Sunday, November 03, 2013

Hyperskepticism by Ben Radford

by Don Wharton
[I am the Organizer of a WASH chapter, DC Region Atheists.  As such I am the Organizer of a meetup with over 700 members, DC Atheists Meetup.  A prior version of this post was sent on October 31, 2013 to those in the meetup who receive emails from other members.  Mr. Radford responded after one of our members sent him a copy of the text included here.  My initial email is being posted on this forum so that anyone can view the details of our exchanges.  I have committed to making all of his responses and my replies to him visible to the wider public with additional posts.  We have a commitment to give Mr. Radford and his views the most fair public hearing.  Minor grammatical corrections are displayed in red to show changes from the original. Corrections in substance will have prior text included with a strikethrough.]

I consider myself to be a skeptic. I imagine that most of the people in our group would likewise consider themselves to be skeptical of claims where we have any reason to suspect they are not grounded in reality. However, we should differentially allocate our powers of skeptical inquiry to those issues where false claims will damage our interests or the interests of those that we care about.
Consider Eve Ensler. She wrote the famous play, The Vagina Monologues. She is an activist arguing for action to protect women from rape and abuse. She claimed that one billion women had been will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. In a blogpost earlier this year Ben Radford declared this claim to be misleading:
“I've read some of Eve Ensler's work, I've attended performances of her acclaimed play The Vagina Monologues, and I wrote about her in my 2003 book Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us; she came up in my research of activists who use misleading statistics to support their social agendas.”
He goes on to savage Ensler's claims both in terms of accuracy and effectiveness. It is quite perplexing that he would target someone concerned with rape and violence against women. With all of the evils in this world how would this person rise to the point of being the most deserving next target for Radford's critical analysis? This question is starkly relevant because the reality is far worse than Ensler's broad number. While spousal abuse has been on a significantly downward slope in recent decades, it remains the case that at least one in four will be a victim of physical violence in our country. In a widely cited study of college men 120 out of 1,882 men reported acts that would legally qualify as rape. Quoting from the study, “The repeat rapists averaged 5.8 rapes each. The 120 rapists were responsible for 1,225 separate acts of interpersonal violence, including rape, battery, and child physical and sexual abuse.”

The US is a modern society with a significantly improving criminal justice response to this area. The rates around the world are far worse. In recent research in the Asia Pacific region 11% of men admitted raping a woman who was not their partner. When the rape of the partner was included the proportion rose to 24%. I think that we can presume that rates in Africa and Latin America could easily be comparable. Extrapolating from other studies documenting that the majority of rapists will commit multiple rapes it might easily be the case that the total number of rapes world wide might be close to the number of men worldwide.
The rate of physical beatings unrelated to rape and the rate of rape is not additive. Many women have been the victim of both. The net of all women world-wide is almost certainly greater than 1/3. The direct reports of men in anonymous polls are unlikely to be inaccurate because men are bragging about being scum. The chances are that their reports are less than any actual rates of violence and rapes. Of course, our group has a good grasp of these statistics, however poorly they appear in the statistics of crimes reported or prosecuted. 
The question is, why would someone like Benford attack someone like Ensler under the presumption that they are “misleading”? It gives him the opportunity to say that he is superior to someone who is actually effective in combating sexism. It also gives him a chance to savage the feminists that are the special target of his disapproval. Consider this from his post:
“I am over the male bashing often inherent in feminist writings and slogans; "All men are rapists" is neither true nor fair nor helpful.
I am over the wanton slinging of labels like "misogynist" and "sexist" and "sister hater" and "gender traitor" and "rape apologist" to people who dare criticize feminists. Plenty of feminists disagree with each other.
I am over social activists, including those whose causes I support, who value emotion and anecdote over truth, facts, and critical thinking.”
Of course, he doesn't know any respected feminist leaders who will say that "All men are rapists." There aren't any. The only people who believe that all men are rapists are rapists themselves. They tell themselves that all men do it so that their own rapes are seen as normal behavior. Radford's emotion is obvious as is his misrepresentation of the statistics. He is right that plenty of feminists will disagree with each other. However, his use of hyper skepticism to criticize people such as Ensler means that he is part of the problem and not the solution. He wants to protect himself from the displeasure of those who understand that he has a visceral dislike for those such as Ensler who are concerned with the treatment of women. If he really cared about the accuracy of her claims he would have done some research about the reality behind those claims. Radford is employed by the Center for Inquiry Complex. CFI is that largest secular organization on this planet. Is this what we want supported to represent us?
PZ Myers documents many other cases to illustrate Radford's problems when it comes understanding and reasonably talking about women.
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