Look at the specifics

Ron Lindsay wrote a post commenting on Ben Radford’s post. It’s good.

The concluding paragraphs:

That false reports happen is not disputed. Nor does anyone dispute that for the individual falsely accused, it’s a very unfortunate, sometimes tragic, situation. But is this a widespread problem? That’s the key question. One might think so from the attention Ben has given to it and his use of the adverb “often,” but, actually, the evidence seems to indicate it is not a widespread problem. For example, a British study last year indicated that there were 35 prosecutions for false accusations of rape during a 17-month period while there were 5,681 prosecutions for rape in the same period of time. The suggestion that false accusations of rape are commonplace does not appear to be supported by the evidence. Moreover, this suggestion can be very harmful if it persuades people that reports of rape should be treated with special suspicion.

Here’s the bottom line. All accusations of sexual assault should be treated seriously and investigated thoroughly. There is no a priori justification for treating the accuser with suspicion instead of compassion. The determination of whether a sexual assault actually occurred should be based on the evidence uncovered during the investigation of that case, not on generalizations about the behavior of people derived from other, distinct cases — however prominent or obscure.

That’s actually quite a good recommendation for a lot of practices and situations: you need to look at the specifics, and think about them, rather than generalizing about categories and then acting accordingly. You might even say that’s good skeptical practice. Never mind speculations, never mind what patterns you see, never mind stories; consider the particulars.

You know what else that’s good advice for? Treating people like equals. Never mind treating women like fluffy bunnies who are interested in shoes and shopping and nothing else; treat individual women as individuals, not as examples of a Feminine Essence. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to other categories.


  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I like the new Slymetwit meme that “the FTBullies have gotten to Ron Lindsay!” Huh, so it can’t just be that he read Radford’s post, facepalmed, and on his own, decided to fisk it? It has to be a big conspiracy? Whatevs.

  2. screechymonkey says

    Huh. And here I thought that the FTBullies were a spent force who nobody took seriously any more.

    Remind me: are we at war with Eastasia or not?

  3. says

    At the same time, there’s good reason not to treat each case as if it happened (if it did happen) in an isolated vacuum. People act and react within cultures and societies and so forth. If DaShawn Smith is well qualified and experienced but gets no interview, it’s a good bet that there’s some racism (unconscious or not) going on. Now, it may be that there was someone so qualified that no one else was interviewed. It could be nepotism and the boss hired his neighbour’s kid who is also black. It could be that HR is looking for more gender diversity, while racial diversity doesn’t happen to be an issue, and all the interviewed candidates were women. It could be they thought Smith was overqualified for the position. But *we know* that systemic racism exists and that people with “Black names” are discriminated against in hiring. That’s evidence that should be considered when making our judgements about what’s going on in the world. In the absence of other evidence to the contrary, why shouldn’t we–at least tentatively–conclude that this DaShawn Smith case is just following a pattern common in our culture?

    And what then, if in addition to that, we have evidence that the company in question put out an ad last year that was subtly racist? And we look at the board and see only white people? And we walk through the company’s office and the only person of colour we can find is mopping the floor? Yep, still they might not have interviewed Smith because of some other reason, but more and more that quack is quacking. It’s not sceptical to refuse to breathe the word duck as though the real world requires absolute certainty.

  4. kaboobie says

    I’m a very infrequent commenter here. I did happen to email Ron Lindsay to express my feelings about Radford’s post. I provided him with a link to actual statistics on false rape accusations, which he used in his rebuttal and thanked me for in his email reply to me.

    Ooh, do I get to be an official FTBully now? Will there be t-shirts at WiS3?

  5. screechymonkey says

    One other point about the “false accusation” statistics: the “false accusations” found by most studies consist mostly of instances of “the victim was raped by someone, but the wrong person was accused” as opposed to “there was no victim because the sex was consensual (or didn’t happen at all).”

    Which is certainly a kind of false accusation, so the studies aren’t wrong to include it, and it’s not wrong to cite those numbers if they fit the point you’re making. But if you’re trying to make the point that “there’s a lot of false accusations because women have sex they regret and then cry rape,” then you can’t rely on data that’s measuring a different category.

  6. Maureen Brian says

    This may be of interest – http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/28/john-worboys-victims-met-police-compensation

    Worboys is believed to have raped over 100 women. We don’t know how many went to the police immediately. We do know that for 5 or 6 years such reports went into the “false allegations” column if they were recorded at all.

    Harriet Wistrich, the women’s solicitor, was wonderfully scathing on the telly about the Met having a quite brilliant policy and protocol for investigating rape but not remembering to tell their front line coppers about it. Then they made themselves look even worse by the way they defended this case.

    Sort of undermining of Mr Radford’s piece, innit?

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