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Rebecca Watson

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Rebecca Watson
Rebecca Watson5.JPG
Watson in 2012
Rebecca Watson

(1980-10-18) October 18, 1980 (age 41)[1]
United States
Alma materBoston University
Years active2005–present
Known forSkeptical Rogue to Steven Novella on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast, science communication, atheism, feminism

Rebecca Watson is an American blogger and podcast host. She is the founder of the blog Skepchick and former co-host of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She also previously co-hosted the Little Atoms podcast.[2][3]


Watson blogs about atheism and feminist politics, and has been particularly active in critiquing the modern atheist movement (sometimes called "New Atheism") from within, especially regarding the lack of attention given to the role of women in the movement. Primarily active online, she was described by BuzzFeed as "the first major atheist whose rise has occurred on the web".[4]: 96–97 


Watson founded the blog Skepchick in 2005,[4]: 96  describing it as "an organization dedicated to promoting skepticism and critical thinking among women around the world".[5] The same year, 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.[6]

Originally the site consisted of a forum and a monthly online magazine, Skepchick Magazine, which was launched in January 2006.[7] In February 2006, Watson created a blog titled Memoirs of a Skepchick, as an addition to the magazine.[8][failed verification] Eventually the blog, now simply titled Skepchick, became the main site, as Skepchick Magazine was discontinued in July 2006. Skepchick has a focus on science and skepticism in general rather than atheism in particular. As of 2017, the site, whose stated goal is "to discuss women's issues from a skeptical standpoint", hosts over 20 bloggers from around the world.[4]: 96–97 

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.[9] Public health staff allowed members of the public to receive a TDAP vaccination free of charge, as well as educational literature promoting immunization.[10] 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.[10] The site was the 2012 winner of The Ockham Awards for Best Skeptic Blog.[11]

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe[edit]

Watson's first appearance on the podcast The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe 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.[12][failed verification] On December 27, 2014, she announced that she had recorded her final show prior to leaving the organization.[13]

Public Radio Talent Quest[edit]

In May 2007, Watson entered the Public Radio Talent Quest, a contest aimed to find new public radio hosts.[14] The contest reported receiving more than 1,400 entries.[15] Watson's entries won the popular vote in every round,[16] and she was declared one of three winners who each would receive $10,000 to produce a public radio pilot.[17]

Watson's pilot, Curiosity, Aroused,[18] was an hour-long program focused on science and skepticism.[17] 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.[19][20]


Watson speaking at NECSS 2011

The controversy that came to be known as "Elevatorgate" originated with a video Watson made following the June 2011 World Atheist Convention in Dublin, where Watson spoke on a panel, which also included biologist Richard Dawkins, about her experience of being sexualized within the atheist movement on account of her gender.[4]: 100–101 [21] According to Watson, several members of the panel and audience later gathered for drinks in the hotel bar, which Watson left at around 4 a.m., saying she was going to bed. In a vlog posted following her return from the trip, she described how a man from the group, whom she had not spoken to before, followed her into an elevator and, once inside, asked her to go back to his room for coffee. Watson said this proposition being made in the confined space of an elevator made her "incredibly uncomfortable" and advised, "guys, don't do that".[22]: 198  She went on to say:

I was a single woman, in a foreign country, at 4 a.m., in a hotel elevator with you—just you—and don't invite me back to your hotel room, right after I have finished talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.[4]: 101 [23]

A negative response by the online atheist community to Watson's account of the elevator incident, which was a brief part of a longer video about other topics,[22]: 198  soon spread across several websites, including Reddit, and became highly polarized and heated.[24][25][further explanation needed] Writer and biologist PZ Myers wrote a post on his blog Pharyngula about the incident, and the debate steadily grew to include the overall status of women within the secular movement, with most of the movements's prominent figures offering their opinion on whether the elevator incident was sexual harassment. Religious scholar Stephen LeDrew writes that this discussion attracted "a continuing vitriolic backlash", with commenters online labeling women who spoke up on the subject as "feminazis" and other misogynistic slurs.[22]: 198–199  Watson experienced death threats,[4]: 101  with commenters on her blog saying in graphic terms how she should be raped and murdered.[22]: 198 

The controversy attracted mainstream media attention when Dawkins joined the debate.[22]: 199  Writing in the comments section of Pharyngula, he satirized the supposed indifference of Western feminists to the plight of oppressed Muslim women:[26]

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[22]: 199 

After Dawkins was criticized by multiple commentators, he explained that, in his view, Watson had not suffered any injury, comparing Watson's experience with the annoyance one might feel while riding an elevator with someone chewing gum.[22]: 199–200 

Several commentators argued that this showed Dawkins' insensitivity to gender-related issues such as sexual violence.[22]: 200 [27] LeDrew writes that "For the first time since the New Atheism had risen to prominence, [Dawkins] found himself under attack by many of those who had viewed him as a respected leader".[22]: 200  David Allen Green criticized Dawkins for dismissing lesser wrongs because bigger wrongs exist.[28] Steven Tomlins and Lori G. Beaman argue that the incident highlights a schism within atheism over the role of feminism, some saying it should take a prominent place in the movement and others calling it divisive.[29]

Watson said of Dawkins, "to have my concerns—and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault—dismissed thanks to a rich white man comparing them to the plight of women who have been mutilated, is insulting to all of us".[22]: 200  She stated that she would no longer buy or endorse his books and lectures,[30] writing:

[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.[30]

The result of this exchange led to an extended internet flame war[4]: 101  that several reports dubbed "Elevatorgate".[31][32] 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.[24] Dawkins later apologized,[27] stating, "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",[33] 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."[34]

Personal life[edit]

Watson was born in 1980.[1] She grew up in New Jersey and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communications from Boston University in 2002.[35][2]

While attending Boston University, Watson worked as a magician.[36] 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.[37] On July 11, 2009, she and Sid Rodrigues were married in a surprise ceremony during The Amaz!ng Meeting 7.[38]

On April 8, 2011, she announced that she and Rodrigues were separated and seeking a divorce.[39]


An outer main-belt asteroid discovered on March 22, 2001, by David H. Healy was named 153289 Rebeccawatson in her honor.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b @rebeccawatson (October 19, 2018). "yesterday I turned 38 and I'm not into the idea of plastic surgery so feeling pretty blessed to live in the same time period as the iphone X camera" (Tweet). Retrieved June 23, 2021 – via Twitter.
  2. ^ a b Simpson, Neal (September 27, 2007). "Blogger looks to take her war on pseudoscience to the airwaves". Wicked Local. Brookline TAB. Framingham, Mass. Archived from the original on February 9, 2013.
  3. ^ Mouallem, Omar (August 2008). "Making a Living of Bullshit Detecting". Vue Weekly. No. 671. Archived from the original on September 12, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Meagher, Richard J. (2018). Atheists in American Politics: Social Movement Organizing from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-1-4985-5858-7.
  5. ^ "Index". Skepchick. Archived from the original on November 24, 2005.
  6. ^ Plait, Phil (September 19, 2005). "Skepchicks". Bad Astronomy. Discover.
  7. ^ "Home page". Skepchick. Archived from the original on December 23, 2005.
  8. ^ Watson, Rebecca (February 12, 2006). "It's snowing, so I started a blog". Skepchick.
  9. ^ Saunders, Richard; Dunlop, Rachael; Atkinson, Bill. "The Skeptic Zone" (Podcast). No. 99. Event occurs at 0:30:20. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated!". Women Thinking Free Foundation. Archived from the original on September 19, 2013. Retrieved August 21, 2013.
  11. ^ "The Ockhams 2012". The Skeptic. June 27, 2017. Archived from the original on December 16, 2019.
  12. ^ "Archive of Shows". The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Archived from the original on October 18, 2008.
  13. ^ Watson, Rebecca (December 27, 2014). "Why I've Left SGU". Skepchick. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  14. ^ Watson, Rebecca (May 15, 2007). "A very special audio blog posting. Vote for me!". Skepchick.
  15. ^ "PRX Projects". Public Radio Exchange. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  16. ^ "PRX Announces Winners of Public Radio Talent Quest". Public Radio Exchange. October 27, 2007. Archived from the original on March 30, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Simon, Clea (January 11, 2008). "Showing a talent for radio". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 30, 2008.
  18. ^ Watson, Rebecca (December 16, 2007). "Curiosity, Aroused: The Pilot". Retrieved November 6, 2008 – via WordPress.
  19. ^ "Big News from PRX and CPB" (Press release). Public Radio Exchange. June 26, 2008. Archived from the original on April 18, 2012.
  20. ^ Simon, Clea (July 2008). "At WCRB, it's a grand old tradition". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 30, 2008.
  21. ^ Watson, Rebecca (October 24, 2012). "It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too". Slate. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j LeDrew, Stephen (2016). The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-022517-9.
  23. ^ Watson, Rebecca (June 29, 2011). "About Mythbusters, Robot Eyes, Feminism, and Jokes". Event occurs at 5:19 – via YouTube.
  24. ^ a b Miller, Ashley F. (June 2013). "The non-religious patriarchy: why losing religion HAS NOT meant losing white male dominance". CrossCurrents. 63 (2): 211–226. doi:10.1111/cros.12025.
  25. ^ Winston, Kimberly (September 15, 2011). "Atheists address sexism issues". USA Today. Religion News Service. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  26. ^ Hussein, Shakira (2019). From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11. Yale University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-300-23042-0.
  27. ^ a b McAnulla, Stuart; Kettell, Steven; Schulzke, Marcus (2018). The Politics of New Atheism. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-19833-8.
  28. ^ Green, David Allen. "Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins". New Statesman. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  29. ^ Beaman, Lori G.; Tomlins, Steven, eds. (2015). Atheist Identities – Spaces and Social Contexts. Springer. p. 6. ISBN 978-3-319-09602-5.
  30. ^ a b Watson, Rebecca (July 5, 2011). "The Privilege Delusion". Skepchick.
  31. ^ Rousseau, Jacques (July 14, 2011). "Elevatorgate and the power of words". Synapses.
  32. ^ Band, Emily (July 24, 2011). "Richard Dawkins, check the evidence on the 'chilly climate' for women". The Guardian. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  33. ^ "Who is 'belittling' what?". Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science; Center for Inquiry. August 6, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  34. ^ Watson, Rebecca [@rebeccawatson] (August 6, 2014). "Richard Dawkins just did the blog-equivalent of coughing into his hand while mumbling 'sorry' to me. Eh I'll take it." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  35. ^ Potash, Larry (March 31, 2006). "Be skeptical or be an April fool". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  36. ^ Cohen, Georgiana (March 19, 2009). "Not-so-sure guys". The Boston Phoenix. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  37. ^ Watson, Rebecca (September 29, 2011). "Mom, don't read this". Skepchick. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  38. ^ Pearson, Gwen [bug_girl] (July 11, 2009). "Congrats Becca and Sid". Skepchick.
  39. ^ Watson, Rebecca (April 8, 2011). "A Note About My Personal Life". Skepchick.
  40. ^ "153289 Rebeccawatson (2001 FB10)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

External links[edit]