What I Wrote To Scientific American

August 12, 2013

On August 8, I wrote to the relevant editors at Scientific American after Dr. Karen Stollznow posted her blog piece about sexual harassment. I did so because Dr. Stollznow’s piece contained several inaccuracies, which were repeated in blogs and then showed up in letters to me. These inaccuracies are damaging to the reputation of the Center for Inquiry, an organization to which I have a fiduciary obligation. I asked Scientific American to issue an apology and make three specific corrections. I did not ask for the post to be removed. In my view, it would have been preferable if it had remained posted, but with the corrections. Scientific American decided otherwise. My email to Scientific American appears below.

* * * 

I am writing to you in connection with the blog post entitled "I'm Sick of Talking about Sexual Harassment!" by Karen Stollznow that appeared on ScientificAmerican.com on August 6 (link below).

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/2013/08/06/im-sick-of-talking-about-sexual-harassment/

In this blog post, Ms. Stollznow alleges that she was sexually harassed by an employee of an unnamed organization. However, Ms. Stollznow's references to the organization are so thinly veiled that almost immediately upon appearance of this blog post many identified the organization as the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a nonprofit educational organization of which I am president. See for example this blog post:

http://skepchick.org/2013/08/ben-radford-accused-of-sexual-harassment/

As the Skepchick blog post indicates, Stollznow gave "all the clues necessary" for a reader to determine she was referencing CFI.

I am very troubled by this blog post because, among other reasons, it contains several false statements regarding the actions and work culture of CFI. These false statements are extremely damaging to the reputation of the organization. In particular, Ms. Stollznow falsely alleges that:

1. CFI first adopted a policy prohibiting sexual harassment after "Elevatorgate" -- a controversy that occurred in the summer of 2011. This allegation is false. CFI's current harassment policy was adopted in 2007, and a prior, abbreviated one was in place in 2003. By falsely alleging that CFI adopted a harassment policy only in reaction to a 2011 controversy, Stollznow implies that CFI did not take sexual harassment seriously until then.

2. When CFI suspended the employee that Ms. Stollznow had accused of harassment, the suspension was allowed to run concurrently with his vacation. This is false. By making this false claim, Ms. Stollznow implies that CFI was not serious in disciplining the employee. Many of the blogs that have commented on Ms. Stollznow's accusations have accepted her false claim and have ridiculed CFI, with much damage to the organization's reputation. See, for example:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/08/07/
karen_stollznow_writes_about_her_experiences_with
_sexual_harassment_why.html

("The company felt that suspending him temporarily while he was on vacation was sufficient discipline.")

3. CFI "has a history of sexual harassment claims. They also have a track record of disciplining these harassers lightly and then closing ranks like good ol' boys." This allegation clearly implies that CFI's "history" is extraordinarily bad. This allegation is false. I have been president & CEO from July 2008 forward. During that time, there have been only three complaints involving employees that could be described as involving sexual harassment claims, even under the broadest understanding of sexual harassment. This includes Ms. Stollznow's claim. Ms. Stollznow's claim is also the only one in which there was a specific finding of any sexual harassment, so the allegation that CFI has a "track record" of disciplining harassers lightly is false. No harassment was found in the prior cases so there was no discipline for harassment. (In one of the prior cases, an employee was disciplined, but for numerous other offenses.)

Out of an abundance of caution I will mention one other incident: a few years ago, an employee hired a male stripper to perform during office hours. We would consider this more gross misconduct as opposed to sexual harassment, but, in any event, this incident lends no support to the false claim that CFI treats "harassers lightly." The employee was terminated almost immediately.

CFI depends heavily on donations for its income. Ms. Stollznow's false claims can be expected to have an adverse impact on our ability to raise funds. Indeed, following the appearance of Ms. Stollznow's blog post, I have already received two e-mails indicating that individuals would not support CFI. Ms. Stollznow's allegations also will have an adverse effect on our ability to recruit staff.

I am frankly shocked that this blog post was allowed to appear in Scientific American -- a journal that presumably recognizes the importance of evidence -- without any fact checking whatsoever. Certainly no one checked with anyone in our organization regarding Ms. Stollznow's claims. If anyone from your journal had done so, we could have refuted these false claims. Furthermore, you would have been informed that Ms. Stollznow's allegations were thoroughly investigated by an experienced, impartial, outside investigator. Because of the length of the investigation, CFI expended approximately $40,000 in fees and costs. (Our annual budget is roughly $5.5 million.) The allegation that CFI does not take harassment complaints seriously has absolutely no foundation in fact.

I request that ScientificAmerican.com issue an immediate apology and a correction which clearly states that:

1. The Center for Inquiry has had a policy prohibiting sexual harassment since at least 2003, and its current policy has been in place since 2007;

2. The employee referenced in Ms. Stollznow's blog post did not serve his suspension during his vacation; and

3. The Center for Inquiry does not have an extraordinary history of sexual harassment claims, nor is there any evidence to support the allegation that it has a track record of disciplining harassers lightly.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this.

Very truly yours,
Ronald A. Lindsay

* * * 

Update: As has been noted in the comments, Karen Stollznow is correctly referred to as Dr. Stollznow, not "Ms." (See comment #12 below.) This has been changed in the opening to this post.

Comments:

#51 Molly (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 1:28am

This whole “atheist” sexual harassment activism is a joke. There are INFORMED courts and tribunals for these matters if indeed the accusations carry any substance.

I sympathize with Lindsay at having to put up with the loud and irrational FTB & Skepchick loons. Anyone who doesn’t agree with their assessment and political agenda is labelled a rape supporter or some other such cheap silencing tactic. Are you kidding me?

I look forward to the slew of lawsuits now appearing on the horizon to deal with these ignorant defamers.

#52 Davi (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 1:59am

How very silly.

When I originally read that article I had never even heard of the ‘Center for Inquiry’ before today, not being American and not being ‘active in the skeptic community’. I didn’t recognise ‘CFI’ and nor did I even bother trying to find out who played a role in all this because I frankly did not care. The article was not about demonising a named individual.

When the article abruptly disappeared, though, I looked up the reason why. Thanks to the Streisand effect I now know that there is a group called the ‘Center for Inquiry’, that they are the subject of that article, and that they have a serious PR problem.

So well done for doing what the original article didn’t: airing your organisation’s dirty linen so visibly that world plus dog are aware of it.

#53 MosesZD (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 3:14am

I’m getting a smile out of this.  The FTB bullies have had a real bad week.  oolon is in trouble under the English libel laws for his blockbot.  Myers and McCreight have both committed per se defamation and can’t use the CA Anti-SLAPP legislation to hide behind.  Stollznow made some good points, but in order to have a ‘good story’ took it too far and SciAm decided to pull her crossed-over-the-line-into-defamation post.


So, you clowns, instead of pulling back and examining your behavior, just come out guns blazing.  You do yourself and your ‘leaders’ no favors.

#54 A Hermit (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 5:27am

Molly above says

Anyone who doesn’t agree with their assessment and political agenda is labelled a rape supporter or some other such cheap silencing tactic.

Which is untrue i don’t seen anyone being called a “rape supporter” here.

And this misrepresentation is immediately followed with this piece of hypocrisy:

I look forward to the slew of lawsuits now appearing on the horizon to deal with these ignorant defamers.

From whining about imaginary “silencing tactics” to applauding the use of legal threats to shut up anyone who has the courage to speak up about harassment. Anyone else getting whiplash from that comment?

#55 terim (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 5:27am

i guess all these comments and this whole controversy really detracts from the real culprit here…the sexual harasser.

also, i’m not a lawyer, but MIND blog is like an op-ed piece right? so does SciAm need to fact check a guest bloggers work before posting? Since the writer didn’t name names specifically, what legal obligation is there? curious.

#56 sezit (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 7:35am

Stalkers usually stalk serially.  So I wonder who else Ben has stalked, and I wonder who he is stalking now.  Because Joe Anderson at morethanmen.org is very clear that he witnessed and confirmed loooooong term stalking of Karen to CFI’s lawyers.  I also am astonished that this documented confirmation could have ended in anything other than a severing of employment for Ben. 

Ron, I just cannot understand your treatment of this situation as anything other than ineffective leadership and anti-humanist.  Now that this has gone public you have confirmed that there was harassment - but nowhere is there a molecule of sympathy or apology for Karen’s FOUR years of targeted abuse, allowed by your organization’s management.  Why would any humanist support your organization?

Your treatment of this situation and your behavior around the WIS2 con show that you take action that is short-sighted, disrespectful, and seemingly unaware of the reality that 50% of the population lives in. And you aren’t learning nearly fast enough.

Ron, you are bad at your job.

#57 tgt (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 8:50am

Complaint fail:

1 - A misreading of what was said.
2 - This may be valid.
3 - Complaining about a statement of opinion (“extraordinary”).

Even if the second one is valid, that third complaint is going to hang you.

#58 oolon on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 9:45am

@MozesZD, “oolon is in trouble under the English libel laws for his blockbot” ... I am? News to me. Especially given the only slightest avenue for suing was to sue the BBC and they laughed in the complainants faces. Personally I doubt anyone will ever sue for being put on a list, even the “Rape Supporters” list that Mykeru has a moan about on the other comment page (Twitter search for Mykeru+rape shows you why). For the simple reason that expressing opinion is protected speech that the law cannot and should not touch.

#59 Paul the Morning Heretic on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 11:13am

Hi folks. We’ll be closing comments on this post at about 4:30pm ET.

#60 Kris (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:06pm

Maybe it’s just me, but I do wonder, given the seriousness of Stollznow’s allegations, why she made no mention of going to the authorities with them. Exactly what did she hope to accomplish by plastering them all over the internet in an anecdotal piece?

#61 tgt (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:12pm

@60,

Possible reasons not to go to the cops or publicly accuse her abuser:

* Any of the million reasons that have been said a million times about both this situation and other similar ones.

Possible reasons she’s coming forward now:

* She’s given up on quiet resolution.
* She’s changed her mind and is willing to take the hit from people like you.

#62 A Hermit on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:18pm

For Kris @ #60:

http://www.sff.net/people/jchines/Pics/Harassment.jpg

#63 Kris (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:31pm

@61

Well, whoopee for her! Let’s give her a medal.

I’m not the only one who has posed this question. Anyone employing sound logic would question why she chose to remain a contractor for CFI in spite of what apparently transpired, and why law enforcement wasn’t notified, since she claims, among other things, that she was “sexually assaulted” on “several occasions.”

#64 tgt (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:40pm

@63,

I think my previous comment covers your appeal to popularity:

“She’s changed her mind and is willing to take the hit from people like you.”

Pas that, when we know the reasons that other people in similar circumstances have not spoken out, your “sound logic” is nothing of the sort. There’s no need to ask about her specific reasons. The only point of that inquiry is to falsely suggest that the accusations must be fake.

#65 Kris (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 2:56pm

@64

It’s certainly your prerogative to take her word for everything based on an anecdotal piece. I’m not obligated to, and I don’t. Sue me.

#66 tgt (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 3:41pm

@65

You realize that CFI did not say that any of her statements about her harassment were false, right? That she was harassed doesn’t seem to be in question here.

#67 Kris (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 4:24pm

@66

You do realize sexual harassment and sexual assault are different charges, and that Stollznow claims Radford sexually ASSAULTED her on several occasions, right?

According to Lindsay’s statements, CFI suspended Radford for harassment, not sexual assault. If in fact he sexually assaulted anyone, he should be in jail. That’s where he might be had Stollznow notified the police of these criminal allegations instead of bitching and whining to CFI and publishing her dissatisfaction with them when they failed to fire Radford as she apparently hoped they would.

#68 tgt (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 4:30pm

@67

You think complaining about substantiated sexual harassment is “bitching and whining”. I think we’re done here.

#69 Kris (Guest) on Tuesday August 13, 2013 at 5:04pm

@68

I think we’re done since you refuse to acknowledge the difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault, and also refuse to admit that Stollznow’s claims of the latter are unsubstantiated in what even she admits is a blog about her “personal experiences.” It’s rich that she’s so incensed at Lindsay for “correcting” them without her consent, especially given her incessant harping about the evils of anecdotal evidence. Apparently she only finds it useful when it serves to benefit her.

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