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Are Paranormal Conferences Sexist?

I woke up this morning at 530am and I did what every normal person with insomnia does … I checked my twitter feed.

As I lay in bed listening to my dog snoring contently, most likely dreaming about squirrels, I came across a blog post entitled I’m a Real-Life Female Ghostbuster and I say Bring it On by Haley Stevens which was both inspiring and disheartening. The blog is extremely well written and points out the many contributions of notable female paranormal researchers such as Eleanor Sidgwick, Susan Blackmore, and Caroline Watt. Professor Watt is the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh and someone whom I hold in great respect. Dr. Watt was my dissertation supervisor while I studied at the University of Edinburgh and her kindness is only surpassed by her extensive knowledge of parapsychology and research methodology.

Other notable females that were not mentioned in the blog however extremely influential are Louisa Rhine, Michaeleen Maher, and Gertrude Schmeider. Dr. Maher and Dr. Schmeider wrote the very first journal article I read about parapsychology titled Quantitative Investigation of a Recurrent Apparition and I'm forever grateful to them for inspiring me. These women along with the most important woman in my life, my mother, truly inspired me to further my education.

While this is all inspiring stuff Haley Stevens also points out that “throughout the history of paranormal research, women have often been the leading figures despite being under-represented at every step of the way” Haley goes on to discuss possible sexism at paranormal conferences stating:

"At paranormal research-related conferences male speakers routinely dominate and they don’t always deserve to "

- Haley Stevens

" I speak at paranormal conferences now and then – and I turn down more than I speak at due to scheduling issues but I am routinely the only woman on the speakers list, or one of two or three who are outnumbered by men."

- Haley Stevens

These comments rattled around in my head all morning. Is the paranormal field sexist? Are paranormal conferences dominated by men? I began to think back to all the conferences that I attended or spoke at and thought maybe she is right. I began to get disgusted with the field and thought to myself why haven’t I noticed this before? After a couple hours of ruminating on the topic and contemplating having whiskey with my breakfast I decided to figure this whole sexist thing out. How you ask? Well by completing some quanitative research.

So Are Paranormal Conferences Sexist?

It’s impossible to look at every conference however there is a great website Paranormal News Insider which has a list of about 24 conferences for the upcoming year (2017). I simply counted the number of male and female speakers at these conferences. Before we get to the results it’s important to know that the ratio of males vs females in the United States is roughly 1:1 or equal. Overall the population is 49% female and 51% male (worldometers). So all things considered this should be the distribution at paranormal conferences. Below is a graph of the results.

Congrats! Well sort of. Turns out, at least based on my sample size of paranormal conferences, things aren’t as bad as I believed they would be. There were a total of 214 speakers at these conferences and 57% (123) were male and 43% (91) were female. While this isn’t an even split and there is still progress to be made it is not as horrible as Haley portrayed. Since Haley tends to be skeptical maybe there's a bit of confirmation bias (it's just a joke please don't get upset Haley I love your blogs!).

What about Skepticism Conferences?

I thought it only fair to look into skepticism conventions and conferences since I tend to frequent those as well. I was able to find a Skepticism Conventions guide and I also looked over the speaker lists at popular conventions such as the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Logical LA, and CSI Con (2016). Below is a graph of the results.

According to my numbers there were a total of 121 speakers at the conferences with 69% (83) being male and 31% (38) being female. Not the best distribution however I want to make it clear that I simply reviewed the websites so the speaker lists could obviously not be accurate or change the closer it is to the date.

What does this mean?

First off women are awesome and they should be represented more at conventions and conferences. Next, the optimist in me believes that uneven distribution is the not the result of a conscious effort but rather has to do with speakers' availability. I'd like to think that in the near future all conferences will have an even distribution of males vs females, however the first step is awareness and then pursuing change. Thanks to Haley for her blog as it provided me with education and awareness.

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