Privilege, Dialogue, Harassment, and the Anti-Availability Heuristic

The Availability Heuristic is a well-known cognitive bias that primes people to more readily believe something when they can easily come up with examples. Of the cognitive biases that I’ve encountered among rationalists in the skeptical and atheist communities, this bias is the one I’m most capable of coming up with examples. I am therefore primed to believe more readily that atheists and skeptics are not immune to this bias — myself included.

But there’s a little-discussed inverse to this bias, where examples are generally filtered out of one’s daily existence because they don’t impact on you directly, and thus, you are less ready to believe someone claiming to experience them. I call this the anti-availability heuristic, though I’m sure there are better names for it.
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The further hyper-skepticism stalling our conversation

Last year, when the bugs crawling out from under the rock that had been overturned several months prior by Rebecca Watson continued unabated, and pretty much everyone was shocked that that many creepie-crawlies resided in our vaunted skeptical community, I wrote a series of posts on the whole ordeal called The Problem with Privilege. One of those posts dealt with the rampant and repeated demands for evidence regarding the incident that Rebecca had called creepy — as though recounting a story and saying “guys, don’t do that, it’s creepy” was some kind of misandrist clarion call, which must be rebuffed lest it result in fewer pick-up artists getting their dicks wet.

So these trolls, being part of the skeptical community (apparently), used our strengths against us by attacking the claim on its merits, since the claim “I was tipsy in an elevator at 4am and a guy followed me in and asked me to his room” doesn’t meet the high standards of evidence we use in the skeptical community when it comes to extraordinary claims. Never mind that it was a perfectly ordinary claim about someone’s experience with a slightly-offputting person that did not result in any physical harm. Specifically, I characterized this compulsion as hyper-skepticism, along the same lines as 9/11 truthers, birthers, and other conspiracy theorists.

We’re now seeing the exact same tactic being used again in the wake of a conflagration that Jen McCreight accidentally set off when she casually mentioned at the Women In Secularism CFI conference that female speakers occasionally warn one another of potentially creepy male speakers.
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