Skepchick Quickies, 11.10


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. If that is the way guys are picking up women nowadays? Perhaps I’ve been doing it wrong all along.

    And apparently, this has happened to her regularly at tech conferences? Yikes!

  2. Best closing statement ever: “I don’t want to be assaulted, and the vast majority of guys read that just fine. It is not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else’s job to avoid assaulting me. Dozens of guys succeeded at that job, across the week. In the pub, in the stairwell, on the MARTA, in my bedroom.

    One guy failed, and it’s his fault.”

    There exists a difference between desire and behavior. One you can’t control and the other you absolutely can.

  3. I’ve always thought there was a lack of magazines that featured just the head and shoulders of prominent people.

    And you say they are featuring women of science?

    Good heavens, I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Now that we’ve used up our last embryos and I’m clearly not going to get pregnant, my daily prenatal vitamin seems kind of sad and useless. I didn’t stop taking them after my daughter was born because I nursed for a long time and they’re for lactating women too and I figured that might be good for her.

    Then we knew we’d try again eventually and I’d read that women who might conceive should be on the folic acid for awhile in advance (was I being tricked by vitamin companies or is that backed up by science?). So I kept taking them.

    I suppose even as we go to adoption now, I will want to breastfeed any child we might get that way, so I’ll hang on to the rest of the bottle and take them at that time. And I suppose there’s always the not-quite-zero chance that I could conceive naturally, so I have guilt about not staying on the folic acid until menopause. That’s irrational, probably, but still there.

    But even I have never believed that chomping vitamins was going to prevent cancer or make me live longer or any of that. I mean really, that’s rather obviously silly…isn’t it?

  5. Re: Whether Noirin Shirley should have named the attacker.

    The people arguing against this just baffle me. I mean, if you see it from Shirley’s perspective, she is either lying, in which case she presumable doesn’t care whether the attacker’s reputation goes down the drain, or she’s telling the truth in which case she shouldn’t care.

    To put it in another way:
    It’s ridiculous to ask that she’d censor herself to not ruin a possibly innocent man’s reputation, when the only case in which she should care if she’s hurting someone, is if the person is most definitely not innocent.

    Of course, anyone else who writes about this shouldn’t take for granted that she’s speaking the truth and should as such be careful with what they write.

    She is only telling us what happened to her and it’s up to the us to take into account that what she says isn’t necessarily true.

  6. while some respondents have been sympathetic to or angry for Noirin, there’s a lot of victim blaming in the usual ways: “don’t ruin his life over one mistake”, “don’t go to bars”, “asking for it”.

    I don’t want to live on this planet any more.

  7. Two of my biggest heroes are women: Hedy Lamarr and Ada Lovelace, both women of science who changed the world. (For some reason I never really caught on to Marie Curie who deserves a lot of respect.)

  8. Reading Noirin’s post makes me want to round up Leibert and his apologists on all of the tech blogs and punch them, repeatedly, until they stop moving.

    If somebody was physically assaulted at a party, nobody would think twice about them naming their attacker in a blog post. Why do some people want to give a would-be rapist a pass they wouldn’t give a common street thug?

  9. @LZachy:

    Of course, anyone else who writes about this shouldn’t take for granted that she’s speaking the truth and should as such be careful with what they write.

    Whenever someone brings up an accusation of a sexual harassment or assault, there is always someone to conveniently remind us not assume the accuser is telling the truth, as though we could ever forget to do that in this culture. But it rarely comes up in cases of other crimes like theft where the advice would be just as necessary. Interesting.

  10. @catgirl:

    Indeed. When somebody makes a public accusation of a crime, they usually have a good reason (real life isn’t like those primetime TV dramas, folks). And we should take them at their word unless we’ve got a really good reason not to.

    Why would anyone make up an accusation like this, against some random guy, risking all the misogynistic backlash she’s currently experiencing online as well as a possible libel suit or criminal charges for making false police reports?*

    And where is Leibert’s response? You’d figure if Mr. Twitter had a leg to stand on, he’d be all over the social networks fighting back. If he’s not even bothering to defend himself, I’ve certainly got no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    * see also: the Duke lacrosse incident

  11. It’s not as if she blew things out of proportion either. She just stated the facts, she even nuanced the part about her objection in response to his advances, but it still seems like a pretty clear account of what took place.

    There’s no real reason to jump to the perpetraters defense, particularly if he’s not even taking the time to do so himself. He’s not given his version of the facts to put things in perspective either, which to me makes it appear as though Noirin’s account is pretty acurate and irrefutable. And apart from being an odd thing to do as a guy, nothing about the event sounds far fetched or unrealistic.

    If somebody was physically assaulted at a party, nobody would think twice about them naming their attacker in a blog post.

    Well, the main difference is that physical assault often leaves visible marks on the victim. Sexual harassment doesn’t. Even sexual assault usually doesn’t. So unless you have witnesses, you have a hard time proving a crime even took place. To many people that seems to equate to “if you can’t prove it happened, then maybe it didn’t”.

  12. @catgirl:
    I’m sorry if you misunderstood me. My point was in no way that we should assume she isn’t telling the truth. I though about clarifying this in the post, but I figured it was getting to far from the original point, which was that to say she shouldn’t have named her attacker is logically absurd. I only left the statement you’re quoting in, to try to illustrate the point that, if anyone, for any weird reason, would doubt her words, it’s up to them to take precautions, not her.

    As @Dave: pointed out, it doesn’t really make sense to think she wasn’t honest, but I was responding to people who didn’t seem to think it was, specifically to the claim that one should have expected her not to name Leibert.

    I see now, a bit too late, that adding a disclaimer saying that I was commenting on what others had been writing, and that my disproportionate “questioning” of her honesty was merely a side-effect of pointing out the inherent flaw in their argument. I didn’t and I’m sorry for this. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have brought the whole issue here, since no one have made that argument here yet.

    I realise now that I probably should just have pointed out all the other reasons people were criticising her for, were awful, but then again that’s easy to say in hindsight.

    In case the above didn’t make it clear I like to add that I in no way think that people who have been sexually harassed should be treated with distrust, quite the opposite, for obvious reasons, and that my above comment was just me being literary inelegant.

    I hope this cleared it up, if not, please call me on anything you think I still have wrong.

  13. About @LZachy: Re: Whether Noirin Shirley should have named the attacker.

    Here’s another take on this: Suppose that Noirin’s account is factual. (And I assume that it is). Suppose her attacker gets fired over it or something similarly and provably bad happens. Could she be sued for libel? Truth is a defense against libel, but you’d have to convince a judge or jury that you are indeed telling the truth. In today’s litigious world she may be taking a risk.

  14. @davew:
    Yes, you’re probably right. However, the comments I responded to didn’t seem to be concerned with whether she is taking a personal risk, but rather that she shouldn’t tell his name to not risk to harm his reputation, which is absurd. I could have interpreted it wrong, though.

  15. The risk to HER OWN career is hers to take.
    The risk to HIS career was the one he took when he inappropriately touched a woman against her will.

  16. Preface: I am not making assumptions regarding the truth or falsity of NS’s account. I am only speaking of the dangers of making such assumptions, in either direction.

    I think this thread of comments shows some good reasons not to publicly name the attacker at this time. There’s presumed guilt all over this these comments, and no use of the word ‘alleged’.

    Now NS may know that the accusation is legitimate, but we don’t. Neither do we know that it is false. Nonetheless, we are, apparently, prepared to condemn a person. Some of us have gained a desire to go punch FL and other people, a desire that I’ll presume won’t be acted on.

    Catgirl, you have done a good job of pointing out an hypocrisy. It is inconsistent to remind people to presume innocence for one type of crime and not another. But I think we should remind people to presume innocence for all crimes, rather than never provide this reminder.

    Dave, we cannot infer guilt because a person has not yet responded to an accusation, or chooses not to do so at all. There are too many possible causes for such silence to assume the one that fits with our opinion. As for why someone might falsely accuse, I’ll leave that as exercise. Also, are you referring to this Duke lacrosse incident?

    Exarch, the risk to FL’s career was the one he allegedly took when he allegedly did these things. If he did them, sure, destroy his career. But let’s not destroy his career until it’s proven that he did these things.

    NS has authority to waive her right to anonymity in a sexual assault case, if she chooses to do so. She does not have right to waive FL’s right to presumed innocence, and neither do we. The trouble with publishing the accused’s name is that, just as there are people prepared to presume the accuser is lying, there are also people prepared to presume the accused is guilty. Both parties should be protected from an unskeptical court of public opinion.

  17. @davew:
    I think in the U.S. he would have the burden of proof, but IANAL.

    I thought Mangum was gonna get prosecuted/sued; turns out the prosecutor got sacked and sued instead. Her life is a shambles, though, if that’s any justice. Falsely accusing someone of sexual assault is playing with serious fire.

    Also, nobody has waived FL’s legal right to presumed innocence – that is for the law, not us. NS did the right thing by speaking out. She is not obligated to protect him, and we are not obligated to doubt a reasonable (and all too common) story.

  18. @Dave:

    … we are not obligated to doubt a reasonable (and all too common) story.

    Sure we are. I would argue that anyone claiming to be a practicing skeptic is indeed obligated to doubt or at the very least hold neutral a reasonable story that has (so far) no evidence to support it.

    However reasonable and believable an anecdote may be, it is still just an anecdote.

    Or do you feel that the entire “anecdotal fallacy” (for want of a better term) does not apply in cases such as this?

  19. So @John Greg, are you saying it’s more skeptical to stick with a story that has no evidence to support it whatsoever (i.e. Noirin is lying through her teeth and doesn’t care about destroying a man’s carreer), or should we do as we usually do, and wield Occham’s razor in favor of the available evidence (which says that Noirin got fed up with having her privates grabbed all the goddamn time, and decided to go VERY public this time)?

    Because it sure sounds like you’re trying to make a case that we should disregard the evidence we have. There is no refuting evidence to base a change in position on. Until such evidence is presented, I’ll feel confident in sticking with the known facts.

    I am not a court of law. I have the right to think someone is guilty until proof says I’m wrong. That does not make me unskeptical. It merely means that for now I hold the (unrefuted) hypothesis that the guy did as was claimed.

  20. We should do neither.

    We should acknowledge that we don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion, with any reasonable degree of certainty.

  21. @exarch:

    No, not at all. As @im_robertb says, “We should acknowledge that we don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion, with any reasonable degree of certainty.”

    @exarch said:

    Until such evidence is presented, I’ll feel confident in sticking with the known facts.

    That’s fine, except I thought there were as yet no “known facts”, only anecdotal claims.

    To repeat, “We should acknowledge that we don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion, with any reasonable degree of certainty.”


    I am not a court of law. I have the right to think someone is guilty until proof says I’m wrong. That does not make me unskeptical. It merely means that for now I hold the (unrefuted) hypothesis that the guy did as was claimed.

    So, in other words, in this specific case you believe that the “anecdotal fallacy” does not hold? That this particular anecdotal claim (with its unavoidable though arguabley legitimate weight of emotional skew), which as yet has no credible (so far as I know) and verifiable evidence nonetheless warrants your acceptance and belief?

    Guilty, without evidence, until proven otherwise. Yes?

    This is, I think, a pretty important issue. A fundamental part of the skeptic’s creed is to ignore or to at least to hold neutral on anecdotal claims until credible and verifiable evidence is forthcoming. Why should this not also hold truth for such serious, and poentially repercussive claims as of this kind? I’m not being disputatious here, I think this is a really valid and important question.

    NBI must state that if I have somehow missed (or overlooked) any credible and verifiable evidence (not anecdote) that has been provided, please point me to it. And should that be the case I offer my sincere apologies for any misunderstanding herein presented.

  22. @John Greg: Because the unfriendly atmosphere and higher possibility of sexual harassment in male-dominated fields and communities such as technology is not merely “anecdotal” evidence. This incident did not happen in a vacuum. There are many documented examples of this, and many can be found at the site I linked in this item.

  23. @Jen:

    I don’t disagree or dispute that at all, not at all. But still, doesn’t that bring us into a sort of guilt by association situation, which is still only anecdotal and pretty high risk for error?

    In instances of claims that involve a high degree of emotional skew, and such intense feelings, whether involving women, men, kids, seniors, whatever, shouldn’t we all be exceptionaly careful in validating claims with evidence rather than anecdote and precedent?

    I am not/did not say that sexual harrasment or assault in male-dominated fields and communities such as technology does not happen and is merely anecdotal. I don’t think I even implied that. I hope I didn’t, and if I did I herein refute that implication.

    I was, and am, referring to this claim, at this time, in regard this thread, and some of the perhaps groundless (in my opinion) immediate, unquestioned and full acceptance of the claim without supporting evidence.

    I know it’s kind of risky doing this in such heavily emotionally laden situations, but it’s pretty darn important to do so because it is precisely these kinds of heavily emotionally laden situations that can, and sometimes do, lead to all kinds of miscarriages of justice and truth in both directions pro and con the victim.

  24. @John Greg: I am not saying that because other incidents happen, this one happened. I am saying that the environment created by these type of incidents – again, documented ones – does in fact raise the likelihood of more of them occurring, because it becomes accepted behavior within the environment.

    Should we base our judgments on evidence? Absolutely. But evidence is not just a black-and-white question of “did he do this or not?” It’s a variety of complicated factors, including circumstance, motivation and context, all of which were addressed well and fairly by commenters in this thread.

    Perhaps also we need to examine the cultural imperative to demand the type of solid, incontrovertible evidence you’re talking about in this case, when, as catgirl pointed out, we don’t tend to react that way with other kinds of crimes. Part of being thoroughly skeptic is making sure biases aren’t coloring our judgment as well.

  25. Re: anecdotal evidence.

    I don’t think this *is* anecdotal evidence. It is an eye-witness report (by the victim), which is something different.

    It would be anecdotal evidence if you were trying to argue some point about the prevalence of sexual assault at tech conferences, or that the alleged perp had a pattern of such behavior, or that Noirin (and by extension, all such victims) was asking for it by her behavior, dress or something. But as evidence of the commission of a particular act, this is testimony, not an anecdote.

    Eye-witness testimony, of course, has its own set of problems, such as mis-identification and not noticing the gorilla, but none of those conditions seem relevant here.

    Also, there is (IIRC) corroborating evidence. At least one of her friends commented on her blog about seeing her later that night, her distraught condition, helping her make a police report, etc. This is purely circumstantial (and none of it would hold up in court, as is, since nothing we’ve seen on the web was told under oath by people whose identity has been proven), but it does help build a consistent picture of what happened. And circumstantial evidence can and is used to convict people of crimes every day.

  26. I was away this weekend and unable to defend my words here, but yes, as others have pointed out, this is not anecdote. An anecdote is using a single story to support an alledged trend. I would be using this story as an anecdote if I used it to proclaim that lots of women get abused at tech conferences, “and look, this story proves it !!1!”.

    But I did no such thing. I took a woman’s account of an event she witnessed/experienced first hand, describing only the facts as they happened (not assigning any value or intention behind those actions on the part of the “perpetrator”, not colouring the facts with emotion). Those facts describe actions that are clearly breaching her personal space and privacy, in short, they’re breaking the law.

    These are the facts I speak of. Until someone refutes those facts (like perhaps a statement from the guy in question?) they stand. And first and foremost, they should not be doubted just because Noirin is a woman and we as guys feel threatened by women with attitude who won’t roll over and shut up about it like so many before them have. We should doubt them if there’s a reason to assume the facts as she’s presented them are not factual. I have no reason to think they aren’t.

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