Daily Archives: June 4, 2009

Are the “new atheists” not civil enough?

There is an interesting post on The Intersection called Civility and the New Atheists, by Chris Mooney. In the post, Chris reviews Barbara Forrest’s statements that in engaging int he cross-world-view debate (scientists vs. creationists, atheists, vs religion, etc.) one should maintian etiquette, respect and understand diversity, and practice humility.

Atheist and pro-science writer Mooney notes in speaking of a talk by Forrest:

Forrest therefore concluded her talk by saying that we need are “epistemological and civic humility”-providing the groundwork for “civic friendship.” To which I can only say: Amen.

This is, of course, going to make certain commenters including Jason Rosenhouse cringe (see: Coyne is Right, Mooney is Wrong). It makes me cringe too, in a way .. the Amen part (OMG, Chris, a little OTT????). But I actually do agree that the conversation should always be done in the context of these three virtues. But at the same time, I believe it is possible to practice Etiquette while kicking someone’s balls up into their throat if necessary. Diversity is to be respected, but the far right needs at this point to be simply cut out of the conversation.

And Humility is good. As long as you understand that it is, like, my tenth or eleventh greatest quality.

But seriously, I agree completely with what Chris is trying to say here. At the same time, I do not want to see any compromise whatsoever in the science and the law. The trick is, how to do that. Without occasionally kicking someone’s balls up into their throat, diversely, and with humility.

Meanwhile, I eagerly await the chance to read Crhis and Sheril’s new book on a related topic (scientific illiteracy) … maybe it’s in the mailbox now…

Coleman has little chance of pulling nuts out of the fire

Legal experts are largely undivided in the opinion that Norm Coleman’s Minnesota Supreme Court bid to overturn a lower judicial panel’s decisions regarding the vote count in the Minnesota Senate race is senseless and has no chance whatsoever of winning.

This opinion was widely held prior to the presentation of arguments by Coleman, but now, with some real face time in the high court behind us, in which we see the arguments for real, and see the reaction by the judges, it is confirmed and certain that Coleman’s fate is sealed.

But what is not known at this time is the fate of Governor Pawlenty. Pawlenty is now known to be stepping aside from the race for re-election for governor of Minnesota, and it is widely believed that he will run for president. I can’t wait to see Pawlenty in a throw down against Obama. But, for Pawlenty to get that far he has to avoid being fallen upon, beaten, chewed up and spit out by his comrades in the Party of No. Which means that when the court rules in favor of Franken, but does not specifically order the governor to issue an elections certificat, Pawlenty CAN NOT issue that certificate. This is clear. As Hamline professor David Shultz recently noted (reported by Paul Demko noted in a recent piece in the Minnesota Independent) “As soon as he signs [the election certificate] voluntarily, he’s dead meat with Republicans nationwide. They’re never going to remember eight years of no new taxes. They’re going to remember you voluntarily put Al Franken in the Senate.”

On the other hand, if he does not sign, the citizens of Minnesota, who are quite tired of this process, will surely snub him if he runs for governor gain.

Which is why he is not going to too that, obviously.

If you are interested in the Minnesota Gubernatorial race, you should check out Mike Haubrich’s interviews with some of the most likely folks to run for Gubernor next time around…

“Rape Switch Hypothesis” still going strong: US rape stats evaluated.

I would like to go into a little more detail about the rape switch which is being discussed here as well as the statistical trend in rape rates in the US being discussed here
It has been shown again and again that large numbers of males will carry out what by anyone’s definition is rape, under certain circumstances. Yet at the same time, it seems that in most societies it is impossible to imagine that such a large percentage of men would carry out this heinous act.

It is difficult to have much faith in the data for rape frequency, for two reasons. One is definitional and the other is reporting bias. This is a situation where a certain amount of interpretation and, frankly, hard work is needed in order to get a handle on this. You can’t just look it up in a table. The information that is out there is often embedded in politically biased frames. However, there do seem to be two categories of discussant in this area: Those who want the rape numbers to be low, and those that prefer higher numbers. There are cultural, gender, and other features that go along with each of these groups, and that itself is a potential study.

I’m in the second group. I don’t ‘want’ the numbers to be high. I ‘want’ the numbers to become zero. But the numbers are the numbers, and my thinking is that there is a tendency to err in a certain direction such that while we might have inflated rhetoric in certain sociocultural contexts we more often have deflated numbers. So, when we have estimates of there being a minimum of 200% or 300% increase in incidents under certain circumstances, I’m not going to split the difference between zero and 200%. I’m going to figure it’s at least 300%.

As I have stated before, I have never been comfortable with the rape switch idea for a number of reasons that I will not repeat here, but I cannot get away from thinking that it is not an entirely invalid model. One of the reasons I think this is that here is evidence, and off hand I can’t give you citations but this has been discussed endlessly at conferences I’ve attended, for a kind of homicide switch. I really do not think homicide and rape are even remotely the same thing. I do not believe that rape is simply an extension of violence. Yes, it is violent, and yes, understanding either in the context of the other is useful, and yes, they can have similar social meanings (but often they do not). But conflating rape as a form of violence that just happens to involve the sexual act is a very very big mistake. Having said that both are behaviors that I assume are socially controlled and psychologically potentiated. Both are behaviors that are liable to switch-like behavior.

And that is why I think there could be a “rape switch” of sorts. It is fairly easy to discover in a group of subjects or discussants homicidal possibilities … the homicidal fantasy, or the justification of circumstantially defined homicide (anyone will agree that “someone should have killed Hitler”). But it is hard to find evidence of a rapist possibility, a rapist fantasy, or a justification, these days, in Western society. In the past it was easier to find, and it is probably not entirely gone today. The assertion that rape is an appropriate response to a particular woman’s reticence or some other affect is out there. But you will generally have more luck fishing for proto-homicidal thinking than proto-rape thinking.

But, when certain circumstances arise, rape happens far more often than this would predict. This is a switch-like pattern.

Regarding the rape statistics Stephanie Zvan has presented, I just left a comment over there but I’ll give you the gist of it. I think the drop we see is in part a cultural shift that has occurred in relation to the feminist movement. Good for the feminist movement. But I want to present another, testable, hypothesis. What we are seeing is the latter half of a wartime bulge associated with the Vietnam war, which is dissipating through the late 1970s and through the 1980s.