Good morning all,
As promised, I wrote an email to Sid Rodrigues, who currently runs the London Skeptics In The Pub:
Did you know that of all the speakers at SITP, nine have been women, and only two speakers have been non-white (yourself included)? How are speakers chosen? Is this something you are aware of, and has it ever been addressed before? I only ask because the audience is extremely diverse, so I found it surprising that the speakers didn’t reflect this as well. Do people get in touch with SITP and request to do a talk, or do you actively look for speakers?
He sent me an absolutely brilliant response:
Thanks for the email. I’ll try to give you a comprehensive reply, so please bear with me if I go too far in depth, but I think it’s important that I do.
I’ve been the main organiser of London SitP since we moved to the Penderel’s Oak in September 2007. We had a sort of Kabal [sic] of thirteen people who offered to help out with organising SitP after Nick Pullar moved to Hungary in May 2007, but for practical reasons it was easier to have one main organiser and have anyone volunteer to help out where they could and put in suggestions for speakers I could invite to SitP. On the 12th February 2008, at an official meeting, the remaining Kabal officially voted to disband themselves and leave all the organising to me, with Norman Hansen being the main volunteer in setting up the room for each event – which he still does as well as being the sound engineer. More recently Tracy King, Tessa Kendall, Shalinee Singh, Phil McKerracher and Mark Duwe have volunteered to the door duties to keep the pub (and us) from breaking the fire regulations of the cellar bar.
The speakers come from several sources, suggestions from people (which are fairly rare), from me and some legacy speakers which were suggested by the Kabal a while back. I know that the list of speakers is heavily biased towards white males, and I do make an effort to try and invite speakers who are not the stereotype. Unfortunately, for several reasons, it’s not always easy to arrange them. Mainly being down to schedule conflicts and distance, but also it seems like scepticism is dominated by white males.
Here’s the list of speakers and who suggested and/or invited them while I’ve been involved.
Start of Kabal
May 17th 2007 – Mike Heap (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
June 21st 2007 – Julian Baggini (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
July 19th 2007 – Timothy Good (invited by David Allen Green)
August 30th 2007 – Victor J. Stenger (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
September 18th 2007 – Richard Wiseman (replacement speaker for a last minute cancellation, Richard volunteered himself at the last minute)
October 16th 2007 – Emma Louise Rhodes (invited by Chris French)
November 20th 2007 – Chris French (replacement speaker for a last minute cancellation, Chris volunteered himself at the last minute)
December 11th 2007 – Mark Vernon (invited by Chris French)
January 15th 2008 – Nick Pope (invited by Chris French)
Official end of Kabal
February 19th 2008 – Matt Smith (replacement speaker for a last minute cancellation, Chris French invited Matt)
March 18th 2008 – Andy Lewis and David Colquhoun (suggested by “Mojo” form the UK Skeptics forums.)
April 1st 2008 – Simon Singh (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
April 15th 2008 – David Allen Green (David volunteered himself)
April 21st 2008 – Phil Plait (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
May 6th 2008 – Mahlon Wagner (Mahlon suggested himself))
May 20th 2008 – Richard J. Evans (suggested by David Allen Green)
June 17th 2008 – Ciaran O’Keeffe and Steve Parsons (suggested themselves)
June 24th 2008 – S. Fred Singer (invited by Mike Hutchinson)
July 21st 2008 – Terry Sanderson (suggested by Muriel Fraser)
August 11th 2008 – Doug Ellison (suggested by Simon Perry)
September 15th 2008 – Ben Goldacre (multiple suggestions from various people)
October 13th 2008 – Paul Taylor (invited by Norman Hansen)
October 20th 2008 – Jon Ronson (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
November 17th 2008 – Neil Arnold (suggested themselves)
December 8th 2008 – Chris French & Nick Pope (suggested themselves)
January 19th 2009 – Rebecca Watson (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
February 16th 2009 – Nick Davies (first suggested by “Mojo” form the UK Skeptics forums, but had multiple requests)
March 16th 2009 – Matt Parker (suggested by Duncan Casey)
April 27th 2009 – Richard Wilson (multiple suggestions)
May 20th 2009 – Edzard Ernst (multiple suggestions)
June 22nd 2009 – Bruce Hood (multiple suggestions)
July 27th 2009 – Paul Sims & Caspar Melville (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
August 17th 2009 – Aubrey de Grey (invited by Sid Rodrigues)
September 21st 2009 – David Aaronovich (invited by Neil Denny)
One speaker (who was a woman) asked to be removed from the list of past speakers.
I’ve left off “An Evening with James Randi & Friends”, as it was not in a pub and was not solely organised by myself, but it did feature: James Randi, Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre, Chris French, Susan Blackmore and was hosted by Richard Wiseman. I’ve also left off Simon Singh’s Rally as it was organised by David Allen Green and The World Conference of Science Journalists – Troublemakers Fringe, as it was put together by Ben Goldacre, Petra and Vaughan.
I recently put together a survey for speaker suggestions and these where what the audience at SitP suggested. I’ve removed duplicates.
Anyone on the line-up for TamLondon who hasn’t spoken at SiTP before + Derren Brown
Penn & Teller
So, as you can see, there is only one woman on that list (and with the exception of “Muslim preachers”), Salman Rushdie, Simon Singh and Miicho Kaku are the only ethnic minorities there and none of them are black.
Here are my suggestions for future speakers who are not white males. I can’t guarantee that all of them will be available, but I’ll give them a go. Tell me what you think?
Also, I changed the format of SitP after I was given the reins. I wanted it to be more friendly and open, so I followed a friends advice which can be found here:
How lovely is that? I took the liberty of linking each speaker in with their websites (or wiki pages, or reviews if there was no home page available). A great list, thanks very much Sid!
He also sent me two more emails straight away – one with details of the Boston Skeptics in the Pub (run by Rebecca Watson):
I forgot to add that Rebecca does run the Boston SitP and even though they’re still in early days they have a bit of a skew on the gender of their speakers too. I think they’ve had two out of 14? So, it seems like sex of the organiser doesn’t have a major effect on the speakers gender or ethnicity.
Mike the Mad Biologist
Patty Pieniadz – F
Bruce Hood (-ish)
Jon Rosenberg and Jeffrey Rowland
Shulamit Moed – F
Quickly followed by demographics from a recent survey emailed to a few members of SITP:
I’ve got some demographics from the survey too. They’re a bit straw-polly and may be a bit out, but it gives a good indication. I hope.
18-29 years old 27.4% 30-39 years old 23.6% 40-49 years old 20.8% 50-64 years old 25.5% 65 years and over 2.8%
some high school 0.9% high school graduate 1.9% some college 6.6% trade/technical/vocational training 5.7% college/University graduate 40.6% some postgraduate work 9.4% post graduate degree 34.9%
Protestant 1.0% 1 Roman Catholic 0.0% 0 Jewish 4.2% 4 Muslim 0.0% 0 Atheist 85.4% 82 Agnostic 8.3% 8
Most were non-theists or other.
White 98.0% 97 Black 0.0% 0 Asian 2.0% 2
Hope that’s helpful too.
I’d like to point out that I am one of the two Asians, and the basement of The Penderel’s Oak pub is fully booked for every London SITP, with a maximum of 250 people, and I know of a few people who cannot always get on the list because it is full. So my verdict is that of the 99 people who may have added themselves to the mailing list, 97 of these are White, and 2 of them (possibly Sid and myself?) are Asian. So there is still a gap between the number of people in attendance and the number of people willing to fill in a form.
It would make me happy if a survey was done more often, perhaps if more people were to fill it in, we would get a clearer idea of the demographics? If you have ever been to London SITP, I am fairly sure it’s not 97% white (unless, of course, some ethnic minorities are lying about their ethnicity)!
Sid’s suggestions for female and BME speakers is brilliant, so all that is left is to get them to give us a talk!
See you tonight
Carmen x x x