There is a form of myth-making well known to critical Bible scholars, wherein a tale starts out as midrashic homily, or a moral parable, or some other form of devotional fiction, well-known to the authors and listeners alike as something other than a non-fictional retelling of history, but after several iterations of retelling the tale becomes accepted as an historical account rather than as originally intended. As much as I’d like to believe that this sort of mythmaking is unique to people of faith, as a skeptic I have to consider the possibility that my secular allies engage in the same sort of behavior.
Recently, the SlymePit-originated meme (likely never intended as a factual claim) that PZ Myers harassed a woman onstage at Skepticon III has gone viral and infected the broader internet as an unqualified truth-claim:
The above is an audio excerpt from around 38:14 into episode two of Honey Badger Radio, which I’d commend to your ears if you’d like to know how the MHRM perceives the skeptic movement at this point in time. The narrative throughout that episode should sound very familiar if you’ve been getting your news and views from the Pit.
Like anyone else who has been relegated to the dungeon, I’m not exactly PZ’s biggest fan, but unlike AVfM and the SlymePitters, I was actually in the audience at Skepticon III and spoke with various people about the experience. No one who was present at the time had the sense that anything above the level of “zero bad” happened on stage that day, and I doubt that even the most determined Googlers can find anyone complaining about the content of that particular talk back in 2010. That said, you can watch the video for yourself, with the questionable part starting around 13 minutes into the clip:
Maybe you think that this was indeed inappropriate sexual banter, or maybe you agree with me that it was exactly zero bad. Our opinions after the fact are probably less important than how the crowd experienced it at the time, but most salient of all are the feelings of the woman onstage. A certain so-called investigative journalist took the effort to track her down and ask what she thought about it:
Now that pretty much settles the issue, as far as I am concerned. For some given piece of banter to be considered harassment, it must at the very least be considered unwanted by one of the parties involved, not to mention objectively objectionable. Since neither element is in play here, it is not reasonable to say that anyone was harassed on the stage that day. The women of AVfM need to stop spreading lies and stick to the facts.