As I mentioned in my last post, I want to start addressing what I consider to be prevalent intellectual sins, both within and outside of the atheist community. One of the greatest and most dangerous of such sins is Templatic Thinking.
Templatic Thinking is a term I use to address people who use ideology for the purpose of drawing conclusions. It is especially prevalent in politics and in the more controversial social issues of the day. These templates exist in varying forms. Sometimes they are bumper-sticker slogans, and other times they are overly simplistic ideas that are a foundation for the actions or stances of particular groups. Here are a few examples of templates that people use to this end:
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
Gun restricting legislation is the only way to avoid mass shootings in public places.
“Life begins at conception.”
A unborn fetus is just a mass of human cells.
Atheists are immoral because they deny the existence of an absolutely perfect moral (divine) source of moral law.
[Religious] people who assert [any of a myriad of asinine assertions] are hate-filled bigots.
You’ll notice that I’ve tried to list statements that address both sides of these controversial issues, and some may even already be questioning the illegitimacy of some of them. We’ll address that issue a little later. First, let me explain why I consider these to be harmful. Any of these statements could technically be valid conclusions, and the validity is subject to debate. What makes them harmful is not that they are conclusions, per-se, but that they are used as premises for drawing further conclusions. If you were to make a valid, well-reasoned argument and then were to draw one of these statements as a conclusion, I have no issue there. But the use of one of the above blurbs as a starting point for a logical argument, constitutes an intellectual sin. It is a shortcut that should never be condoned or allowed to stand. In effect, the argument uses one of these templates as a premise to an argument. To use legal parlance, it assumes facts not in evidence.
Sometimes the templates may only appear to be so due to a lack of proper definition of terms (the lack of which is another gross intellectual sin in itself when making any valid argument). As a timely example, I’ll use the recent controversy in the US about the popular television series Duck Dynasty.
For those of you outside of its broadcast range, Duck Dynasty is a reality television show about a family of backwoods (conservative Christian) hunters who made a fortune selling duck call devices to hunters. The charm of the show seems to be that this group of somewhat ordinary people have become multi-millionaires, and yet retain most of the trappings of their humble origins. Although I’ve never watched the show, I’m told that the patriarch of the family still lives in a mobile home in the woods and drives an old pick-up truck. Recently, this same patriarch made some statements about his Christian faith in a magazine interview that were not well received by many, and has resulted in his indefinite suspension from the television show.
What were the controversial statements? Basically, he said that homosexuality (particularly anal sex between homosexual men) was a sin according to his religion, and pointedly placed it in the same category as bestiality. The atheist community in the US came alive with rapid (and well-deserved) criticism. However, in many of the scathing crtitiques I detected one of the templates that I referred to above: “People who assert that homosexuality is immoral are hate-filled bigots.”
By starting with that as a premise, the overly harsh criticisms were justified. They were an attack on bigotry and hatred, after all. As one person I encountered claimed, “I will never apologize for being intolerant of intolerance.”*
My objections aren’t to criticisms as to the erroneous nature of the statements, which I believe they obviously were. My objections were that people—many people—automatically concluded that this man is an intolerant, hate-filled bigot towards homosexuals. The problem stems from the fact that depending on how you define intolerance and hate speech, this conclusion is questionable based on the statements published in the interview. While it may be true that this individual does hate homosexuals, I found no evidence in the GQ article to indicate that. It was well-known that he is a conservative Evangelical Christian, and this knowledge is what brought the subject up in the first place. The man was asked about his religious beliefs and he answered very directly. He believes homosexuality is immoral and a sin. He does liken it to bestiality. What his detractors failed to notice, apparently, is that he also placed it in the same category as adultery and swindling. Are we to understand that his objection to adultery is a statement of hate and bigotry against adulterers? That wasn’t my impression of the article at all. In fact, what I found remarkable is that a man from his background didn’t direct any real hate-speech towards any of the groups he mentioned. He merely stated that he didn’t understand homosexual attraction (pointing out his opinion that a woman’s vagina has so much more to offer a man than another man’s anus), and that his religion taught that people who engage in these and other sinful acts were not going to make it to his exclusively heterosexual heaven. What he didn’t say was something like Pastor Worley of the Maiden, NC Providence Road Baptist Church preached from the pulpit earlier this year:
“Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there…Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out…do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”
Taking that statement as an example of bigotry and hate is justifiable on its face. But in this magazine article there were no diatribes against gays as being evil or bad. There was no expression of ill-will towards them, or a fervent hope that they would somehow be eradicated. The Duck Dynasty patriarch merely stated what every American atheist knew he believed: Homosexuality is a sin, and God doesn’t approve.
Starting out with the template that anyone who disapproves of homosexuality is full of hate leads one to make conclusions that may or may not be true, but that, based on the available evidence, are not demonstrably true. These ardent critics took the mental shortcut by drawing a conclusion that didn’t fit the evidence available. This is harmful to atheism’s credibility, in my opinion. To express disagreement—even fervent disagreement—with his statements is justifiable and honorable. But to do so in a hateful way, based on poor reasoning while demonstrating an even greater level of intolerance and hate towards him is also hypocritical. That’s right. Some atheists criticized this man in very strong and deplorable ways, and in doing so demonstrated the very characteristics that they were criticizing. The use of hate-speech to criticize a person for hate-speech is bad enough, but to use it while criticizing a man who didn’t actually engage in hate-speech is embarrassingly lazy.
Were his comments hateful? That’s where the conversation should begin. Many would think that they were, and there’s a discussion to be had on those grounds. But to automatically assume that any statement that disagrees with your template automatically amounts to such is unforgiveable. Please define what you mean by hate-speech and demonstrate why this is definable as such. Templatic Thinking causes shortcuts in reasoning. To be quite honest, I would much rather have a beer with this bearded backwoods Christian than I would with many of the spiteful atheists who attacked him.
In short, Templatic Thinking is an intellectual sin because it makes assumptions that have not been adequately demonstrated as factual. As long as atheists continue to make this mistake, which is quite similar to the template we commonly condemn: “The Bible is true…” then the world would be no better off if religion disappeared tomorrow and left atheists in complete control.
*Which is in itself another intellectual template, and is potentially dangerous to boot.
There are hundreds of atheism blogs on the internet ranging through a broad spectrum in terms of quality. Some of the more popular blogs, such as those on FtB, seem to be popular for the same reason that tabloid news shows are popular—they feed the atheist community’s voracious hunger for controversy. Others are more measured in their approach, and approach blogging in a more objective manner, such as Mehta’s blog. I’m not criticizing anyone for being controversial, by any means. Some of the things I’ve posted might even be considered as such. But controvery for controvery’s sake is cheap and hollow. It also encourages what I call “intellectual sins”, which are basically lazy and irrational ways of thinking.
After my initial foray into blogging, which largely focused on the Shermer rape allegation posted on the deplorable PZ Myers blog, I have decided to change the focus of my posts to address those intellectual sins. In the wake of these internet wars among fellow atheists, I have drawn the inescapable conclusion that if religion were to disappear tomorrow and the world were to be inherited by atheists, that the world would be no better off for it. Atheists continually demonstrate that they fall victim to the same mental laziness and adherence to dogmatism that has resulted in the very religions we so enthusiastically criticize. The lack of objectivity that is harbored and nurtured among many in this community is disturbing and disappointing.
Since there is so much material on atheism to be had in the hundreds of other blogs on the internet, I will change my focus to address that trend wherever I may find it. I would like to point out that some of my opinions will be roundly criticized by my fellow atheists, and I look forward to such criticism. My aim is more to start a dialogue about these trends rather than to assert any absolute truths. I have found that I have a somewhat different approach to atheism than most, and many of my views may seem quite unconventional. However, just the very act of pointing out potential areas of intellectual failings may be enough to nudge the atheist community toward a more objective and constructive end. I welcome disagreement because it requires critical thinking and questioning of assumed truths; endeavors in which I believe every atheist should desire to partake.
The name of this blog (and probably the url, too) will likely change in the coming months, but I’ll leave it as is for now, while the new format is being arranged, for the sake of continuity.
Some of the information about hearsay evidence was also covered briefly in my earlier Part II post.
I haven’t been able to post recently due to an abnormally high work-load. I’m taking classes that require a lot of writing, so after homework I’m not in much of a mood to do hours and hours of additional research and then to try to write a somewhat legible post. However, there is one aspect of the Dr. Shermer issue that has been bothering me since this all came up, and it is the concept of hearsay evidence. It seems to be grossly misunderstood, so I’d like to clear up exactly what constitutes hearsay and what doesn’t. I’m taking a few moments today to clear up these misunderstandings.
Throughout the debate the term has been bandied about incorrectly by both sides. People have (again, incorrectly) said that the infamous “Hand-grenade” post by Dr. Myers featured hearsay when he quotes the person who accused Dr. Shermer of rape. Then the opposition LibFems go and respond that it isn’t hearsay, and they tack on “the evidence in this case” which includes the many cases of third party accounts that I have detailed in the Evaluating the Evidence Part 2 post. These people are also incorrect.
First, let’s examine hearsay in a legal context. The Federal rules of evidence have an entire section dedicated to this topic. It defines hearsay as:
“…a statement made, other than one made by the declarant [accuser]…offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”
In other words, a person can’t get up on a witness stand and say, “Susan told me that Mike hit her.” If the actual hitting was the matter being adjudicated. There are a couple of very good reasons for not accepting hearsay. One is that we don’t know that this is precisely what was said. A second is that we don’t know if it is true, and neither does the witness. But the real issue, in the U.S. at least, is that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the accused in a criminal matter the right to confront his accuser(s). If we allow hearsay, that accuser gets to testify via surrogate. This means that the jury can’t evaluate the credibility behind the claim, because the actual witness is not present. It also means that the defense cannot cross-examine the absent witness. “What do you mean by ‘hitting’? Please tell us what exactly happened. Isn’t it true that you physically attacked him with a hammer and that he hit you in self-defense?” So hearsay is not allowed in U.S. courts except under isolated and very specific circumstances.
But this debate hasn’t centered on the courtroom. In fact, many of the LibFems seem not just content, but even happy to admit that the Shermer issue will never see the inside of a courtroom. The focus has been on what Greta Christina calls, “the court of public opinion”. So how is hearsay being defined by my fine LibFem friends?
One of my favorite LibFems to pick on here is Jason Thibeault from the Lousy Canuck blog. In the comments thread (item 19) in his August 10 post about why he believes Shermer’s accusers, Mr. Thibeault says the following:
“Hearsay isn’t even that. It’s heard from a friend-of-a-friend.”
Please note the lack of ellipses. There are no missing words. That is actually Mr. Thibeault’s working definition of “hearsay”, and I submit that this seems to be the working definition used by most of the LibFems involved in the discussion. But what is the real definition of hearsay? Let’s take a look at the dictionary.
The Free Dictionary:
“ Unverified information heard or received from another; rumor.”
Merriam Webster (online dictionary):
“Something heard from another person : something that you have been told. Rumor.” Merriam Webster (online)
For synonyms this same entry gives the following words: buzz, dish, gossip, rumor, and scuttlebutt.
For related words: tale, disinformation, propaganda, urban legend, dirt.
“An item of idle or unverified information or gossip; rumor” Dictionary.com
So we can easily see that something is hearsay if the sharer is not witness to the events in question and if the information that is being shared comes from someone other than the person sharing it.
Now, as to the “Hand grenade” post. I don’t consider this to be hearsay, for the simple reason that this is a direct quote, allegedly written by the hand of the accuser. Yes, it was shared by a third party, but it was shared in such a way to leave little doubt as to who said it. If Dr. Myers had said, “I spoke to a woman who said…” that would be hearsay. But when he says, “Here is what the accuser wrote to me in an email…” is a firsthand account of events (such as it is). So this statement doesn’t qualify as hearsay.
I do know that there is some question as to how this information made it to Dr. Myers. It seems to be a matter of contention as to whether the information was forwarded to him via Carrie Poppie, or whether Ms. Poppie put the accuser into contact with Dr. Myers directly and the email was sent to him without being routed through a third party (Dr. Myers doctored the original post to make it sound like the latter, but the original has some indication that the email was forwarded). I don’t see much of a difference if we assume that the wording in the original email was not doctored in some way by Ms. Poppie, which I suggest is improbable. So this statement would not be hearsay.
What is hearsay in this case, however, is most of the other evidence that has been amassed against Dr. Shermer as is detailed in my Part II post. Any time someone relates a story about something they heard from another person, it is hearsay by definition. So, referring to the evidence, Naomi Baker’s story is hearsay, as are the stories from Delphi_Ote, Brian Thompson, Carrie Poppie (in part), and US2 (in part)*.
These stories are rumors by definition and do not deserve to be given credibility as evidence until or unless the parties that told the original first-hand story of the events come forward. If you are not a witness or in some way a firsthand witness of the events and your knowledge comes from the person or people who are, you are a hearsay witness and what you are saying is not evidence in any way, shape, or form.
Now, as to the “Hand-grenade” post itself. It has been suggested by a number of people that we should consider Dr. Myers’ post as a random act of journalism; an argument not without its merits. True, he goes through much trouble to paint himself simply as a conduit of information, points out that he has no direct evidence of its truth, and claims to merely be repeating it because of some moral decision he has made that it is better to speak up in the concern for safety than to remain silent. Greta Christina writes somewhat extensively on this theme, even likening Dr. Myers to Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate scandal.
But was it journalism really? The University of Iowa ethics in journalism curriculum quotes the Elements of Journalism, p. 71 as saying: “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.” The curriculum goes on to say:
“Journalism is not about simply asserting something is true (or not). It is about following particular methods to verify the truth (or falsity) of the information. These methods are the core of “objectivity” in journalism. Again, it’s not about the journalist (an unavoidably subjective human being…It is about the ways in which the journalist goes about gathering, organizing and disseminating information.”
Based on these facts, we have some questions that must be asked:
- Was Dr. Myers objective. No. Although the beginning of his post made much ado about his inner struggle as to whether or not to post this information, and that he decided to do it because it was the right thing to do, later in his post he shows the true biased nature and obvious subjective motivations for doing so.
“ Do I stand up for the one who has no recourse…or do I shelter the powerful big name guy from an accusation I can’t personally vouch for, except to say that I know the author, and that she’s not trying to acquire notoriety.”
Here we see Dr. Myers giving a personal (subjective) opinion about the motivations of the accuser, trying to forestall the inevitable questions as to the credibility of a statement made from an unnamed source.
“. I will again emphasize, though, that I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described; all I can say is that the author is known to me, and she has also been vouched for by one other person I trust. “
Now he is giving character references based on his own subjective view of some other unnamed person (Carrie Poppie, perhaps?) telling the readers that he trusts this other person’s judgment as to the motivations of the accuser. This is not something a reputable journalist would do. A person’s credibility is based on that person alone, not on the opinions of unnamed character references.
2. In the preamble to the statement by US2, Dr. Myers says the following:
“Further corroboration: a witness has come forward. This person has asked to remain anonymous too, but I will say they’re someone who doesn’t particularly like me — so no accusations of fannishness, OK?”
In other words, “This woman has no motivation to lie because she doesn’t even like me, so her motivation must be the simple dissemination of the truth.”
Again, we’re dealing with a subjective opinion given by Dr. Myers with the sole purpose (as he states himself) of removing doubts as to her motivations for writing.
3. And finally, in his preamble to my favorite story, that of the Wine Drinking Woman (WDW):
“Women are still writing into me with their personal stories. This one isn’t so awful, but it’s mainly illustrative of his tactics…there’s nothing here that would form the basis of any kind of serious complaint, but most importantly, I think, it tells you exactly what kind of behavior to watch out for with him.” (Italics his)
Notice that we’ve moved from the ostensibly objective “I don’t really know if it’s true, I’m just sharing what she told me” attitude of the beginning of the post to a more activist approach. Now he’s telling us what tactics are being used by Dr. Shermer and what women need to watch out for. There is a notable lack of the objectively requisite “if true” type of qualifiers. Here, he is a true believer and is so eager to support the rape allegation he has recounted the story of a woman getting so drunk she can’t walk and then blaming it on Dr. Shermer.
4. Also notably absent in this post is any attempt to verify the information. As we saw above, “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.” Is there any verification involved in the reporting of this story? None that is shared, as it certainly would have been had it been attempted. What would a journalist have done? First, the journalist always tries to get verification of the information. But as we see, he doesn’t even have any real information to verify. So the first thing a journalist would do would be to question the US1 accuser further:
- Where and when did this occur?
- Who were the people to whom you reported this incident?
- Were you in a bar? Were there any witnesses around who saw you interacting with Dr. Shermer prior to the incident?
- What do you mean when you say that he “coerced you into a position” that you were unable to consent? Do you mean that you were intoxicated? Did you drink too much, or are you alleging that he surreptitiously gave you a drug of some type? Why do you suspect that?
- Do you remember the sex act itself? If you were unable to consent, was it because you were unconscious? If so, how do you know that you had sex and that it was with Dr. Shermer?
And so forth. Now, I can already hear my detractors firing up their word processor applications to point out that the woman already said she didn’t want to give details out of a fear of reprisals. That’s a fair enough statement on her behalf, and it is admittedly something that any true rape victim will take into account. It is also a very prevalent reason for rapes not being reported in the first place, and may be the very reason she didn’t take this further at the time of the incident. However, a journalist asks the questions. If she doesn’t want to answer, the journalist will report that as well. All of this goes towards creating an objective story. All of this is missing from Dr. Myers’ post.
The second thing a journalist would do—every single journalist in the Solar System—is to try to reach the accused rapist for comment. And if the accused chose not to respond, a journalist would include that in the story as well, “Dr. Shermer declined to make a statement,” or “Emails to Dr. Shermer for comment were unanswered.”
These things were not done. Dr. Myers is not now, and was not then, acting as a journalist. Woodward and Bernstein would not approve.**
It is clear from this evaluation that the characterization of Dr. Myers as a journalist is a fanciful one that doesn’t stand up to any sort of real scrutiny. It also cements the fact that most of the “evidence” against Dr. Shermer is hearsay/rumor and therefore not true evidence at all.
*US2 and Carrie Poppie have value as corroborating witnesses only to the place that they can tell when they were told the story and what the story was that they were told at that time. In a court of law, this might be allowed if the purpose is to show what the story was at an early time frame and to demonstrate that it has (or has not) changed substantially since that time. The evidence they give is not directly pertaining to the incident itself, but to the state of mind of the accuser at a particular time.
** Greta Christina pushes the analogy in talking about the difference in “unnamed sources” and “anonymous sources” in that she brings the notorious “Deepthroat” source of the Watergate story up. It must be noted that the analogy is quite weak in that “Deepthroat” wasn’t a victim anonymously reporting a crime that had been perpetrated against him personally. He was a source of information telling the reporters where to look to get the scoop on what actually happened.
EDIT: 09/11/13 1819 pdt
Thanks to some constructive criticism , I feel the need to reorganize this list and to stipulate a couple of facts at the outset.
My list includes both men who were mistakenly accused and convicted of rapes that actually happened, and cases of men who were victims of malicious false accusations. To clarify the differences, I will rework the list to label the cases appropriately in the following manner:
MAL will identify malicious false accusations
MIS will identify men mistakenly convicted of committing rapes that actually did occur. This will also include cases where there was prosecutorial or police misconduct in the case.
I also want to be clear that even if we were to double the accepted numbers of maliciously false accusations, they still will represent only a small fraction of actual rapes. It is not my intention to contribute to a “blame the victim” mentality, or to scoff at the real and horrible damage that real rapes cause for hundreds of thousands of women. In a perfect world, every rapist would be caught, convicted, and sentenced to a long prison sentence. I would welcome that.
However, this list is compiled as a way of demonstrating that there are other real victims who have suffered unimaginably due to being falsely accused and sometimes falsely convicted of rapes that they did not commit, sometimes with no more evidence than the word of their malicious accuser. I want this fact to be taken into account in this debate in a meaningful manner, and I fear that many on the LibFem side feel compelled to dismiss these victims as insignificant statistics. These are not statistics. These are victims who are every bit as entitled to social justice as any other victim in our society.
My list is not exhaustive, but I will add to it as time permits.
MAL False accuser convicted. Maximum sentence allowed , 364 DAYS in jail. Published in Bangor Daily News 08/01/13. http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/01/news/midcoast/jury-convicts-rockland-woman-of-making-false-rape-report/?ref=polbeat
MAL 18 month sentence for admitted false accuser in Norway–called “extreme” Published in The Local on 08/30/13 http://www.thelocal.no/20130830/norway-woman-gets-18-months-in-jail-for-false-rape-claim
MAL Accused served 11 years in prison. Woman made accusation so she could sue several parties to pay off gambling and IRS debts. She can’t be prosecuted because 4 year statute of limitations on perjury has expired. Published in Chicago Tribune 09/10/13 http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-10/news/chi-daley-center-rape-20130909_1_carl-chatman-2-cases-russell-ainsworth
MAL Kanin scholarly study–VERY SMALL SAMPLE: found that 41% of forcible rape reports to police in a nine year period in one police department were maliciously false reports. Criteria for determining false reports was that the reporter admitted to it. Probably not representative due to small sample, but it shows the extreme variability of the stats.
MAL Tracey West accuses her son’s father of torture and rape (including faking a severe beating) due to ongoing custody squabbles. Published in the LA TIMES 06/27/11
MAL (multiple) Sara Ylen, multiple false accusations against different men, one man served ten years in prison. She also falsely claimed to have cancer. Published in the Huff Post 06/18/13
MAL(multiple) Leanne Black of the UK sentenced to two years in prison after making five false rape accusations against five different partners since 2005. Published in the Mail Online 07/09/13
MAL (multiple) Brian Banks – NFL player exonerated after spending six years in prison for rape. Falsely accused. He was exonerated after the victim friended him on Facebook wanting to “let bygones be bygones” Published in 4ABC online 08/09/13
MAL-scholarly paper from Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1994
MAL-Scholarly evaluation of the statistics
MAL US STATES penalties for making a false rape accusation. Illinois and D.C. – 30 days in jail
MIS Thomas Webb. 14 years in prison for rape. Exonerated
MIS Dennis Williams. 17.5 years in prison on death row for rape and murder. Convicted at 21, exonerated at 38, dead at 46 a broken, scared, and paranoid man.
MAL Gary Dodson. 12 years in prison. A teenager made up the rape because she was afraid she had become pregnant while having consensual sex with her boyfriend. FIRST DNA EXONERATION in the US.
MAL Four men arrested and accused of raping a Hofstra University student were released after a cell phone video showed the sex was consensual. She reported the rape because she was ashamed at having sex with four men in a public mens room. She received probation and community service.
MIS Steven Tonney. 13 years in prison after a rape victim misidentified him.
MIS Perry Mitchell. 14.5 years in prison due to misidentification from the victim
MIS David A. Gray. 20 years in prison. Exonerated by DNA evidence
MIS/MAL Project Innocence Special Report–issued after their 250th exoneration. Not all of these are rapes, but many are.
A quote from the Atlantic Online article from November 1999:
“Just how often the police actually get the wrong man is nothing short of astounding. A 1996 Justice Department report, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, found that in 8,048 rape and rape-and-murder cases referred to the FBI crime lab from 1988 to mid-1995, a staggering 2,012 of the primary suspects were exonerated owing to DNA evidence alone. Had DNA analysis not been available (as it was not a decade earlier), several hundred of the 2,012 would probably have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit.”
I addressed the generalities of the kinds of evidence against Dr. Shermer in my first post. Now I want to dig a little deeper and evaluate the quality of the evidence we have. As I stated there, I’m mainly writing this to address statements made last month in blogs by Greta Christina and Jason Thibeault (the Lousy Canuck), both of which are firmly in the LibFem camp over at FtB.
Actually, on the surface Ms. Christina and I agree about a few important issues. It is disturbing that with a situation as serious as a rape allegation that so many people are clamoring to dismiss it outright just because the accuser has kept her name private. As I pointed out in my first post on this topic, to make a rash decision either way about Dr. Shermer’s culpability in this sordid affair is very UN skeptical. And I can see where a lot of the LibFems are coming from. One of the basic arguments they make is that there is so much evidence against him from so many different people. He must be guilty!
Ms. Christina’s approach (blog entry Aug 12, 2013):
“So the kinds of evidence we’re likely to find supporting an accusation of sexual harassment…we are likely to find are:
* Multiple similar claims made against the same person from different people. Especially when these claims show a similar pattern of behavior.
* Other people saying that the victim told them about the harassment/ assault shortly after it happened — with stories that are consistent both with the accusation and with one another.
* Other people corroborating behavior that falls short of harassment/ assault, but is consistent with it. Example: If an accused assailant is accused of getting victims drunk first, and someone says they’ve seen this person deliberately getting people drunk while hitting on them, or have experienced this themselves — that would support the accusation.”
Well, yes. IF that’s what we had here, she has a definite point. I went through her later post that itemizes the evidence so that I could compile it. There are ten individuals referenced in her post, and I’m including an eleventh which she mysteriously omitted but was found in Thibeault’s timeline, nonetheless. I am summarizing in the following list. Please note that these are not arranged either chronologically or according to their mention in Ms. Christina’s blog.
I’ve categorized them so they are either grouped by incident or type of incident. The catalogue of evidence:
First Person Accounts: “Michael Shermer raped me.”
US1 (unnamed source 1), the woman who made the nonconsensual sex allegation against Dr. Shermer as “reported” by PZ Myers in his now infamous Hand Grenade post of August 8.
- US2, a woman who claims that US1 told her of the incident “immediately after said incident”. She reports that US1 was distraught and that US2 was present when US1 “told the management of the conference (sometime later).”
- Carrie Poppy reports that like US2, US1 related the story to her prior to it being made public on Myers’ blog. Poppy puts US1 in contact with Myers. No details as to when US1 first shared the information with Poppy.
First Person Accounts: Michael Shermer harassed me / my wife.
US3, aka pseudonymous poster “Miramne” reports Shermer harassed her. [Note: this is Greta Christina’s phrasing. The actual quote from US3 is that “Shermer is the worst offender I’ve heard of and experienced personally…I don’t want to be Monica Lewinskied and be known as the girl who is only a sexual victim…” ]
Naomi Baker-no assault, reports Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. [Note: I can’t find this sourced anywhere. Harassment of Ms. Baker isn’t mentioned in Thibeault’s timeline, but there is a comment in the Myers Hand Grenade thread by Ms. Baker which doesn’t mention her ever meeting Dr. Shermer much less being harassed by him. She had an email exchange with Shermer’s wife who told Baker that he had admitted to repeated adulterous affairs]
Elyse Anders-no assault, reports Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. [Note: this references a tweet by Elyse “Mofo” Anders where she claims Shermer was beside her at the TAM9 reception buffet when she bent over after dropping salad tongs and he said, “You’re a NAUGHTY NAUGHTY girl” [emphasis hers.]
US4, pseudonymous poster “rikzilla”-no assault, reports that Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and univitedly sexual. [Note: references a post on the JREF forums where he recounts Shermer whispering in Rikzilla’s wife’s ear and telling her she was sexy and inviting her to his room for a drink.]
First-Person Account: Michael Shermer poured wine in my glass
US5 as reported in the Myers Hand Grenade post reports that at an unreferenced event that she helped to organize and where Dr. Shermer was an honored guest, at the post-speech party, “Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly. I lost count of how many drinks I had. He was flirting with me and[…] I just laughed it off. He made sure my wine glass stayed full.” She recounts that she was so drunk that she didn’t remember leaving and that one of her friends had to help her home. She is very clear that nothing else happened in terms of harassment.
Various Third-Party Reports
US6, aka pseudonymous poster “Delphi_ote” who reports in the JREF forums on August 9, that, “Either a) I’ve met this woman or b) two women had similar experiences.”
Brian Thompson reports via twitter that, “I know enough women that have been harassed by…@michaelshermer to know its not ‘gossip’” And then in a later tweet, “I know two women who have been generally creeped at by him, one woman who was groped by him.”.
Something that seems to have been entirely overlooked in the statement of US1 is that not only is she reporting that Dr. Shermer raped her. She also reports that “…5 different people have told me they (sic) did the same to them…[referencing Shermer].”
The Dallas Haugh Affair
And now we come to one of the more interesting pieces of evidence. I have to ask why Ms. Christina doesn’t include this in her (almost exhaustive list). On August 13, PZ Myers posted on his Pharyngula blog asking if anyone knew the person behind the Tumblr account “Creative Pooping”, as a post there seemed to be a long suicide note. Eventually Myers posted word the man, identified as Dallas Haugh, had been contacted by the authorities and was in the hospital. What makes this situation noteworthy is that his suicide note/blog post included the following allegation: “I am fairly certain that Michael Shermer had nonconsensual sex with me….”
Third party accounts.
This is not a court of law, but there is a very good reason why courts don’t allow hearsay evidence. Legally, something is hearsay if it is a statement made outside of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In common parlance, hearsay is, “information received from other people who one cannot adequately substantiate, rumor, gossip, idle talk…”
This does not mean that these third person accounts are untrue, but it raises questions exponentially. Any unsubstantiated third-person account must be highly scrutinized. To evaluate this type of evidence we now have even more questions to ask: did anyone actually say this, or is this person making it up? Is the story being recounted by this third person substantially the same as the one that was recounted to him/her? Is this truly a third-party account? Does this person actually know the accuser, or has it been reported through one or more intermediaries? We end up with a situation where, as one writer put it, we have accusation by Chinese Telephone.
Third party accounts have no value as primary evidence. Let’s not be mistaken about this (in this discussion, “third party” refers to recipients of hearsay and not witnesses to the actual incident). They can’t bear witness to the actual incident, so their opinions as to its veracity are just that, opinions. Their evidentiary value is limited to two things: 1) reporting the demeanor of the accuser, and 2) reporting the story the accuser recounted at that time. When important details of a story change over time, it is a signal that the incident may be a lie.
specifically, US6, known only by pseudonym refers to a “similar experience” recounted to him by a woman who may or may not be US1. Do you see how convoluted the evidence gets when we don’t know who we’re talking about or what the details are? “Similar experience?” How would you know since there are no details of the experience to compare? He has heard a rumor. He believes the rumor, and now he is sharing the rumor with the world. This is worthless as evidence.
Brian Thompson in a Tweet reports, “I know two women who have been generally creeped [sic] at by [Shermer]…one woman who was groped by him.” Generally creeped? I have to place that in the great vague wasteland of generic “sexual harassment”. It sounds like it might have been leering and/or suggestive comments? As is common in this discussion of evidence, we don’t have the details to make any determination. This is a rumor. This is not evidence. As to the woman being groped, it still qualifies as a rumor, but at least we have a chance of hearing from a person who will stand up and say, Michael Shermer did this to me. These seem to be quite rare. It’s always, a-woman-I-know (AWIK), very rarely ”me”.
Conclusion: there is no reason at this time to take any of the above third-party stories as anything other than rumor and gossip without additional information.
US2 and Carrie Poppy. At the very least, US2 has significant evidentiary value based on when she became aware of the allegation. Recall she said: she was in her [US1’s] presence “immediately after said incident” which I would suggest must have meant the next morning. She reports that US1 was “extremely distraught: and that US2 was present when US1 “told the management of the conference (sometime later).” She obviously has the issue of being unnamed. But should US1 ever reveal her identity, US2 could be a very strong witness as to at least the consistency of her story (or lack thereof) and the behavior of the accuser immediately after the incident. Even though this is a third-party account, it isn’t hearsay or gossip because we have the statement of the accuser in this case. This has value as corroboration, but still we have a problem with the credibility of an unnamed source. This is one of the better pieces of information, despite some serious flaws. Everything that is true about US2 can be said to a lesser degree about Carrie Poppy. Poppy was told about the incident, but we have no indication as to when. It would be a reasonable assumption that it was shortly before she put US1 in touch with Myers, which means Poppy can only bear witness as to what US1 told her several years after the event, which is basically what the rest of the world could say at this point. Poppy’s value is limited in this instance.
First person harassment claims:
US5, aka Wine-Drinking-Woman, is another enigma in this strange tale. The enigma isn’t in the story she recounts, but in the fact that it was repeated at all. The significance is lost on me. The argument is made that this demonstrates a pattern of behavior, which may be true. Perhaps Dr. Shermer is a flirt, a person who likes to drink with women, a womanizer, a sexist, go on and fill out the list. The point is that even if I grant you all of that, you still haven’t shown any information that flirting and buying women alcohol—even in copious amounts—is predatory behavior. I also have to point out that “getting a woman drunk” is a concept one would not expect to find coming from the LibFems. Are we to believe that women are too intellectually feeble and emotionally weak that they can’t make even the most basic decisions as to how much is enough and when to stop drinking for an evening? She got so drunk she doesn’t remember leaving the event. She accuses Dr. Shermer of “filling my wine glass repeatedly”, but apparently finds no irony in that she also emptied that same glass repeatedly as well. No wonder WDW remains anonymous. Giving her name would lend no evidenciary value to a case against Dr. Shermer, and it would also subject her to well-deserved ridicule as a vacuous person, so irresponsible as to need a man’s permission to stop drinking. This doesn’t belong in the conversation.
Now, let’s dispel some myths about consent and a pattern of behavior that have been floating around on both sides. It is not illegal to have sex with a drunk person. I know that’s what some of the more extreme people have been saying, but that just makes them extremely wrong. It is very rare that a jurisdiction even mentions liquor or drugs in rape statutes. They virtually all have the description of a person who is mentally incapacitated , and that the accused should have known was mentally incapacitated. If those criteria are met, the person is unable to consent and it is rape to have sex with him/her even if that person is the initiator and verbally consents
Some have questioned why a person who is drunk can be at once considered legally incapable of making an informed decision, and at the same time legally culpable for anything they do while intoxicated. I’m no legal scholar, but I speculate it has to do with the nature of the law. If you are incapacitated, the law exists to protect you from being victimized—even if you became voluntarily incapacitated. However, if you do something illegal, you’re now on the other side of the fence and as the actor in the crime are considered responsible regardless of your impaired state. Basically, if you’re the victim you aren’t responsible. If you’re the criminal, you are. The interesting scenario suggests itself where a woman can be so drunk that she is unable to consent. She is conscious and verbally consents, but because of her mental impairment, she has technically been raped. Her mental impairment is not held against her. But after the rape, she gets into her car and attempts to drive home and is arrested for DUI. Suddenly the fact that she is mentally impaired becomes something that is held against her because she was now a criminal from whom the law protects potential victims.
Also, some people have indicated confusion about sexual harassment and the law. Outside of the workplace or the confines of an educational institution, sexual harassment is not illegal on its face (in the US). This is because sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of activities. As a result, some of the activities are illegal while others aren’t. For example, sexual harassment encompasses things that I would classify as rude behavior of a sexualized nature. Leering, lewd comments or gestures, telling dirty jokes, and so forth could all be considered sexual harassment (depending on how the victim perceived it, that is). These things are not illegal or even actionable. However, touching a woman’s buttocks while passing her is also sexual harassment, and it is against the law. In many jurisdictions it is a “battery” because it is intentional physical contact with another person done in a rude, insulting, or angry manner. So, to say a man is a criminal because he is guilty of sexual harassment is too imprecise. If this discussion continues, we should make sure that the term sexual harassment is never used without a qualifier when referring to specific incidents.
As to Greta Christina’s description of some of the non-assaults, I found the following description disingenuous, and probably deliberately misleading:
“…We have one named source, Elyse Anders, reporting on behavior from Shermer that wasn’t assault but was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. We have another named source, Naomi Baker, reporting on behavior from Shermer that wasn’t assault but was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual.”
Well, no, we don’t have that at all. If you actually read what we do have. Ms Anders reported that Shermer said she was a “NAUGHTY NAUGHTY girl” when she bent over near him to get something. Technically its sexual harassment in that it is rude behavior of a sexualized nature, but Christina’s description makes it sound so…aggressive. It was a rude comment. It wasn’t criminal.
To the best of my knowledge, the Naomi Baker incident is described inaccurately by Greta Christina. Well, not inaccurately, that would lead you to believe that she got some details wrong. I think fictitious would be more the word we’re looking for here. Unless she is party to some information I am not, Ms. Baker reports no contact with Dr. Shermer either directly or indirectly. The only thing Ms. Baker adds to the conversation is that she had an email exchange with someone who claimed to be his wife who told her that he had had extramarital affairs in the past. End of story. We don’t know if the person she was writing to was Mrs Shermer, and we don’t know what was said, but even if we assume everything she said was true, then SO WHAT? He had affairs. Maybe he’s a jerk! Having an affair is not predatory behavior, and to claim otherwise would show that the zeal of ideal has overcome the clarity of wit. [SEE EDIT BELOW FOR CLARIFICATION]
As an aside, I also want to point out that in a way, Greta Christina has issued a false accusation against Dr. Shermer. It may or may not have been malicious, and I tend to believe that it is a mistake due to the complexities in this information. But it is false nonetheless. Greta Christina is an example of why hearing from third persons is dangerous. If we did not have Naomi Baker’s actual statement, we would be discussing this as though Dr. Shermer was accused of harassing her. If this is an incorrect statement, Ms. Christina should immediately retract it and apologize to Dr. Shermer and her readers.
And finally we have rikzilla, US4. He and his wife met Dr. Shermer and had him sign the book they had purchased. A few moments later, Shermer allegedly whispered something in the woman’s ear, while US4 was standing nearby. Later she told her husband that Shermer had told her she was sexy and invited her to his room for a drink. Again, rude and inappropriate behavior, anonymous source, no evidence of predatory actions.
A pattern may be emerging, but it’s not necessarily of a predator, it is of a man who is at best indiscreet, rude, and arrogant. But again, this isn’t illegal, and isn’t anywhere near the quality of evidence upon which to base a conclusion that Dr. Shermer is a serial rapist.
Why we should be skeptical of non rape allegations as evidence that Dr. Shermer is a predator.
Let’s pretend that Dr. Shermer lives up to his reputation. Let’s say hypothetically that he tries to have sex with a different woman at every conference. Let’s say that he is prone to excessive flirting, occasional bouts of making inappropriate sexual comments, and even tries to seduce women by encouraging them to drink and lower their inhibitions. From descriptions, he sounds like a horn dog constantly on the prowl for hotel sex. I submit to you that none of these things is illegal, and that one could argue that they aren’t immoral either. His detractors in this debate have painted him as a oversexed pig who rapes women to satisfy sexual urges.
But it is a very well established fact that rape is not about sex at all. Rape is about violence, dominance and control. To quote Mary Ann Peavler, a certified advanced level domestic violence advocate in Florida:
“Rape is an assault against a person as a person. Rape is a dehumanizing and demoralizing act against an individual. Rape is about turning an individual into a nonperson, a piece of meat to be used and abused[…]Rape is not about sex; it is about violence.”
If you want to find evidence that Dr. Shermer is a predator, you’ll have to find something more in line with a cruel abuser and less in line with a horny, over sexed, frat-boy.
EDIT: 9/8/12 2000 PDT
I pointed out the Naomi Baker misstatement to Ms. Christina in the comments section of her blog, and she clarified that she meant to refer to Baker’s allusion to an anonymous person she knows who claims to have been harassed by Shermer. Greta calls that a first-hand report, but it is a third person report, hearsay, and therefore a rumor coming from an unnamed source.
EDIT 09/09/13 2019 pdt
I’ve received two admonitions about the “rape is violence” statement, and I wanted to include a comment from the Slymepit from earlier today because it gives citations to show that this may not be the case:
Thank you for the correction. I also found the link in Wikipedia that discusses several alternative theories. It seems that the reasons for rape may be as varied as the statutes that we have to prevent it. I stand corrected. Thank you for pointing out my error.
Last month, in the wake of the PZ Myers rape accusation leveled at Michael Shermer, three very informative blogs were posted at the FtB (from Greta Christina and Jason Thibeault) which deal with actual evidence to some degree. I found several problems with their assessment of the evidence, and have decided to review it in as thorough a manner as possible. It will take at least two, and probably three posts to do this completely because I will have to deal not only with the evidence itself, but with the conclusions these bloggers have drawn from it.
This first post will be to clarify and define terms prior to beginning a more thorough examination of the evidence. The following are the premises I’m using to make my evaluation. Most of them should be axiomatic, but you’ll see as you read that some of these issues will turn on very important and minute details. I apologize that following list is not organized in any particular logical order. I hope each point speaks for itself.
Rape is a serious charge and believing and disseminating unverified evidence of a charge of this nature is irresponsible. This should be considered true of any serious allegation.
The fact that a rape or sexual misconduct is not reported to authorities should not automatically lead us to believe that it never occurred.Those that hold this “denialist” view (for the above reason) may or may not be misogynists as the LibFems claim, but they are certainly lacking in empathy.
The fact that a rape or sexual misconduct is not reported to authorities should raise certain questions in an objective mind. If those questions are unanswered for whatever reason, that is a reason to dock it credibility points.
Statements made by third parties should be looked at with extreme prejudice. There are a host of reasons why they could be either untrue or inaccurate. There are very good reasons that courts rarely allow this hearsay evidence into a trial (in the USA). A third party not present at the time of the alleged offense cannot bear witness as to the veracity of the accusations. All they can do is to offer support as to when they were told the story, what the story was at the time they were told (has it changed since then?), and the demeanor of the victim.
If evidence is given as a first hand report with such insufficient detail that readers can’t be certain of what exactly the alleged assailant is guilty of (what is “harassment” and “inappropriate”?), we have insufficient evidence to determine what, if anything, occurred. Furthermore, since we can’t determine what occurred in the immediate instance, we certainly can’t use it to bolster the veracity of other claims. domus aedificavit cards.
False rape accusations are rare, we are told ad infinitum. Okay, I’ll stipulate the fact. But it is unforgivably fallacious to say that because they are rare that any one particular accusation is therefore probably true. non sequitur et simulans ad intelligendum prohibere Latinis
It is unjust to convict a man, even in the court of public opinion, based solely on statistics which are a report of events in the past, not probability predictors.
False rape accusations occur, and often result in convictions and lengthy prison sentences. Even in those cases where the accused is found not-guilty, they suffer great expense, unbelievable stress, the loss of trust from their friends and neighbors, loss of employment, and sometimes significant damage to their family relationships.This is the LibFem version of denialism. They don’t deny that the false convictions and accusations occur, they just don’t seem very concerned. It also shows a serious lack of empathy. iterum Latine quia nescis quid melius
Any system of thought that would automatically condemn a man simply because he has been accused by several anonymous sources, without knowing any details whatsoever, is not only unfair, but it is unreasonable.
The voluntary consumption of alcohol or other controlled substances is not an automatic consent to have sex.
Consent to have sex can be given and withdrawn at any time—except after the fact.
Lack of consent is a very fuzzy area of the law, being defined differently in all 52 US jurisdiction. However, in my research, it seems most tend to follow this basic premise, if the victim is intoxicated to the place they are mentally incapable of making reasonable decisions, they are unable to consent. A few examples:
- North Carolina: ” A person is guilty of rape in the second degree if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person…who is…mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless”
- Virginia: ‘”Mental incapacity’ means that condition of the complaining witness existing at the time of an offense under this article which prevents the complaining witness from understanding the nature or consequences of the sexual act involved in such offense and about which the accused knew or should have known.’
- California: “‘Consent’ shall be defined to mean positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.”Sexual harassment outside of an employment or educational environment is not necessarily illegal. Frequently it is a matter of opinion.Sexual Harassment is also a very fuzzy area. Outside of places of employment, education institutions, and healthcare relationships, definitions of harassment are painfully vague. Relatively innocuous behaviors such as whistling, leering, saying “Hey, sexy!” or “Hey, Stud!” when a person walks into a room, telling a dirty joke, etc. are combined with more severe actions such as groping, stalking, and forced kissing. It is also explicit in most definitions of sexual harassment that the state of mind of the victim is where the harassment is decided. In other words—and this is the horrible part—we can’t tell you what the behavior is exactly, but if it offends a woman and has any remote connection to sexuality, you are guilty of harassment.
I’m going to pull out a variant of what I call Ross’ Law of Conspicuous Omission which states that when a person is relating a narrative, they will tend to remember, recount, and often even emphasize, the more prurient, exciting, or explosive details of the story. The omission of these details justifies the conclusion that they didn’t happen. EXAMPLE: “When driving to work today, I swerved my car to avoid hitting a dog and I crashed into a tree. The tow truck took three hours to get to me, and my car will cost $1500 to repair.” When we hear this story, we can be reasonably sure that there are no pertinent details missing, such as “oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I had picked up a band of mariachis who were hitchhiking. Turns out they were wanted for robbery. When the police came to take my report, there was a shootout and three of the men were killed.” You just don’t leave out something that huge.
So, when a woman is doing something as difficult and serious as reporting this type of behavior, it is reasonable to assume that if their allegation was that Dr. Shermer raped or groped them, they would have featured that detail prominently in their story at the outset (which at least one of the victims did). The use of a very general and vague term like sexual harassment in this context is, I think, probably more in line with saying things that were sexual and inappropriate as opposed to any violation of an individual’s personal space.
Logically, any conclusion that is drawn based on insufficient evidence is no more valid than any other conclusion that can be drawn. It may be “denialism” to automatically assume Shermer is not guilty based on the accuser’s anonymity, but it is equally a case of denialism to assume his guilt based on the same flimsy evidence.
In the absence of compelling evidence, the proper skeptical stance is one of caution,avoidance of drawing a conclusion, and an objective search for more evidence.
More will be said on the actual evidence in my next blog post