Rebecca Watson

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Rebecca Watson
Rebecca Watson NECSS 2011.jpg
Born Rebecca Kay Watson
(1980-10-18) October 18, 1980 (age 36)
United States
Other names The Skepchick
Years active Since 2005
Known for Skeptical Rogue to Steven Novella on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, science communication, atheism, feminism
Website skepchick.org

Rebecca Kay Watson (born October 18, 1980) is an American (G)blogger and podcast host. She is the founder of the Skepchick blog and former co-host of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast. She also previously co-hosted the Little Atoms podcast.[1][2]

Career[edit]

Skepchick[edit]

Watson founded Skepchick in 2005, describing it as “an organization dedicated to promoting skepticism and critical thinking among women around the world.”[3] Originally the site consisted of a forum and a monthly online magazine, Skepchick Magazine, which was launched January 15, 2006.[4](H)

In 2006, Watson released The Skepchick Calendar, a pin-up calendar featuring pictures of skeptical women for every month. Proceeds provided the attendance fee for several female applicants to attend the James Randi Educational Foundation’s The Amaz!ng Meeting.[5]

On February 12, 2006, Watson created a blog titled Memoirs of a Skepchick, as an addition to the magazine.[6] Eventually the blog, now simply titled Skepchick, became the main site, as Skepchick Magazine was discontinued in July 2006. Fourteen other bloggers beside Watson now contribute regularly, including one man.[7](I)

In 2010, Skepchick partnered with the Women Thinking Free Foundation to host a vaccination drive with the help of the “Hug Me!” campaign at the Dragon*Con convention in Atlanta, Georgia.[8] Public health staff allowed members of the public to receive a TDAP vaccination free of charge, as well as educational literature promoting immunization.[9] In 2011, Skepchick, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), and the Women Thinking Free Foundation partnered to offer a similar vaccination clinic at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, Nevada.(J)[9]

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe[edit]

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Watson’s first appearance on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast was on episode 33 (March 9, 2006), where she was interviewed about her work on Skepchick. She returned on episode 36 (March 29, 2006) as a regular member of the panel.[10] On December 27, 2014, she announced that she has recorded her final show prior to leaving the organization.[11]

The Public Radio Talent Quest[edit]

In May 2007, Watson entered The Public Radio Talent Quest, a contest aimed to find new public radio hosts.[12] The contest claims to have received more than 1,400 entries.[13] Watson’s entries won the popular vote in every round,[14] and she was declared one of three winners who each would receive $10,000 to produce a public radio pilot.[15]

Watson’s pilot, Curiosity, Aroused,[16] was an hour-long program focused on science and skepticism.[15] It featured interviews with Richard Saunders of Australian Skeptics and Mystery Investigators, and Richard Wiseman, author of Quirkology and Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She also investigated claims of poisonous amounts of lead in lipstick, went on a ghost tour in Boston and visited a Psychic Fair.

Her show was the only one among the three winners not to receive funding by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for being turned into a one-year show.[17][18]

Personal life[edit]

Watson grew up in New Jersey and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communications from Boston University in 2002.[19][20] While attending Boston University, Watson worked as a magician.[21] Watson says she “had relatively little serious interest in science” during her high school and college years but became more interested in science after being a magician and meeting with people like James Randi.[22][23] On April 8, 2011, she announced that she and Rodrigues were separated and seeking a divorce.[24]

Elevator incident[edit]

At the June 2011 World Atheist Convention, on a panel that also included Richard Dawkins, Watson spoke about her experiences with sexism within the atheist movement. Among the topics in a vlog posted following her return from the trip, she described how after the talk around 4am after leaving the hotel bar, a man from the group followed her into an elevator and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Watson cited various contextual reasons why this felt inappropriate, and advised, “… guys, don’t do that.”[25][26] The ensuing discussion and criticism across several websites, including reddit and the Pharyngula blog, became highly polarized and heated to the point of name-calling and some personal threats, including rape and death threats.[27][28]

The controversy increased when Richard Dawkins joined the discussion later in 2011, describing her response as an overreaction since she had not been harmed, and then contrasting the “elevator incident” with the plight of women in Islamic countries,[29][30][31] in a post titled Dear Muslima:

Dear Muslima,
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and… yawn.. .don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with. Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so… And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

— Richard Dawkins[32]

Dawkins received criticism for his remarks.[33][34]

In response to Dawkins’ comments, Watson stated that she would no longer buy or endorse his books and lectures,[32] which was viewed[35] as a boycott:

[Richard Dawkins] therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. […] But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.

— Rebecca Watson, The Privilege Delusion[32]

The result of this exchange led to an extended internet flame war. In the wake of this and an incident at a Center For Inquiry-sponsored event, where female atheists reported gender bias and inappropriate behavior, organizations including the Richard Dawkins Foundation have reviewed their policies regarding sexual harassment and non-discrimination.[27] In 2014, Richard Dawkins stated, “There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison,” in response to which Watson tweeted, “Richard Dawkins just did the blog-equivalent of coughing into his hand while mumbling ‘sorry’ to me. Eh, I’ll take it.”[36][37]