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In a previous video, I talk about the science of false rape allegations. One point I made was that the vast minority of rape allegations – at most 8% but probably more likely close to 2% – are false allegations. This is one piece of evidence that you should use when trying to determine if a rape allegation is false.
This fact caused a lot of otherwise sensible people to lose their minds. I found it very interesting, because these tended to be skeptics who accept this exact same idea without question if you don’t mention the topic of rape. For instance, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a phrase that skeptics love to throw around. What this means is that if something has a very small likelihood of happening, you need a proportionally large amount of evidence to convince you that it may be so. The odds that John Edward is actually talking to the dead are incredibly low, so in order to believe it we ask that he provide a proportionally impressive demonstration to convince us.
But because we’re talking about rape and not psychics, suddenly many skeptics abandon their belief that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and instead demand that no claims be considered extraordinary based upon their odds of happening.
Another common skeptical phrase is “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” This comes from Dr. Theodore Woodward, a professor at the Unversity of Maryland School of Medicine. He was conveying to his interns that they should bias their thinking toward what is most likely to be so – not all medical conditions are equally likely to occur, so a doctor should be biased toward a common condition while keeping the more rare conditions in mind.
Skeptics use the “zebra” metaphor quite often when discussing topics like ghosts. Is it more likely that the knocking you hear at night is a ghost, or an old furnace? A sensible person will start from the assumption that it’s an old furnace, and go from there.
But again, when you use the topic of rape, many otherwise skeptical people will argue that you should remain perfectly unbiased as to whether those hoofbeats are horses or zebras, or whether that illness is a cold or lupus.
Obviously there’s a reason why this is so: if you are raised in a society that believes that ghosts are just as likely as old furnaces, then you will balk at the idea that you should be forced to provide overwhelming evidence that the knocking is your dead Grandfather.
And if you are raised in a society that believes that false rape allegations are just as likely as true rape allegations, then you will balk at the idea that you should be forced to provide overwhelming evidence that an alleged rape victim is lying.
Now to be clear for the pedants, I don’t think that false rape allegations are as likely as your dead Grandfather knocking on your walls, and so I don’t think that a person should need to provide enough evidence to overturn the laws of physics in order to prove a false rape allegation. I simply think you need to look for enough evidence to overcome the 98-to-2 odds, just as you would want to see those stripes before determining if that really is a zebra or not.