A Timeline of the Sexual Harassment Accusations »« The Atheist Baseball Game — Pics!

Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism – UPDATED

UPDATE: There is now a timeline of the major events in these accusations, and the responses to them, on Jason Thibeault’s Lousy Canuck blog. It includes several additional reports of harassment and sexual assault, and several additional pieces of corroboration of these reports. It is being updated as new information comes in and as new events unfold.

So I got this comment on my blog from Hannah Barnhardt:

I have a question about how to handle allegations of rape and sexual harassment. In the local atheist group that I am only now tenuously connected to (because so many members display open disdain for women and feminists), Karen’s allegations have been discussed only briefly, and with criticism and disbelief. Basically, they’re saying: “Well we ARE skeptics after all, and skeptic means we need PROOF! DUURRRR”

But with something like rape, or the kind of sexual harassment Karen experienced (and I do understand Karen has lots of proof, but I’m talking about a case where perhaps, like many cases, there’s not much proof beyond the victim’s testimony), what is the best way to handle cases where there’s not much physical proof? Because I understand how little rape/harassment is actually prosecuted and how difficult it is to accuse someone, I favor giving the accuser the benefit of the doubt.

I guess I’m asking: what’s the best way to respond to these people, who say that there must be ample physical evidence in order to actually DO something about harassment or rape? In the real world, it would be awesome if every person who experienced this kind of abuse had ample physical evidence, but it just doesn’t happen that way. I don’t for one second believe that that means we shouldn’t believe the victim. What do you think?

A good question, and one that has been much on my mind in the last few days.

Here’s what I think, what I want to say to people who are saying this sort of thing: I think you should be really careful about not letting your skepticism turn into denialism.

Here’s what I think:

1: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But claims of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape are not extraordinary. They are depressingly ordinary. So the level of evidence we should need to believe a claim about sexual harassment, abuse, assault, or rape is substantially lower than the level of evidence we should need to believe a claim about, say, Bigfoot.

2: Sexual harassers, abusers, assailants, and rapists are typically very good at covering their tracks. They don’t generally commit their acts in front of witnesses or video cameras, or leave a paper trail. Depending on the kind of harassment or assault we’re talking about, they often don’t even leave physical evidence (and when they do, it often doesn’t get collected, since collecting it typically requires the victim to report the assault almost immediately, and subject themselves to further emotional and physical trauma). And perpetrators often cover their tracks in other ways — such as getting the victim drunk, which our culture regrettably tends to see as evidence of consent.

So the kinds of evidence we’re likely to find supporting an accusation of sexual harassment or assault are not straightforward, obvious physical evidence. The kinds of evidence we are likely to find are:
* Multiple similar claims made against the same person from different people. Especially when these claims show a similar pattern of behavior.
* Other people saying that the victim told them about the harassment/ assault shortly after it happened — with stories that are consistent both with the accusation and with one another.
* Other people corroborating behavior that falls short of harassment/ assault, but is consistent with it. Example: If an accused assailant is accused of getting victims drunk first, and someone says they’ve seen this person deliberately getting people drunk while hitting on them, or have experienced this themselves — that would support the accusation.
* Paper trails, email trails, or other kinds of evidence that either directly support the claim — or that show behavior that, again, falls short of being direct evidence of harassment/ assault, but is consistent with it.

(Note that this doesn’t refer to the types of evidence we’d accept in a court of law. See #4 below. And note that “support” doesn’t mean “absolutely prove.” See… oh, the rest of this entire post.)

To make an analogy that skeptics should understand: Think about how creationists say, “Where’s your evidence for evolution? I’ve never seen life spontaneously generate from a peanut butter jar! I’ve never seen fish evolve into mammals in one generation!” Or think about how global warming denialists say, “Where’s your evidence for global warming? Why isn’t the Antarctic turning into Florida? Why was it so cold in Minnesota last winter?” No, of course not. That’s not the kind of evidence you’d expect to see to support evolution or global warming — because that’s not how evolution and global warming work. The kind of evidence you’d expect to see to support evolution is exactly the kind of evidence we do find: evidence from genetics, geology, anatomy, fossil records, etc., all consistent with one another. The kind of evidence you’d expect to see to support global warming is exactly the kind of evidence we do find: evidence from long-term studies of weather patterns over years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

So be a good skeptic. Think about how sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape usually work. Think about what kind of evidence you’d expect to see for them. And then think about whether that kind of evidence is present in this case.

3: False allegations of sexual harassment and rape are actually very low. The consequences of making allegations of sexual harassment or rape are very high indeed: public shaming, having one’s personal history — especially one’s sexual history — being subjected to extreme public scrutiny and censure, being traumatized by callous law enforcement officials if the crime is reported, harassment, threats, and more. And the consequences are especially high when the person you’re accusing is powerful: if they’re famous, if they’re rich, if they’re influential, if they have political power.

4: In the conversations we’re having about these incidents, we’re not talking about what kind of evidence would support publication in a peer-reviewed journal, or a judgment in a court of law. We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support judgment in the court of public opinion. We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support staying away from people if we’re at an event with them. Exercising caution if we have to deal with them. Warning other people to exercise caution around them. Not inviting them to speak at conferences. Not attending conferences, or speaking at conferences, where they’re speaking. Not buying their books. Not continuing to cite them as shining examples of skepticism at its best. In the most serious case, we’re talking about what kind of evidence would support firing someone. (And yes, for the record, I would want more evidence to support firing someone than I would to support not inviting them to conferences.)

This is a generally well-understood principle. The severity of the consequences affects how much evidence we need to believe an accusation. If several of my friends tell me, “Hey, your friend is a creep, they kept cornering me at your party,” and one person tells me, “Hey, your friend is a serious creep, they cornered me at your party and groped me”… that’s not going to be enough evidence for me to call the police, but it sure is enough evidence for me to stop inviting that person back to any more parties. Even our legal system has different standards of evidence for different situations: there’s a higher standard of evidence for criminal charges, for instance, than there is for a civil case. And the court of public opinion, and of of personal opinion, have different standards as well. Which they should. The standards shouldn’t be trivial, or non-existent — and for accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape, they should be pretty darned high. But there is a wide, wide world between “These accusations could lead to a conviction in a court of law,” and, “These accusations are entirely without merit.” It is a huge mistake to treat these as the only options.

*****

So. Think about the accusations that are being made. Think about the fact that sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape are, unfortunately, very ordinary. Think about the rarity of false accusations. Think about what kinds of consequences are being considered here. And perhaps most importantly, think about what kind of evidence you’re actually likely to see with sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape… and whether you’re seeing it here.

So.

As of this writing, August 12, 5:21 p.m. Pacific time.

In the Ben Radford situation: There is an email trail. There is independent corroboration from more than one person, who witnessed the behavior or who Stollznow told about it. There is the acknowledgement from CFI, after an investigation from an investigative firm that they hired, that Radford behaved inappropriately at conferences, and harassed Karen Stollznow with unwanted correspondence.

In the Michael Shermer situation: There are multiple reports from different people. There are other people saying that the victim told them about the harassment/ assault shortly after it happened. There are other people corroborating behavior that falls short of harassment/ assault, but is consistent with it (in this case, Shermer getting the person very drunk while flirting with them).

In the Lawrence Krauss situation: I can’t say anything about that right now, because the blog posts reporting on the accusations against him have been taken down, apparently under threat of lawsuits. If you’ve been following the story, you can probably remember what was reported before it was removed, and you can look at these questions — are there multiple claims from different people, are there other people saying that the victim told them about the harassment/ assault shortly after it happened, are there other people corroborating behavior that falls short of harassment/ assault but is consistent with it, is there any sort of paper trail or email trail — and decide how you would answer them.

UPDATE REMINDER: There is now a timeline of the major events in these accusations, and the responses to them, on Jason Thibeault’s Lousy Canuck blog. It includes several additional reports of harassment and sexual assault, and several additional pieces of corroboration of these reports. It is being updated as new information comes in and as new events unfold.

I’m not asking what verdict you’d come to if you were on a jury. I’m not asking what you’d decide to publish if you were the editor of a journal. I’m asking you to pay attention to the difference between skepticism and denialism. And I’m asking you to not be a denialist.

Being a good skeptic doesn’t only mean knowing when to reject claims. It means knowing when to provisionally accept them. It means not demanding more evidence for sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape than you would for Bigfoot. It means not continually moving the goalposts of what kind of evidence you’ll accept to believe these reports. It means not telling victims who don’t name names that their vague accusations can’t be taken seriously… and then telling victims who do name names that they’re just trying to ruin reputations, and shouldn’t make public accusations outside of a courtroom. It means not saying to religious believers, “No, I can’t prove with 100% certainty that there is no god, there’s almost nothing we can prove with 100% certainty — but based on the available evidence, I can conclude with a reasonable degree of certainty that there is no god”… and then saying to victims of sexual harassment or rape, “Can you absolutely prove that it happened?”

Skepticism is not denialism. Don’t be a denialist. This shit is too important to be in denial about.

Comments

  1. A Hermit says

    Excellent post Greta.

    Too many self styled skeptics seem to have swallowed the “CSI Kool Aid” and think that anything short of ironclad DNA and “video with sound” can’t be considered as evidence, and that without such evidence even a provisional conclusion that something nore probably happened than not can;t be considered.

    (…”video with sound” is an actual phrase I’ve had thrown at me in Youtube comments as the minimum required for accepting a claim of rape…)

  2. says

    From what I’ve seen, I know a few things:

    1) Sexual harassment/assault and rape aren’t remotely rare.

    2) People who make legitimate claims are subjected to a second, third, and even fourth round of abuse as the police, courts, and society all treat them as malicious liars.

    3) People who make false claims are very rare, especially since real victims are discouraged from reporting at all, and even some actual victims are treated as liars.

    4) Generally, people who make ANY false claims are trying to get bought off in a settlement. Going anonymous, not pressing charges, all that takes away the main motivation for making a claim.

    What conclusion can I draw? I can draw the conclusion that when people make very public accusations, and risk both personal and legal attacks for it, and have ZERO to gain from it, the odds are that the claims are worth taking seriously. And once we get a couple of corroborations, we can also eliminate “delusion” from the list of ways to dismiss the claims.

    Those are all rational. “Skeptics” who dismiss, or most likely haven’t even considered those things? Not even skeptical. They are just hero-worshipping sycophants, treating abusers like they are Catholic priests.

  3. says

    Think about how sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape usually work.

    That’s a tall order for some of the people in the “skeptic” movement who deny the validity of the very academic disciplines that shed the most light on this.

  4. leni says

    “Where’s your evidence for evolution? I’ve never seen life spontaneously generate from a peanut butter jar! I

    Perfect. Response. I love it when people make me feel stupid :)

  5. leni says

    Ok certain people under circumstances, but this is both of those. That line made me both smile and want to ask myself how the fuck I didn’t see that sooner :) I love that feeling, it’s the lightbulb :)

  6. devotchka73 says

    I’ve seen highly prominent skeptics claim that they “need to see evidence” that rape culture even exists, dismissing every single incident as an individual aberration. And yet they continue to think they’re all intellectually rigorous and shit. More posts like this one, please.

  7. says

    Or patriarchy, for that matter. It’s not uncommon to find self-described skeptics calling the concept of patriarchy a conspiracy theory. It’s ridiculous.

  8. says

    Even I had someone on Twitter telling me that rape was an extraordinary claim, since it is something that only happens several tens of thousands of times a year in a country of over 300 million… And also that it was offensive to call the claims ‘mundane’ because of how awful it is to victims (this was a white guy ‘skeptic’, yes).
    So, yes, there’s an awful lot of denialism going on.

  9. says

    A woman’s word is apparently not any sort of evidence. Nor is a man’s, if that man is acting as a proxy for said woman.

    Meanwhile, every accused priest is shouted down without a single cry of skepticism from these same quarters.

  10. says

    John-Henry Beck @11: Wow. And this from people who see no problem with “there’s an evolutionary reason for rape”, despite it being so rare?

    I know, they might not be from the same person, or group of wrong-headed belligerents. But we have such contradictory fights over the same ground.

  11. smhll says

    I guess I’m asking: what’s the best way to respond to these people, who say that there must be ample physical evidence in order to actually DO something about harassment or rape?

    I wanted to point something out to people who don’t have personal experience with sexual assault themselves or haven’t spent a lot of time talking to their friends about it. While there usually is physical evidence of genital contact, there’s very little that can prove whether people were bumping genitals consensually or non-consensually. Even an eyewitness bursting in on a pair of people might not be able to note anything specific that proved nonconsent in just a few seconds of watching. (And, honestly, hypothetical eyewitness is rarely present if privacy has been arranged.)

  12. jonathancantwell says

    Holy shit, Greta. I can’t thank you enough for this one – I’ve struggled to express this to a number of people I know, and couldn’t figure out the right way to approach the topic. Bookmarking this one so I can have it ready in the future.

  13. arensb says

    Thanks for this post.
    I’d already reached 75% of your conclusions independently, but thanks for the remaining 25%, and for putting it all together in one package.

  14. says

    Thanks very much for writing this, Greta.

    @SallyStrange (comments #4 and 10):

    That’s a tall order for some of the people in the “skeptic” movement who deny the validity of the very academic disciplines that shed the most light on this.

    Or patriarchy, for that matter. It’s not uncommon to find self-described skeptics calling the concept of patriarchy a conspiracy theory. It’s ridiculous.

    This is something that I’ve found so frustrating about conversations concerning equality, representation, harassment, and other things with people who act as though the only things we can come to a tentative conclusion about are the “hard” sciences (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics), including topics like evolution. They dismiss any research into other subjects. There are things for which you can’t do the same type of study you might do for, say, a drug trial or researching plant genetics (for practical and/or ethical reasons) but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any evidence; that doesn’t mean they can just make up whatever they want to be true. There are people the humanities who see the “hard” sciences as scary or too difficult or too emotionless … and apparently, there are people who see any subject except the “hard” sciences as illegitimate.

    @Jason Thibeault (comment #12):

    A woman’s word is apparently not any sort of evidence. Nor is a man’s, if that man is acting as a proxy for said woman.

    Meanwhile, every accused priest is shouted down without a single cry of skepticism from these same quarters.

    This is an excellent point. Apparently, claims of sexual harassment are ordinary and immediately believable if a religious leader is accused but extraordinary if someone else is accused, which makes no sense.

  15. says

    Ani, thanks for the response. I quite agree.

    I find it ironic that the social sciences are referred to as “soft” and the physical sciences are allegedly “hard.”

    First of all, it’s actually more difficult to do research in the social sciences and get it right, for the reasons you point out. Therefore isn’t it social sciences that are “hard” in the sense of being “difficult”?

    I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that “hardness” is associated with maleness, strength, and virility, whereas “softness” is associated with femininity as well as vagueness and weakness. Those labels by themselves reinforce sexist prejudices both against women and against the professions (sociology, social work, etc.) stereotypically associated with them.

  16. davidforrest says

    “Bayesian updating” is a good method for using evidence rationally to change your mind.

    If someone requires extraordinary evidence to believe a depressingly common event, they are not being rational. If CSI has 100+ humans in it (http://www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/), what are the odds that one or more of them has been creeped on or that one or more of them is a creep? 25% 10% 1%? If some particular denialist thinks it is extraordinarily low, just what would they say it would take to get them to change their mind?

  17. imnotandrei says

    Very well put — I have been arguing these points elsewhere, and shall, I think, with your permission, simply point them here; you’re more eloquent and more tightly reasoned than I usually manage. ;)

  18. ryancunningham says

    We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support judgment in the court of public opinion… etc.

    We’re also talking about the kind of evidence that would convince us as a community to take action and implement safeguards. What would it take to convince everybody to do something to make sure this doesn’t happen in our organizations and events?

    That should require a VERY low standard of evidence.

  19. leftwingfox says

    Great post.

    I was kind of expecting Richard Carrier to do the post about Bayesian probability, but this is pretty much it.

  20. believerskeptic says

    “Bayesian updating” is a good method for using evidence rationally to change your mind.

    If someone requires extraordinary evidence to believe a depressingly common event, they are not being rational. If CSI has 100+ humans in it (http://www.csicop.org/about/csi_fellows_and_staff/), what are the odds that one or more of them has been creeped on or that one or more of them is a creep? 25% 10% 1%? If some particular denialist thinks it is extraordinarily low, just what would they say it would take to get them to change their mind?”

    Your essential point is a good one, but, god, anyone who trots out Bayes’s Theorem as a method of introducing rationality into a debate begins to sound like the cultish cranks at Lesswrong. (And they are among the more misogynist offenders of the skeptic blogosphere.)

  21. Menyambal --- writing as Lee Moe Joost says

    Very well thought, well written and well put. And very well timed. Thank you for posting this.

    I think a lot of “skeptics” are believers at heart. They believe they are being skeptical and rational, but they are still creatures of faith. “Poseurs”, if you will.

  22. believerskeptic says

    Here is a passage from Lesswrong stalwart Michael Anissimov that I find quite representative of the culture of the Lesswrong Bayesians:

    * * *
    IQ -> life conditions, given two individuals with the same basic opportunity, is thoroughly proven. Nutrition has no more than a tiny influence on IQ. You’re born with a certain amount of brainpower, period. Gottfredson goes to great lengths to make this clear, as do hundreds of other IQ researchers. If your IQ is 120, no quantity of salt-laden chips will bring it down to 115 (though starvation might). If your IQ is 115, no amount of vegetables will bring it up to 120. Nutrition contributes extremely marginally to the Flynn effect (which is levelling off, btw). The main factor there is probably increased cogntitive stimulation and demands, not nutrition.

    You are most certainly being politically correct, not so much in yourself, but in implicating that what I’m saying here is potentially so controversial to others, and warning me about publishing it. Fact of the matter is, I welcome confrontation with anyone who feels uncomfortable with my echoing the findings that IQ is responsible for success or lack thereof in numerous dimensions. The left tends to have more of a problem with reality than the right, in this regard. Larry Summers, the President of Harvard, was harassed because he said that the lack of women in science and math may be attributable to an innate lesser average of ability in those areas. Unfortunately for his critics, there is a mountain of evidence that shows that women innately have a tendency to perform slightly poorer, on average, in math and science than men. Facts are facts.

    Who will I offend by saying such things? The only way to find out is to say them, and to see who emerges from the woodwork. Another transhumanist with whom I share many of the same positions on IQ is Anders Sandberg. (See his talk from Transvision 06.)

    The end of the post is on Friendly AI. I can’t stop thinking about Friendly AI – I think about it constantly. But most everyone else doesn’t care. Thus, I tie together something controversial and interesting with something people don’t care about, in an effort to create associations between the two.

    * * *

    I don’t even think this organization should even qualify as “skeptics,” as the believe in some of the most nonsensical pseudoscience ever seriously posited, but since they have attempted to hitch their wagons to the skeptic/atheist movement (e.g., Julia “Rationally Speaking” Galef is among their numbers), it should be noted that theirs is a libertarian, right-leaning, Peter Thiel-funded culture of misogyny. So reference Bayesianism at your peril. Sadly, these cranks have co-opted the term, at least within the skeptic movement context.

  23. says

    Great post! The other thing I think helps get the point across is to use is the comparison between believing somebody was robbed vs believing somebody was raped. We don’t require the victim of car theft to show us video of the car being stolen, then accuse them of handing their keys to a stranger or that they’re obviously committing insurance fraud because the engine was going out. No, we fucking believe them! And we should believe rape victims just the same!

  24. PatrickG says

    Echoing others, I was really impressed by this post. I haven’t had internet for a few days, and returning to all of this has been a bit jarring. It’s amazing to see how many people simply Believe that these problems aren’t important in the skeptic/atheist communities, despite evidence of all kinds to the contrary.

    Bookmarked to share with others.

  25. Martha says

    Thank you, Greta. Well said.

    I’m a so-called “hard” scientist myself, but I find the attitude of so many skeptics toward the social sciences (and the humanities) to be inexplicable. When it comes to reports about social science findings in the media, I can understand their skepticism a little better. But how on earth can anyone in this day and age reject the findings of social sciences with respect to unconscious biases like racism or sexism? Or remain unaware that the harasser/rapist is at an advantage over the victim in our judicial system, unless other other axes of privilege strongly counteract that privilege?

  26. believerskeptic says

    “Yes, believerskeptic, we should throw out a tool entirely because you can find one group of people who use it some of whom have said some dumb things.”

    The way the lesswrong cultists tell it, you can add Bayes’s Theorem to your laundry to help get out those really stubborn stains.

    In a politically charged argumentative shitstorm, like, say, this one, I listen for dog-whistles. I hear “Bayes’s Theorem,” and I’m looking for the secret special edition Eliezer Yudkowsky decoder ring. For example, Richard Carrier being spoken of in glowing terms here— Richard Carrier who throws that term “Bayesian” around. Well, just put “Richard Carrier” and “lesswrong” into teh google and find about 10,000 hits of lavish praise for Prof. Carrier by the robot-apocalypse-predicting, cryonics-defending, singularity-asserting, woman-insulting, Yudkowsky-worshipping cultists at lesswrong. I suppose Carrier can’t *help* that he’s idolized by a claque of pseudoscientists, but it does make me wonder what it is exactly Carrier says or does that elicits so much enthusiasm from them.

    I’m not saying throw out the tool. I’m saying be aware of dog-whistles, and do your homework.

  27. believerskeptic says

    Did a little homework of my own. I can see why Stephanie Zvan would want to defend Richard Carrier. On the front of taking on that Radford-defending, wrist-slapping, condescension-sneering patriarchal asshat Ron Lindsay, Carrier’s been spot on. Good for him.

    But as long as he’s allied with lesswrong, he’s allied with woo nonsense.

    Unless you really believe that a singularity is coming beyond which artificial intelligence will become so malignant that only reliance on Bayes’s Theorem can save humanity from virtual or literal enslavement or annihilation and to prevent this eventual and nearly inevitable fate we need to donate as much money as we can either to Luke Muehlhauser’s (but, really, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s) Machine Intelligence Research Institute or to Julia “Rationally Speaking” Galef’s (but, really, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s) Center For Applied Rationality?

    You don’t really believe that, do you?

  28. says

    I joked elsewhere that some good has already come out of this….that I went and educated myself on all things Baysian…. so…there’s that.

  29. lochaber says

    awesome analogism.

    I sorta grant the credibility of sexual harassment/assualt claims on about the same level of trust that I do of cops violating traffic regulations. Someone tells me a cop totally rolled through a stopsign, I’m not likely to doubt them, let alone demand they press charges before I believe them.

    Srsly, how can anyone who has been around men (or maybe just people in general?) in this culture doubt the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault?

    I imagine there is going to be some pain (financial, mental, social, maybe a few other aspects) coming to the atheist/skeptic community due to these events surfacing. Hopefully it will be the pain of healing – like cleaning out a wound or draining an abscess, and not the pain of a punitive silencing.

    :/

    anyways, thanks for writing, you’re stuff is awesome, and I’m hoping to make it to one of your speaking events in the future.

  30. Pen says

    Really great post on how it is important to have a grey area between official sanctions and informal reputation damage. Something came up last week that made me think of an analogy that might work for the geeky guys who don’t otherwise get it. How do you respond to accusations of plagiarism and idea-pinching? People do it and cover their tracks, claim fair use and all the rest but the bottom line is that some people do this consistently. People with power get away with it pretty consistently and easily. It’s only fair to warn others, right? Even before they reach the stage where you can take them to court. At what point is it fair to warn people en masse by commenting on their behaviour publically. And then again, when do you need to make your associates sign an NDA before you chat with them? Or your sexual partners provide consent in writing?! (If they’re too drunk to write straight the deal is off??!)

  31. says

    I hear “Bayes’s Theorem,” and I’m looking for the secret special edition Eliezer Yudkowsky decoder ring.

    That’s entirely your problem and entirely irrelevant. Like it or not, there ARE those who managed to absorb the concept without using Less Wrong to figure it out, and unless someone is actually doing the bad things which you associate with Less Wrong, then your axe-grinding is nothing more than a red herring. If they are doing those bad things, then demonstrate that and show the link to Less Wrong. But, that’s not happening here, is it? Nor was it happening in the thread at Pharyngula where you also got out your axe (which must be quite dull considering all the grinding you’re giving it).

  32. nightandsilence says

    I haven’t seen this mentioned, so sorry if I’m just repeating something. I just find it strange that some out there are demanding a standard of evidence that sometimes courts don’t even demand. Based on my own personal experience as well as when I’ve sat through jury selection for a sexual assault case, the courts even have to admit that physical evidence doesn’t always exist. But whenever accusations of assault come out, the victims are expected to have video recordings or else they must be liars. False accusations are rare, so I don’t understand why people default to disbelief.

  33. sawells says

    If somebody tells believerskeptic that Newton was really into alchemy, do you think he’ll run around telling everyone not to use calculus?

    Run along now, there’s a cute little well-poisoning concern troll.

  34. triple3a says

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But claims of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape are not extraordinary. They are depressingly ordinary.

    Yes, this. That really gets to the heart of the matter. In these situations, sexism benefits the accused time and time again, not the accuser.

  35. says

    Even if it’s a he said/she said situation, I think it’s useful to consider that men are not always more trustworthy. (Duh.) It’s important to listen carefully to how a man denies harassing someone, and look for red flags.

  36. CerberusCheerleader says

    I don’t understand how skepticism has any business here at all. Skepticism as I understand it is more about a kind of general skepticism. We don’t doubt that DEEPAK CHOPRA can walk through walls, we doubt that Deepak Chopra can WALK THROUGH WALLS. Not because of a particular instance or person but because that is in general impossible (AFAWK). Skepticism is not detective work. If you doubt that I saw a dragon yesterday, you’re a skeptic. If you doubt that I went to the cinema, you’re a (wannabe) detective. Skepticism does not mean that we should all turn into detectives. Neither are skeptics necessarily good at that nor is it an appropriate attitude towards these kind of testimonies (made public by videos or blog posts) in the first place. I think what we have here is clearly an abuse of the concept “skepticism”, much like “logic” is abused by religious people when they argue for their god.

  37. sautterron . says

    So basically to harm someone (eg. prevengint sales of his books if it is his sole way of making a living), all you need to do is to have few people make up consistent stories about him behaving badly in ordinary way (getting drunk, participating in brawls, speeding, lying etc.).

    Does it work in reverse – do real thugs just need to just ask multiple storytellers for multiple consistent stories about them always behaving well?

    What’s with this “corroborating behavior that falls short of ” – does it suggest that companies that are proven to always pay minimum wage should be believed to pay below minimum wage if accused by some internet source? Or that if someone is alwasy driving exaclty at the speed limit, he should be suspected of speeding?

    “we’re not talking about what kind of evidence would support publication in a peer-reviewed journal, or a judgment in a court of law. We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support judgment in the court of public opinion. ” – why do you denigrate the public by assuming that it decision quality necessarly needs to be below the golden standards used by institutions?

    “The severity of the consequences affects how much evidence we need to believe an accusation.” So if someone is accused of stealing 100$ we should believe it without just some stories, while it should be more difficult to accuse people of stealig 1000$. So let’s just accuse people of stealing 100$ 10 times!

    “Think about the rarity of false accusations.” – we can achieve rarity of false accusations if:
    - the punishment for making false accusation is high (detterrant by fear),
    - the work and sophistication needed to create a succesful false accusation are large (discouragement by high price), this being achieved by simply having a high standards for evidence.

    What you propose is to allow cheap, easy and safe way for making and deploying successful false accusations.

  38. Darlene Pineda says

    The standards required for a private organization to take action are also very different than ones required to actually put someone in jail with a criminal system. As a manager, I have fired people for sexual harassment (with the full support of the HR and legal departments) based pretty much on taking both statements, then pulling aside the offender and saying “You are fired. I will help you get your things and escort you out. If you come back we will consider it trespassing and I will call the police.”. Fired people for theft for amounts of money no court would ever entertain. The organization can set the rules, set the standards, and enforce them. No one is required to be part of the organization, but once the are they must adhere to the standards set. It really is just that simple.

    That organizations choose to ignore behaviors brought to their attention make them as guilty as the individuals working under their auspices.

  39. sautterron . says

    @Darlene Pineda ” As a manager, I have fired people for sexual harassment (with the full support of the HR and legal departments) based pretty much on taking both statements”

    - did you do the same with your organizations CUSTOMERS? That is if your customer was accused of sexual harrasment, then you just said to them: “I won’t be doing my part of the deal, consider our deal broken by me”? Or is what you write just an example of bad treatment of a weaker party – employees?

  40. says

    I like how some people’s “skepticism” leads them to consider the possibility that rumors have been purposefully spread about Shermer for a long time and consistent testimonies have been previously arranged to make the accusation seem believable. When your skepticism takes you where you are abandoning Occam’s razor in favor of conspiracy theories, perhaps you should stop for a minute and think: “Wait, I think I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

  41. dezn_98 says

    @ 42 sautterron

    Jesus fcking christ… does the stupid just fall of of you like that naturally or you actually attempting to sound that god damn ignorant?

    You ever heard of false analogies before? Because that is basically what you did…. and you should really just stop. Non of the analogies can be used to actually combat any of Greta’s points because non of them are anywhere near analogous to rape. Rape is a different phenomenon, and it is so in part because of the social infrastructure surrounding it – you simply can not compare it to anything you wrote. However, just to be sporting one can easily think ones way through to see how incredibly silly the things you point out are.

    1) In the court of law, multiple corroborating stories are in fact enough to convict someone of rape. I have been witness to a rape trial so I would fcking know.. you stupid fck.

    2) In fact most of the time this is the only type of evidence you will get. Rape kits are rare, as greta said because being swabbed for fluids right after you have been raped is a humiliating and traumatizing experience…. so, guess what moron? Most people do not go for rape kits. (heck even if you do, any “good lawyer” will tell you a rape kit does not necessarily count of evidence of rape, it just counts as evidence of sex) You can not ask for “physical evidence” like this if you know this sort of physical evidence is rare.. that you be stupid of you.

    Allow me to explain.. there was this rumor flying around that some country said that in order to even enter a trial for rape, the person has to produce ten witnesses for the rape, ten male witnesses. Now regardless if this was true for that country think about it. How likely is any rape victim going to be able to pill up ten male witnesses? Considering rape is usually committed without witnesses, you see that it is unlikely. We can easily see how stupid it is to ask for evidence which we know we are likely to never get… all it does is it victimizes actual rape victims because they know they can never get justice. This is what you are proposing you fcking moron. There is no other type of evidence other than corroborating stories that is “not rare” in rape cases… meaning, to ask for evidence which you know is unlikely to be produced, because of the nature of the crime, is a way to let the crime be committed. You can not say evidence of employee theft has to be witnessed by your boss… because the nature of employee theft usually means it would not be committed in front of you boss.

    3) Multiple consisting stories are in fact how you prove a lot of things about accused criminals during a trial. I find it utterly bonkers that all of a sudden multiple stories from practically independent sources all of a sudden is not enough for idiots like you.

    4) There is no golden standard of evidence for anything… you dumb ass. There are reasonable standards of evidence for different things. The claim “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” also implies that in-extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence. Meaning, fool, that depending on the claim, different types of evidence will suffice. With rape, and sexual harassment, the nature of the crime dictates, that the evidence given already on these blogs is in fact sufficient – I believe, if witnesses come forward, it is in fact enough to go to court with. So fck off.

    5) I find it hilarious and sad that you think a good deterrent for false claims for rape is “fear” and unrealistic standards of evidence…. Are you out of your god damn mind!!!! You know what the deterrent for making a rape accusation of an actual rape is? Do you? Because you are part of that deterrent… you, people like you are a deterrent for those who have been raped… people like you keep actual rape victims from coming forward.

    Do you know what the punishment is for being raped and attempting to seek justice? I fcking know. Let me list this sht for you from personal experience.

    1) No one wants to believe you – not even family members and friends. Imagine being raped, and then when you finally speak up about it.. people practically call you a liar or a nutter, and not just strangers, you own god damn family and friends do that sht.

    2) Many people try to paint you as a slut to excuse the rape. So after you have been raped… people tell you that it could not have been raped because they think you are a slut. Ain’t that fcking nice.

    3) In order to take this to trial you have to get up on that stand…. you have to get grilled by the defense, called a slut (yes this still happens), a liar (this sht happens too), and you have to relive the account in excruciating detail… only to have many of them tell you that… even if it was rape, you were asking for it. You basically have to re-traumatize yourself just to get a conviction…

    4) Even after all that.. the odds of getting a conviction for actual rape.. is low. So if you ever are raped, you have to risk your entire life to get a conviction, and the odds of getting one… are low. The odds of this fck getting off are really high..and that is exactly what happens in many cases. So kindly take you “advice” about rape and STFU.

    Let me make this clear… the amount of damage you have to survive in order to come forward about a rape when you have been raped.. is extraordinarily high. You know what that means you twit? It means there is a functioning deterrent as is for actual rape victims that keep them from coming forward. Most people do not come forward because as soon as they become aware of such dangers they back off… who wants to live through that sht? No one.

    You know what you remind me off? That stupid republican racist BS about voter ID laws. Where they are requiring voter ID’s for everyone because they want to fend off “voter fraud” which is what? Less than 1% of votes? They put up this ridiculous restriction on the premise that it will prevent a crime that is virtually non existent. At the same time, what this law really functions as, the law has been known to not prevent voter fraud, but to prevent actual voting (conveniently from minorities and poor who do not vote republican). So they make all this hubbub about protecting votes from fraud, when in reality fraud is not a problem, and this law prevents people from actually voting. It is nothing but a new form of jim crow laws….

    That is what you are doing. False accusations of rape are rare. Yet you make all this hubbub about stopping false accusations of rape, putting up all these fancy restrictions to stop a crime that is not a serious issue.. when what you are really doing…. the way your ideas and methods function, is it works to prevent actual accusations of rape from having their fair say. it deters actual rape victims from coming forward.

    You people make me damn sick.

  42. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    “We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support staying away from people if we’re at an event with them. Exercising caution if we have to deal with them. Warning other people to exercise caution around them. Not inviting them to speak at conferences. Not attending conferences, or speaking at conferences, where they’re speaking. Not buying their books. Not continuing to cite them as shining examples of skepticism at its best.”

    So you are talking about applying “peer pressure”?

    The old-fashioned “cut direct” from the dowagers?

  43. Darlene Pineda says

    I have absolutely banned customers, escorted them from the store, called police on them…including one man in a wheelchair who kept asking young women employees to ‘help’ him get out his money from his pocket or ‘help’ him to use the bathroom. He was physically escorted from the store. As were a bunch of other customers over the years.

    General creepers would result in a veritable abundance of customer service–the same way we handled suspected shoplifters–and would be surrounded by helpful employees to ensure there wasn’t a moment available for anything to occur, and they would be observed until they left.

    Even generally abusive customers were handled. A manager was called in, and if the customer started cursing or screaming that was it–out you go.

    Sexual harassment by ANYONE was never acceptable. A customer would be told to leave, and if the offender came back and repeated the behavior–or if the behavior was egregious enough the first time–they would be sent a legal letter banning them, and the police would be called if they trespassed again.

  44. freemage says

    sautterron:

    So basically to harm someone (eg. prevengint sales of his books if it is his sole way of making a living), all you need to do is to have few people make up consistent stories about him behaving badly in ordinary way (getting drunk, participating in brawls, speeding, lying etc.).

    Does it work in reverse – do real thugs just need to just ask multiple storytellers for multiple consistent stories about them always behaving well?

    No, it doesn’t, and five seconds’ thought would make it clear why. Since this is clearly more effort than you’re willing to devote to it, I’ll explain why:

    Let’s first posit that an individual can be classed as either a harasser or a non-harasser. These are defined entirely by past conduct, not future conduct.

    A “harasser” is anyone who has, on at least one occasion, sexually harassed or assaulted someone else. A non-harasser is simply everyone outside that group. As a Venn diagram, it would be a single line, with the set to one side being the harassers and the other side being non-harassers. A non-harasser who commits an act of harassment becomes a harasser and (this is the important bit), merely failing to commit an act of harassment when an opportunity arises does NOT move you out of the harassment category.*

    To establish whether or not a person is likely to be on the harasser side of the line, one merely must assess the likelihood of a given claim of harassment being true. Greta’s method is appropriate to that. Your counter-proposal, however, does NOT in fact address the issue, because simply providing evidence of not having harassed in one, or multiple occasions is no more able to make a person a non-harasser than providing multiple instances of not-murdering makes someone a not-murderer. Get it?

    What’s with this “corroborating behavior that falls short of ” – does it suggest that companies that are proven to always pay minimum wage should be believed to pay below minimum wage if accused by some internet source? Or that if someone is alwasy driving exaclty at the speed limit, he should be suspected of speeding?

    Wow. I’ll explain this one, simply.

    We’re talking about patterns of behavior, here. Say we’re dealing with a driver. A friend tells us that this driver had an accident with them in the car, because they were texting while driving. We also have multiple reports from several other people that yes, this driver texts incessantly while behind the wheel, though no one else reports any actual accidents. The question we’re asking is, “How many descriptions of such behavior should we require to decide that we don’t want to ride in a car this person is driving, even if they themselves insist that they are a safe driver?”

    Note with this analogy–there might be legal ramifications to the person’s activity, but we’re not talking about taking them to the police and having them arrested; we’re just deciding for ourselves whether or not to ride with them, or if we want to warn others not to do so.

    “we’re not talking about what kind of evidence would support publication in a peer-reviewed journal, or a judgment in a court of law. We’re talking about what kind of evidence would support judgment in the court of public opinion. ” – why do you denigrate the public by assuming that it decision quality necessarly needs to be below the golden standards used by institutions?

    Because the consequences of a negative judgement by the ‘court of public opinion’ are considerably less than those in a court of law, and because these standards were set with a specific context in mind which doesn’t apply here?

    “The severity of the consequences affects how much evidence we need to believe an accusation.” So if someone is accused of stealing 100$ we should believe it without just some stories, while it should be more difficult to accuse people of stealig 1000$. So let’s just accuse people of stealing 100$ 10 times!

    Double-fail. I must say, I’m beginning to question your willingness to engage this subject honestly.

    First off, the ‘consequences’ here are those to the accused, not to the victim. Unless the consequences of being accused of stealing $1000 dollars are somehow bigger than those for stealing $100, your comment is a complete non sequitur.

    And the principle being espoused here is even one that applies to your precious court-of-law standards–or are you unaware that the state possesses a different standard of proof for citation offenses, misdemeanors and felonies, with the latter requiring a far more stringent process precisely because the stakes are so much higher?

    “Think about the rarity of false accusations.” – we can achieve rarity of false accusations if:
    - the punishment for making false accusation is high (detterrant by fear),
    - the work and sophistication needed to create a succesful false accusation are large (discouragement by high price), this being achieved by simply having a high standards for evidence.

    Cart, horse. You’ve proposed a solution for a problem not in evidence. Before you seek to achieve a ‘rarity of false accusations’, you need to demonstrate that there’s an abundance of them currently. You also need to explain the phenomenon so that a proper course of action can be taken. (Ie, if you are claiming, and can demonstrate, that the false accusations are being made for reasons of personal gain, for instance, all you need to do is remove the incentives that supposedly come with making an accusation.) In short, CITATION NEEDED, Mr. Hyperskeptic.

    *: One could, arguably, move from the ‘harasser’ to ‘non-harasser’ category by taking specific actions. Among these would be confession of prior bad behavior and demonstration of remorse, seeking to re-educate yourself, and so on. This is far different than simply not having committed an act of harassment since last Tuesday.

  45. says

    1) Brilliant post.

    .
    2) Not to backtrack too much, but you can pry statistical analysis from my cold dead hands. The only way that the morewrong folks got to their conclusion about gender and math was leaving out data–specifically, data on stereotype threat. They are right about the method.

    .
    3) Sautterron: the issues you point out may be concerning in individual instances. However, if we assume it’s the usual case on a wider social level, we’re basically asserting that an alarming percentage of women (at least 20%, less however many are making true accusations) intentionally harm others with malicious false accusations.

    Sexual assault, by nature, is frequently going to offer nothing more than he-said/she-said evidence. That presents *a lot* of problems, which deserve to be talked about. If we don’t hold the misogynist view that women constantly make false accusations, we’re left with a huge public health issues: a major source of harm to women–both those who experience assault themselves, and those who make major accommodations in their lives hoping to avoid it–from often un-proveable crimes.

    Taking accusations seriously does open the door to false accusations, and the harm they create. However, if you’re shooting for least-harm-done, there’s at least got to be some kind of balance between that, and the harm done by *not* taking accusations seriously. Given the extremely low rates of false accusation, it seems like the solution that causes least harm is one which (especially outside of an actual courts system) favors the accusers.

  46. sautterron . says

    @dezn_98

    “In the court of law, multiple corroborating stories are in fact enough to convict someone of rape”

    This is a critical point of your post, and it’s patently false! Courts do not base their decisions on “stories” of the type Greta writes about at all. The input of courts includes witness testimony + accuser testomony + accused testimony gathered by INTERROGATION by BOTH prosecution and defense. Witnesses are not even allowed to read stories from a piece of paper or a computer screens during testimonies, but must answer in questions in their own word in real-time. Quite bit different from publishing an article on the Internet – isn’t it?

  47. sautterron . says

    @tadeina – The world in which we live in is dynamic and one thing depends on another. So “extremely low rates of false accusation” you mention (if it is a valid statement) might be just an artefact of the fact that accusations in general are expansive for the accusers (both genuine victims as well as false accusers), as well as that they are not that successful anyway, both socially as well as in courts.

    If whe change the state of our world to one in which accusations are cheap (socially and legally), and favor the accuser, then the frequency of false accusations is going to increase – as favoring the accuser means false accusations will be an efficient way to destroy ones enemies. Especially in those sexual cases, where – as many have already mentioned, we can expect less physical evidence than in other areas of life.

    So maybe the solution for us, good people, is to leave the general favoring of the accused in an average case, but build our own good reputation as a trustable source, so the case in which we are attacked, won’t be an average case?

  48. unsinkablegayatheist says

    sautterron make an excellent point but he may have left off the most important point:
    Motivation!
    (Please note, In regards to the actual people mentioned above, I have no knowledge of them, the events they attended, etc. and can not commit on THESE ‘cases’), however:

    In regards to your striking comments regarding your low standards of proof to convict someone’s reputation in the ‘Court of Public Opinion’, I am shocked that you use the same principle that Christians do to rationalize their hatred of Atheists and LBGT, etc.!
    They make up stereotypes, reinforce them with the like minded, write incisively about them, preach against them…all using the low standards you have put forth. (Proof by Mutual Consent) They get together and ‘gossip’ about those god-less atheists’ and ‘the gays’ and those rumors become ‘facts’ the more they are retold. Then there is the point where they just lie because ‘god would want them to’ and ‘god’s law supersedes man’s law. Let’s bring them down!”
    Somewhere there are creeps that have committed the horrible crimes they attribute to the whole LBGT population, for example, and they treat the local gays they meet with that horrible disdain based on it’s”

    “Guilt by Association, lets ruin their Reputation”.

    In this example, They fight to stop gay adoption.

    If I were to review (and as you suggest pre-judge and convict without a trial) any accusations against anyone, particularly those who are statistically marginalized and scorned by the general public like Atheists, LBGT, Muslims, young African-American males, etc, my first look would be the motivation of the accuser. Is it bigotry, hate, gay bashing, or discrediting a public figure of a very controversial group like ‘those godless atheists’?

    Once again, I know nothing of THIS case, but I do know in ALL cases of severe accusations they require severe scrutiny, NOT less.

    Next, I want facts. Until I get facts from a court document against (or for) the actual individual I will not label a man or woman based on rumor, gossip, “class”, race, orientation. I will look at the solid evidence. I will not be the one to ruin a man or woman’s reputation with your low standards.

    I realize that you are an individual who is very outspoken and I can appreciate that. I have seen you at a couple of national meetings. I am told I am, too. You probably don’t care about ‘what the neighbors think’ or ‘To Hell with them’, but most men and women DO care about their reputations and are ruined by people, like Christians, in a ruthless religion-based campaigns against them in small town America. In big cities. At their jobs.

    Remember, you can effectively defend yourself in court, you can never defend yourself in the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ when most of Society already has pre-judged your ‘type’ and would love to ‘take that______ down!’

    P.S.
    thank you for your new book. I recommend it to everyone.

  49. believerskeptic says

    Here, Richard Carrier proactively recommends Lesswrong as a “good skepticism site”:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/3707

    “In the sciences, there’s a whole slew of good skepticism-dedicated sites, like BadScience and BadAstronomy (and, of course, LessWrong). I suppose it can’t hurt if anyone here wants to list their faves in that category, too–even though it isn’t what I’ll be loading into the main article, it might warrant another.”

    * * *
    He may be right about that asshat Ron Lindsay, but he’s deadwrong about lesswrong.

  50. says

    Believerskeptic: The Pythagoreans believed in souls and treated beans like Islam treats pigs. As Sawells said above, Newton was staunchly religious and firmly believed in alchemy. Mendel was a monk. Watson is a racist and sexist. That all these people had weird beliefs, and sometimes justified weird beliefs with the tools they developed, does not mean that the Pythagorean Theorem, calculus, genetics, or the structure of DNA, are somehow invalid.

    If you have actual problems with Bayesian statistics, please outline them. This fallacious argument by association isn’t making your point, any more than it makes the point of Christians who note that Stalin was also an atheist.

  51. freemage says

    sautterron: Man, the hits keep on coming, don’t they?

    @tadeina – The world in which we live in is dynamic and one thing depends on another. So “extremely low rates of false accusation” you mention (if it is a valid statement) might be just an artefact of the fact that accusations in general are expansive for the accusers (both genuine victims as well as false accusers), as well as that they are not that successful anyway, both socially as well as in courts.

    If whe change the state of our world to one in which accusations are cheap (socially and legally), and favor the accuser, then the frequency of false accusations is going to increase – as favoring the accuser means false accusations will be an efficient way to destroy ones enemies. Especially in those sexual cases, where – as many have already mentioned, we can expect less physical evidence than in other areas of life.

    So maybe the solution for us, good people, is to leave the general favoring of the accused in an average case, but build our own good reputation as a trustable source, so the case in which we are attacked, won’t be an average case?

    Victim blaming AND unsupported premises in the same small post. A genuine Twofer!

    1: You still haven’t actually demonstrated that the only thing holding back the feared flood of false allegations is the hellish degree of re-victimization currently experienced by accusers.

    2: I’d also note that this re-victimization DOES feed directly into the rising use of anonymous allegations–if the court of public opinion is difficult to defend oneself from, the rumor mill is, as Agatha Christie’s Poirot once noted, a hydra, where cutting off one head just creates two more.

    3: In cases where X is an actual ‘enemy’ of Y, someone they despise enough to level a false public charge of assault or harassment, that will probably be obvious on the face of it, and can be factored into evaluation of the charges. By so aggressively punishing ANY victim who comes forward, though, we instead create a situation where anonymous accusations become a viable recourse, which actually denies the accused a more reasonable approach to defense.

    4: Your last paragraph is pure victim blaming horseshit, and not worth addressing.

  52. says

    #53 – sautterron

    So maybe the solution for us, good people, is to leave the general favoring of the accused in an average case, but build our own good reputation as a trustable source, so the case in which we are attacked, won’t be an average case?

    So basically we have to be good, upstanding, perfect people in order to be believable victims? No one deserves rapre or sexual harassment, regardless of their past. To claim that in order to be believed people must be perfect and good (by whose standard?) is to set up standards that few can attain and thus to ensure that no victim gets justice.

    Also this:

    4: Your last paragraph is pure victim blaming horseshit, and not worth addressing.

    Though I did address it because it pissed me off. I’m a survivor of rape and don’t appreciate the insinuation that if I were a better person then someone would be more likely to believe me.

  53. sautterron . says

    @freemage

    Strawman: “1: You still haven’t actually demonstrated that the only thing holding back the feared flood of false allegations is the hellish degree of re-victimization currently experienced by accusers.” I have never claimed ”
    the only” and “feared” parts. When it comes to demonstrating it’s a very basic economics: if somehting is cheap and efficient – it’s popular, if somehting is expansive and doesn’t work – the demand is low.

    ” Your last paragraph is pure victim blaming horseshit, and not worth addressing.” – it’s just the opposite of your claim. I’m showing an optimal situation for a certain subgroup of people – people with good reputation in which such people both are protected from false accusations via a general non-preference for the accusers, as well as giving this subgroup of people good standing as a victim.
    This is of course good in some ways, but not an optimal way in some other ways, as it doesn’t answer many situations – for example what with the victims who were doing something illegal, like being on drugs – which makes it difficult for them to contact police?

  54. freemage says

    sautterron: Your ‘economic’ theory is still failing in one key regard–just because something is “cheap” doesn’t mean that it will be popular, unless it has some specifically desirable effect. In order for there to be a significant increase in false accusations after they are made ‘cheaper’ and ‘more efficient’, they would have to have value to the accuser.

    True accusations have such a value–they obtain a level of justice and closure for the victim, and prevent re-victimization. Outside of very fringe cases, though, false accusations provide no such utility. My urine would be available to anyone who wants it, for an amazingly low price, but for some reason, there’s no line of people standing there with piss-jars waiting to be filled.

    Since you refuse to describe a motive outside of personal animosity for generating these false claims (that one I addressed last post, by noting that public enmity is going to be something that people notice and factor in, anyway), I can only assume that you believe that there are a teeming group of people out there just waiting for the opportunity to destroy reputations for, as the kids these day say, “the LOLZ”.

    And again, I refuse to address your victim-blaming arguments. They aren’t deserving of that much respect.

  55. TooManyJens says

    believerskeptic, why is it more important to you to keep trying to make this a conversation about LessWrong than to address the subject of this post?

  56. smhll says

    Next, I want facts. Until I get facts from a court document against (or for) the actual individual I will not label a man or woman based on rumor, gossip, “class”, race, orientation. I will look at the solid evidence. I will not be the one to ruin a man or woman’s reputation with your low standards.

    This particular high-minded bias will lead you to be wrong a lot.

  57. says

    @smhll #62:

    This particular high-minded bias will lead you to be wrong a lot.

    I’d like to see the whole skeptical movement adopt this. No more calling people like Ray Comfort and Ken Ham liars, no more calling people like Peter Popoff and Stanislaw Burzynski scam artists, no more saying that Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield have blood on their hands. Until it’s all proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, we can’t form any opinions on any of those people, and it’s irresponsible and morally wrong to impugn their characters and reputations with mere gossip.

  58. Anthony K says

    I’d like to see the whole skeptical movement adopt this. No more calling people like Ray Comfort and Ken Ham liars, no more calling people like Peter Popoff and Stanislaw Burzynski scam artists, no more saying that Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield have blood on their hands. Until it’s all proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, we can’t form any opinions on any of those people, and it’s irresponsible and morally wrong to impugn their characters and reputations with mere gossip.

    But such skepticism will be the death of skepticism!

  59. davidforrest says

    Beliverskeptic, I was going for what you identified as the essential point. Bayesian updating might sound like attractive tool for denialists, but someone tries to use it in such a “depressingly common” domain like this, it would end up documenting their disconnections with reality. What are their claims? CSI’s alleged level of creepiness would be an “extraordinary history of sexual harassment claims” ? Or that some folk’s stories are not at all “any evidence to support the allegation that it has a track record of disciplining harassers lightly”?

  60. says

    Thanks for the great post Greta!! I didn’t expect a whole blog post as an answer, and I am really grateful you took the time to address this :) Thank you for what you’re doing and refusing to be quiet about this issue! The atheist/skeptic movement really needs voices like yours, especially in times like these.

  61. Greta Christina says

    A few pieces of housekeeping:

    Will someone please tell me how a conversation about accusations of rape and sexual harassment in the skeptical/ atheist movement got turned into a debate about the relative merits of the lesswrong website? No, on second thought — don’t tell me. Just stop doing it. believerskeptic, I’m looking at you. This is a grossly inappropriate venue for you to be grinding this axe.

    you stupid fck… guess what moron… you dumb ass… (etc.)

    dezn_98 @ # 47: I agree with the points you’re making, but I must ask you to stop the personal insults. Please consult my comment policy. Criticize ideas — don’t insult people. This is not Pharyngula. Thanks.

    sautterron: The idea that we actually should continue make the reporting of rape and sexual harassment a hellish experience, so as to reduce the possibility of false accusations? The idea that victims need to be of unimpeachable moral character in order to be taken seriously? These are repulsive ideas. I will not tolerate them in my blot. Knock it off, or get the hell out of my blog.

  62. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Believerskeptic, is your personal hobby horse REALLY the most important thing here?

  63. says

    Thank you for this excellent post. I would emphasize that your point #3 is really key.

    The rate of false allegations with rape/sexual assault is extremely low: 2% to 8%. That’s lower than the rate of false reports of auto theft (which is at least 10%).

    In other words, when a woman claims that she has been raped or assaulted, there’s about a 95% chance she’s telling the truth.

    When someone tells us they’ve been mugged or their house has been burgled—or their car has been stolen—we automatically believe them. Belief is our working assumption; it’s what makes sense statistically. It should be the same with rape. (Of course I’m talking about social attitudes, not the burden of proof necessary to convict a perpetrator in a court of law.)

  64. Anthony K says

    sautterron: The idea that we actually should continue make the reporting of rape and sexual harassment a hellish experience, so as to reduce the possibility of false accusations? The idea that victims need to be of unimpeachable moral character in order to be taken seriously? These are repulsive ideas. I will not tolerate them in my blot. Knock it off, or get the hell out of my blog.

    This seems like an unfortunate but apt place to note that the Norfolk, Virginia police department had apparently been taking sautterron’s advice until yesterday, when a victim’s experience forced them to reevaluate their policies. For instance, by default, allegations of rape were considered ‘unfounded’, unlike pretty much any other crime. In the case of the anonymous victim, this led them to close her case while her attacker, a serial rapist, was still on the loose. He attacked or attempted to attack three other women.

  65. says

    @Suzanne Scoggins #69:

    The rate of false allegations with rape/sexual assault is extremely low: 2% to 8%. That’s lower than the rate of false reports of auto theft (which is at least 10%).

    In other words, when a woman claims that she has been raped or assaulted, there’s about a 95% chance she’s telling the truth.

    Have a Balloon in the Pharyngula comments examined things in more detail to put some context even to that 2-8%. To summarize, around half of the false rape accusations were made by people under 21, and in 38% of those cases, it wasn’t the victim making the accusation, but a parent or guardian.

    We don’t know how old Jane Doe is, but we do know that her case doesn’t fit with about 20% of false rape accusations, because she’s the one making the accusation (and it clearly isn’t the “it spiraled out of control” that Balloon’s study discussed, since the accusation’s coming years after the fact). Which leaves us with more like a 1.6-6.48% chance that she’s lying.

  66. freemage says

    sautterron: The idea that we actually should continue make the reporting of rape and sexual harassment a hellish experience, so as to reduce the possibility of false accusations? The idea that victims need to be of unimpeachable moral character in order to be taken seriously? These are repulsive ideas. I will not tolerate them in my blot. Knock it off, or get the hell out of my blog.

    Greta, thank you for that; I was getting close to losing my cool and probably violating your policies, which would’ve been bad all around.

  67. says

    So let me get this straight. You think that it would be best to throw innocent until proven guilty out the window on cases of rape or sexual harassment? Are you insane? Yes, let’s just throw people in prison or otherwise punish them on the word alone of an individual. That makes so much fucking sense.

    I’m so sick and tired of feminazis like yourself trying to take the rights of men away. “Oh, well if the guy is accused of rape then it must be true! Lock him up!”. That’s not justice, nor is it equality.

    I’m sorry that rape and harrassment are so hard to prove, but that’s just the way it’s got to be. Some bad guys getting away with their misdeeds is certainly better than some innocent person being punished for something they didn’t do on the word of another person. The standard of evidence has to be set high for all crimes. Believe me, if you ever find yourself in the defendant’s chair you’ll be thankful for it. How do I know? I was in the gradeschool equivalent. I was accused by a group of girls who simply hated me and wanted to hurt me of threatening rape and of sexual harassment. I didn’t do a damn thing to them, but they would constantly accuse me out of spite. Had they been believed I would have been arrested and made a sex offender at age 11 or 12. By your reasoning, the numerous accusations alone should have been proof that I was some sort of monster that should have been sent away to jail. Under your logic, my life and reputation should have been ruined over their accusations alone. Nevermind that no one outside their little group substantiated their claims, I would be declared guilty by someone with your mentality. Fortunately my female principal had a brain in her head and stuck to the whole “innocent until proven guilty” principle.

    I’m sorry that it’s a hellish experience for victims to come forward, but isn’t that better than a rush to judgement that would result in major punishment for someone who is possibly innocent? Would you tolerate this in a murder case? Don’t you realize that if a person is accused of rape they could face up to life in prison in some states, plus a lifetime sex offender status? Given the punishment, you have to have a high standard of evidence! You can’t just say “well, she said he raped her, so he probably did. 95% chance she’s telling the truth, so lock him up and throw away the key!” If even 1 rape allegation is false, then that is 1 man too many that has been thrown in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

    Now I know you said “this isn’t about evidence for a court case”, but don’t you realize that if you promote this idea of just believing victims the moment they say they were attacked that it will carry over to the court room at some point? And even if it doesn’t, the social consequences of false accusations against the accused are far worse than you pretend. I should know. I stayed at that school for about a year, and from the day I was accused I was hated and mistreated by everyone, even one of my teachers. Boys would threaten me, attack me, and I had not one friend, and all because a couple of bitches made up some crap about me. The girls? They were popular and well liked. They faced ZERO consequences for making the claims they did. Now maybe a real victim might have suffered, but what would have been better? For everyone to believe me guilty and punish me, either legally or socially, or for her to be questioned by numerous people about what she claimed happened?

    Once again, it is wrong to punish someone for something if you don’t know whether or not they are guilty, be it with prison or with simply ostracizing them.

  68. says

    Once again, it is wrong to punish someone for something if you don’t know whether or not they are guilty, be it with prison or with simply ostracizing them.

    On what basis is it wrong for me to decide not to hang around someone based on a reasonable suspicion that they’ve raped or harassed or even bored someone? If you’re running around telling people they have to apply the principle of presumption of innocence to decisions on how they spend their time, you really ought to read Dana’s post that A Hermit helpfully linked above. You will embarrass yourself less.

  69. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    So let me get this straight. You think that it would be best to throw innocent until proven guilty out the window on cases of rape or sexual harassment? Are you insane? Yes, let’s just throw people in prison or otherwise punish them on the word alone of an individual. That makes so much fucking sense.

    Read.

    The fucking.

    Post.

    Through.

  70. freemage says

    Theevil:

    1: Repeat with me. The adult world is not like middle school. The adult world is not like middle school. The adult world is not like middle school. In the adult world, people don’t go around making random accusations against innocent targets on a regular basis. In fact, one of the big problems with your position is that you seem to think adult women still act like a bunch of 11-year-olds who are trying to be mean. If you don’t realize how astoundingly insulting that is, please reconsider.

    2: In spite of your attempt to gloss over it, you’ve gone from slippery slope to greased chute. There is a world of difference, justifiably so, between courtroom and… civilian life, I’ll call it for now. And no, no one is calling for rape claims in a court of law to be held to a different standard than any other criminal case. The problem in court, of course, is that they already are–whether you want to believe it or not, the process of proving a rape case is virtually impossible in some areas, simply because of how biased the system is, in ways that are not applied to any other crime.

    3: You also undermine yourself by mixing up common legal jargon. The issue here is not whether or not someone is “innocent until proven guilty”. Rather, it’s whether the standard of proof for non-legal approaches should be as high as it is for criminal cases–ie, “beyond a reasonable doubt”. And let me give you a little tip–even if we were to apply the standard of civil cases, it would be lower than that. Tort cases only require ‘preponderance of evidence’ as a standard–meaning that the jury is asked to decide which side in the case is more believable.

    And what are the consequences of losing a tort case? Why… they’re financial and social in nature, rather than PRISONPRISONPRISON. So there’s really a solid comparison between non-court-based accusations of rape and harassment, and in-court tort cases. So starting there seems pretty damned reasonable. Professional organizations, convention organizers and so on should use the ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard when deciding whether or not to act on accusations of sexual misconduct by employees, speakers or attendees. This, coupled with a reasonable definition of what words like ‘consent’ mean, is all we’re really asking for.

  71. PatrickG says

    Once again, it is wrong to punish someone for something if you don’t know whether or not they are guilty, be it with prison or with simply ostracizing them.

    I know, right? All those people who are ostracizing and harassing women coming forward are total assholes! I’m glad we’re in agreement here: the people who automatically side with the accused are assholes.

    Wait, that’s you, isn’t it?

  72. says

    As usual, Greta, you have hit the nail on the head perfectly, and said everything I would say if I had a blog. It’s gotten to the point that, whenever there’s a controversy, I’m like, “… Hm, gonna wait until Greta weighs in. And then share that like crazy.”

  73. says

    I’m sorry that it’s a hellish experience for victims to come forward, but isn’t that better than a rush to judgement that would result in major punishment for someone who is possibly innocent?

    No, it’s not better.

  74. Greta Christina says

    Re Theevil Oddone @ #74: There are a handful of dog-whistle words and ideas that immediately tell me a commenter is beyond the pale, and is not worth bothering with. “Feminazi” is one. The non-ironic, non-reclaiming use of the word “bitches” is another. The complete failure to read and respond to what the post actually says, and to instead simply spout whatever ideas (and I use the word loosely here) the commenter has in their head, awkwardly shoehorning them into a “response,” is another.

    Misogynist, MRA asshole. Banned.

  75. says

    Thanks for a reasoned post. I believe we need to have this discussion.

    First, I want to point out that although it can be hard not to, one does not have to take sides. You don’t have to either condemn someone as a rapist, or condemn someone as a false accuser. You can be truly agnostic and respect both sides. If your friend Sue accuses your friend Bob, you can be supportive of Sue, comfort her, help her collect evidence, help her find a good lawyer. And you can do the same to Bob.

    Now, I think Greta Christina made some good arguments for why we should give credence to an accuser. However, I think there are also some good arguments for why we should not always assume accusations are true. Again, doubting the accuracy of an accusation does not mean dismissing the accuser. We can say that we need more information to make a judgement, and still respect the accuser.

    (note: below I will sometimes refer to accusers as ‘her’ and perpetrators as ‘him’. This is because the English language makes it hard to write concisely in a different style, not to assume that all victims are women or all perpetrators men)

    Greta says that perpetrators are ‘typically’ good at covering their tracks. I’m not convinced – I think that perpetrators are typically very bad at this. Harassment and assault frequently and even usually happens among witnesses, stalkers typically leave a trail of emails, text messages etcetera.

    So it’s true that sex crimes are common. However, adding the requirement that someone is very good at covering his tracks will, in bayesian terms, reduce the probability. Now, I’m not saying that such perpetrators are extraordinary. They are, unfortunately, still common.

    Next, I would however also say that false accusations of sex crimes are also not extraordinary. I would say that they are less likely than even perpetrators who are good at covering their tracks, but not by an enormous factor.

    Also, false accusations are not random. There are factors that make such accusations more likely. Such factors include:
    1. If the person is famous, this often prompts false accusasions.
    2. If the person already is subject to rumours, this also prompts false accusations.
    3. If there is a large group of people who are hostile to the person in question, this prompts false accusations.
    4. If a person is reasonably known to have committed a lesser wrong, this can prompt false accusations of greater wrongs.
    5. A person who has made false accusations in the past is more likely to make further false accusations.

    I would also say something about how to judge the reliability of accusations. There are a few factors that can make an accusation more reliable, without requiring unreasonable levels of evidence that may not be in existence.

    First, it is unfortunately true that anynomous accusations automatically become less credible. There are some very good reasons for why an accuser may want to be anonymous, but this doesn’t change this fact. When an accuser is anonymous, we cannot judge that persons credibility, honesty or even sanity based on their previous track record. We don’t know if they have been making false accusations previously. As Greta Christina pointed out, there are significant costs involved with accusing someone for a sex crime. However, these costs do not exist if anonymity is preserved.

    An anonymous accuser can become more credible without revealing her identity, if third party who is widely trusted to have good judgement is able to research the background of the accuser and make a reasoned case for why the accuser is in fact a trusthworthy source.

    However, if the intermediary is known to be biased, or is not known to have good judgement, does not claim to have looked into the background of the accuser, or does not convincingly convey such information, the anonymity of the accuser will be a major problem.

    Another factor at play when judging the reliability of accusations is detail. A completely generic statement such as ‘X raped me!!!’ is inherently less reliable than a detailed account of how the rape occured. Now, there are good reasons for why victims may not want to share every intimate detail of their victimization. First, because it is private, and sharing it can add to the sense of violation. Second, a victim of a suspected serial offender may fear repercussions if the perpetrator can identify her based on such details.

    However, while this is true, it still remains that an accusation without details becomes less reliable. Also, it is probably possible to give at least some details of the incident without sharing extremely private details or revealing ones identity to a serial offender.

    There are several reasons for why an accusation without detail are less credible:
    1. Since any details given can in principle be disproven, giving many details, which are not disproven, will add to the credibility of the story.
    2. There can be doubts not only regarding the truthfulness of the accuser, but also regarding her use of language and her perception of reality. For instance, while some people believe that a forced kiss can be described as ‘rape’, most people and most legal systems disagree with this. If we are not given more details, we cannot rule out the possibility that the accuser believes she was forcibly kissed.
    3. Since, statistically, less aberrant behavour is more common than more aberrant behaviour, it is reasonable to interpret a given story in the way that is most favourable for the accused. For instance, if the accuser claims that the perpetrator got her drunk, but gives no further details, it is reasonable to think that this may mean the accused offered her alcohol that she voluntarily drunk, and that this got her a little over-amorous, but that she was still able to willingly and actively participate in a sexual act.

    Lastly, as Greta Christina points out, it adds tremendous weight to accusations if multiple, independent people accuse the same person of similar crimes. However – this requires that these people are actually independent and are reasonably well demonstrated to exist and to be making these accusations. If the only source we have for the existance of these additional people is the accuser herself, it does not add nearly as much to the credibility of the accusation. It is then possible that she is making them up in order to support her case. It is possible that she is confused – for instance, she was told about similar sexual offences, and wrongly assumed that the perpetrator was the same.

    In fact, allegations of the existence of large numbers of supposed victims can even weaken the accusations, if none of these victims can be found and be confirmed by independent, widely trusted invididuals considered to have good judgement. I would point out that a real victim can also be mistaken about details, can exaggerate, or even lie in order to strengthen her case or to lash out at the perpetrator. However, such behaviour will unfortunately weaken the credibility of her story enormously.

    I hope that this can help some people understand why reasonable people may not be so quick to judge. And I hope that we can also have a discussion about how we can help accusers to make their case stronger, in a way that will actually convince reasonable people who hold honest doubts. Unfortunately, I feel that much of this debate has degenerated into taking sides, and then dismissing the ‘other side’ as either rape-enablers or spreaders of career-ruining false rumours. I would argue that even if you believe such sides exist, it is a waste of time to engage with those who are not open to reasoning. And I would argue that there are definitely a lot of people who are reasonable, and who are not committed to any ‘side’. Most of these people will stay silent, becuase they don’t have a passionate cause.

  76. says

    Once again, it is wrong to punish someone for something if you don’t know whether or not they are guilty, be it with prison or with simply ostracizing them.

    Once again, it is NOT wrong to share what information you have with others, in order to help them take precautions and make more informed choices to protect themselves. That’s the main objective of the women coming forward here: helping others to stay out of trouble. If you actually READ WHAT THEY SAID before calling them liars, you’d understand this.

    So let me get this straight. You think that it would be best to throw innocent until proven guilty out the window on cases of rape or sexual harassment?

    No, we want to apply that principle to the accusers, as well as to the suspects. Is that “straight” enough for you?

  77. sautterron . says

    @freemage “The adult world is not like middle school. The adult world is not like middle school. In the adult world, people don’t go around making random accusations against innocent targets on a regular basis.”

    Answer – if allowed then, yes they do. Educate yourself about history of Communism in Soviet Union; how easy it was to be accused of conspiracy, betreyal of country, being the enemy of people etc. Especially during Stalin’s time there was climate of hunting for imaginary conspiracies. And being accused usually meant the accused was sentenced to death or concentation camp.

    We don’t have such tendency for accusations only because such approach is rejected, and instead innocence is preassumed. but it’s still possible to get there, as we see many people try hard…

  78. sautterron . says

    @greta “The idea that we actually should continue make the reporting of rape and sexual harassment a hellish experience, so as to reduce the possibility of false accusations? The idea that victims need to be of unimpeachable moral character in order to be taken seriously? These are repulsive ideas. I will not tolerate them in my blot. Knock it off, or get the hell out of my blog.”

    I don’t suggest victims should be treated badly or have a hard time with police etc. I just bought up something, a type of situations about which many forget, and informed that I don’t have a clue how to bring improvement for such cases. That is my proposals for doing things right are going to be good for the cases of victims with good reputation, but won’t improve – but also won’t worsen – the current status quo for victims of rape, who are criminals themselves. Just one ilustrative possible situation:

    X steals a car and drives it while on illegal drugs. While driving X sees Y walking on a sidewalk, and doesn’t like Y’s face, thus decides to beat Y up. During fight it turns out that Y is stronger, Y overpowers X and rapes X.

    This is a type of situation for which I don’t offer an idea how to solve the aftermath. Including in this sense that X likely won’t report being the victiom of rape, thus you have an increase in unreported cases. So I only talk about improving situations with more-or-less clean victims.

  79. sautterron . says

    @Raging Bee: “in order to help them take precautions and make more informed choices to protect themselves”

    One of the problems with your is that many people offer something valuable: valuable goods, services, sometimes even for free. If an unproven accusation against a provider of good stuff prevents you from getting these benefits, eg you won’t buy a valuable book, you won’t go to “How to prevent cancer” presentation, you won’t buy a good product because it comes from the accused, then you have lost something (eg. decreasing your cancer risk). Just because someone gossiped some accusations something about the good stuff provider.

  80. says

    Johan, that was a lot of words just to convey that you’d like to still be well-thought-of despite insisting on doubting the veracity of the anonymous accuser’s account.

    Look, nobody is going to force you to believe her. But you can’t express your disbelief AND also expect to get respect and understanding for that stance. Grow a spine and deal with the negative feedback if you want to adopt a locally unpopular position. Because the fact is, despite your mitigating factors, the most parsimonious explanation for all of this is that Michael Shermer raped someone.

  81. axemaiden says

    The shorter @sautterron: It’s more important to ensure men are protected from very rare false accusations of harassment and rape than it is for women to protect themselves and each other from actual (and commonplace) harassment and rape.

    Translation: The reputation of men is more important than the safety of women.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Patriarchy at work.

    Also, this: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/12/29/why-yes-but-is-the-wrong-response-to-misogyny/

  82. says

    One of the problems with your is that many people offer something valuable: valuable goods, services, sometimes even for free. If an unproven accusation against a provider of good stuff prevents you from getting these benefits, eg you won’t buy a valuable book, you won’t go to “How to prevent cancer” presentation, you won’t buy a good product because it comes from the accused, then you have lost something (eg. decreasing your cancer risk). Just because someone gossiped some accusations something about the good stuff provider.

    I’d rather risk not having access to particular goods and services than risk preventing rape victims from getting their day in court, or risk allowing a rapist to continue to operate unimpeded.

    Putting the “you might miss out on a presentation about cancer” thing in there just makes you look a little desperate. Cancer! Yes yes, rape is serious, but so is CANCER! Yeesh.

  83. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    @freemage “The adult world is not like middle school. The adult world is not like middle school. In the adult world, people don’t go around making random accusations against innocent targets on a regular basis.”

    Answer – if allowed then, yes they do. Educate yourself about history of Communism in Soviet Union; how easy it was to be accused of conspiracy, betreyal of country, being the enemy of people etc. Especially during Stalin’s time there was climate of hunting for imaginary conspiracies. And being accused usually meant the accused was sentenced to death or concentation camp.

    We don’t have such tendency for accusations only because such approach is rejected, and instead innocence is preassumed. but it’s still possible to get there, as we see many people try hard…

    So now some women naming a sexual predator on a social medium is really analogous to conspiracies and Stalin’s gulags.

    Greta, just ban this irrational ideologue. Xe’s got nothing worth keeping here.

  84. Anthony K says

    Greta, just ban this irrational ideologue. Xe’s got nothing worth keeping here.

    But then we might never learn how to prevent cancer.

  85. Greta Christina says

    sautterron has already been warned about there being some repulsive, hateful ideas that I will not tolerate in my blog. They have chosen to continue repeating these ideas: in particular, the idea that rape victims need to be of unimpeachable moral character in order to be taken seriously.

    As people who read my blog and the comments here regularly, I not only accept, but encourage, a great deal of lively dissent and debate here. But there are some “ideas” — and i use the word loosely here — that are beyond the moral pale. There are some ideas that deserve no serious engagement; some ideas that deserve nothing more than that the person expressing them be shunned. This is one of them. sautterron has already been one chance from me, which was more than they deserved. They will not get a second. They have been banned.

  86. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Sally Strange –

    One of the problems with your is that many people offer something valuable: valuable goods, services, sometimes even for free. If an unproven accusation against a provider of good stuff prevents you from getting these benefits, eg you won’t buy a valuable book, you won’t go to “How to prevent cancer” presentation, you won’t buy a good product because it comes from the accused, then you have lost something (eg. decreasing your cancer risk). Just because someone gossiped some accusations something about the good stuff provider.

    I’d rather risk not having access to particular goods and services than risk preventing rape victims from getting their day in court, or risk allowing a rapist to continue to operate unimpeded.

    Putting the “you might miss out on a presentation about cancer” thing in there just makes you look a little desperate. Cancer! Yes yes, rape is serious, but so is CANCER! Yeesh.

    The funny/sad thing is we have an actual example of the terrible loss some dumb woman might cost herself when she won’t use a “good product because it comes from the “accused”:

    Michael Shermer was the guest of honor at an atheist event I attended in Fall 2006; I was on the Board of the group who hosted it. It’s a very short story: I got my book signed, then at the post-speech party, Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly. I lost count of how many drinks I had. He was flirting with me and I am non-confrontational and unwilling to be rude, so I just laughed it off. He made sure my wine glass stayed full.
    And that’s the entirety of my story: Michael Shermer helped get me drunker than I normally get, and was a bit flirty. I can’t recall the details because I was intoxicated. I don’t remember how I left, but I am told that a friend took me away from the situation and home from the party. Note, I’d never gotten drunk at any atheist event before; I was humiliated by having gotten so drunk and even more ashamed that my friends had to cart me off before anything happened to me.
    But I had a bad taste in my mouth about Shermer’s flirtatiousness, because I’m married, and I thought he was kind of a pig. I didn’t even keep his signed book, I didn’t want it near me.

    (emphasis mine)

    What a horrible, terrible, waste! She paid for a book and now she’s depriving herself of all that wonderful useful writing because it came from the accused! We should be so careful not to follow her silly example and we should keep buying and reading Shermer’s books so we don’t lose out like she did! Because. Serious business.

  87. Parse says

    Sautterron @ 85

    I don’t suggest victims should be treated badly or have a hard time with police etc.

    Sautterron @ 42 (Emphasis mine)

    “Think about the rarity of false accusations.” – we can achieve rarity of false accusations if:
    - the punishment for making false accusation is high (detterrant by fear),
    - the work and sophistication needed to create a succesful false accusation are large (discouragement by high price), this being achieved by simply having a high standards for evidence.

    You don’t see deterring somebody by fear as treating them badly? Or police threatening them with ‘high’ punishment as giving them a hard time?

    Sautterron @ 86

    If an unproven accusation against a provider of good stuff prevents you from getting these benefits, [...] then you have lost something.

    So, even though I’ve heard that Miracle Diet X doesn’t work, by not trying it, I’ve lost something? Nobody has proven that Miracle Diet X, specifically, doesn’t, so I should go ahead and try it anyways? It sounds like you’re arguing that I should keep my mind so open, my brain falls out.
    Also, your argument would hold water a lot better, if people had the resources to take advantage of every single good and service. Even if you’re richer than Warren Buffett, you’re still limited to 24 hours a day; you have to pick and choose what to spend your time on. I let my friends’ opinions and views help influence my decisions, even when they don’t have firsthand experience or proven* evidence. It’s the whole point of building a web of trust. Are you seriously arguing I shouldn’t?

  88. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    Greta, sorry, I didn’t mean to sound as if I were trying to give orders on your blog about who to ban.

    But thank you for expressing yourself so clearly, as usual. And thanks for not tolerating sautterron’s repetition of toxic disbelief.

  89. Greta Christina says

    Johan Rönnblom @ #82: Please note that there is a difference between saying, “I don’t know what to think, these accusations seem credible and there sure are a lot of them, but I’m still not sure, it doesn’t quite meet my own burden of proof”.,.. and saying, “These accusations are ridiculous, there’s no reason anyone should take them seriously, the people making them and passing them on are just trying to ruin reputations, the people who believe them are gullible fools who don’t understand about skepticism, the whole thing is absurd and should just be ignored.”

    We’re hearing just about nothing of the first… and a whole lot of the second. The second is what I’m arguing against.

    Others here have responded to the actual content of your doubts, and will no doubt continue to do so.I don’t have time to respond point by point: for now, I’ll just stick to a response to your doubts about whether “these people are actually independent,” and I’ll repeat what Andrés Diplotti said above @ #46: “I like how some people’s “skepticism” leads them to consider the possibility that rumors have been purposefully spread about Shermer for a long time and consistent testimonies have been previously arranged to make the accusation seem believable. When your skepticism takes you where you are abandoning Occam’s razor in favor of conspiracy theories, perhaps you should stop for a minute and think: ‘Wait, I think I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”

    But I’m mainly sticking to the meta-point. We’re not talking about people “not being so quick to judge.” We’re talking about people being very quick to judge indeed — and judging that these accusations have no merit and can be entirely rejected. There are ways to say, “These accusations seem credible, but I have doubts, here’s what they are, what would people say to them” — without being a denialist, without ignoring the reality of what kinds of evidence we would and would not expect to see in these situations, without creating a burden of proof that (a) is absurdly high and (b) keeps getting moved higher, without adding to the culture in which sexual harassment and rape victims are routinely seen as not credible. There are ways of doing that. You’re not doing it.

  90. says

    One of the problems with your is that many people offer something valuable: valuable goods, services, sometimes even for free…

    Really? Sauterron really thinks that getting sexual harasers, rapists, and other vile bullies our of our lives is less important than his lame-assed goods-allocation argument? He sounds like yet another glibertarian, making a religion out of his ECON 101 class, pretending it’s the answer to everything, and making a banal little shit of himself in the process.

    And comparing rape victims who come forward in the USA to people making treason allegations in Stalin’s USSR only adds to his overall shittiness. What a disgusting piece of work. This guy is so low he’d need a mineshaft elevator to get into a Volkswagen.

  91. Parse says

    Greta, sorry for replying to a banned commenter. For what it’s worth, when I was typing and editing what I wrote, they weren’t banned yet.

    Johan Rönnblom @ 82

    You can be truly agnostic and respect both sides. If your friend Sue accuses your friend Bob, you can be supportive of Sue, comfort her, help her collect evidence, help her find a good lawyer. And you can do the same to Bob.

    I don’t think that you can be supportive of both sides in any meaningful way. I’m sure that Sue (or Bob) finds it real comforting to know that you’re helping her rapist (or his accuser) collect evidence against them, that you’re listening to her rapist’s (or his accuser’s) story with a supportive ear.

    Greta says that perpetrators are ‘typically’ good at covering their tracks. I’m not convinced – I think that perpetrators are typically very bad at this. Harassment and assault frequently and even usually happens among witnesses, stalkers typically leave a trail of emails, text messages etcetera.

    Covering doesn’t only mean eliminating a trail, or leaving no witnesses. It’s about creating uncertainty, and (ab)using the bystanders’ benefit of the doubt to cover for your actions. “Perhaps she wasn’t clear when she asked him to leave her alone.” “If she didn’t want it, she’d say something.” “Don’t do that again.” “Maybe he’s socially awkward and doesn’t realize how his actions look.” It’s unfortunately very effective.

    For instance, if the accuser claims that the perpetrator got her drunk, but gives no further details, it is reasonable to think that this may mean the accused offered her alcohol that she voluntarily drunk, and that this got her a little over-amorous, but that she was still able to willingly and actively participate in a sexual act.

    No. No no no no no. When I hear “they got me drunk,” I hear “they got me drunker than I intended to be.” Even ruling out drinks spiked with illegal date rape drugs, there’s a number of other ways to do it. Stronger-than-average drinks. Drinks to mask the alcohol flavor. Refilling drinks partway through, so the drinker doesn’t realize how much they’ve already had. All ways of getting somebody to voluntarily overdrink; all common tactics when using alcohol as a date rape drug.
    There’s also a critical difference between “they got me drunk,” and “we got drunk” – the first implies that the perpetrator got their target drunk while remaining sober (or at least, sober enough) themselves.
    If nothing else, what you’re doing here is a good example of abusing the benefit of the doubt for explaining away bad behavior.

  92. says

    Greta Christina @ #96: I agree wholeheardedly about this difference. But I disagree that we are only hearing about denial and not about sincere doubt. This seems to me like a rather insular attitude. Maybe that is really the case within the small circle of skeptics blogs that seem to already have been entangled in incomprehensible and usually petty blog wars for some time. However, that is a tiny part of the skeptics universe.

    I’m not a blog reader myself. I only read blog entries when someone links to them and says they are worth reading. I’ve read maybe 15 blog posts on FtB combined, ever, most of them by Richard Carrier.

    I sense the same insular attitude regarding the argument from previous rumours. You simply can’t expect most people to ever have heard every rumour that you have heard. Most skeptics surely have heard none of these rumours.

    Just to put some numbers out to explain what I mean, I would expect at most 5% of all skeptics to be mostly convinced that the accusations against Shermer are true, at most 5% to be in denial, and at least 90% to have no definite opinion.

    My bottom line is that I think you are spending your time arguing with the wrong people. You are not going to convince the denialists, and you are also not going to convince those who have an open mind by getting engaged with the denialists.

  93. freemage says

    Also, false accusations are not random. There are factors that make such accusations more likely. Such factors include:
    1. If the person is famous, this often prompts false accusasions.
    2. If the person already is subject to rumours, this also prompts false accusations.
    3. If there is a large group of people who are hostile to the person in question, this prompts false accusations.
    4. If a person is reasonably known to have committed a lesser wrong, this can prompt false accusations of greater wrongs.
    5. A person who has made false accusations in the past is more likely to make further false accusations.

    I can’t help but note that you included four positive factors and only one negative factor. You wouldn’t be trying to bias the analysis, would you?

    Furthermore, I’d point out that #1 is, most likely, a two-way street, as famous people have more resources and support; a would-be false accuser might very well prefer to pick a relatively unguarded target over someone who has considerable support. Which way ‘fame’ ends up tilting the odds, then, becomes a difficult matter to assess, at best.

    Items 2-4 also increase the probability of an actual victim choosing to make their claim truthfully (that is, since we do in fact know that accusers are often mocked, etc, a person who is perceived as not being utterly unassailable is more likely to have victims who are willing to come forward). This is, frankly, why so many abusers seek to shame their victims–if they can keep them isolated, keep them from knowing about one another’s existence, then it prevents valid true accusations from being made.

    Think of it this way–rather than picturing the probability as a mere scale, do a quadrant diagram; label the quadrants “accused, guilty”, “accused, innocent”, “not accused, guilty”, and “not accused, innocent”.

    Furthermore, I’d suggest gradient shading the two “accused” quadrants for severity of consequence–noting, for instance, that social shunning is typically less severe than professional impact, which is less severe than criminal charges.

    Now, obviously, we want both the “accused, innocent” and “not accused, guilty” quadrants to be as small as possible. Furthermore, anything landing in the “accused, innocent” quadrant would ideally be in the low-consequence shading.

    What you need to factor in is that the “not accused, guilty” category works on a self-reference basis. A man who gets away with assault or harassment once will take what he learns from that and commit it again, and again, and again. We know that most men who get caught were guilty of multiple attacks long before that point. It’s rare for an assailant who succeeds to stop trying.

    So increasing that quadrant by one ‘first time’ offender actually adds multiple instances, against multiple victims.

  94. says

    Parse @ 98: I agree it is probably rather difficult to remain neutral if the people involved are close friends. However, when it is two people that I have absolutely no personal relation to, I find it quite easy.

    As for people who are manipulating away the evidence, silencing witnesses etc, yes of course that happens. I’m well aware of extremely manipulative individuals who have been able to take this further than what might even seem possible. However, my point was simply that most perpetrators are not manipulative masterminds. Thus, if you want to look at this from a bayesian point of view, it will affect your numbers a lot whether you are saying “sexual predators are common” or if you are saying “sexual predators who are manipulative masterminds are common”. The probability goes down if your story requires the person to be a manipulative mastermind. This means there will have to be more supportive evidence to counter that. Which is of course exactly what the manipulative mastermind wants, but unfortunately there is no way around that.

    As for getting people drunk, no I assure you I am not trying to explain anything away. What you describe definitely happens, and not uncommonly. However, people also get each other drunk all the time without any such dark motives. That is extremely common. So if the evidence I have seen allows for both of these possibilities, the most likely explanation is that there were no dark motives. To overcome this, there needs to be some evidence – and I’m not asking for videotapes here, just some evidence.

    And again, it seems like a lot of people just assume that everyone knows every rumour and everything that was ever posted on any blog within this particular sector of the skeptics universe. That is not the case. A lot of people never heard any of that.

  95. says

    freemage @ 100: I’m not really sure what you mean by bias. I stated clearly that I was giving arguments for why accusations should not always be believed. As for your counter-argument, I think that was already covered by Greta Christina in her original post, so I don’t really think you’re adding anything there.

    I would also add that I’m very careful myself of relying on rumours. I do not believe in the ‘no smoke without fire’ stance. I think the correct attitude towards rumours is to research them and either confirm or dismiss them, not to see them as something that builds up and adds more evidence as there are more rumours. I also think that when the disparity between what is rumoured and what is confirmed gets larger, this decreases the likelihood that there is any truth at all behind the rumours.

  96. says

    So if the evidence I have seen allows for both of these possibilities, the most likely explanation is that there were no dark motives.

    Multiple accounts of certain specific people’s behavior show “no dark motives?” Are you fucking kidding me? Instead of pretending to analyse a bunch of generalities, why don’t you READ THE ACTUAL MULTIPLE, INDEPENDENTLY CORROBORATED ACCOUNTS OF ACTUAL INCIDENTS? There’s plenty in those accounts to suggest “dark motives” on the part of the perpetrators.

    …and I’m not asking for videotapes here, just some evidence.

    How many fucking times do we have to remind you that multiple non-contradictory witness accounts, showing a consistent pattern, ARE evidence? If that’s not “evidence” to you, and you don’t need videotapes, then what, EXACTLY, do you expect in the way of “evidence?” Give specifics, please, or your entire “argument” is nothing but a fog of brown air.

  97. says

    I think the correct attitude towards rumours is to research them and either confirm or dismiss them…

    What the Hell do you think we’ve been doing here from day one?!

  98. says

    Johan: Do you have a source for those “factors” that make false accusations more likely? I’ve read most of the links that have so far been provided on the subject of false rape accusations, particularly this one, which outlines other trends in false accusations. In particular:
    1. 45% of the false rape claims came from people under 21.
    2. 38% of the reports were made by someone other than the victim (e.g., the victim’s parents)
    3. In these cases, the victim later reported that the “whole thing had spiraled out of control.”
    4. 28% had prior convictions related to making false allegations.

    It may be just a limitation of the study, but nothing is said about fame, so I’m curious where your facts are coming from, and what figures are associated.

  99. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I think the correct attitude towards rumours is to research them and either confirm or dismiss them…

    What the Hell do you think we’ve been doing here from day one?!

    But you couldn’t possibly have been doing that before. He hadn’t showed up to use his superior intellect to enlighten you and tell you what clearly needed to be done. *spit*

  100. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I’m sorry that it’s a hellish experience for victims to come forward, but isn’t that better than a rush to judgement that would result in major punishment for someone who is possibly innocent?

    No, it’s not better.

    But OF COURSE it’s better to have a rush to judgment result in major punishment for someone who is possibly innocent but is in a group he doesn’t belong to (women accused of making false accusations) than a rush to judgment possibly resulting in a major punishment for someone who is possibly innocent but is in a group he could plausibly belong to (men credibly accused of sexual harassment or assault). It’s not like anyone who isn’t him or exactly like him is a person who matters or anything.

    Ugh.

  101. Parse says

    If you’re in a position to:

    be supportive of Sue, comfort her, help her collect evidence, help her find a good lawyer. And you can do the same to Bob.

    then it sure seems like you’ve got a personal relation to both of them. It’s easy to be neutral when you don’t know anybody, but that’s not the case you described.

    However, my point was simply that most perpetrators are not manipulative masterminds.

    Since you’re so hyperskeptical, I assume you’ve got a reference for this?
    I’d agree that most perpetrators are not manipulative masterminds; however, offenders don’t need to be manipulative masterminds to be good at covering their tracks. They just need to be able to provide an excuse, however flimsy, and people like yourself will bend over backwards to give them the benefit of the doubt. For example, see what you’re saying about getting people drunk.

    However, people also get each other drunk all the time without any such dark motives.

    All the time? That’s a load of bull. Let’s ignore the case of the designated driver, because in that scenario, both people agree to let one person get drunker than the other. And that isn’t what we’re talking about here. Let’s also ignore the case where ‘we got drunk’, because that’s not the problematic behavior – the issue we’re talking about is when one person gets a second person drunk, drunker than they intended. (By the way, do you need to be a master manipulator to do this?)
    Getting somebody else drunk, while staying relatively sober yourself, is a glowing neon sign that something fishy is going on. It’s a fifty-foot warning flag that dark motives lie ahead. What possible non-dark motive could you have to get somebody else drunker than they intend? Must be a damn good one, if it’s extremely common, as you say it is.

    And again, it seems like a lot of people just assume that everyone knows every rumour and everything that was ever posted on any blog within this particular sector of the skeptics universe.

    That’s not the case. However, if you’re going to come in and spout your opinion, it’s reasonable to expect you to have an informed opinion. Otherwise, well, you come across like a Christian wielding Pascal’s Wager, and wonder why everybody on the atheist blog is laughing at you instead of answering your questions.

    To overcome this, there needs to be some evidence – and I’m not asking for videotapes here, just some evidence.

    There’s no way I could answer this as well as Raging Bee does, so I’m just going to quote him:

    How many fucking times do we have to remind you that multiple non-contradictory witness accounts, showing a consistent pattern, ARE evidence? If that’s not “evidence” to you, and you don’t need videotapes, then what, EXACTLY, do you expect in the way of “evidence?” Give specifics, please, or your entire “argument” is nothing but a fog of brown air.

  102. says

    Tom Foss @ 105: No, I’m not aware of any statistics regarding false rape accusations against famous people. That would be exceedingly hard to do.

    There are however at least two reasons to believe this:
    1. Because more people know about famous people (duh), and someone making up a rape accusation against a specific person must know about that person, there are more people who can accuse a famous person than a random person. And there are more people who can imagine themselves having a real or imagined grudge against such a person. It is also known that many otherwise sane people tend to imagine themselves having a sort of relationship with a famous person, which can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviour targeted at that person, including allegations of rape.
    2. Famous people are often rich, and even when they are not rich, they are often perceived to be so, especially by the uninformed. Someone hoping to get money through a lawsuit or settlement may therefore make a false rape allegation.

    I would also stress that I have not brought up only points that seem to be very relevant to any allegations currently floating around in the skeptics community, I’m trying to see it more generally. When it comes to fame, although any fame probably contributes somewhat, I doubt there is anyone in the skeptics community who is really famous enough to make this all that relevant. I think that such allegations very often come from people who are not mentally sound and who will most likely attach themselves to the type of celebrities that are constantly around in the mainstream media.

  103. says

    Parse @ 108:

    As for why people are trying to get someone else drunk, that’s just something I’ve observed at mostly every party I’ve been to since the age of 15 or so. There seems to be many contributing reasons. First, it is commonly held, though not that I agree, that being very drunk is very fun, so people are trying to help their friends. Second, trying to drink your friends under the table is a timeless game. Third, trying to get your friends to loosen up and lose their inhibitions can be done in order to get to know them better.

    Now when it comes to having an ‘informed opinion’, I think you’re sort of missing my point. I have obviously read the available summaries such as the one linked to by Greta Christina above. It does not contain any claim about Shermer trying to get anyone drunk, except in the letter from Shermer’s lawyer. If multiple such claims exist, they are certainly not easy to find.

    It almost seems as if though you don’t want people to believe these claims. Only people with sufficient hyper-specific interests who already know all the relevant information need apply. For the rest, why should anyone help them with information, when it is much more fun to condemn them for not having the proper opinion?

  104. says

    Johan: So just to be clear, when you said “there are factors that make such accusations more likely,” what you really meant was “I can imagine some factors that would be consistent with making false rape accusations more likely.”

    Do you have a source for any of your factors? For instance, you say that a high level of detail would indicate that an accusation is true, but it was argued at one point in the Pharyngula thread (and is suggested elsewhere: 1, 2) that excessive detail can be a sign of a concocted story rather than a true one. Even if detail were correlated with truth, that doesn’t imply that a non-detailed account is untrue, when other causal factors (desire to keep the perpetrator from discovering their identity, avoiding PTSD triggering) can lead to a lack of detail as well.

    Have you noticed how other people in these discussions have been supporting their claims, positions, and opinions with sources, studies, and verified facts? Do you see where it might smack of disrespect, Dunning-Kruger, or mansplaining to engage with apparently baseless suppositions, imaginings, and gut feelings?

  105. says

    Tom Foss @ 111: I can certainly see how your post smacks of disrespect. I don’t see the usefulness of this. Again, it seems as though you really have no wish to convince anyone. It seems as though you’d rather have your little exclusive club of people who can see the Truth.

    What I posted was a comment on a blog, not a dissertation. It was food for discussion. If you take issue with any specific point, please tell me one that you believe is false, and we can proceed. I’m not going to play this game where you ask me to research every single statement I make just so I have to spend two days writing a ten-sentence post – and then when I present my research, you’ll just say that you agreed with me from the start anyway.

    When it comes to how a detailed story can make an accusation more likely, I think you are onto a similar argument, but that was not what I was after. It is true that there is significant debate amongst witness experts whether a very detailed testimony makes a witness more reliable. My position is that it probably does not make the witness either more or less reliable. However, what that debate is about is things like the witness claiming to remember a lot of details such as people’s clothing, facial expressions, exactly how the furniture was placed, etc. Everyone agrees that when such claims can be confirmed, it increases the reliability of the testimony at least to the extent that it is directly relevant. For instance, if the witness describes a person’s clothing in great detail, and this can be confirmed from a surveillance camera, this should make us more likely to believe that the witness saw the person in question. It should also make us more likely to believe that the witness has an accurate memory of related observations.

    However, some claim that even if not confirmed, many details or a ‘vivid’ testimony makes the testimony more reliable. Others claim that a witness claiming to remember too many details has probably added details from fantasy, whether consciously or subconsciously. I think that for extremely detailed testimonies the latter is more likely to be true, but I don’t think it damages the core points of a testimony that much, because I believe this usually is not done on purpose.

    However, my point was not about any extreme level of detail, but about having any detail at all. I think that was pretty clear from my original post. Without any detail, no claim can be disproven. As soon as any detail is given, it might be. If a date and place is given, the accused may have an alibi. If a witness is named, that witness may deny the story. If a rape is said to have occured in a double bed, it may be shown that the room had only a single bed. If the rapist is said to have had an unusually small penis, that may be shown to be false. If the accuser says that the rapist was aided by a unicorn, the entire claim can be questioned.

    Now, I would say that if the accuser says that she remembers that the rapist had two birthmarks over the right nipple, one under the left nipple, and three around the navel, and that turns out to be inaccurate, I would not make much of that. Such details can easily get confused in memory. However, the main, central points about what was supposed to have happened will help us judge the reliability of the claim.

  106. freemage says

    1. Because more people know about famous people (duh), and someone making up a rape accusation against a specific person must know about that person, there are more people who can accuse a famous person than a random person. And there are more people who can imagine themselves having a real or imagined grudge against such a person. It is also known that many otherwise sane people tend to imagine themselves having a sort of relationship with a famous person, which can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviour targeted at that person, including allegations of rape.
    2. Famous people are often rich, and even when they are not rich, they are often perceived to be so, especially by the uninformed. Someone hoping to get money through a lawsuit or settlement may therefore make a false rape allegation.

    1: However, famous people are generally more well-tracked than others, making their own movements easier to prove. So, a false rape allegation against a famous person is most likely going to at least require actual time spent alone in a room with them; against Joe Schmoe, OTOH, all that is needed is picking a time when the person was likely to be alone to claim the incident happened.

    2: Of course, if the claim is made in a fashion which would not enrich the person (such as, oh, a third-person approach in an effort to remain anonymous), this element not only gets blown to hell, but also, as I noted before, becomes a negative factor–the famous person’s wealth means that they are more likely to have the resources to aggressively defend themselves.

    Since you didn’t seem to get my point about bias earlier, I’ll be explicit. When running your “Bayesian Analysis”, you seem to be deliberately selecting which factors you consider, and how you frame them, in order to create a stronger case for your apparent desired outcome (namely, finding in favor of the accused over the accuser).

  107. Greta Christina says

    I have obviously read the available summaries such as the one linked to by Greta Christina above. It does not contain any claim about Shermer trying to get anyone drunk, except in the letter from Shermer’s lawyer.

    Johan Rönnblom @ #110: You have obviously not read them, or not read them carefully. Linked to in this piece, several times, and also linked to in the timeline, is this account — cited not as a report of assault but as a report corroborating the pattern of other reports of assault:

    Michael Shermer was the guest of honor at an atheist event I attended in Fall 2006; I was on the Board of the group who hosted it. It’s a very short story: I got my book signed, then at the post-speech party, Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly. I lost count of how many drinks I had. He was flirting with me and I am non-confrontational and unwilling to be rude, so I just laughed it off. He made sure my wine glass stayed full.

    And that’s the entirety of my story: Michael Shermer helped get me drunker than I normally get, and was a bit flirty. I can’t recall the details because I was intoxicated. I don’t remember how I left, but I am told that a friend took me away from the situation and home from the party. Note, I’d never gotten drunk at any atheist event before; I was humiliated by having gotten so drunk and even more ashamed that my friends had to cart me off before anything happened to me.

    BTW, you have now been asked, more than once, what evidence you would accept to provisionally believe these accusations, or at least to accept that the most parsimonious explanation is that they are very likely true… if multiple, independent, independently corroborated, consistent reports from several people won’t do it. You have neglected to answer. If you can’t answer that question, I am going to have to put your commenting here in the class of “denialist trolling,” and ban you from this blog.

  108. says

    Johan:

    What I posted was a comment on a blog, not a dissertation. It was food for discussion. If you take issue with any specific point, please tell me one that you believe is false, and we can proceed. I’m not going to play this game where you ask me to research every single statement I make just so I have to spend two days writing a ten-sentence post – and then when I present my research, you’ll just say that you agreed with me from the start anyway.

    Despite what the usual suspects would have you think, this is still a skeptical blog network. Your suppositions are not assumed to be true without evidence, nor is it up to someone else to disprove your baseless assumptions and gut instincts. When other people are having a discussion based in objective reality, with the facts and sources to back them up, they are under no obligation to treat your top-of-the-head guesses with the same weight and consideration. You seem to think that these “factors,” for which you have no justification, are somehow on-par with what other people have drawn from actual studies and research. They are not.

    I don’t care one way or another whether I convince you. Frankly, I don’t think anyone who can write as much as you have, having done as little research into the subject as you have, is worth the attempt. You’re interested and invested enough to write long blog comments for days on end, but you’re not interested enough in actually finding out what the relevant facts and figures are in the field? Why would anyone who has done the legwork treat your unsupported, unevidenced suppositions with any more respect or attention than an evolutionary biologist gives to Ray Comfort?

  109. notsont says

    When it comes to how a detailed story can make an accusation more likely, I think you are onto a similar argument, but that was not what I was after. It is true that there is significant debate amongst witness experts whether a very detailed testimony makes a witness more reliable. My position is that it probably does not make the witness either more or less reliable. However, what that debate is about is things like the witness claiming to remember a lot of details such as people’s clothing, facial expressions, exactly how the furniture was placed, etc. Everyone agrees that when such claims can be confirmed, it increases the reliability of the testimony at least to the extent that it is directly relevant. For instance, if the witness describes a person’s clothing in great detail, and this can be confirmed from a surveillance camera, this should make us more likely to believe that the witness saw the person in question. It should also make us more likely to believe that the witness has an accurate memory of related observations.

    It actually has been conclusively shown that people are not just bad at this type of detail but almost 100% inaccurate in these detail during traumatic events. I’m sure you have seen some of these videos of fake robberies where people are asked to describe the perpetrators afterwards and people even get simple things, like the color of the mask or if he was even wearing a mask, wrong. Pick any memory you have and I can assure you the small details of it are completely different than the other people who were there with you.

  110. says

    I would also stress that I have not brought up only points that seem to be very relevant to any allegations currently floating around in the skeptics community, I’m trying to see it more generally.

    Yeah, he was trying, with all his might, to see everything BUT the specific relevant facts of this particular case that are needed to explain what really happened. Yeah, Greta, you were right to ban that blithering idiot.

  111. notsont says

    Two things make me accept the accusations provisionally, One, I trust PZ not to make up something like this. and the other which is actually more compelling for me, is that I have been reading about other incidents for years, where people only hinted who it was and yet everyone seemed to know exactly who it was.

    Now if people want to victim blame and suggest women shouldn’t drink if they don’t wan’t to be taken advantage of, well I can turn that around and suggest you shouldn’t earn yourself a reputation for taking advantage of drunk women if you don’t want to be accused of things like this.

  112. says

    Greta Christina @ 114: It seems I followed that blog post only until about comment 1500, and that it was edited to add this story only after that point. At any rate, this is obviously the account that Shermer’s lawyer is referring to, as I mentioned above. However, one account is still not multiple accounts. I don’t deny that additional accounts may exist somewhere, just that you can’t expect everyone to be aware of them, or for that matter to return to old blog posts for several days just in case something has been added to them.

    As for what evidence I would consider enough to consider someone likely enough to be guilty that I believe they should be disinvited to conferences, that is a fair question. I can’t see that anyone has asked it before of me in this thread though.

    I believe Ashley Paramore’s story. I think she has very couragely given out more than enough information describing her assault. I do not think she would have needed to give so many details about how she was groped specifically, but I’m glad that she had the strength to so since I think that can be of help to others. I believe that her story is not possible to interpret as anything else than assault. I believe that her story would be unlikely to be fabricated given that she claimed multiple witnesses and she came forward to tell her story in public. From what I understand, her story has also been confirmed by the JREF, or enough so that the accused offender has been banned from future events. This would however not be necessary for me to provisionally consider her story very likely to be true and to personally disinvite the person she accused.

    I believe Karen Stolltznow’s story. Again, she has couragely stepped forward with her accusations. I believe that she has given enough details to make it clear that the person she accused stalked her. To the best of my knowledge, she has not given any details about the alleged assaults, and I do not believe she should feel any pressure to give out any such details if she does not want to share them. What she has told us about the stalking behaviour is also not extremely detailed, but it is detailed enough to leave no other possible explanation than stalking. I believe that Stolltznow’s claims of a trail of evidence should be easily disprovable if untrue, making it very unlikely that she would not possess this evidence. Thus I believe that mr Radford is guilty of at least the stalking behaviour. Given that this behaviour is serious enough that I think mr Radford should be disinvited from future events, I do not believe that there is a great public need to determine the nature of the alleged assaults. However, I am inclined to believe that something fitting that description happened, given that Stolltznow has given a very credible impression in general, and regarding the aspects of her story that are more verifiable.

    I believe that the stories Naomi Baker have related about Shermer are credible. I happen to have met Baker and I found her to have excellent judgement, to be dispassionate and nuanced, and I found no trace of her having any sort of agenda against Shermer or anyone else. The more pertinent story relates to how a close friend of Baker was harassed by Shermer. Since I have heard no details of this story, I interpret it minimally. However, I do not believe Baker would describe it as harassment unless that word was appropriate for what her friend related to her, and I do not believe Baker would have retold the story if she did not judge her friend to be credible. Thus I find it likely that Shermer did harass Baker’s friend. However, if I had not personally known Baker, I would have withheld that judgement, since the accusation is second hand and void of any details.

    When it comes to the accusation of rape against Shermer, I can see two ways that would convince me that this story is likely to be true.

    First, if a widely trusted person of good judgement was able to get in touch with at least three of the six women claimed to have been raped by Shermer and have this accusation confirmed from these women. Also, the trusted person should be able to describe that he or she has received a detailed enough account from these women of what occured that there can be no room for interpretation that what happened should be called rape. I would not think it necessary that any of these women reveal their identity or that they publicly reveal any of the details of their rape. As for who constitutes a trusted person, I would accept yourself or Karen Stolltznow to name two, but I must admit I don’t have the greatest opinion about the judgement of PZ Myers, so I would prefer someone else. This is not to say I don’t appreciate PZ Myers’ contributions to the skeptical society, it is more that I don’t consider him to be a good ‘journalist’.

    Second, if any one woman would come forward and publicly accuse Shermer of rape, and give enough details that there can be no interpretation that what she is describing should be called rape, I would be inclined to believe that. Unless she has a history of false accusations or there is something extremely improbable about her story, I would then provisionally believe that the allegations were true.

  113. says

    Tom Foss @ 115: I’m not interested in this meta-discussion. Again, if there is anything specific that I have written that you wish to question, we can proceed from there. Unless you are willing to call me wrong on any specific point, I find it disingenous of you to make claims that I would be uninformed or unknowledgeable on the general subjects covered.

  114. says

    You said you had no sources for the various “factors” you’ve provided. You’re the one who’s said that you’re uninformed on the general subjects covered. What do you think qualifies you to have a discussion with people who are thusly informed, and why should anyone see your attempt to pretend your ignorance is as good as other people’s knowledge as a willingness to actually be convinced of anything?

  115. Greta Christina says

    Johan Rönnblom @ #119: Look at the timeline. As of this writing, I count 2 people reporting they had been assaulted by Shermer; 2 people reporting they had been harassed or inappropriately approached by Shermer, 4 people saying they had been told by the victims about one or more cases of Shermer assaulting or harassing them, 1 person reporting that they personally witnessed someone being inappropriately approached by Shermer. Several of these secondary sources report having been told these stories by more than one victim. Secondary sources include not just PZ Myers, but Brian Thompson, former employee of JREF.

    As for “no room for interpretation that what happened should be called rape”: Have you been following the conversations about this? Heck, have you been following the news? If a woman gets so drunk she passes out, and multiple people have sex with her unconscious body, there are plenty of people who think this leaves “room for interpretation that what happened should be called rape.” This weaselly standard just leaves you another opportunity to move the goalposts.

    And please knock it off with the endless speculation about what does or does not make for a reliable witness, a credible report, a plausible scenario for a real allegation of rape, a plausible scenario for a false allegation of rape, etc. There are people in this conversation who are very well-informed about these questions, and have actual facts and information about them. Your uninformed speculations about these questions are fueling the false notions about what sexual harassment, assault, and rape look like — and are thus feeding the culture in which accusations of sexual harassment, assault, and rape are routinely dismissed, or subjected to more scrutiny than we would give to a claim of Bigfoot.

    I am putting you into comment moderation. This means any further comments by you will need to be reviewed by me before they’re posted. I don’t want to have to spend all my time away from the blog worrying about whether you’re spouting even more uninformed misinformation about harassment and rape into my blog. Get informed, or stop talking here.

  116. says

    As for what evidence I would consider enough to consider someone likely enough to be guilty that I believe they should be disinvited to conferences, that is a fair question. I can’t see that anyone has asked it before of me in this thread though.

    You know damn well the questin HAS BEEN ASKED, right here among other places; and you admit it’s a “fair question”…but you can’t even start thinking about answering it because it was never directed at you? Is that what you’re saying? I have to ask this because your wording is almost pure obfuscatory blather.

    And after all your tiresome hemming and hawing and handwaving, you flatly admit there’s good reason to believe ALL of the stories told here from the get-go. Which is what Greta and others have been saying all along. Does it always take you this long to process new information? At the rate you’re going, it would probably take the rest of your life to process the latest news out of Egypt — if you don’t burst a blood vessel trying to talk around it, that is.

  117. unsinkablegayatheist says

    Thank you both johan.ronnblom and sauttoron for valiantly standing up for the rule of law!
    The rational of those who sight ‘justice as a statistical percentage’ condemn both men and women who fall in the area that only a court of law , with charges, presentation of evidence, testimony, judges, and jury of their peers can best offer impartiality in rendering justice.
    This reminds me of being in church, in the old days, when gossip flew around the room faster than a ‘thawed out rattle snake’!
    The Skeptic’s ‘Court of Public Opinion’ apparently considers a horrendous crime, as rape, hit and run, spouse beating, etc, etc, a matter for rumors and timeline of events that are, in themselves, so challengeable that it just makes it all that much easier to agree with the conclusion they already ‘held in their hearts.’
    Christians use the same passion to condemn “pro-choice’, Gays shouldn’t be around children, young African males are looking for trouble, it goes on. Believing and justifying to themselves to see in the worst in people, especially those in the negative perceived sub-group like Alpha Atheists, ‘the gays, men (or women) rumored to be rapists (by 3rd party accusers), etc, etc.
    Innocent men & women go to jail, some executed, because of this type of reasoning/justification. In this case, people claim:
    “It’s just his reputation”..I GUARANTEE that you would fight for your reputation against bloggers who used this system of justice on you!
    This level of ‘less evidence’ or ‘preponderance of evidence’ is just LACK of evidence giving the judgmental types 120 posts to judge the events without being there, knowing all the different parties and their personal motivations in stating, emailing, and PZ’s blogging the accusation to thousands.

    Something is rotten in Denmark and I will wait till it is sorted out legally and confirmed or denied.

  118. says

    negative perceived sub-group like Alpha Atheists

    Hey kids, can you say “misogynist dog-whistle”?

    MISOGYNIST DOG-WHISTLE!

    Good jobs boys and girls! Tomorrow we’ll learn about racist dog-whistles!

  119. Greta Christina says

    Hey kids, can you say “misogynist dog-whistle”?

    SallyStrange @ #125: Yup. Good catch. unsinkablegayatheist is banned..

  120. says

    Second, if any one woman would come forward and publicly accuse Shermer of rape, and give enough details that there can be no interpretation that what she is describing should be called rape

    oh its that simple, to be named when talking about an extremely humiliating experience, and then give out details of the most horrible event in your life so that internet trolls can pick it apart and call you names? Yeah I am sure that they would sign up for that in a jiffy!

    You need to use some empathy. Pretend, REALLY TRY TO PRETEND, that you are in a victim’s shoes for a minute. You have been terrorized by an unwanted invasion of your body by a man who is powerful and has many friends. The memory of it surfaces unexpectedly and regularly- you re-experience aspects of the most horrifying experience you’ve ever had, your adrenaline courses through your veins and your dreams are made of that night so you don’t get a good night of sleep for a long time. You’ve seen what happens to women who come forward- the victim gets put on trial. It is hard to talk about it with *anyone*. What if no one believes you? What if no one cares that this happened and changed your life forever? Being doubted makes it harder to recover from what happened, and most people you talk to probably tell you to forget it and go on with life.

    Now picture doing what you have asked of a victim from that perspective. You are asking for something that is going to damage whoever does it, and possibly endanger them. Your standard is completely unreasonable.

  121. markr1957 says

    @skeptifem – I did exactly what you suggested a few years ago (tried seeing a situation through a woman’s eyes) and realized just how scary I have been in the past. It’s an ugly picture when you realise you can do that to someone you thought you cared about. It made me understand what “Intent isn’t magic” actually means, even though I don’t have anything like the power men like Shermer have. I just suddenly realized how scary I can be. For what it’s worth (which is so close to zero as to be barely worth saying) I am sincerely sorry for all the harm I know I’ve done. The very least I will do is try not to do it again.

  122. tess says

    @skeptifem @Johan Rönnblom

    On the subject of getting into someone else’s shoes, got to Ashleigh Paramore’s youtube. You consider her credible, yet there are horrible people saying belittling and demeaning things. Picking her story and her motivations apart. Read some of the negative comments. And imagine that they’re saying those things about you, and your horrible experience.

    Or imagine that you’re someone who’s had something different, something worse happen to them. By someone generally liked with social capital. Read those comments with the knowledge that people will say worse things about you. And think about how likely you are to make your story public.

  123. sd df says


    3) People who make false claims are very rare, especially since real victims are discouraged from reporting at all, and even some actual victims are treated as liars.”
    I don’t see how someone can say this and not be hesitant to change it with a policy of automatic belief, making the easiest way in the world to deal with someone you dislike become a rape accusation. The world where false rape accusation is an encouraged and therefore growing strategy in human interaction is not a reality. That doesn’t mean it can’t become one with misguided policies based on static analysis.

  124. Greta Christina says

    I don’t see how someone can say this and not be hesitant to change it with a policy of automatic belief, making the easiest way in the world to deal with someone you dislike become a rape accusation. The world where false rape accusation is an encouraged and therefore growing strategy in human interaction is not a reality. That doesn’t mean it can’t become one with misguided policies based on static analysis.

    sd df @ #130: Translation: If we start to believe rape victims, we might hypothetically create a world where there are more false rape accusations. And having even a hypothetical possibility of more false rape accusations is so very much more important than creating a world where there are fewer rapes. So even though rates of false accusation are very low, and rates of rape are depressingly high, let’s definitely spend a lot more time talking and worrying about false rape accusations than we do about rape.

    m-/

  125. Josie Nemo says

    Johan Rönnblom @109

    1. Because more people know about famous people (duh), and someone making up a rape accusation against a specific person must know about that person, there are more people who can accuse a famous person than a random person. And there are more people who can imagine themselves having a real or imagined grudge against such a person. It is also known that many otherwise sane people tend to imagine themselves having a sort of relationship with a famous person, which can lead to all sorts of destructive behaviour targeted at that person, including allegations of rape.
    2. Famous people are often rich, and even when they are not rich, they are often perceived to be so, especially by the uninformed. Someone hoping to get money through a lawsuit or settlement may therefore make a false rape allegation.

    1. More people know about famous people – which is reasonable enough premise, as being widely known is the core of the definition of fame. However, your speculation that more people may be willing to accuse or hold a grudge against them is irrelevant in the face of several things:

    A) Imbalance of power, which tends to make accusations (whether false or true) not worth it for the accuser, considering that there is the very real possibility that said famous person will use that power to
    i) ruin their accuser’s own reputation
    ii) seek legal recourse against their accuser
    iii) shove the accusation down the memory hole
    iv) escape legal repercussions
    v) intimidate any other possible accusers into staying quiet
    vi) all of which are extensions of common behavior of accused without fame
    vii) see also: Jimmy Savile
    This more than negates any possible gain a false accuser might get from making accusations. And it also makes it very difficult for victims to step forward, for –

    B) As it has been pointed out time and time again, seeking recourse against your rapist tends to be difficult
    i) it tends to involve a fair number of traumatic triggers – in essence, to seek legal recourse, you will be victimized again by the legal system in doing so
    ii) there are relatively few convictions of rape in comparison to plausible accusations (see elsewhere on FTB on standards of evidence, I’m not going to rehash that in this already-long comment) of rape
    iii) whether legal recourse is sought or not, the default public assumption tends towards innocence regardless of any assessments of evidence
    iv) when fame (this relates back to A) is involved, fans are involved, which can function to
    a) sway public opinion
    b) and harass the victim
    c) entirely independent of the stated wishes of the person being accused
    And so the likelihood of seeing justice done diminishes, probably roughly inversely versus fame, but even without fame, that likelihood starts low.

    C) The reasons you give for wanting to make a false accusation of rape are not examples of rational behavior, especially considering the previously stated costs. The implications of that in the context of your argument (seriously) give me a headache, as you’re asking to have it both ways – your premises argue that there ARE rational reasons, but your conclusions state that they must be

    not mentally sound

    that is in, an irrational state of mind. In that you also claim that

    I doubt there is anyone in the skeptics community who is really famous enough to make this all that relevant.

    Then why bring up fame, other than as a sneaky way to dismiss how fame does apply in the skeptic community? In the context of a community, prominent members are indeed famous and so fame does indeed apply as a factor, just not in the ways that you argued fame relates to rape.

    2. Lawsuits aren’t magic money trees – especially considering current movements in tort reform, gaining money via a lawsuit isn’t easy

    A) If your accusations are false, you likely will
    i) not win the lawsuit
    ii) not win the lawsuit they will likely bring against you in return
    iii) you will still be out the money you spent on your lawyer when you lose, even if there are no further penalties, unless you’re lucky enough to have a pro bono lawyer

    B) If your accusations are true, you still will
    i) be traumatized again
    ii) deal with the possibility of a counter-suit
    iii) deal with potential costs
    a) both financial and
    b) social (see a fair bit of my response to 1) on this
    iv) have a hard time winning your case
    v) not necessarily feel better about things even if you do win

    So monetary gain is also not generally a rational motivator for seeking financial recourse. Disturbingly enough, it may be the rapist that profits from such legal action.

    I have to conclude you’re not arguing in good faith. If I’m mistaken in that conclusion, I suggest you actually do some reading on the topic of rape. And I don’t mean stuff written by rape apologists. And on fallacies, something I recommend to everyone, regardless of how sound or unsound their arguments are. Speaking of which, I have some reading to do.

  126. Paul Zimmerle says

    Minor typo here:
    And the court of public opinion, and of of personal opinion,

    Thank you for doing this post. We all need to hear about this stuff.

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