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.