Rileygate ends: Time to move forward and be constructive

Posting under the categories of skeptical activism and critical thinking, I consider this news because it has been a hot topic in “the skeptical community” (however you wish to define that – the group of people that have common topic interests, frequents certain websites, attends particular types of events, reads specific publications, shares a similar philosophy and worldview, etc.).

This appears to be a* final word on this matter which blew up to great proportions, as have the other “-gates”, and caused much ado on the ‘net.

RileyGate: Lessons Learned

A blog I recently wrote has caused a furor in some skeptic circles. I wrote a piece for Julia Lavarnway’s “We Are SkeptiXX” site about a viral video about a little girl named Riley. Julia responded to some of my comments, and we were discussing the topic for several days. All was well until Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson criticized my piece , followed quickly by a blog post by fellow firebrand PZ Myers. I responded to Watson’s criticisms on the Center for Inquiry blogs, and in typical Internet flame war style the whole issue soon blew up. So it went for days, with talk of blog censorship about my “controversial” remarks. A few ostensible skeptics even brought up the specter of a conspiracy theory(!), suggesting that certain comments on the CFI blog had “mysteriously” disappeared or been deleted by nefarious, censorious persons unknown (cue evil cackling laughter!). Over the past week I’ve spent time trying to analyze the whole affair and figure out what, exactly, went wrong.

I recognize that my blog was flawed in several ways and deserved much of the criticism it got. Critics brought up questions that deserve an answer, and I hope this will suffice.

Disclaimer: These comments are more opinionated than usual. Take them or leave them.

This course of action taken by Ben Radford is the method I subscribe to: put your ideas out there; listen to the criticism (when reasonably presented); learn and respond rationally. That’s the way science works. If that is the model that the skeptical community admires, that’s the model that should be encouraged by participants.

The waves that resulted from this discussion had much less to do with the topic of gender and toys as it did with discourse in the skeptical community. There is a division that exists. There are “sides”. This is a social thing, therefore, it gets really complicated. Over the past year, I’ve heard from many people privately, and several have said in public, that the bickering and nastiness that goes on has turned them away from participating in meetings, visiting certain web sites, speaking their mind and staying involved. That is awful. The tone has served to discourage the very activities at the core of critical thinking.

I’ve been around these parts a rather long time (when a twenty-something female at a skeptic meeting was an ANOMALY). There have always been disputes and some nastiness, displays of privledge and sexism, but never to the degree that has been enabled by the internet (which occurs in the paranormal circles as well). I get digusted. A lot. But I never feel like giving up. My interest goes beyond the personalities. I value their ideas, even if I don’t agree with the method of delivery. I’m about moving forward, remaining objective, not taking things too personal, not getting mired in disputes that go nowhere and deepen the divide. The goal is to provide something worthwhile to the public, the ultimate audience, to effect a change. So, perhaps, we can align under that goal and move forward.

* If it’s not the final word, I’ll give an update.

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