Cancelling Steve Moxon

This is the first of three blog posts I have coming out regarding the debate points that have been raised recently around inviting controversial speakers to Skeptics events. In my first post, I want to discuss the situation at hand in a little more depth.

At the start of the year, we booked Steve Moxon to speak at Leeds Skeptics, on the topic of “why aren’t there more women in the boardroom?” On Monday, 9 June, we announced that we were cancelling the event.

The decision was reached after we had received a significant amount of concerned messages from people who attend our events, as well as new information being brought to our attention and after review, we eventually concluded that it would not create a positive debate as we had hoped. Here is what the Leeds Skeptics officially said:

After careful consideration, we have decided to cancel Steve Moxon’s upcoming talk. As a Skeptics group we strive to host events that are both interesting and challenging, however, based on feedback from those who attend our events, and new information being brought to our attention, we now believe that it is unlikely that the event would create a healthy and positive debate on the matter.

It was a very tough decision to reach though. On one side, we don’t want people who turn up to our events to be offended, at the same time, we do want to host events on thought provoking subjects and not be limited on topics by those that are on the approved skeptics list.

In the end, the question of censorship was a moot point – even if we did cancel the event, it wasn’t a case that we were censoring anyone – it’s our forum, we can invite who we like, and we ultimately called off the event because Steve would not have been well received, nor would it have created a proper debate on the subject. The subject itself remains as a topic worthy of debate.
After this had all taken place, someone asked if Leeds Skeptics was in the habit of giving radical speakers a platform – the implication being that we didn’t, so we shouldn’t give Steve one.

So, Leeds Skeptics, do you regularly hold events where creationists are given an uninterrupted platform? Do you regularly invite anti-vaxxers to speak at Skeptics in the Pub and blurb their work in the same tone? Isn’t the appropriate form to engage with someone whose views are controversial and that you want to see ripped to shreds a debate, not a lecture?

However, the answer to this question is yes. We have previously invited speakers from the Zeitgeist Movement and We Are Change. They’re both good examples of when we have invited controversial speakers, with views at odds with those of most Skeptics, backed up with some very questionable science. Naturally, they were both taken to task in the Q&A.

That said, they are tame compared to the kind of events that Leeds Atheist Society puts on. They regularly give an uninterrupted platform to members of the religious community, who often have strong and open views against women and homosexuals. I remember one of the Reason Week debates was opened by the Islamic speaker making the following joke.

50 years ago homosexuality was a crime, today it’s accepted, in 50 years time it will probably be compulsory.

He got booed for it. So he should, it’s rare that you hear something that offensive said in public. But there was no question as to whether we should be challenging this kind of bigotry – of course we should be. That was in the context of debate, but through the interfaith talks, it’s more normal for a religious speaker at LAS to get an uninterrupted platform where they can say what they like without rebuttal. I’ve never heard of anything avoiding such events because of the controversial things the religious speaker had to say – we’re there to learn, and to challenge prejudice.

At no point throughout any of these events could it ever have been implied that they were legitimising such speakers, associating themselves with such with such groups or providing a platform for such detestable views. As Skeptics, we’re here to challenge ideas – that is the definition of skepticism.

I have more to say on such speakers, and will discuss that in my next blog post, but I hope the above helps to elucidate the thought process we went through.



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This entry was posted on Friday, July 13th, 2012 at 12:30 pm and is filed under Events, Religion & Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.