory.  Stollznow repeatedly ignored these requests until in March of this year when Stollznow’s husband, Mathew Baxter, contacted Radfrod offering to settle a lawsuit filed against Stollznow on February 17th by Radford by issuing a retraction.  After weeks of collaboration between Baxter and Radford in crafting a retraction Baxter reassured Radford in an email that it was OK to publish said retraction on his Facebook page, which he did.

After publication Stollznow denied agreeing to a retraction and ten days ago on March 27th, started a defense fund under the byline “Give a Voice to Sexual Harassment Victims” which has already raised nearly $60,000, even though there is strong reason to believe that this campaign, which is defamatory of another person, is arguably a violation of Indiegogo’s terms of use since it is widely known whom Stollznow has accused. This leads to another interesting question: are sites like Indiegogo now the go-to funding source for anyone who wants to make an allegation against someone else in court, without even providing proof of the wrongdoing to donors?

In any case, since its publication on Scientific American, Stollznow’s article claiming to have been sexually abused was removed.  Also, an article quoting Stollznow’s allegations by Amanda Marcotte published on Slate.com  was also removed, with Slate giving the explanation that it “did not meet our standards for verification and fairness.”

This drama accompanies a rash of accusations directed at prominent members of the atheist community regarding sexual misconduct, harassment and misogyny.  Nearly all accusations and smear campaigns have been initiated by members of the Atheism+ and FreeThoughtBlogs communities or their supporters.

Last summer, PZ Myers posted an article claiming an acquaintance of his had told him Michael Shermer raped her.  Shermer’s lawyers issued a cease and desist order to Myers, who has yet to remove the post. Also, in a highly publicized incident, Amanda Marcotte called for the removal of Center for Inquiry’s CEO, Ron Lindsay following his giving a speech critical of feminist ideology at the 2013 Women in Secularism conference in Washington D.C.

Smear campaigns against anyone countering the feminist ideology of Atheism+ have become so common that a Wiki page titled “Witch of the Week” has been set up enumerating many of the targets. However, Radford’s case stands apart because he has meticulously documented all correspondence with Stollznow and others regarding his relationship with her.  Emails from Stollznow indicate that it was she who initiated a long-lasting sexual relationship and that she wished it to continue even after she married.  In a well-written timeline, Radford indicates the accusations started only after he complained to a colleague that she was not pulling her weight in the production of the Monster Talk podcast which he, Blake Smith, and Stollznow hosted.

A RocketHub fundraiser dubbed “Ben Radford Legal Fund“, aiming to defray Radford’s legal expenses, has only collected a meager $2,590 at the time of this article being published. Despite this, many in the atheist community are supportive of Radford.

AVFM has been approached by several critics of Freethought Blogs and Atheism+ to cover this story since the publishing of his response to these allegations and, because we believe false allegations, especially against men, to be a poorly researched area but one where there’s reason to believe they are not uncommon, even if the “Free Thinkers” accept that as axiomatically true. Even if they were rare, however, the notion that men should be presumed guilty until proven innocent is anathema to the values of a liberal democratic society.

Whether members of the atheist or skeptic community or the men’s advocacy community or not, accused men deserve the presumption of innocence. Furthermore, to our eyes, the case against Stollznow is incredibly damning. We hope the fundraiser for Radford succeeds, and we still wonder why Indiegogo is allowing a defamatory fundraiser against Radford for what is very possibly a false accuser on its pages.

“It very much appears that Ben Radford has been the subject of a false accuser, and rather than express any skepticism of the allegations at all, the ideological bullies within the FreeThoughBlogs and Atheism+ communities have done little but behave cruelly toward what may be an innocent man, and otherwise followed their unquestioned faith in the Holy Teachings of Feminism and the Doctrine That False Allegations Are Rare-even when copious research suggests they may not be” says A Voice for Men Operations Manager Dean Esmay.  “Radford has done what we advise all men to do: document everything, no matter how hard that work would be, because in when it comes to society today, men are Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”

Esmay said he encourages people to donate to Radfords legal fund, saying that he considers the case a way to counter the efforts of ideological feminists to co-opt the Atheist/Skeptic Movement.

“His case should be the watershed moment that finally leads the skeptical and freethinking community to question ideological feminist dogma and start to see women as being as human (and therefore as likely to lie and manipulate and backstab) as men are.”

Radford has stated in his post that he will not comment further about the case until it is resolved.

Sources:

http://benrlegal.info/

http://www.scrible.com/contentview/page/24IG1900IK14P2M300C3G0BQ4KA426A3:40191410/index.html?utm_source=tb_permalink&utm_medium=permalink&utm_campaign=tb_buttons&_sti=671497

http://www.freezepage.com/1393885774OBBYKLYGDC

http://thetimchannel.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/159838891-shermer-cease-and-desist-letter-to-pzm.pdf

http://www.skeptic.com/podcasts/monstertalk/

http://phawrongula.wikia.com/wiki/Witch_of_the_Week

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/give-a-voice-to-harassment-victims

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/08/what-do-you-do-when-someone-pulls-the-pin-and-hands-you-a-grenade/

http://www.rockethub.com/projects/41435-ben-radford-legal-fund

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/05/20/an-open-letter-to-the-center-for-inquiry/
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