The problem is that we don’t doubt enough

Take a famous and popular artist, one who is creative and imaginative and breaks through all kinds of walls.

Take a rather sleazy person who enjoys degrading himself and others, who abuses women and takes gross sexual advantage in a way that is so extreme that people refuse to believe it.

Can those two descriptions fit the same singular individual? Of course they can. I’d even argue that the more talented you are, the more likely you are to avoid censure for misbehavior; being talented doesn’t cause abusive personalities, but they are given far more leeway than Joe Schmoe wearing an overcoat and nothing else, with no reputation to reward looking the other way.

Read this story from just a few days ago, about Louis CK. The author praises Louis CK’s comedic ability, and acknowledges that they bias him. But he still doubts the accusations.

I cannot say with any certainty that C.K is guilty of what he’s being accused of.

Yet the current cultural climate has made it difficult to continue to give C.K. the benefit of the doubt. You can’t say “believe women” and then make exceptions for comedians and auteurs you personally admire and respect. I don’t know if C.K is guilty of the transgressions he’s accused of, but I also can’t really imagine how you would develop a reputation for masturbating in front of female comedians without, you know, masturbating in front of female comedians.

Read the comments. Here’s an example.

It’s a chewed over, tired, need-them-monday-clicks kind of discussion, but for my 2 cents until there is any kind of substance to the allegations, let alone ‘proof’, I don’t see what the point in speculating is. ‘Someone who may or may not be Louis CK may or may not have jerked off in front of Garfunkel and Oates – he says no, they say nothing’ is all we have had for years

“Benefit of the doubt” and “innocent until proven” are weirdly complicated terms that are simplified by assumptions. We will give the benefit of the doubt to Louis CK, but we will not give any benefit of the doubt to the women accusing him at all. Louis CK is innocent until every wisp of an argument against him is conclusively proven; the women are assumed to be liars until every jot and tittle is nailed down with absolute certainty in a court of law. The purpose of the “innocent until proven guilty” standard is to prevent harm to someone until their guilt is established, but somehow we don’t care so much about the harm done to the victims of abuse by a privileged, sheltered artist. We’ve been hearing these stories about Louis CK for years, but — and this is the problem — nothing has been done. No investigation, no credibility has been bestowed on the many women who bring nearly identical stories to the table, everything recedes away from the Great Man and his unimpeachable denials.

Money, power, and influence give them a shield against having to address these accusations that the poor, the weak, and the unknown don’t have. In a just world, Louis CK would not be able to stonewall and deflect these stories, and the credible, distressed women would have instantly rallied a call for closer examination rather than the excuses of “Oh, but I really like Louis CK’s work”. Or Woody Allen’s. Or Roman Polanski’s. Or Geoff Marcy’s. Or Colin McGinn’s. Or Kevin Spacey’s. Do you realize how long a list I could make just off the top of my head?

In a just world, no one would be able to dismiss a whole series of accusers with the magic words, “witch hunt”. It’s an interesting twist, that the more women come forward with testimony of a problem, the more likely the claim of a “witch hunt” will be invoked. The volume of the complaints is suddenly used as a reason to dismiss them altogether, rather than to provide evidence that there’s a potential problem that ought to be addressed.

So we wait and do nothing, we practice our denials, until something more substantial than the words and pain of mere women and victims of the powerful rises up. Like, for example, an investigation by the New York Times that reveals that maybe the ‘bitchez’ weren’t lyin’ all this time.

Ms. Corry, a comedian, writer and actress, has long felt haunted by her run-in with Louis C.K. In 2005, she was working as a performer and producer on a television pilot — a big step in her career — when Louis C.K., a guest star, approached her as she was walking to the set. “He leaned close to my face and said, ‘Can I ask you something?’ I said, ‘Yes,’” Ms. Corry said in a written statement to The New York Times. “He asked if we could go to my dressing room so he could masturbate in front of me.” Stunned and angry, Ms. Corry said she declined, and pointed out that he had a daughter and a pregnant wife. “His face got red,” she recalled, “and he told me he had issues.”

Yeah, he’s got issues. I’ve got issues. Everyone has issues. Most of us don’t resolve them by beckoning to the nearest woman and trying to disgust and degrade her.

And yet right now there are going to be people who rise up indignantly and self-righteously declare their rational skepticism — they will doubt the accusers. They will doubt the many accusers who have everything to lose by pointing a finger at the powerful patron who could do so much for their careers. They will not doubt the wealthy and successful man who had the opportunity to abuse his power.

Immediate and long-term benefits of basic research into rare diseases

I presume you’ve all read about this marvelous work on correcting a rare and terrible genetic disease, epidermolysis bullosa. It’s a mutation that causes the skin to blister up and tear, basically; it’s a horrible disease that makes life miserable and a constant source of pain and infection.

Patients with epidermolysis bullosa live in excruciating pain, their skin so fragile to the touch that those born with the disorder have been nicknamed “butterfly children.” The disorder produces chronic and untreatable wounds that get infected easily and can eventually become cancerous. About 500,000 people worldwide have epidermolysis bullosa.

Now it has been successfully treated by combining a technique for generating skin grafts from stem cells that was first developed for burn patients, with gene therapy, going in and repairing the defective gene, and then growing the new graft from the patient’s own gene-corrected cells. It seems to be a total success.

In August, De Luca and Pelligrini got the green light to try their technique. In September, they collected a square inch of skin from Hassan’s groin—one of the few parts of his body with intact skin. They isolated stem cells, genetically modified them, and created their gene-corrected skin grafts. In October and November, they transplanted these onto Hassan, replacing around 80 percent of his old skin.

It worked. In February 2016, Hassan was discharged from the hospital. In March, he was back in school. He needs no ointments. His skin is strong. It doesn’t even itch. “He hasn’t developed a single blister,” says de Luca, who shared the details of Hassan’s story with me. “He’s gaining weight. He’s playing sports. He’s got a normal social life.”

Solely from a humanitarian aspect, this is a triumph. But there’s another side to it as well, that addresses the kind of complaint we might get from bean-counters. This is a relatively rare disease. It would be far cheaper to just let its victims simply suffer and die out. The articles don’t talk about it, but I’m sure the cost of culturing and growing and applying gene therapy to new skin for this one victim was extravagant to an extreme. But that isn’t the point — in addition to being a clinical treatment for one person, this represents basic scientific research on a core problem, how to generate reliable quantities of genetically modified tissue.

It is the same rational we use for all basic research into rare diseases — not only is it the right and humane thing to do, but figuring out how to deal with it adds a new tool to our toolbox and gives us deeper understanding of fundamental cellular processes.

What happened to Scienceblogs?

Greg Laden has some answers — there are a few things he mentions that I did not know about.

Also, he’s got a list of where some of the old scienceblogs sites have moved to. I’ve pulled those urls out and put them on the blogroll on the sidebar to the left, under the category “Scienceblogs Diaspora”. Don’t forget them, the network may have vanished into the æther, but the authors are still tap-tap-tapping away!

Maybe this is what’ll kill the alt right

It seems that appealing to a sense of morality doesn’t work, but maybe capitalism will stop the Nazis. Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute rented a venue at the University of Florida for their rally.

The check bounced.

When you’re selling to Nazis, you definitely need to get the cash up front. Also, I’d recommend a great big security deposit.

Some people deserve to be pariahs

Ken Ham is one of them. He has been invited to speak at a homeschooling conference in Calgary, because homeschooling is infested with the rot of religious bullshit (yes, I know, some homeschoolers are dedicated to teaching well, but if you’re in it because you don’t like that there sekyoolar sciencey stuff, you aren’t qualified). He knows nothing about education or science, but he pretends to in order to sell more lies, and then he gets the unwarranted respect of mobs of ignoramuses.

It should also discredit the homeschool organization, which is demonstrating no sense of discriminating judgment or respect for science standards.

Calgarian Paul Ens says he walked away from his Christian faith after reading Ham’s creationist literature and started a YouTube channel dedicated to debunking Ham’s teachings.

“As a citizen of Alberta and a father, I’m very concerned that Ken Ham is being brought in on multiple levels — primarily that he is a science denier. He denies evolution, he denies the age of the Earth,” Ens said.

He says the fact Alberta’s Home Education Association has booked Ham to speak raises questions.

“It signals to me that this homeschool group is not serious about following provincial curriculum or proper science education for their children,” he said.

I think this person has the right idea.

Yes, atheists of Calgary, get out there and protest. I think, though, that this is also the perfect opportunity to cooperate with Christians and other religious groups to protest — Ken Ham is doing a phenomenal job of tainting the entirety of Christianity, so I would hope there are a lot of mainstream religious groups who ought to be eager to distance themselves from him. This is a situation where a united front to oppose bullshit would be advantageous.

Savagery tamed

I stopped getting haircuts last year — almost exactly a year ago today. I just despaired at the horror of that last presidential election, and decided I didn’t care anymore, and I’d just let it grow. Unfortunately, long hair is a pain to take care of, and my wife was also looking askance at me, and so I finally broke down and got it chopped off yesterday. It helped that the salon I went to had a poster out front acknowledging solidarity with the LGBTQ community, so I was able to cross that threshold and get it done.

Here I am, before and after.

I don’t know…now I’m thinking I’m preferring the wild-haired old testament prophet look. Maybe it’s just that the lighting was better.

Our new theme is a clear one: RAGE

We had a pretty good election night yesterday, but I don’t want anyone to forget what should be driving you right now, and that is a righteous anger. Read Katha Pollitt about her reaction to the past year.

But the main difference is that I hate people now. Well, not all people, of course. Just people who voted for Trump. People who do their own “research” on the Internet and discover there that President Obama is a Muslim and Michelle Obama is a man. People who use the n-word and can’t even spell it right, because—have you noticed?—Trump supporters can’t spell. Well-off people who only care about lowering their taxes. People who said they couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her emails. Excuse me, sir or madam, can you explain to me what an email server even is? People who didn’t believe Trump would bring back coal or build the wall or Make America Great Again, but just wanted to blow things up. Congratulations! We are all living in the minefield you have made.

I know what you’re thinking: you are the problem, Katha, alienating Trump voters with your snobbish liberal elitism and addiction to “identity politics.” Yes, I wanted them to have health care and child care and good schools and affordable college and real sex education and access to abortion and a much higher minimum wage. And yes, I wanted the wealthy to pay more taxes to provide for it all. Obviously, this offended the pride of the stalwart, mostly white citizens of Trumplandia, possibly because a good proportion of white people would rather not have something if black people get to have it, too. As for pussy-grabbing, sheesh! Men will be men, get over yourselves, ladies. None of that is “identity politics,” though. It is just America.

You know exactly how the defenders of the status quo will respond: sit down, be nice and polite, you might annoy the regressives/alt-right, and their anger will be more defensible than yours. We’re already composing our excuses for them that will consist of blaming you.

Lindy West is also rather angry.

Just this week, Juli Briskman, a government contractor, lost her job after a photo of her flipping off the presidential motorcade went viral. Solange, Britney Spears, Sinead O’Connor, the Dixie Chicks, Rosie O’Donnell — I struggle to think of women who lost their tempers in public and didn’t face ridicule, temporary ruin, or both. And we don’t even have to be angry to be called angry. Accusations of being an “angry black woman” chased Michelle Obama throughout her tenure at the White House, despite eight years of unflappable poise (black women suffer disproportionately under this paradigm). The decades-long smearing of Hillary Clinton as an unhinged shrew culminated one year ago today when, despite maintaining a preternatural calm throughout the most brutal campaign in living memory, she lost the election to masculinity’s apoplectic id.

Like every other feminist with a public platform, I am perpetually cast as a disapproving scold. But what’s the alternative? To approve? I do not approve.

Not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labor, the blame for our own victimization, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it.

Ah, yes. Have you ever noticed how Social Justice Warriors in general get chastised for being “disapproving scolds”? How dare we publicly criticize Nazis and misogynists, as if we think we’re better than them! Defending people who want to murder and deport people, or want the right to batter their wives, is better virtue signaling, because the anti-SJWs are so noble that they defend the free speech rights of woman-hating skinheads.

That rage will be used to excuse assault. Take the case of Aisha Walker, a woman who saw a drunk man accosting another young woman, and she chose to stand between them, a brave act. But then another man, a bystander, came to the aid…of the drunk.

A third passenger got involved, Walker wrote, telling her and the other man that they were both being stupid. When she asked him why it was stupid to stand up for a woman being harassed, he became angry.

The bystander began swearing and shouting that he would be happy to “step off the bus” to deal with her.

Walker said when she asked what that would prove, the man punched her “directly in the mouth at full force.”

He broke many of her teeth, requiring a lot of dental work. But he made his point: anger at oppression is a greater crime to these people than the oppression itself. Moral clarity is an affront to people who want the liberty to be selfish.

Open Thread on yesterday’s election

It just goes to show what you can do with a motivated electorate. There was a high voter turnout, but Democrats turned out in greater numbers than Republicans to repudiate the Trump agenda. That’s promising for the future, but we have to remember that we can’t always vote against a bad thing, we have to be just as motivated to go to the polls for a good thing, and that’s where Democrats tend to fail.

So what local things feel like a personal triumph for you? The city of Morris passed a school bond issue to get our high school repaired and maintained, something that has been neglected for too long. I think responsible maintenance of our infrastructure is a great positive thing Democrats can stand for.

I’d also like to call for better, more equal representation in local and state government. Republicans have gerrymandered and suppressed voters to set up a system where their party is stacked with white men, and our leadership does not look like our communities. Let’s change that!