The Problem with Privilege (or: cheap shots, epithets and baseless accusations for everyone!)

This may be the last thing I have to say on the topic for a while, as I’m rapidly approaching my own STFU Station having already blogged far too much on this topic. But the imbroglio continues, and so must I. For a little while, anyway.

From Buy one today! (If you're privileged.)

One of the major problems stemming directly from Rebecca Watson’s Elevatorgate (a.k.a. Rebeccapocalypse) has been the rapid descent into ad hominem attacks and the use of epithets solely intended to push people out of the discussion. This is, of course, no fault of Rebecca Watson’s. Nor is it Richard Dawkins’, who came down rather harshly on Rebecca’s complaint in claiming that she was complaining about “zero bad” as compared to, say, genital mutilation. (To which point I can’t help but think, complaining about creationists slipping their nonsense into science textbooks is zero bad as compared to religious genocide, so who’s to complain about that? But that’s an aside.)

The epithets have flown from both sides, fast and thick. People like ERV in calling Watson’s public rebuke of Stef McGraw “bad form” were called “gender traitors” by the likes of Skeptifem, with whom I’ve disagreed in the past — especially during one of those many “Greg Laden is misogynist!” blowups via Isis and her crew. ERV went on to refer to Rebecca as “Twatson” thereafter, as is her particular idiom — something I like about her is that she always swings for the fences, even when I disagree.

Meanwhile, Greg Laden has been supportive of Rebecca Watson, along with PZ Myers and other big names in the atheist/skeptic community, for daring to name names — an aspect I completely agree with, given that Stef McGraw was in a public leadership position and blogged her dissent on her organization’s blog in an official capacity. I can see not giving Stef a heads-up being slightly douchey, but anything beyond that — that Stef was a “mere student” who got “shanghai’d” — is pure hyperbole and well outside demonstrable truth (a.k.a., “a lie”). Greg has posted a piece about men crossing the road or waiting for the next elevator by default so as to avoid freaking out some poor woman who might have had a bad experience in the past, and has been accused of “[t]reating women like helpless, infantile victims” and also called misandrist for his trouble. Because apparently you can be both misogynist and misandrist while trying to actually constructively suggest ways to fix a problem.

And then there’s the billion and one instances of “bitch”, “cunt”, “liar”, or “sexist pig and traitor to feminism” that Rebecca herself has received. Or the accusations that she or her supporters are “man-hating feminazis”. Or that Rebecca totes woulda boned Elevator Guy if he was an alpha male instead of a dweeb. But we shan’t go into those, because by bias seeping into this post, you’ll likely miss my point.

That point being, a lot of people have their hackles raised by this issue of privilege in the greater atheist/skeptic/scientific communities. And make no mistake, there is an issue — the fact that there is an issue is very likely what’s causing so many people to dig in their heels. It is pervasive, and it is subtle, and it is not specifically misogyny so much as merely entrenched privilege. But people really dislike it when you point out that privilege actually exists as a sociological construct, just because its existence is disputed. Nobody mentions that it’s mostly disputed in the punditocracy by people like Phyllis Schafly or Ann Coulter, mind you, but it’s disputed as surely as Rush Limbaugh is responsible for the “feminazi” meme.

Some people have written some exceptionally eloquent calls to action on how to fix the pervasive privilege problem, and believe it or not, they do not involve quotas, nor do they involve shunning or even castrating men! There’s nothing misandrist in asking men to shoulder some of the burden in rape avoidance and in helping keep women who were once attacked from having a traumatic flashback every time they see someone walking toward them rapidly. There’s nothing misandrist in pointing out that the vast majority of rapes happen by men, of women. There’s nothing misandrist about suggesting that men are capable of better behaviour than this.

And there are a few words that don’t count as epithets at all, like “potential rapist” (in the context of a woman not knowing whether she’ll be attacked), or “privileged” (in the context of someone not having the experience to understand where someone else is coming from). They might hurt your feelings to be called them, but though they are descriptive, they do not actually reflect on your character, only your situation. And the psychic trauma you experience in being called those things is nothing compared to a rape survivor’s on the other side of that equation.

There’s likewise nothing misogynist in pointing out that most of these rapes happen by men that the women know. And there’s nothing misogynist in saying that because women experience fear where men are far less likely to in seeing someone more physically imposing than them, that they should be protected in general by some simple actions that keep them from experiencing the very real psychic trauma of a flashback experience. Yes, that’s saying that women are generally physically less imposing than men. It’s also saying that women are generally less physically able to fight off an attacker. It’s also acknowledging that, as with bear attacks, women are enculturated to simply allow an attack to occur so they don’t turn a “mere” traumatic rape into a brutal murder. It’s also acknowledging that there is a power disparity in every social interaction and that the greater the power disparity, the more uncomfortable the person on the short side of that disparity will feel when facing a situation that starts out innocently but could rapidly escalate to the worst possible scenario.

Acknowledging that men are often on the large side of this power disparity is not misandry, nor is it misogyny. It’s a fact, and a sad one. For all the tips for women to avoid rape (e.g.: “Avoid entry into elevators when they are occupied by a stranger. Stand by the control panel so you can sound the alarm button if necessary.”), the tips men should follow to keep from raping someone are far more likely to be effective.

And all the epithets — the ACTUAL epithets, not the perceived ones like “privileged” — that are flying back and forth are well beneath us. But, of course, we skeptics are a passionate bunch, and some of us even enjoy being dicks; myself included. I just would have thought we’d save some of the big guns for those threats to our society that we banded together to fight in the first place. And I was really hoping that we’d band together to combat another threat to our society rooted in a very similar sort of privilege to the ones that brought us together.

The Problem with Privilege (or: cheap shots, epithets and baseless accusations for everyone!)

The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change

Jennifer Ouellette writes about the chilling effect of privilege prejudices on diversity in the skeptical/atheist movement, and I couldn’t agree more.

When I spoke two years ago at TAM7, I was flooded afterwards with friend requests on Facebook from the skeptical community. It was initially kind of gratifying, and I pretty much accepted them all, provided they weren’t using obvious pseudonyms. Most of my interactions on Facebook have been positive, but there have been a dozen or so instances over the last two years where a man has become obnoxious, offensive, overbearing, overly flirtatious, or just plain creepy about personal boundaries, forcing me to defriend him. With one exception, they were all from the skeptic/atheist community. I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys, I just don’t have the time to comb through each profile, trying to ferret out clues as to who is most likely to tweak out on me unexpectedly.

So believe me when I tell you that the skeptic/atheist community has a serious problem when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for women. The APS lists causes of concern in an academic department that are indicative of a chilly climate. Guess what tops the list? “Denial that such issues do matter to people.” And further down the list: “Derogatory comments about female faculty to reduce their ability to bring about change. Branding faculty as ‘difficult’ or ‘troublemaker.’”


It doesn’t have to be this way; as Sandler discovered, this is changeable behavior. That’s why I’m offering a Manifesto for Change, and I challenge those in the skeptic/atheist community to implement its principles.

Read on for what one can do to fix this situation. Yes, especially if you’re a man.

Tangentially, here’s another interesting development in the ongoing saga: Richard Dawkins’ foundation’s pledge to sponsor child daycare at all future The Amazing Meetings. This materially supports women’s participation in the skeptical movement. And people who consider Rebecca Watson’s complaints against Elevator Guy to be unfounded, like ERV, are crowing about how this proves Rebecca’s wrong and Dawkins is awesomesauce.

Except this is putting far more stock into what people are SAYING that Rebecca’s saying about the whole situation, than what she actually said.

Get it?

If not, read my previous posts about privilege.

My only comment on this is that Dawkins did the right thing. I would, however, still like him to actually comment on the whole everyone-ganging-up-on-him thing now that a number of people have attempted to explain exactly what the problem is with him telling Rebecca that her complaint is about “zero bad”, and they even assented to his requirement to not use the word “fuck” in said explanation.

The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change

The Problem with Privilege (or: after this, can we get back to the actual issues?)

I’ve been arguing recently with one of my Twitter followers about the specifics behind the Elevatorgate incident and the fallout that ensued. It seems that she’s seen fit to make private the extraordinarily long blog post that she put up about the subject. Completely coincidentally, I assume, after I showed her that the guy that approached Rebecca Watson in an elevator was present and within earshot when she said she was going to bed.

I had intended to address a few more of her concerns so that we can get back to the actual topic of privilege, but many of those points were only on her blog post. She did, however, reiterate many of the high points in comments, so I’m not completely without blog fodder at the moment. And hopefully this will help us get back on track really quickly.

One of Mechelle’s points was that a number of bloggers have been making use of a number of phrases that she considers hyperbolic — for instance, claiming that Rebecca had been “cornered” in the elevator.

[T]his is about a guy who was, off the bat, not only judged to be displaying inappropriate behavior by telling her he thought her interesting, but also extended an invitation to his room for coffee. Furthermore, it was done so in quite dishonest ways. Words were used to exaggerate the situation, like “cornered” “trapped” “followed” and it was even said that “he found her sexually attractive”, which he said nothing of the sort, all to plant the seed that the situation was more sinister than it really was.

Continue reading “The Problem with Privilege (or: after this, can we get back to the actual issues?)”

The Problem with Privilege (or: after this, can we get back to the actual issues?)

The Problem with Privilege (or: missing the point, sometimes spectacularly)

Part three of a series.

I disagree with a lot of people, a lot of the time. I even disagree with people who are being very reasonable and forthright with their thought processes in how they came to the conclusions they did. In fact, often, it’s those thought processes that give me insight into exactly how they missed the point of whatever it was they were disagreeing with in the first place. It’s at times like this that you have to step back and objectively analyze exactly how and where they went wrong so as to make them an object lesson for others that will almost certainly make the same mistakes.

@Mechelle_68, a twitter follower of mine, disagreed with most of my analysis of the ongoing Rebecca Watson “Elevatorgate” nonsense. She offered a number of arguments against what I had said in my first two posts, many of the points relating directly to the concept of privilege.

The main way she got things, in my view, completely wrong about Elevatorgate:

The issue that was pointed out here is that the man disrespected Rebecca by extending an invitation to her after she expressed, in the bar, that she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Also, that she had stated during the Con that she’d prefer to be treated as a “thinking human being, first”. Enter fire and brimstone.

Firstly, it’s possible this man may have not heard Rebecca make this statement. Bars are noisy. And if you’ve ever been to a post-con bar-meet, you know they’re even noisier. Loads of different conversations taking place and alcohol being consumed. You do good to hear someone talking to you without them shouting in your face. Now if Rebecca had jumped up on the bar and said “Excuse me, can I have your attention? Quiet, please, I have something to say. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. That’s all. Thank you.” then yeah, it’s possible to assume the man deliberately ignored her wishes. But I doubt very seriously that it played out like that. Chances are this guy didn’t hear her.

This was a hotel bar, filled mostly with the con goers, at 4 AM. Even at fairly large conventions, like TAM, I understand the bar scene is relatively close quarters so everyone can discuss. Sure, it’s a bar, and there’s likely to be some noise, but I strongly doubt it’s anything like a pub at happy hour. There’s absolutely no reason not to take her at her word that it happened exactly as Rebecca said — she announced to the remaining people at the bar that she was going to bed, then she left the bar, and one of the people in that crowd followed her out. Sure, I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. Neither were you, so who are you to cast aspersions on Rebecca’s credibility?

Say, for the sake of argument, that this person was not at the convention to hear her say explicitly that she would not like to be sexualized at every con (and remember, she was speaking not just for herself, but on behalf of all women, to actually encourage more participation by women in such cons — because that’s a big problem our community has in terms of inclusion at the moment, since women don’t particularly like being included in a movement just to be leered at). Let’s say also, for the sake of argument, that he had not heard her say that she was going to bed; rather, that he had seen her get up and start to leave the bar. Let’s even say for the sake of argument that he only coincidentally left at the same time.

Even with all these hypotheticals, the salient points are still that she was alone, slightly tipsy, in a foreign country, at 4 in the morning, in a hotel during which time most of the activity was winding down for the night, and a stranger got on the elevator with her and the first contact she’d ever had with this guy was for him to offer her coffee in his room so they could “talk”. Because he found her “interesting”. Rebecca still has every right to be creeped out. She has every right to say “don’t do this”, partly because it won’t work, but mostly because it will set off triggers like crazy in any society in which women are trained to be rape-avoidant. And that’s even ignoring the fact that he was supposedly paying enough attention to her to know who she was and to think that she was interesting, and yet wasn’t paying enough attention to know she’d talked that day about being sexualized, nor about being tired and wanting to go to bed. You know, because that fact would just make the whole situation all the creepier.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Rebecca had taken this man at his word, and joined him for further conversation and coffee. Now, hopefully, that’s all this hypothetical elevator-guy had on his mind. But since we’re doing hypotheticals, let’s also assume that Rebecca had been sexually assaulted.

Yes, I’m suggesting the unthinkable, and I’m painting Elevator Guy as Schrodinger’s Rapist and therefore apparently disqualify myself from the conversation akin to Godwin’ing a thread. But still, play along, because I have a point to make.

What judge in Ireland, or England, or the USA, or in any other country in this world, would accept Rebecca’s word against the Elevator Guy’s and convict him of rape after she willingly joined him in his hotel room at 4 AM for “coffee”? In fact, would YOU accept her word in those circumstances?

Privilege works that way too, you see. Rape is disturbingly common and underreported in Western society, very likely because of how unlikely it is for the rapist to actually get convicted of his crimes. Men have the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to he-said/she-said situations where what she-said might give you five-to-twenty. If Rebecca had for some reason gone to his room, she would therefore have been insufficiently self-protective, and therefore would have been assumed to be a slut trying to screw over her last one-night-stand.

Don’t think it could happen in your country? Hell, it even happens in the liberal socialist paradise that is Canada.

I have more to say about Mechelle’s post, but that’s enough vitriol for one night. Tomorrow, I hope.

The Problem with Privilege (or: missing the point, sometimes spectacularly)

The Problem with Privilege (or: no, you’re not a racist misogynist ass, calm down)

Part two of a series, evidently. Told you I had more to say.

From Buy one today! (If you're privileged.)

So you’re white. So you’re a man. So you’re well-to-do. That surely doesn’t make you evil! … OR DOES IT!?!?

People honestly don’t seem to understand what it means to say that there’s a privilege problem in the skeptical community, it seems. Nor what it means if they’re one of the lucky few majority who have this privilege. Nor what to do when someone calls you out on it. Nor pretty well any aspect of actually understanding the situation and its implications that might allow for normal social interaction on a daily basis without blowing up half the damn blogosphere every time someone points out a behaviour that’s damaging the way Rebecca Watson just did. I’m assuming inadvertently, since she’s pretty damn good at building networks, and she’s well-respected in skeptical and atheist communities enough for this to matter.

I mean, hell, all it took to touch off this particular firestorm was Rebecca complaining that a guy ignored one, if not two direct statements of intent in order to flirt with her — in one of the most socially awkward ways imaginable, indicating he was wholly oblivious of the implications of his environment — to provide the powderkeg. It took someone like Stef McGraw, a public figure as a member of a leadership organization at her school, completely missing the point of Rebecca’s complaint and doing so in public on her organization’s blog, to provide the fuse. Rebecca daring to rebut in public at a conference in which Stef was attending lit the match. Everything that’s happened since has been people of all stripes sticking their noses into the conversation as though it merited more than the back-and-forth that Rebecca could have damn well handled on her own. The explosion happened through three incidents, and everything else has been people picking through the rubble either trying to score rhetorical points or trying to triage the injured parties. (I said parties. I don’t mean Rebecca specifically.)

People including me, a white male taking advantage of his privilege to be heard on this one.

You see, privilege is when you are a member of a non-marginalized group in a region — like, say, being white and male and Christian in North America. Not only do the marginalized people get explicitly marginalized, there are some creeping and insidious ways that the privileged group gets advantages that they themselves might not be aware of. For instance, a man might get the benefit of the doubt when he approaches someone somewhere at some time and invites them for coffee. When that someone is a woman, and that somewhere and somewhen is an elevator at 4 AM, and that invitation for coffee is a thinly veiled invitation for sexual congress, the woman might get a little freaked out. People everywhere and of both sexes scramble to excuse the man, especially since he did nothing wrong, and therefore the woman is freaked out for nothing.

Except one of the ways privilege works is that the people with the privilege often try to solve the problems inherent in the power dynamic by suggesting that the underprivileged protect themselves. You know, because the onus of responsibility is on them to keep from being abused. How many times have you, as a man, been told to avoid dark alleys or elevators or going out in the middle of the night because you might be raped? How much rape avoidance do you have to practice? Sure, you have some small amount of necessity to avoid these areas because you might be mugged, but not statistically more than a woman might, even though women are on average physically less capable or less willing or more acculturated to simply not fight back. Males don’t have to practice avoidance the way a woman does. And a woman does because we excuse behaviour that indicates predatory isolation techniques in men, whether they cause any actual offense or not afterward.

I’ve already written a post for a secret project in which I discuss how I (only slightly, she’ll say) hurt my dear friend inadvertently by using too many of my own words, rather than simply pushing traffic to her words instead. I’ll happily include the post in this series when said secret project is fully operational, but until then, suffice it to say that as a guy, I have the ability to post more inflammatory things with less flack from the audience, and I automatically get more hits whether my words merit them or not. I recognize and acknowledge this privilege, and I accept it, and I’m even willing to apply this privilege to noble ends, especially if it means eroding at the privilege in general to provide the less-privileged with an equal shot in this world.

I have privilege, in being white and in being male. This does not make me a racist, nor a sexist, especially where I recognize that my position does actually give me societal advantages that I don’t necessarily deserve. It doesn’t make you a racist or a sexist either. But lashing out at someone who simply wants to point out where someone is taking advantage of a privilege — in this case, the privilege to flirt despite clear signs of pre-rejection — that’s just wrong.

It’s wrong because you, as the forum troll that makes comments like these or these, sense that some “right” is being taken away from you, but you don’t even know what it is. You assume that Rebecca advocated that the man in the elevator was a rapist — never mind all the rape avoidance techniques these women have been taught to employ as members of the unprivileged that include this exact scenario, and that she never took it beyond a complaint of the behaviour being generally creepy. You assume that people who support Rebecca are man-haters who want men to never flirt again, but you ignore the fact that they simply want you to pay more attention to them before diving into the sexual come-ons, especially right after you got done talking about how uncool those cold-opens are. You assume that anyone who disagrees with you on any minor picayune point is from “another tribe”, a different in-group, and therefore worth derision and total lack of respect. And once you’ve made up your mind on anything, come hell or high water you’re sticking to your guns.

Those of us who appreciate a little bit of reality in our discourse might simply recognize that when a woman says “don’t do this specific thing”, you probably shouldn’t do that specific thing. If not simply with her, then at least let it give you pause and search for indicators that the behaviour is acceptable with your next target. Flirting with women in elevators is fine. If you’ve known them for longer than thirty seconds, and respect if they tell you to back off, anyway.

Like all things, interpersonal relations are nuanced. Stop trying to make this a binary issue, because it’s not.

By the way, Jen at Blag Hag says much the same thing specifically about Dawkins. Yeah, he’s not a misogynist either. He’s just misusing his privilege to tell someone that their complaint is useless, just because it’s a “first world problem” so to speak. This is, of course, misguided. But don’t dare tell him so while including the word “fuck”.

The Problem with Privilege (or: no, you’re not a racist misogynist ass, calm down)

The Problem with Privilege (or: you got sexism in my skepticism!)

This particular blog debacle has already been done to death pretty well everywhere on the ‘tubes. I usually find that’s about the right time for me to weigh in, so here goes. First, I need to set the stage for those of you just joining us, though I’ve already given you links to this particular rabbit hole in the past, in case you’ve bothered to click them.

Rebecca Watson attended a conference in Dublin recently where she gave a talk addressing the sexism problem that appears to be relatively rampant within the skeptic and atheist communities, a problem that, every time it’s brought up, is generally pooh-poohed by the privileged white men of the community. This is an oversimplification of course, but the talk was generally well-received. It provided examples of behaviour she experiences all too often, being objectified and sexualized at pretty much every con she attends. I’m sure her experiences are not at all out of the norm, either.

After a convention is over, there’s often a traditional follow-up called “Bar-Con” where the convention-goers socialize in the hotel bar for an inordinate amount of time. Rebecca attended this particular convention’s Bar-Con, where the con’s attendees congregated and drank and socialized and generally had a good time. At about four in the morning, Rebecca announced that she was out of steam and was going to head to bed. She left the hotel bar and got in the elevator. A man from the group, evidently an attendee, followed her from the bar to the elevator and got in with her. While she was trapped in this elevator with him, he said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”
Continue reading “The Problem with Privilege (or: you got sexism in my skepticism!)”

The Problem with Privilege (or: you got sexism in my skepticism!)

Gay couple cage, beat adopted son to death in Chicago

Note to people coming from THIS POST CONTAINS HEAVY SARCASM. Read everything past the last blockquote. Jesus fuck, some people are dense.

Two incredible and incredibly synchronous events came across my feed reader today, events that may change my mind about a lot of things that I’ve blogged about in the past. This may be a relatively difficult post to get through, but bear with me.

It was recently discovered that thirteen-year-old Christian Choate was beaten to death in Chicago after years of physical and mental abuse by his (I presume adopted) parents, Riley Choate and Kimball Kubina. The gay couple removed Christian from school claiming to then home-school him, but instead kept him locked in the bathroom most of the time. They eventually upgraded his accomodations, locking him in a dog cage bought from a neighbor during the last year of Christian’s short life after Christian had made an escape attempt from the bathroom prison and was found and retrieved at the local drug store.

Even more disturbing than the simple fact of his incarceration were the home-schooling subjects Kubina gave to Christian to complete:

Kubina wrote topics on top of some of the pages including, “Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can’t you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?” DCS records state.

Thankfully, this horrible mental abuse lasted only as long as it did before one of Riley’s blows mercifully ended Christian’s tortured existence. The family then buried Christian in a shallow grave, covered the grave with concrete, then moved to Kentucky where Christian’s disappearance would go unnoticed and his body undiscovered for two years. This is a brutal example of exactly how inhumane gay people can be, and it’s a sad testament to the state of families today if couples like this can get the license to adopt and destroy the lives of young children.

Meanwhile, in New York, gay marriage is now legal after a vote in a Republican state senate that can only be described as historic.

When New York’s state Senate passed the bill, 33-to-29, cheers of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” erupted in the chamber. The historic vote followed an 80-to-63 vote in the state Assembly last week (the fourth time the lower house had passed a marriage equality bill) — and more than a week of parliamentary maneuvers by conservatives and Republicans to keep the bill from coming to a vote. In the end, the Senate passed the bill into law despite a Republican majority and despite the G.O.P. making gains in the 2008 election. Although gay marriage has yet to win a single statewide referendum, its legislative success in New York on Friday shows that it is quickly advancing in nearly every other way, from legal victories in California courts and throughout the federal judiciary to an increasingly enthusiastic ally in the White House.

I can’t help but think of all the damaged lives that will result if these inherently chaotic and depraved gay people continue making inroads — first they get marriage, then they get discrimination-free adoption, then they can kill all the babies that us breeders couldn’t care for in a disturbing display of social Darwinism. This truly is a slippery slope.

Thankfully, there are organizations like the National Organization of Marriage to defend sanity in this upside-down world. They’re pledging to devote $2 million to overturn this legalization of child-murder gay marriage “to make sure Republicans get this message loud and clear: Voting for gay marriage has consequences.” NOM operates in defense of traditional Christian values like marriage being only for men and women, who are then free to breed as stipulated by the Bible: “Go forth and multiply.” Since there’s no prerequisite for heterosexuals to have children, there’s nothing stopping them from having healthy, happy Christian children in this crazy world — so long as organizations like NOM exist to defend marriage’s inherent heterosexuality.

At least there’s some small glimmer of hope in this ridiculously backward world. Riley and Kimball were both charged:

Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina have been charged with murder, battery, neglect of a dependent, confinement, obstruction of justice, moving a body from a death scene and failure to notify authorities of a dead body. They have both pleaded not guilty.



Now why did I read that as Kimball?

Carry on, those of you who came expecting Christians to stand up against the real villains in this world. Nothing to see here.

Gay couple cage, beat adopted son to death in Chicago

Fellow racists come to the defense of Kanazawa

Or: wherein Stephanie Zvan shows us little folks exactly how we can step in and bloody the nose of a bloody bigot with a PhD.

This man has a thing or two to say about attractiveness. Hello ladies. (from the good doctor's personal website)

In case you haven’t heard of this ongoing debacle, Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa recently published a rather controversial article claiming that black women are objectively less attractive. This study was published in Intelligence, a journal well-known for its persistent use of IQ as a valid measure of intelligence despite the academic dissent that IQ does not measure any one single thing and therefore can’t be used as a metric to study anything but the weak causal relationship IQ scores have with actual intelligence. When Dr. Kanazawa was presented with a good deal of dissent about the methods by which he produced the study, he went on to blog on Psychology Today about the study’s validity, claiming some interesting just-so hypotheses to explain why his results were correct, rather than engaging with the criticisms. The blog post was almost immediately retracted and Psychology Today apologized for the distress it caused.

This touched off a firestorm, mostly in that Kanazawa evidently has a history of not engaging with critiques of his papers contemporaneously. A number of scientists rallied to his defense, claiming that Kanazawa was “Sinned Against, Not Sinning”. There’s just one problem with the defense rallied: the defenders claimed that any critiques must needs be made in the journals themselves, and once past peer review, the paper is beyond reproach.

Oh, sorry. There’s just TWO problems with the defense. Stephanie Zvan points out the other with much relish (and you people had better bloody click through to that link!):

There are legitimate discussions to be had on the role of peer-review feedback in shaping the final published product. However, having that discussion and recasting a complaint about Kanazawa’s resistance to incorporating feedback are two very different things. Also, given what the criticism of Kanazawa actually was (that he doesn’t interact with feedback prior to publication) it seems a little odd to note that he incorporates feedback into later work. If the criticism is important enough to be dealt with, wouldn’t he produce stronger papers by dealing with it up front?

But back to the letter. There are a few short paragraphs providing information about two times Kanazawa later responded to criticism, followed by this closing:

Finally, we believe that the proper place to make criticisms of academic papers is in the journals in which they were published, not in letters to the press where they cannot be adequately answered.

Sorry, Stephanie, I have to interject to say: are you fucking kidding?

Okay, go ahead.

This–this!–is what makes this letter so entertaining. Even forgetting that Kanazawa brought himself and his work into the general public eye by writing a blog post about his “findings,” this is the richest vein of irony I’ve mined in some time. You see, while the idea that scientific ideas and their validity should be hashed out in journals is relatively common among scientists, it’s pretty rare among the signatories to this letter.

Oh. Wait. Turns out she wasn’t kidding, they actually said that. Stephanie even got published in The Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding, as though to underscore my disbelief.

She goes on to list an easy pickings set of links that show times when each signatory to the defense letter actually blogged about science in public, in direct contrast with their professed beliefs. I personally see no harm in blogging about science, engaging with your audience (and in many cases, with audiences that aren’t actually normally “yours” to begin with). It gives you perspective you might not otherwise be exposed to, and can oftentimes provide a baffle against the temptation to insulate yourself into an echo chamber. What I DO see harm in, is in ignoring valid criticisms outright, especially when they’re coming from people with as good of credentials (or better). Simply ignoring criticisms and carrying on as though your work is totally valid and the points they’ve made so utterly incompetent as to not merit consideration is galling. It’s the type of thing you see when someone has an unfalsifiable belief and they move the goal posts right in front of you when you provide them with evidence that they’re wrong.

Engaging with your critics and surmounting their criticisms is a fundamental part of the scientific process, and I can’t help but think that your science would come out all the better for it if people point out the flaws and you amend your work to compensate. You know, amend your CURRENT work. Not simply “incorporating the dissent” into future works. Especially when those future works are also apologetic to a cause you’re evidently trying to advance, despite precious little valid data to back you up.

Stephanie’s list of links also has a bit of a secondary trend, which I’m sure is not accidental. Each of the blog posts she links to seems to have a fairly controversial bent, regarding all manner of things from eugenics to speeches in front of White Nationalist conventions to the “perils of diversity” to defense of sweatshops. The common theme to all of them appears to be a generalized defense of racism. Considering Kanazawa’s paper, considering Kanazawa’s already controversial history, and considering the vast criticism leveled against his academic practices, the defense paper’s purpose is all too transparent: protect one of your own.

One question that Stephanie raised piqued my interest: “Someone for whom impact factor is a big deal will have to do the research on whether the letter writers are correct [in asserting Kanazawa’s been published by many high-impact journals], but I would love to see the results.” As she and I both point out, Intelligence is fairly high-impact, but also high-controversy — it caters almost exclusively to people who believe IQ is actually worth something. It will therefore be cited very heavily by scientists who believe likewise. This may or may not be a self-feeding subculture of scientists, who may or may not be engaging in an amount of cherry-picking, bias, or other scientific fallacies that depend on people desperately wanting to be right even at the cost of parsimony with reality. It is akin to scientists in the Creation Science field, wherein people presume Goddidit and the science must flow from that initial premise or it is out of orthodoxy with their subculture.

I’m working on finding impact studies for each of these journals in which Kanazawa was published. I found an Excel spreadsheet of journals from 2007 with their Thomson Reuters impact factors, but his papers span from 1992 through 2011, and it would be unfair to provide a snapshot view of the impact of these journals in only 2007.

If I can’t find anything more recent (e.g., if nobody provides me with a login for the current Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports tool), I’ll put together a follow-up blog post with the numbers from 2007, with a scale as to where they fall in the “impact factor” for that trade. I might also have to eliminate some of the top journals in the field, as a number of them appear to act as aggregators and get disproportionately high journal impact which would skew the point I intend to make: that the journals Kanazawa is published in, are not in fact “high-impact” by any reasonable standard as implied by his defenders.

Fellow racists come to the defense of Kanazawa

Santorum’s wife’s abortion was different, you see.

Senator Rick Santorum, not to be confused with the neologism coined by Dan Savage meaning “a frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”, is publicly very much against abortions, especially “partial birth abortions” where the baby is terminated any time after three or four weeks and has to be passed out of the woman’s body via the birth canal. Basically meaning any abortion. The description I’ve given is in no way an exaggeration or a falsehood, and the whole point of the term “partial birth” is to demonize the concept of abortion out of hand, making it seem like you’re giving birth to a viable human baby then stabbing it in the heart before it’s out the door. It’s a dirty tactic, but one in line with Santorum’s namesake neologism, certainly.

Santorum’s views are unapologetically black-and-white. He advocates that any doctor performing an abortion under any circumstances should be criminally charged.

Even for rape. Even for incest. Even for saving the mother’s life. None of them justify abortion in Rick Santorum’s world.

Unless it happens to be Rick Santorum’s wife, and she might have died if not for her 20-week-old fetus being “partial birth” aborted. That’s different. Because, you know, that’s JUSTIFIED. Unlike all those other mothers.

In October, 1996, his wife Karen had a second trimester abortion. They don’t like to describe it that way. In his 2004 interview with Terry Gross, Santorum characterizes the fetus, who must be treated as an autonomous person, as a practically a gunslinging threat, whom the mother must murder in self-defense. Karen has had to justify her decision to save her own life by explaining that if she died her other children would have lost a mother.
Karen Santorum is the wife of right-wing, anti-abortion Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). In 1996, Senator Santorum led the debate on a bill that attempted to ban late-term abortions, and refused to make an exception even in the case of “grievous bodily injury” to the woman. In Santorum’s article, she expresses her view that carrying a non-viable fetus to term is the only option, and apparently does not think the woman’s health or future fertility should be a consideration.

I hereby call on Rick Santorum to sue the doctor who performed the surgery that saved his wife’s life. While it may not be a criminal act yet, at least you can get damages from the doctor for daring to save your wife’s life at the expense of your wife’s constitutionally endowed infection source. That act was a second-trimester abortion. It was a “partial birth abortion”. It was done only to save your wife’s life. It is done generally only to save other mothers’ lives. It is not a criminal act in any respect. If you do not sue this doctor, you are a hypocrite of the highest order, and deserving of the worst epithets people can Google-bomb you with.

Choosing abortion is not an easy choice to make. Sometimes, it’s the only option. People do not have abortions out of hand, despite what right-wingers and religious nuts would have you believe. Oftentimes, choosing abortion is choosing life — for the mother, who is often also the mother of other children.

Do not legislate that their wombs become pressganged into being baby factories for rapists or a death sentence for the womb’s owner. Trust doctors, and trust women, to make the choice only when necessary. If you don’t like abortion, then simply don’t have one, even if it costs you your life and your children their mother. And if you aren’t a woman or a doctor, shut the fuck up and stay the fuck out of the argument altogether. Especially if the reasons you’re horning in on this conversation — the reasons you believe you have any moral say in the matter whatsoever — have anything to do with a really old book.

Santorum’s wife’s abortion was different, you see.

In Kansas, your choice of genitalia brings you legal obligations

You have got to be fucking kidding me. In yet another blow against a woman’s right to choose, and yet another blow for the Forced Birth Movement that is the Republican party and the “pro-lifers” who only give a shit about life until it’s out of the womb, the Kansas legislature just approved a ban on insurance companies covering abortion in their general health plans.

Via Peter Rugg at The Pitch, as reported in the McPherson Sentinel:

Rep. Pete DeGraaf, a Mulvane Republican who supports the bill, told her: “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?”

Bollier asked him, “And so women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with pregnancy?”

DeGraaf drew groans of protest from some House members when he responded, “I have a spare tire on my car.”

“I also have life insurance,” he added. “I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for.”

Like being drugged and raped and impregnated. You never know when some stranger might accidentally put their penis in your vagina and inseminate you while you’re minding your own business! Because that’s the actual analogue to what happens when you accidentally get a flat tire, you see. Hey, women, by taking on the responsibility of vagina-ownership, you need to be aware that you’re now legally obligated to insure yourself against being raped and inseminated. Shoulda thought of that before you picked the womb with a view, because now you’ve got legal responsibilities that come from your choice of genitalia.

As though women get a fucking choice.

Until DeGraff is forced to take out an insurance policy on his pecker in case it happens to impregnate a woman while he’s being raped, this is unduly onerous to women.

In Kansas, your choice of genitalia brings you legal obligations