Sunday, November 15, 2015

Penguins of Color Badges (The Skepticon Disaster)

Skepticon, a conference for "skeptics" in Springfield, Missouri that boasts being "the largest FREE skeptic conference in the nation". It is a conference that has also long boasted for being on the side of progress in its conference policies in regards to harassment and inclusion.

This year saw an interesting addition to their existing policy:
Updated October 22, 2015 Starting with Skeption 8, we will be utilizing a three color communication system at our convention. The color communication badges we will be using are small, round stickers you can place on the Skepticon badges given at registration. Be sure to place a sticker on the front and the back of your badge in case your lanyard flips over. If you decide to use the sticker system, all stickers must be placed on your badge so that others can easily find and identify your preference. Not all of our attendees are required to actively participate, but are required to respect the boundaries and choices of those who do. Please be aware of people who are using stickers on their badges and act accordingly. Showing a green sticker means that the person is actively seeking communication; they have trouble initiating conversations, but want to be approached by people who are interested in talking. Showing a yellow sticker means that the person only wants to talk to people they recognize, not by strangers or people they only know from the Internet. The badge-wearer might approach strangers to talk, and that is okay; the approached people are welcome to talk back to them in that case. But unless you have already met the person face-to-face, you should not approach them to talk. Showing a blue sticker means that the person probably does not want to talk to anyone, or only wants to talk to a few people. The person might approach others to talk, and that is okay; the approached people are welcome to talk back to them in that case. But unless you have been told already by the badge-wearer that you are on their “blue list”, you should not approach them to talk. Having no stickers means that person is comfortable verbally confirming their boundaries and social availability. Via Autistic Advocacy: “Color communication badges are a good aid because they allow people to express their current communication preference quickly, nonverbally, and simply – people can change what card is showing if their preference changes. They are a good way to prevent situations where someone is caught in a social situation they do not want to be in, or situations where someone wants to talk but can’t initiate. This means that communication badges can help make conferences, conventions, meetings, college campuses, and other spaces more accessible. People with communication impairments, people who have trouble expressing their communication preferences, and people who have trouble reading social cues about communication preference, may find color communication badges useful. Color communication badges also help all people, abled or disabled, to more easily and effectively let people know whether they want to be approached for conversations or not. This can creates a positive impact on the social atmosphere where communication badges are being used.” If you have any questions regarding the color communication sticker system, please contact us at

The idea sounds ridiculous to many people, but it is actually a tremendously good policy. It's good not because the convention is including more autistic persons, as  it is being marketed, but rather that it's been a long overdue change.

This policy is not for a select few - this policy applies equally well to the average socially awkward penguins that attends these sad real life Tinder meetups for those with "atheist"/"skeptic" fantasies.

Skepticon is a conference steeped in "social justice", and anyone following the social justice hivemind will confirm that often those that most need to be labelled do not actually have an autism diagnosis. The badges apply just as well to anyone that remotely requires a "trigger warning" - in fact, "trigger warnings" are entirely redundant if appropriately self-marked people can be turned away at the door.

Fans of harassment policies, "social justice" and "feminism" have long owed the world transparency into the breadth of their hangups. There ought to be color badges for the humorless, the medicated, the violent, the prone to drama and the incapable of assuming responsibility.

While badges are sorely needed, the great irony of this attempt to be "inclusive" is that the first year this policy of autistic people, Skepticon decided it would be great idea to harangue an autistic person on stage with a lengthy unscripted Q&A with the audience.

The panel was Mark Schierbecker being "interviewed" by his pro-bono publicist and friend, Danielle Muscato. Schierbecker's claim to fame is a white academic named Melissa Click calling for "muscle" to remove him from student protests in Missouri. Danielle Muscato (formerly Dave) used to work for American Atheists and had the misfortune of also being a part of the last Skepticon drama.

The video of Mark's panel is a mess, as can be expected. Anyone would be able to predict that a panel of two people already very familiar with one another ends up being quite ridiculous. This is doubly so as Muscato is trying to be Schierbecker's publicist.

Hopefully one can be forgiven for skipping the on-stage massage Schierbecker and Muscato are giving one another and skip to the audience Q&A that has illuminating moments after Muscato asks Schierbecker if he is racist (@ 26:12) which appears to be a scripted question.

The audience then has a few interesting "points" to make as it then devolves into a discussion of just how problematic Schierbecker is. An audience member at 32:40 claims the "point" of things is to "uplift black voices" instead of Schierbecker's, a white person who had entered a "black space". Schierbecker is then given the "Dear Muslima" treatment in his claim to may have been assaulted by Click - the rationalization is that his is not real victimization when what happens to black people is far worse.

At 1:07:55 , another "question" states that Click would not have assaulted Schierbecker if she had not felt like her own space was invaded by Schierbecker. The tirade blames Schierbecker for the majority of Click's actions. Afterwards as Schierbecker claims social anxiety due to autism, "aww, white tears" is audible in the recording (@ 1:11:45 )

After the event, Muscato claimed that Schierbecker said "multiple indefensibly racist things" and terminated both their personal and professional relationship. Schierbecker posted a tearful video labelled "Journalists' Livelihoods Matter", a title which demonstrates that he really is oblivious to the tone and verbiage the Skepticon audience expected of him despite his seeming willingness to be an "ally". The student journalist did, after all, say all the liberal-approved things about Breitbart and Fox News.

The event was really an ironic inquisition by people who claim to be in favor of "safe spaces". The laughable part is that if one do not adequately understand the current political concepts surrounding "safe spaces", as Schierbecker does not seem to, then one is immediately not found to deserve one. Those undeserving are then subject to "hypervisibility" into one's "prejudices". 

All the while, Skepticon claims to be an "inclusive" space, where appropriately badged people get what they wished for. Both autistic journalists and autistic activists get their padded cells of safety. 

To some this may be conceived as an education of sorts.

The lesson learned is that safe spaces like Skepticon are unworkable, incoherent, hypocritical disasters.


  1. boasts being "the largest FREE skeptic conference in the nation"

    Seems to perfectly illustrate the adage, "you get what you pay for."

    1. Or in the case of Muscato's pro-bono PR, you get a lot less.

  2. Great article... I'd say that there has been another "intersectional failure" recently at the Goldsmith University.

    There some Muslim students used the "safe space" definition to try to silence an ex-muslim speaking at an atheists conference, with "feminists" supporting them:

    Then the same students now want the video that shows how they disturbed the activist's speech taken down because they feel "distressed".

    Who would support the Skepchick crowd?