“Implicit consent”—women can be stripped if they’re dancing at a bar

This is an appalling story. Those “Girls Gone Wild” videos are already about the sleaziest things you’ll find advertised on mainstream TV: they are basically made by getting young women drunk to reduce their inhibitions and than urging them to expose themselves for ‘fame’ and titillation, and convincing them to do something stupid in front of a camera. Usually it’s a case of consensual stupidity (which should never be arousing, except for the fact that even sober guys can be awfully mindless about that sort of thing), but sometimes it crosses the line into assault.

STLToday reports that the woman, identified only as Jane Doe, was dancing in at the former Rum Jungle bar in 2004 when someone reached up and pulled her tank top down, exposing her breasts to the “Girls Gone Wild” camera. Jane Doe, who was 20 at the time the tape was made, is now living in Missouri with her husband and two children. She only found out about the video in 2008, when a friend of her husband’s saw the “Girls Gone Wild Sorority Orgy” video and recognized her face. He called up her husband, and in what has got to be the most awkward conversation ever, informed him that his wife’s breasts were kinda famous.

The woman sued Girls Gone Wild for $5 million in damages. After deliberating for just 90 minutes on Thursday, the St. Louis jury came back with a verdict in favor of the smut peddlers. Patrick O’Brien, the jury foreman, explained later to reporters that they figured if she was willing to dance in front of the photographer, she was probably cool with having her breasts on film. They said she gave implicit consent by being at the bar, and by participating in the filming – though she never signed a consent form, and she can be heard on camera saying “no, no” when asked to show her breasts.

Got that ladies? If you’re willing to dance, you’re willing to be stripped of your clothes. And presumably we can carry this a little further and reason that if you’re naked in a bar, you’ve consented to sex, although fortunately it did not go that far in this case. I can oppose this decision for the purely selfish reason that I don’t women to be discouraged from dancing happily in public, and for the reason that this is a gross injustice, that porn merchants’ bottom line has just been declared more important than a woman’s right to privacy.

How can you have implied consent when the woman is plainly saying “no”?

How can you have implied consent when the woman has her top forcibly pulled down, and she reacts by instantly pulling it back up?

Being at a party and dressing attractively in clothing that displays cleavage does not imply that you’ve abandoned all expectations of any modesty at all.

As you might guess, skeptical women are clear that this was a violation, and they can reasonably feel threatened by such a decision, but even worse — they can feel threatened by fellow skeptics and rationalists who react inappropriately to this case. I was left feeling rather queasy about the discussion on the JREF forums. A good number of people did respond appropriately, deploring the decision, but quite a few others react by either making jokes about breasts (way to make women welcome, guys), or by legalistic analyses that justify it in various ways, which all boil down to the “she was asking for it” defense, with a bit of the “she was too greedy to ask for so much compensation” argument.

Look. It’s simple. Violations of personal liberty are wrong. There is no reasonable excuse to justify pulling someone else’s clothing off in public, against their will. There is no reasonable excuse for profiting off such actions. Don’t even try to defend it, accept it and move on. Don’t make jokes about the inherent humor in assaulting women. Don’t make it easier for women to be made uncomfortable in the presence of men.

And most of all, do not ever purchase any of those execrable “Girls Gone Wild” videos. They are one of the clearest examples of violations of the dignity of women. I understand that as porn goes, they are fairly soft-core, but their main appeal seems to be that they celebrate the humiliation and manipulation of women under conditions of diminished capacity and judgment.

There has been a lot of discussion of “dicks” in the skeptical community lately, where “dicks” are people who are rude and brash. I think we’ve been using the wrong definition. If you’re someone who does any of the above, or who thinks with a pretense of calm rationality that we can justify what happened to that woman, then you are a DICK with capital D-I-C-K.

One of the things I love about having a comments section with a reputation as being a vicious piranha tank is that I can open up this subject and I know there will be a few True Dicks who will make an appearance, but I also know that the people here, the lower-case dicks who get accused of shrillness and discourtesty, will shred the flesh from their bones. And that makes me feel a little better.

Egregious comma abuse

We’re about to leave lovely Vancouver to return to Kent, Washington, so must leave you with something awful to chew on for a while. This is is a beautiful example of why creationists can be so stupid: spelling and grammar errors throughout, misrepresentations of the actual science, and non-stop idiocy. For instance, it is not true that squid, octopus, and cuttlefish have all been found in the Cambrian; the coleoids diverged from a common ancestor in the late Cambrian or early Ordovician. This does not mean that modern coleoids were present in the Cambrian. We’ve got a pretty good idea of what the cephalopod ancestor would have looked like.

It’s Saturday morning. That can’t possibly damage your brain any more than my late night of wild partying with Vancouver skeptics could have possibly done, it’s merely put us on an equal footing now.

Could Virginia Heffernan possibly be more wrong?

That would be tough. She’s written a diatribe in the NY Times on the Pepsico debacle, and it isn’t just that she doesn’t like many of the scienceblogs (including yours truly), but that she gets the facts wrong.

This was just bizarre.

I was nonplussed by the high dudgeon of the so-called SciBlings. The bloggers evidently write often enough for ad-free academic journals that they still fume about adjacencies, advertorial and infomercials. Most writers for “legacy” media like newspapers, magazines and TV see brush fires over business-editorial crossings as an occupational hazard. They don’t quit anytime there’s an ad that looks so much like an article it has to be marked “this is an advertisement.”

Errm, many of the early departures in the wake of Pepsico were science journalist/bloggers — and the impression I got was that they were more concerned about the ethics of advertorials than the pure science bloggers. And the problem with the Pepsico blog was that it was an ad that looked much like an article but wasn’t marked “this is an advertisement”.

There is much in her rant that is clearly outrage that some of us (uh, yours truly again) have no sympathy for religious excuses, or indulge in “religion-baiting” as she calls it, but I’ll pass over that — atheist-haters are dime-a-dozen, and it’s not even particularly notable. But this final bit is absurd and discredits her completely: she lists some blogs she favors for her version of ‘science’.

For science that’s accessible but credible, steer clear of polarizing hatefests like atheist or eco-apocalypse blogs. Instead, check out scientificamerican.com, discovermagazine.com and Anthony Watts’s blog, Watts Up With That?

The first two are fine, but seriously: the pretentious weatherman who jiggers the evidence and makes up stuff about climate to deny the facts? If only she would have also mentioned a creationist blog or two, it would have made my day.

Skip Heffernan’s ignorant noise. David Dobbs has a more judicious reply.

I know about the evil ads


We are currently suffering from a surfeit of cheesiness in the ad blocks being served up — the example to the right is just one of many horrors, including ads for $cientology, various Christian and creationist groups, and even some medical quackery. Although the “build an ideal woman” does appeal to the mad scientist in me, it’s really just a tease to get your name and various bits of information into one of those “win an ipad” scams. Don’t click on it!

Actually, don’t click on any of the despicable ads. You don’t need to; the ad space is sold on a per impression, not a per click, basis, so all you have to do is load Scienceblogs and you’ve earned us a bit of money. So just ignore them altogether.

Also, take some comfort in the fact that the bad ads are hilariously misplaced — this is not the audience for creationist hucksters. So all they are doing is transferring money from kooks and quacks to the pockets of people presenting the science that opposes them.

Hovind runs a poll

How can I resist? Eric Hovind does the usual trick of putting two reasonable answers on it to split the rational vote, but I think a good goal would be to simply make both of them crush the stupid creationist answer.

What do you believe about evolution?

It’s a religion. 46%
* It’s a fact! 43%
* It’s a reasonable scientific theory. 11%

Fly, my pretties! Destroy the poll!

Corruption rules: that poll was utterly demolished in yet another way. After many votes were accumulated, Hovind changed the wording of the question to “What do you believe about creation?” without changing the answers or the tally of votes. Eric is following in the dishonest footsteps of his jailbird father, I see.

Excellent interview with Craig Venter

Spiegel has a wonderful interview with Venter. The more I hear from Venter, the more I like him; he’s very much a no-BS sort of fellow. He’s the guy who really drove the human genome project to completion, and he’s entirely open about explaining that its medical significance was grossly overstated.

SPIEGEL: So the significance of the genome isn’t so great after all?

Venter: Not at all. I can tell you from my own experience. I put my own genome on the Internet. People had the notion this was the scariest thing out there. But what happened? Nothing.

There really was a lot of hysteria in the early days about how the insurance companies would abuse the information in the genome, and there was also the GATTACA dystopia. None of it has, and I daresay none of it will, come to pass.

Venter: That’s what you say. And what else have I learned from my genome? Very little. We couldn’t even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn’t that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle ‘yes/no’ answers in the genome. “Yes, you’ll have cancer.” Or “No, you won’t have cancer.” But that’s just not the way it is.

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely.

SPIEGEL: Did it at least provide us with some new knowledge?

Venter: It certainly has. Eleven years ago, we didn’t even know how many genes humans have. Many estimated that number at 100,000, and some went as high as 300,000. We made a lot of enemies when we claimed that there appeared to be considerably fewer — probably closer to the neighborhood of 40,000! And then we found out that there are only half as many. I was just in Stockholm for the 200th anniversary of the Karolinska Institute. The first presentation was about the many achievements the decoding of the genome has brought. Then I spoke and said that this century will be remembered for how little, and not how much, happened in this field.

Hmmm…I seem to recall that Venter’s company was one that was trying to patent an inflated number of genes, which contradicts what he’s claiming here. But otherwise, yes, the HGP isn’t yet a source of useful medical information, but it’s a trove of scientific information; I’d also add that the technology race put a lot of useful techniques in our hands.

Venter: Exactly. Why did people think there were so many human genes? It’s because they thought there was going to be one gene for each human trait. And if you want to cure greed, you change the greed gene, right? Or the envy gene, which is probably far more dangerous. But it turns out that we’re pretty complex. If you want to find out why someone gets Alzheimer’s or cancer, then it is not enough to look at one gene. To do so, we have to have the whole picture. It’s like saying you want to explore Valencia and the only thing you can see is this table. You see a little rust, but that tells you nothing about Valencia other than that the air is maybe salty. That’s where we are with the genome. We know nothing.

Exactly! Traits are products of overlapping networks of genes. Venter also explains that a lot of the effects of genes are developmental, so you can’t expect to be able to take a pill to correct something that went wrong in the assembly process in the embryo.

Here’s my favorite exchange from the interview.

Venter: Yes, and I find them frightening. I can read your genome, you know? Nobody’s been able to do that in history before. But that is not about God-like powers, it’s about scientific power. The real problem is that the understanding of science in our society is so shallow. In the future, if we want to have enough water, enough food and enough energy without totally destroying our planet, then we will have to be dependent on good science.

SPIEGEL: Some scientist don’t rule out a belief in God. Francis Collins, for example …

Venter: … That’s his issue to reconcile, not mine. For me, it’s either faith or science – you can’t have both.

SPIEGEL: So you don’t consider Collins to be a true scientist?

Venter: Let’s just say he’s a government administrator.

Oh, snap.

Catholic taxonomy

The peculiarities of dietary restrictions by the religious are always entertaining. Catholics have their own weird practices: here’s a bit of strange information from a Catholic agony aunt forum.

Do alligators count as fish?
As a Catholic who observes the custom of abstaining from meat on Fridays, I would like to know if alligator would be considered meat or fish. Recently, on a Friday, I was in a local restaurant where I was sharing a dinner of alligator. I thought upon this, and decided, as a reptile, alligator would fall into the fish category. I hope I’m not sounding too scrupulous, but if it is considered meat, I will avoid it on Fridays in the future.

Uh-oh. This woman made a judgment on Catholic theology without consulting a priest. Doesn’t she know she could be getting an eternity in hell for her plate full of alligator? Fortunately, it turns out that going meatless still allows one to eat all the reptiles, amphibians, and insects you might want.

An alligator is certainly not a fish, and it certainly does have meat. But the custom of abstaining from meat on Fridays is abstinence from the flesh of mammals and birds. Fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc., are exempt from this. Since an alligator is a reptile, those who abstain from meat on Fridays are free to eat alligator if they wish.


Does anybody ever just ask why these strange eating habits are a part of the doctrine? Does god like birds and mammals so much that he doesn’t want you to eat them on one day? Would he really be that pissed if you had a cheeseburger on Friday?