Innocent even after found guilty

Now I’m getting chewed out for questioning the innocence of Jerry Sandusky.

The best response is this one: cases of sexual assault we can now add “found guilty at trial” to the list of kinds of evidence that are unacceptable in making any judgements on the accused. Got it.

Quick! Reopen all the molestation cases against Catholic priests! Those boys be lyin’!


  1. says

    Good grief, Fred Crews (mentioned at the wordpress article) is the Frederick C. Crews who wrote one of my favorite books, The Pooh Perplex. And its sequel, which is slower going.

    The World: Smallness of.

  2. lotharloo says

    On other shocking news, Jerry Coyne has declared his support for “teaching the controversy” after he read a book called ‘The Genesis Flood’ by H. M. Morris. Jerry Coyne also said that this Morris guy really wrote a well-researched book and he even cites old and obscure essays written by some J.H. Christ collected in a large proceedings called “Biblia”, editors Paul and John. It sure seems like Jerry Coyne’s opinions are well-researched!

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    wait, what? Jerry Coyne wants to teach the controversy?

    I’m going to have to look for that reference. I wasn’t interested in reading the defense of Sandusky. Maybe I should just to be properly informed, but … ick.

  4. emergence says

    Fuck, Coyne really is dense. Apparently the only comment worth reading on the last thread was that one by Pendergast or whatever his name is defending his book. Apparently none of the comments pointing out how skepticism is always used by people like Coyne to defend those with power and attack those with less of it aren’t worth considering.

    Also, when your “skepticism” of the accounts of the victims of an alleged sexual predator are based on myths about how rape and sexual assault victims behave, you’re not being a skeptic, you’re being a denier.

  5. John Morales says

    Well, Coyne wrote that he has not actually read the book himself, but “after reading a new article in Skeptic magazine by Fred Crews” he thinks it’s pretty convincing, and thus exhorts others to read it. He does disclose that Crews is a friend of his.

    This bit quite amused me:

    We’ll never know if Sandusky did what he was jailed for, but remember that conviction in America requires guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

    Since Sandusky was in fact convicted in America, it follows from this claim that he was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

  6. John Morales says


    Apparently the only comment worth reading on the last thread was that one by Pendergast or whatever his name is defending his book.

    More spruiking than defending, but you are wrong; it is not apparent.

    The relevant quote is “there’s one comment worth reading”, which does not entail it’s the only one worth reading.

    I also like the very last portion of Coyne’s OP:

    There’s nothing dishonorable about being a skeptic when there’s something to be skeptical about. Something in the air these days has led people to immediately equate accusations with truths, and this is when we must be the most careful.

    (Prendergast’s book is essentially an accusation, no?)

  7. Hj Hornbeck says

    I like to give a shout-out to yazikus, who’s been making some excellent comments over at Coyne’s blog. I agree with emergence @5, it looks like Prendergast’s mostly relying on stock sexual assault apologetics. I think I’ll whip up a post on the “recovered memory” angle, though…

  8. microraptor says

    Let’s compare and contrast this to Coyne’s statements regarding the guilt of OJ Simpson, who was found not guilty of murder.

  9. says

    I think I found the underlying theme. After we moved the goalpost to “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law*”, they are now establishing that the courts are so afraid of finding the accused in such cases “not guilty”** that they will automatically find them guilty.
    *That’s why nobody ever broke into my car. See, there was no suspect, no trial, no verdict. The window simply crumbled and the bag dematerialised.

    ** As good skeptics they have, of course, validated that thesis by looking up the relevant statistics.

    Wow, those comments. The young man who witnessed an assault couldn’t have witnessed it because if he had he would have done x.

    Because we are all well prepared for “walking in on a beloved and powerful man fucking a kid” and fight-freeze-flight reactions don’t happen.
    But there’s a million innocent excuses for whatever Sadhursky did.
    If you want a study of motivated reasoning, that’s a good place to start.
    Skeptics my ass.

  10. says

    I’m also entertained by all those comments about how, as boys, they would be naked when taking showers after gym, and how they’d roughhouse and snap towels at each other…apparently, there’s not much difference between that and Coach giving you a blow job.

  11. Ed Seedhouse says

    Well, I guess the theory is that if little boys weren’t running around naked (which we made them do in the first place) and were’t so gosh darned cute, we manly, manly men would leave them alone. But as they are we can’t be held responsible if we can’t keep our hands off them.

    Or some such thing…

  12. jrkrideau says

    I haven’t read Pendergrast’s book

    One of the things I have learned from reading secondary sources on historical cooking is that you should never trust a secondary source that does not include the primary, since you have no way of knowing what liberties the author may have taken in his “interpretation” of the recipe.

    David Friedman

  13. says

    He was convicted on 45 charges; is the skeptical position that induced memories might have been a factor in one or more of the charges, but not all 45? In which case, so what?

    Another problem is that “the witnesses changed their stories” – that’s not entirely intellectually honest. Some of the stories initially downplayed what happened and the victims opened up more about events as the investigation continued. That doesn’t sound like induced memory as much as a well-run investigation. There are any number of cases that start with “I didn’t do it!” and end with “OK, yeah, I did it” under examination. That doesn’t invalidate the case!

  14. John Morales says

    Stephen Mills:

    Innocent even after found guilty

    Really? That someone “found guilty at trial” in the U.S. criminal justice system might actually not be guilty is not exactly a stretch.

    It is snark; consider the featured quote in the OP:
    “ cases of sexual assault we can now add “found guilty at trial” to the list of kinds of evidence that are unacceptable in making any judgements on the accused. Got it.”

    Point is, that someone “found guilty at trial” in the U.S. criminal justice system is an additional datum — it should increase the odds that the person found guilty indeed is, not be discounted.

    As Marcus notes above, the insinuation is that the trial was flawed because it depended on “recovered memories”. Did it really?

  15. John Morales says

    Stephen, it should be considered a good or bad reason in proportion to the (estimated) rate of trials which yield the wrong verdict (excluding the neutral case of 50%).

  16. John Morales says


    If 80% of verdicts are correct then assuming a verdict is likely correct in any particular reason is why we get the criminal justice system we have.

    But that’s not what I wrote; I wrote about proportionality, not certitude. If 80% of all verdicts are correct then assuming an arbitrary verdict is 80% likely to be correct is reasonable, absent other information. Again, it’s not a determinant, it’s a factor.

  17. says

    Not all verdicts are created equal. Based on how the playing field is slanted in the US, the conviction of a wealthy white beloved sports coach employed by an enormously powerful college based on testimony by multiple victims and colleagues holds considerably more water than, say, the conviction of a poor person of color on drug possession charges based on police testimony in…well, anywhere.

    It’s possible that Sandusky is innocent and that this is all a terrible miscarriage of justice, but if the case were as cut-and-dried as these reviews seem to make it out to be, one would think Sandusky’s lawyers would have been able to convince the judge on appeal.

    It is very interesting, after so many years of being told that we can’t come to a conclusion about sexual misconduct until after due process and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law (unless we’re concluding something about a woman who was the subject of a settled civil suit), we learn that the goalposts may move further still. As long as the accused is a wealthy white man, of course.

  18. pita says

    I don’t know, if it’s really true what he claims that the conviction was based mostly on “recovered memories,” I’m a little hesitant. Recovered memories are notoriously unreliable, (see the “Satanic Panic” in the 80s) so I’m not inclined to believe a conviction based on that alone. But I’m disinclined to believe in any conviction generally, our criminal justice system is hot garbage.

  19. JP says

    Our criminal justice system is fucked up.

    Yep. Irrevocably. That’s why I’m a prison abolitionist. (Anybody else?)

    (I should clarify that I do think we need to separate the few Ted Bundys of the world from other people, but the goal should be sequestration, not punishment, which never works and is sadistic and inhumane.)

  20. A. Noyd says

    Stephen Mills (#20)

    That someone “found guilty at trial” in the U.S. criminal justice system might actually not be guilty is not exactly a stretch.

    Learn the context of the discussion before you barge in, because you don’t appear to get what that quote is referencing.

    See, the defenders of sex abusers love to wail about the dangers of “convicting” accused abusers in “the court of public opinion.” They go on and on and on about how, in order for rational people like themselves to believe the victims, the victims must seek “real” justice by taking their abuser to court and getting a conviction.

    So now we have a case where the sex abuser’s victims did exactly that and—surprise, surprise—it’s still not good enough. The defenders of sex abusers, despite their claim that this would be sufficient to get them to believe victims, are still clinging to their “skepticism.”

    The bit you’re taking issue with is merely calling out the defenders for moving the damn goalposts.

  21. vucodlak says

    That’s why I’m a prison abolitionist. (Anybody else?)

    Agreed completely. No more punishment, ever. It’s worse than useless.

    Ideally, I’d like for violent offenders to be housed in safe, humane (no more torture or dehumanization) facilities entirely devoted to rehabilitation. As you mentioned, it may never be safe to release some, like serial killers, but no one should be declared a hopeless case. We would also have to continue providing support for offenders once they’re released. We can’t abandon people once they’re out.

    As for Sandusky, I’ve yet to see an argument against his guilt that isn’t the same old shit that gets used against sexual abuse victims every single time.

  22. JP says

    @vucodlak: Right on.

    I certainly think Sandusky is guilty. I am just saying that, even with a pedophile, what do we do, lock them up for a while in horrible conditions to punish them and then let them out? Not that I know exactly what rehabilitation would entail; confronting them with what survivors go through might be a start. (I am a survivor of sexual assault and it has contributed to my PTSD, along with the suicide of my father as a kid and other things.)

    But prisons generally do no good.

    I mean, I dunno, Sandusky might be one of those people who in an ideal society, even, should be kept away from people, but punishment for its own sake is fucked up.

  23. unclefrogy says

    and you wonder why the the system of justice is fucked up. this particular thread has gone some way to illustrate some of the thinking that got us there . Blind justice my ass, motivated thinking more like. I f i am not mistaken there was at last a confession and an apology and a whole lot of victims and witnesses and corroborating evidence not all of it was from young boys either.
    There are cases of wrongful conviction the “Innocence Project” is a very good public demonstration of that but unless there was a deliberate effort to save the reputation of someone else not named in which it would be a voluntary act and maybe misguided, that may make a nice story but I do not think you could get that many people to “Keep A Secret” ffor very long. This is not a case of wrongful conviction to argue skepticism over.

  24. Vivec says

    Given that Sandusky was a prominent white guy with no small amount of social and financial capital, I’m not really willing to buy that our Criminal Justice system’s proclivity for disproportionately criminalizing the poor and people of color is a good reason to be skeptical of Sandusky’s guilty verdict.

  25. JP says

    I also have two little nephews, and I just cannot understand what in tarnation’s name would even enter into somebody’s head to even imagine little boys as “sexual partners.” It’s just utterly outside of my ken.

  26. methuseus says

    @JP and vucodlak:
    I agree with you generally, especially re violent offenders. My one caveat is those rich assholes who caused the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown; one part of me thinks they deserve punishment for punishment’s sake, but that may be because almost nobody (possibly nobody in fact) actually was punished for what happened. My thoughts were different in the immediate aftermath; I wanted them brought to justice, but maybe not do adamant about punishment in the end.

  27. says

    Stephen Mills
    Way to miss the point of the discussion. It is not a question of whether or not the US justice system is particularly working, but about the ever-moving goalpost of when we are allowed to believe that somebody sexually assaulted someone.

  28. =8)-DX says

    @lotharloo #40
    Sadly, yes (he retweeted a link to the article saying “Frederick Crews strikes another carefully aimed blow for sanity.” here.)

    No leaders, no heroes.

  29. Steve Bruce says

    Well Coyne has to be the most clueless and least self aware of all the New atheist dudebros. At this point he is just a lapdog for people like Sam Harris and Shermer, basically agreeing with and defending their positions on literally everything, with the excuse of free speech and ‘skepticism’.

  30. says

    To me, the whole “recovered memory” theory and links to “satanic panic” or indeed other real miscarriages of justice involving sexual abuse of children thing strikes me as a mix of motivated reasoning, conspiracy theorist behaviour and a variation of the good old “false accusations exist, therefore everything needs to be treated like a false accusation”.
    I’d like to see how they reconcile the “community frenzy” part of the satanic panic with the fact that indeed there was a community uproar -in favour of Sandusky and Paterno.

  31. Derek Vandivere says

    #42 / Riet – that’s basically the gist of the book and article, as I understand it. They assert that the conviction was mostly obtained with testimony generated by regressive therapy (basically hypnosis, and pseudo science). I don’t know to what extent the convinction was based on dodgy testimony, but if it’s a high percentage it’s appropriate to question how valid the conviction is (as it was for the Satanic daycare center in the 80s or those girls in Salem in the 17th century).

    Which, of course, is a separate question of whether he’s really guilty. I think he most probably is, but to be honest don’t care enough about the case to read a whole book about it.

  32. says

    Sandusky confessed. So, that’s one data-point.

    The main kerfuffle was regarding what everyone else (Paterno, Penn State, et al) knew about Sandusky’s crimes, and when they knew. Briefly, the situation roughly resembles the Roy Moore/Shopping Mall situation: there were multiple warnings, Sandusky was told to stay away from the kids, situations we re-arranged, and Sandusky kept assaulting young boys. The big trial was not about whether Sandusky was guilty, but whether the rest of the sportsball franchise at Penn State had abetted him – that was an issue because some of the organizations involved are required to report such things, but didn’t. Freeh’s big investigation was to uncover the degree of complicity of Penn State and by extension Joe Paterno.

    The “false memories” bullshit is, uh, bullshit. Some of the evidence in the trial was things like: another person walking in and Sandusky was performing oral sex on a victim. Are we supposed to believe that the witness is also suffering from “false memories” rather than corroborating the victim’s story? That’s not how induced false memories work.

    I suspect that these “skeptics” have spent absolutely no effort thinking about the case, the evidence, or how it played out in court. It’s not how to “skeptic”, really.

    Furthermore, when someone says something like: “the justice system is so fucked up I am inclined to disbelieve every case” that’s also a skepticism fail. Skepticism is when you, you know, don’t approach the situation with particular beliefs (try to offset your cognitive biases) and weigh the evidence. Saying “I don’t believe the justice system” is not “weighing the evidence.” If you want to weigh the evidence, you withhold establishing beliefs until you gain enough information that you feel your beliefs are supported. That is how to skeptic.

    Multiple trigger warnings:

  33. says

    Heh, Daniel Dennett is also on the board with Sandusky is innocent!

    Oh, that’s embarrassing, for him. Yeah, I see him on twitter retweeting Shermer. Another second-rate philosopher chimes in; I wonder what Peter Boghossian thinks…

  34. petesh says

    This is such an obvious case of goalpost-shifting that anyone promoting the claim that this pedophile is innocent until caught on videotape (which is basically what they are saying, except the video could have been doctored so it better be live-streamed, oh heck I need to watch in person) has lost all credibility in any matter involving skeptical analysis of anything. Sorry, Dennett, I have tried to maintain some respect for you but no. Oh well. Leaping lizards, some folks will blow smoke up their own ass.

  35. microraptor says

    Steve Bruce @43:

    I’m pretty sure that at this point, Coyne’s only criteria for believing something is whether or not SJWs dislike it. Some of his blog posts, especially his support for Milo Yiannopoulos, strongly demonstrate that he’s not bothering to examine issues beyond that.

  36. Hj Hornbeck says

    Here’s a copy of a comment I made over there. It should be of some use over here, too.


    Lordy, this comment thread is a shit-show.

    In October 2017, Jerry Sandusky applied for either a new trial or dismissal of the prior charges. One of the many reasons brought forward was the allegations relating to repressed memories. In his ruling, Judge John Henry Foradora wrote:

    Although he was denied access to the victims’ psychological records, Sandusky was permitted to call witnesses to explore whether the victims had undergone repressed memory therapy prior to trial, and he did explore that subject with Dustin Struble (“Struble”), Michael Gillum, Aaron Fisher, Brett Houtz, and Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, none of whom affirmed the defendant’s hypothesis.

    During his direct testimony, Gillum, Fisher’s treating therapist, plainly and credibly stated, “I don’t deal with repressed memory [and] I don’t work with anyone who claims to have repressed memories or anything along those lines.” (PCRA, 03/24/2017, p. 159). He further articulated his negative assessment of repressed memory therapy and why he did not engage in it. (Id. at 164-165). While Struble acknowledged that he and his therapist had discussed methods of unearthing repressed memories, moreover, he stated definitively that he had not undergone that type of therapy prior to the defendant’s trial. (Id., 05/11/2017, p. 20).

    Dr. Loftus had a different opinion based on “impressions” from Gillum’s book, statements Struble made two years after the trial, and the fact that the victims whose excerpted trial testimony she reviewed did not give consistent stories to the police, the grand jury, and the trial jury. (Id. at 71-90). Having been rendered after an uncritical review of an absurdly incomplete record carefully dissected to include only pieces of information tending to support Sandusky’s repressed memory theory, however, that opinion was entirely ineffective to rebut Gillum’s and Struble’s definitive denials.

    You can read the opinion yourself, if you wish. The theory of repressed memory has been considered for Sandusky’s case, and by one knowledgeable observer has been found wanting. That kinda throws Pendergrast’s book in a very different light.

  37. says

    Reminds me of when Brian Dunning was convicted of wire fraud. I recall arguing with a skeptic or two about whether we should conclude that he’s guilty. Well, the court of law thought so, and Dunning confessed, isn’t that enough evidence? Courts aren’t perfect, but no method of epistemology is perfect. The relevant comparison here, is that a court of law is far superior to listening to some rando on the internet with no evidence to speak of–nothing to go on but a Skeptoid fan’s admiration of the guy.

    The rape culture apologetics are one thing, because skeptics don’t claim to have any particular expertise on that. But basic assessment of evidence, that’s supposed to be a core skeptical value.

  38. Ogvorbis wants to know: WTF!?!?!?! says

    The rape culture apologetics are one thing, because skeptics don’t claim to have any particular expertise on that.

    Oh, I don’t know, siggy. I think they have them down pat. Many sceptics seem to have a great deal of expertise in rape culture apologetics.