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On undisclosed conflicts of interest in medicine, science, and skepticism

I’ve written about conflicts of interest (COIs) a lot over the years. COIs are important in medicine and science because, as much as physicians and scientists like to think that they are immune to such things, we are as human as anyone else. We are just as prone to unconsciously (or consciously) being influenced by self-interest related to our COIs. Most of the time, for purposes of science, COIs are considered to be mostly financial in nature: employment or payments from a drug company, a financial interest in a treatment being studied, and the like. Andrew Wakefield is a classic example in that he was developing a separate measles vaccine that would compete with the MMR vaccine that he tried to nail as a cause of autism. However, conflicts of interest are not just financial. They can be ideological. For example, I have come across antivaccine articles published in ostensibly respectable sources in which the author does not divulge that she is affiliated with “vaccine safety advocacy group” (a.k.a. an antivaccine group). These sorts of COIs can be as important, if not sometimes even more so, than financial COIs. After all, money is just money, but an intense ideological belief is unlikely ever to be removed and can warp one’s perspective even more than money. Sometimes, COIs take the form of something about one’s background that is relevant to a topic being investigated or discussed or a personal experience that strongly influences one views. These non-financial COIs are, without a doubt, under appreciated, even in the skeptic movement.

That’s why I’ve become very insistent that we, as skeptics, scientists, and physicians, need to be totally up front about our conflicts of interest, be they financial, ideological, or personal. One reason, of course, is that those who—shall we say?—don’t share our dedication to rationality, science, and critical thinking will be very quick to point them out if we don’t do so first, but that’s not the most important reason. The most important reason is to be better skeptics. We need to honestly admit and recognize anything that might compromise our objectivity or lead us to conclusions that are not the ones best supported by science and the evidence. Once we know our own skeptical weaknesses in the form of COIs, we can work on trying to mitigate them. In many ways, financial COIs are the easiest to deal with, because they’re far more straightforward. When one has a personal experience that informs one’s views on a topic or has a strong ideological commitment to a point of view, it’s often hard to tell where skepticism devolves into motivated reasoning.

You know what’s also bad? False accusations are bad.

Indeed, I think that, without a doubt, we can all agree that false accusations of serious crimes and misdeeds are bad things, horrible things, a terrible things, things that can ruin reputations and lives and even end up with people dying over them. If there’s anyone who disagrees with this contention, he’s one warped person with whom I want no part. I also think that, without a doubt, skeptics can agree that examining false accusations is completely within the purview of skepticism, that no accusation is off-limits to legitimate skepticism that truly uses science, reason, and critical thinking and doesn’t devolve into trying to discredit the presumed victim. In that vein, Ben Radford’s post on his Center for Inquiry (CFI) blog A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper entitled The Anatomy of False Accusations: A Skeptical Case Study, seems, at first glance, like an entirely reasonable deconstruction of false accusations.

At first. It doesn’t take long, however, to notice problems. It starts out with an anecdote (and, as we all know from medicine, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”), and it’s a damning one. It’s the story of a college student who falsely accused her former boyfriend of abduction and sexual assault. It turns out that she made the false accusation because her grandmother had discovered images of her and the accused engaged in consensual sex acts. The rest of the post is a litany of more of the same. One false accusation recounted by Radford even resulted in the death of the falsely accused because the boyfriend of the woman who made the false accusation shot the man with whom she was having sex. The reason? He thought she was being raped.

The further I read, the more disturbed I became. For one thing, until near the end the article was relentlessly one-sided, its purpose clearly being to give the impression that false accusations of sexual assault are common. Oh, sure, towards the end Radford quotes Alan Dershowitz to concede that “most people who are accused of a crime are in fact guilty.” However, the overall message I got from his blog post was that false accusations of rape and sexual misconduct are common, making his concession that most people don’t lie about such things seem half-hearted, particularly in the context of the lack of high quality evidence to support his view in his post. Again, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data,” and Radford, disappointingly, went for anecdotes instead of data.

Now, here’s where I reveal that I know something that many of you don’t know (although, I daresay, many of you do). What those of you who aren’t into the skeptical movement probably don’t know is that last summer, the author of this piece, Ben Radford, was publicly accused of sexual harassment by Karen Stollznow. Now, let me make one thing very clear. I make no judgment as to whether Radford is actually guilty of sexual harassment. I don’t know. I don’t have enough information to know, because all I know is what Stollznow wrote about it (an article that was later removed) and some of what flew back and forth on atheist blogs for a few weeks. For purposes of this discussion of COIs, it really doesn’t matter. For purposes of my discussion of disclosing COIs, it’s utterly irrelevant to me whether Radford is guilty or not.

Now, how does Radford’s post read? Different, doesn’t it? Knowing this about him, I find it hard to view his post as anything more than an attempt at self-justification and a means of casting doubt on his accuser—even if such was not his intent. How would I have reacted to his post if he had disclosed his COI up front? I don’t know for sure. Probably not as badly as I did with his not having disclosed it. No, definitely not as badly as I did. However, what irritates me is what people who don’t know the back story will see. They will tend to assume that Radford is reasonably disinterested, trying to apply skepticism and critical thinking to the issue of false accusations. He is, after all, a prominent skeptic, writing on his employer’s blog, and his employer is CFI, which is dedicated to promoting skepticism and critical thinking. What Radford denied such readers is a piece of evidence necessary to help them evaluate his arguments, namely the bias of the writer. The closest Radford ever gets to admitting his COI is this paragraph:

It may be hard to sympathize with a man or woman falsely accused of a crime unless you’ve been in that situation yourself. Many people may assume that they would never be in relationship with a person who would falsely accuse them of something as serious as sexual harassment or sexual assault. However the fact is that any of us could be in that position; the man Levitski accused of abduction and assault was a friend and recent sex partner, who presumably had no idea what she was capable of. Think about how you would feel if this happened to your wife, husband, daughter, son, brother, sister, mother or father.

A perceptive reader, even one who knows nothing about the back story here, might suspect from this paragraph that Radford’s interest in the topic is more than just academic, but he would not have any way of doing more than suspecting this.

Unfortunately, Radford’s post is also badly reasoned and lacking in evidence. I was going to provide some examples and pick it apart a bit in my own inimitable way, other than pointing out its near-total reliance on anecdotes as I’ve already done, but it turns out that I don’t have to. Here’s what I mean. When I first saw Radford’s post and decided to write about it, I was also annoyed at CFI. Why, I thought, did CFI allow Radford to use its blog as a platform to grind his his own personal axes? Believe it or not, given how happy and pleased I was that my very first major article had just seen print in CFI’s flagship publication, Skeptical Inquirer (it’s a primer on Stanislaw Burzynski coupled with an article about how skeptics have become active again opposing him), I even felt a little trepidation as I wrote this. I wondered whether I would ever be invited to give a talk at a national CSI conference again, the way I was in 2012, or whether I’d ever see any of my articles in print again in the pages of Skeptical Inquirer. It was almost enough to make me stay my typing hands and look to another topic I had had in mind for today before I became aware of Radford’s post. Radford is, after all, very influential in CFI. If I were to piss him off, it wouldn’t result in a profane rant directed at me at TAM this year in which a certain large magician took umbrage about something I wrote about him, but it could have negative effects on my aspirations to be more influential. I don’t know if those fears are unreasonable, but I’m less worried now that I’ve seen another post on a CFI blog.

It turns out that Ron Lindsay, president of CFI, has actually written a response in which he noticed the same sorts of problems that I did. His post is reasoned and balanced, and he basically eviscerates Radford’s arguments right from the very title of his post, Evidence-Based Reasoning: Comments on a Blog Post. Now, I’ve had my issues with Lindsay in the past, in particular over an incident three years ago, but in this case Lindsay is spot on. For example:

In the first paragraph, Ben notes, in referencing the Iowa case, that “The relative obscurity of this case suggests its prevalence.” No, it doesn’t. Obscurity does not imply prevalence. This is fallacious reasoning. Right now, someone in obscure, rural Latvia could be falsely accusing someone else of being a philosopher. The obscurity of this event does not imply that false attributions of philosophizing are prevalent.

Exactly. Radford’s argument is a non sequitur. It does not follow from the obscurity of a case of a false accusation that false accusations are prevalent. It could just as easily imply the opposite. Evidence is needed to make the connection, and Radford didn’t provide any.

Then there’s this:

That false reports happen is not disputed. Nor does anyone dispute that for the individual falsely accused, it’s a very unfortunate, sometimes tragic, situation. But is this a widespread problem? That’s the key question. One might think so from the attention Ben has given to it and his use of the adverb “often,” but, actually, the evidence seems to indicate it is not a widespread problem. For example, a British study last year indicated that there were 35 prosecutions for false accusations of rape during a 17-month period while there were 5,681 prosecutions for rape in the same period of time. The suggestion that false accusations of rape are commonplace does not appear to be supported by the evidence. Moreover, this suggestion can be very harmful if it persuades people that reports of rape should be treated with special suspicion.

Exactly (again). Radford provided no context and no evidence to support his implication that such false accusations happen “often.” Most evidence, as Lindsay points out, actually tends to point in the opposite direction, namely that false accusations of rape are uncommon and that, if anything, rape is underreported, although he doesn’t mention that the issue is highly politicized and you can find outlier studies with very high numbers. In any case, Radford didn’t make even the most superficial attempt to look at the evidence. He just slung anecdotes. That’s the point. That’s where another major skeptical fail was, in addition to Radford’s glaring failure to disclose his personal COI regarding false accusations of sexual misconduct. We don’t let quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists, and antivaccinationists get away with making assertions using only anecdotes to support their conclusions. We should hold the luminaries of the skeptical movement to the same standards.

Think of it this way. No one disputes that in scientific and medical research it’s important to disclose one’s financial COIs. If discussed the way I discussed above, few would argue that it’s not also important to disclose COIs that might imply a strong ideological COI, such as antivaccinationists who publish review articles and research purporting to find a link between vaccines and autism who don’t mention that, oh, by the way, they are on the board of directors of an antivaccine group, although such COIs tend to be treated much less seriously than financial COIs. Fewer people would insist that disclosing COIs like those of Ben Radford, life events that have the potential to massively impact one’s objectivity, is critical, but I would. If you want to claim to be a skeptic and to persuade an audience of skeptics, you need to be completely open about such a potent personal COI. More importantly, if you want to be honest with yourself, it’s even more imperative to do so. The same is true of science. Ruthless self-examination and openness about sources of our potential biases can only help us develop as skeptics. We all have biases, and we all have potential COIs. Acknowledging them and being honest about them, are the first step in overcoming them, because you can’t overcome them if you fail to admit that they exist.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

304 replies on “On undisclosed conflicts of interest in medicine, science, and skepticism”

Even more interesting is the question of earliest age or place of first $1000-$10,000 COI. Teens or 20s? Might be shocked.

What form did it take? Cash, employment, hotels, meals, planes?

Oh, sure, towards the end Radford quotes Alan Dershowitz to concede that “most people who are accused of a crime are in fact guilty.”

“As Alan Dershowitz pointed out during a recent appearance on BBC News, most people who are accused of a crime are in fact guilty.”

Dershowitz has been repeating this slogan for over 30 years.

Doesn’t your concern about not pissing off CFI and losing the associated opportunities also count as a COI here? Because there’s one situation in which COIs are almost never disclosed to my knowledge — when the COI leads to someone not publishing something at all that they otherwise would and thereby leaving an unneeded gap in the literature and knowledge base, as it sounds like almost happened here.

For example, a British study last year indicated that there were 35 prosecutions for false accusations of rape during a 17-month period while there were 5,681 prosecutions for rape in the same period of time. The suggestion that false accusations of rape are commonplace does not appear to be supported by the evidence.

This is wide of the mark, at least transposed to the U.S., given that prosecutions aren’t some sort of objective measure of the validity of the accusations but rather of whatever those with prosecutorial discretion feel like doing.

Doesn’t your concern about not pissing off CFI and losing the associated opportunities also count as a COI here?

Ha! But I disclosed it! And I was halfway done with this post already when I became aware of Lindsay’s post; so my fears, unreasonable or not (probably unreasonable), wouldn’t have stopped me. 🙂

Orac, considering your conclusion, I’d be interested in reading about your own personal experience with avoiding and/or disclosing ideological COIs in your blogging. But please don’t take that to mean that I expect you to monitor yourself closely for any ideological COIs to disclose every time you write a blog post.

I’m not sure that “exactly” is the appropriate characterization of the last block quotation from Lindsay’s post. Contrary to what Lindsay wrote, there are people who dispute the notion of false reports; such a person wrote to me after I tweeted about the Tavris eSkeptic piece that was also cited in Ben’s post. Lindsay’s comparison of the number of prosecutions for rape to number of prosecutions for false accusations of rape is relevant to his discussion of how common false accusations are only if suspected cases of ape and cases of suspected false accusations of rape are about equally likely to be prosecuted. At best, Lindsay’s citation of the British study (just one study!) was a rush job. It doesn’t look like he carefully reviewed the literature as would be expected by someone espousing evidence-based reasoning.

I’m surprised you didn’t recognize Lindsay’s evidence-based reasoning fail considering the outstanding job you normally do promoting evidence-based reasoning in your blog. But I won’t presume that it was some undisclosed ideological conflict of interest that led you astray.

I’m getting really tired of people going ‘but what about false accusations’ when the topic of sexual harassment and rape comes up in any way, shape or form.

What aboutery in a nutshell.

Bill,

Im not certain on what basis anyone can dispute that false reports exist? Are we saying that this is the only area in teh entirety of human existence where nobody lies?

however the point about prosecution not being equivalent to non false is valid.

Pris , i think it depends on what that argument is used for, surely? It could be used for evil reasons or for good ones depending.

But any repeated argument is tiresome.

@Inky:

I’ve only ever seen it used for evil, to use your wording. Usually in the context about the incidence of rape being higher than the number of reported cases and that the conviction rate for rape is appalling. Inevitably someone will bring up the friend of a friend who’s vindictive ex went to the police claiming they were raped. And how being falsely accused of rape is as terrible as being raped…

It never ends well.

Orac- from I’ve read the studies showing that false accusations of rape are common and the studies showing that false accusations of rape are rare are both of poor quality:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape
All of the studies listed seem to rely on guesses as to who’s lying. The number of prosecutions for false accusations aren’t a reliable indicator because often the prosecutors aren’t sure who’s lying. The judgment of law enforcement officials isn’t always reliable, either. The conviction rate for rape isn’t helpful because sometimes innocent men are found guilty and vice versa.
So the evidence is insufficient to say whether false accusations are rare or common.

I think the victims of false accusations are also the victims of rape, or child abuse, because the false accusations by others, affect the way people think about rape or child abuse. Just because there are people who try to accuse others of rape, or child abuse, just because they have some axe to grind with the person accused, doesn’t mean these things don’t exist.

Orac, considering your conclusion, I’d be interested in reading about your own personal experience with avoiding and/or disclosing ideological COIs in your blogging. But please don’t take that to mean that I expect you to monitor yourself closely for any ideological COIs to disclose every time you write a blog post.

I take it you’re not a regular reader, given that this appears to be the first time you’ve ever commented, at least since we moved over to WordPress a few years back. Welcome! In actuality, I do try to monitor myself very closely for personal and ideological COIs, and I do try to mention it when I have a personal COI (which is what I probably should have called Radford’s COI, as it was more personal experience). Moreover, if you were a regular reader, you’d know I’m not exactly shy about expressing my opinion. My ideology, such as it is, is pretty transparent. It’s also not as though I haven’t written about this sort of thing before or discussed non-financial COIs before. No one seemed to have a problem with it when I was criticizing antivaccinationists who, for instance, didn’t disclose that in the past they were part of the Autism Omnibus action, which sought to get the Vaccine Court to rule that autism was a compensable “vaccine injury” when writing ostensibly “scientific” reviews. Now that I criticize one of our own for the same sort of offense, suddenly I’m the bad guy. Interesting.

I’m surprised you didn’t recognize Lindsay’s evidence-based reasoning fail considering the outstanding job you normally do promoting evidence-based reasoning in your blog. But I won’t presume that it was some undisclosed ideological conflict of interest that led you astray.

Nor should you, but your sarcastic reply is comparing apples and oranges. You have no reason a priori to assume that I have some major undisclosed ideological COI about this unless you think I’m lying in my discussion when I say that it’s utterly irrelevant to me for purposes of discussing this skeptical fail whether Radford is guilty or innocent. (Arguably, the COI could be even more intense if he is innocent and truly wronged.) Indeed, I went out of my way to be balanced, which will probably lead some to criticize me for not simply assuming Radford is guilty. I can’t do that because I have no basis in evidence upon which to do so other than charges and countercharges flying about in the atheist/skeptical blogosphere six months ago. In marked contrast, I have a very good reason (several, actually) to know that Radford does have a whopper of a personal COI, because of the public accusation and the blogstorm the accusation caused. In fact, knowing your usually excellent reasoning skills, I’m rather surprised you seem not to see the difference.

Even so, I will return your favor in that I also won’t presume that you have some sort of personal or ideological COI motivating you to be defending Radford for not disclosing his rather gaping personal COI on the topic of false accusations of sexual misconduct. Fair’s fair. 🙂

Publishing because you are obliged to publish puts you in some kind of COI (publish or perish). Those COI are usually disclosed because the institution that pays you and forces you to publish is named, but nevertheless this raises skepticism on scientific papers.

I’m not sure that counts, exactly. As a scientist, I am required to publish by my university if I wish to be promoted. However, my university doesn’t tell me what I should research or what I should publish.

Daniel Corcos @15 — Based on what I’ve seen during my own long academic career, the strategy of publishing large numbers of shoddy low-impact papers does not tend to be good for one’s career.

oh, by the way, they are on the board of directors of an antivaccine group

Do they get any compensation for their service, whether in the form of salary, honoraria, or reimbursement of travel expenses? If so, then that is a financial conflict of interest. At least, the IRS takes an interest in whether someone is paid by any of these means.

Likewise, Radford is presumably incurring some expenses to defend himself against sexual harassment charges, or may become the defendant in a civil or criminal proceeding. Whether you would consider that a financial COI is a reasonable question, but there is a financial angle to Radford’s position.

Well, isn’t that cute. Someone is accusing Orac of not saying enough when he blogs. Is today opposite day or something? Really, if there is anyone we can count on to be open about COI’s it’s Orac.

Orac, thank you for taking on some of the more touchy subjects in the skeptic movement. I know it can lead to some really serious trolling so it’s nice to see bloggers taking that risk when they may have little personal interest in the topic.

@ Orac
Of course, your university doesn’t tell you what you should publish, but journals tend to prefer positive results to negative ones.
@ Palindrom
Those who write shoddy papers have a better carrer if they publish a lot of them.

Great article, Orac, and a very key message: those aspiring to be skeptics and demand a high standard of openness and transparency from others must be prepared to meet the same standard when called upon.

I also think the remarks on the different sorts of conflicts of interest is illuminating.

For example, a British study last year indicated that there were 35 prosecutions for false accusations of rape during a 17-month period while there were 5,681 prosecutions for rape in the same period of time. The suggestion that false accusations of rape are commonplace does not appear to be supported by the evidence.

This is wide of the mark, at least transposed to the U.S., given that prosecutions aren’t some sort of objective measure of the validity of the accusations but rather of whatever those with prosecutorial discretion feel like doing.

I wholly agree, especially as I can point to instances where accusations were determined to be false and those who could have prosecuted not only declined to prosecute, but publicly announced that their reason for not doing so was a fear that punishing false accusations could lead to hesitancy in reporting true accusations. Anecdotes, yes, but I don’t think people are inclined to say in public “this is our policy” unless they perceive it to be a norm.

(Personal COI: At one time decades in the past I was slandered by accusations in the court of rumor that at some unspecified time, to some unspecified person, I had committed sexual assault. I happen to know exactly who decided that she was entitled to jump from her judgment “Ooh, I don’t understand him, he seems creepy to me, he probably would do something like that” to “I’m sure he must’ve at some point, so I’ll just start talking like I know it did happen.”)

And that’s the way to handle personal COIs. If Ben Radford had simply said somewhere in his post, “I was recently the victim of a false accusation of sexual harassment” (note again that I’m assuming that’s what he would say and again not making any conclusion about his guilt or innocence, not having sufficient knowledge of events or evidence to do so), I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to write this post.

It doesn’t take a scientific study to know with absolute certainty that false rape accusations are ubitiquitous. Accusing men of rape (which feminists have now redefined to mean any sex a woman regrets) is an openly tolerated, even encouraged strategy by feminists.

False accusations of rape are the way women rape men.

The scientific method cannot be applied to sexual harrasment/rape trends in society because they are strongly influenced by feminist political propaganda and opinion. The only way to know with absolute certainty is video evidence with DNA evidence. Otherwise it is at best circumstantial, at worst completely the claims by the accuser.

“Indeed, I think that, without a doubt, we can all agree that false accusations of serious crimes and misdeeds are bad things, horrible things, a terrible things, things that can ruin reputations and lives and even end up with people dying over them. If there’s anyone who disagrees with this contention, he’s one warped person with whom I want no part.”

Orac you have some hysterical feminazis in your RI insane asylum (PoliticalPig is one example) who I would bet money on having no problem whatsoever with false rape punishment because it punishes men for simply being men. I was getting accused of being a rapist on this anonymous forum simply for being a libertarian.

I’m a man, so I guess that is a Conflict of Interest on this topic.

In 2012, according to the FBI, nearly 87,000 “forcible rapes” were reported. That’s down 7% from the number of rapes reported in 2008. Law enforcement agencies estimate that the number of false rape accusations ranges from 2% to 8% annually, or between 2,000 and 7,000 cases each year.
http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/17/opinion/jones-rape-claim-lawsuits/

The other issue is the massive number of recantations in sexual assault cases. By trying to eliminate false accusations, the police make recantations much more common. It can be a problem, especially with mandatory lie detector tests.

but, brain fingerprinting and fMRI tests for perps sure make a lot of sense.

http://youtu.be/WBHy0UYBtwI

All defense lawyers should have these phone numbers on their rolodex. Very quick, quite reliable, provides a DA with a great reason not to indict, and provides ample evidence to prevent an unfair settlement.

I think there may be a much higher incidence of false claims in divorce proceedings, where there is no legal evidence but a judge deciding who gets what. Were i a family court judge, I would be using these techniques a lot, maybe not for trial evidence, but to help make other decisions.

Slight diversion here, but one that also raises questions of conflict of interest when promoting one’s conception of optimal health care.

There were letters in today’s Wall St. Journal in response to an op-ed about how medical practices are increasingly being subdivided among MDs and non-MD personnel, with more and more patients seeing nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants etc.

One NP smugly commented that “one aspect that sets NPs apart from other health-care providers is their unique emphasis on the health and well-being of the whole person”.

Where have we heard that before? Oh yes…just substitute “naturopath” or other alt-med provider for “nurse practitioner” and you’ll recognize the same self-serving and inaccurate glop.

Another letter writer (an MD from Kansas) noted that “Maybe the team approach works for primary care, but as a retina specialist, I can tell you that there is no team in eye.”

🙂

You need to work on your parody skills some more, Delysid. That almost sounds like something that someone might actually argue.

Delysid: I was getting accused of being a rapist on this anonymous forum simply for being a libertarian.

No, you made a very clear threat against me. And I’d just like to point out that one false accusation tends to outweigh 500 true rapes; this is the reason I think justice should be administered solely by the victims, since officials don’t take rape seriously, and rape is legal now in Oregon, Montana, Missouri, Texas and Ohio.

Delysid’s post above is a great big [citation needed].

And I’m at a loss to figure out what Mr. Wilcox is on about with his reference to “mandatory lie detector tests”. Lie detector test results are inadmissible in court, for the obvious reason that they have no scientific basis whatsoever. They are mandatory for people working in certain government agencies–ironically, the ones supposedly engaged in “intelligence”–but as Bob Park (of What’s New) liked to point out, no person convicted of espionage in this country has ever failed a lie detector test.

which feminists have now redefined to mean any sex a woman regrets

Um, citation seriously goddamn needed.

@Orac

I glanced over Radford’s post when you linked to it on Twitter, but didn’t read in depth. The impression I got at the time, having heard some of the back-and-forth last year, was that it was an attempt to put himself in the role of victim. I didn’t follow the events of last year really closely, so, like you, I can’t make any conclusions regarding his innocence or guilt. Just seemed like trying to suggest that he might be the victim of false accusations as well.

@politicalpig

I knew you couldn’t resist proving my point. You just explicitly confessed that false rape accusations are the price to pay.

I never made a very clear threat against you. I called you out for your insane hypocrisy and idiotic irrational accusations, but I said nothing remotely resembling a threat. If that was true, where was Orac? Is he an example of the type of official that doesn’t take rape (or threats) seriously?

You are so far off the deep end that you are a parody of the Feminazi stereotype. I take you about as seriously as a clown who walks up to me and squirted water in my face.

“Rape is legal in Oregon Montana Missuori Texas and Ohio.”

LOLOL

Please share more of your facts. That is comedy.

…but you must have some actual evidence demonstrating “false rape accusations are ubitiquitous” in order to you assert this known with “absolute certainty’, right?

So, what is it?

Also, please define “ubiquitous” more precisely: what fraction of all rape accusations do you believe to be false? 1 in 100? 1 in 10? 1 in 3?

@joanna

Search “what is rape?” and read the nonsensical explanations given on women’s help sites and rape crises sites. “If I don’t say no and consent, is it rape? Maybe! Report it to us and we will talk you through it!

@lawrence

Good one. That wasa seriously brilliant comment. You got me good. I submit to your obvious genius and look forward to the wisdom you will no doubt further contribute.

Delysid I fear you have a lot to learn of the ways in which women can rape men. It happens, its traumatic and its not via a false report.

The scientific method cannot be applied to sexual harrasment/rape trends in society because they are strongly influenced by feminist political propaganda and opinion.

Rubbish. Science studies highly politicized topics all the time.

Really, if there is anyone we can count on to be open about COI’s it’s Orac.

Thanks. I try. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

My pleasure Delsyid….and you still haven’t answered by questions, so I figure we’re even (though I would still be interested to know where in history, your “perfect” society has been attempted & proven to be successful).

Delysid: I said nothing remotely resembling a threat. If that was true, where was Orac?

You posted a question to PGP, asking her if she preferred to be violated in the anus or the vagina.

I will leave it to others to decide if that can be construed as a threat or merely as profoundly tasteless and idiotic lashing-out from someone who was being a sore loser.

@Orac

I hope you aren’t defending sociology as a science. Just because highly politicized studies are published all of the time doesn’t legitimize any of them. You better than anyone should know the consequences of politicized science and the unreliability of opinion.

Opinion studies are not science. If you did an opinion study asking mothers who adhere to alternative medicine if they believe vaccines caused autism in their child and 70% said yes, does this make it so? Why would they lie? It’s just science, right?

@Shay

I asked PoliticalPig if she preferred being raped in the ass or vagina as a sarcastic example of the highly offensive false dilemmas she is fond of spewing. It’s not my fault someone doesn’t understand deliberate and obvious hyperbole (though I concede that feminazi’s are incapable of understanding humor, so I should have been more careful with my wording).

@Lawrence

I see you are still using the Nirvana Fallacy.

@JGC

There is no way I can possibly guess what percentage of rape accusations are false. This is why it is essential to assume that every rape accusation is FALSE until proven otherwise, as everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Unfortunately, because of people like PoliticalPig, we now live in a society in which every person accused of rape is assumed guilty.

Look at the witch hunt currently being done by the media against Darren Sharper. So far there is zero evidence against him beyond the accusations themselves, yet he is being humiliated and disgraced by the media. As I was eating lunch just now the talking head on the “news” channel at the hospital cafeteria television was raging that Darren Sharper might get off because the prosecution hasn’t found enough evidence. It’s disgusting.

hope you aren’t defending sociology as a science. Just because highly politicized studies are published all of the time doesn’t legitimize any of them. You better than anyone should know the consequences of politicized science and the unreliability of opinion.

No, actually, I was thinking of disciplines like climate science, evolution, reproductive health, mental health, and the like.

@ incitatus

I fear you have a lot to learn of the ways in which women can rape men. It happens, its traumatic and its not via a false report.

I agree. Well, thanks goodness, not from personal experience.

A few years back, I was lurking on another blog where they were discussing a study/poll on the topic of sexual assaults, and there was mention in the study of a third category: men forced to penetrate someone else against their will. Doesn’t look like something nice either, for either participant.
Physical abuse is no joking matter, whatever the form it takes.

That being said, I would like to warn my fellow readers that this thread’s topic is at serious risks of being diverted from “conflicts of interest in medicine, science and skepticism” into “false accusations of rape”. Or into another favorite, “it happens to men too, so stop making it all about you, [insert derogatory term here, e.g. feminazi]”

Write whatever you want. But please remember:
Abusers – of any gender – are predators. Don’t confront them unless you have a big gun (one you know how to use). Don’t encourage them to play their games, by example by saying it’s No Big Deal..
The same rules apply to internet predators, a.k.a. trolls.

@Delsyid – I’m doing no such thing, as I am asking you a direct question. Either you can provide an answer or you cannot.

Your choice.

In re the comment that the prosecution rate for rape versus false rape accusation is biased in some way: What other public measure do we have that is better? We know that rape is an under-reported crime, and the rape prosecution rate is lower than for other crimes. I suggest that this ratio might be an upper end rather than a floor. Does anyone have a better measure?

As far as Corcos’ yet-another-slander against the ethics of scientists and scientific publication, I say this: If you don’t publish your results and share them with others in your field, then no one benefits from the work, no matter how good it is. Advancements of knowledge must be shared with others to do the rest of the world any good. Otherwise it’s not science, it’s a hobby. That would be a waste of time, money and materials. Please, since you seem to don’t grasp this most basic point about scientific research, read more and comment less until you catch up. Thank you.

@Everyone

Here is a list of convicted rapists who were exonerated with the help of the Innocence Project and DNA EVIDENCE

http://www.innocenceproject.org/know/Search-Profiles.php?check=check&title=&yearConviction=&yearExoneration=&jurisdiction=&cause=&perpetrator=&compensation=&conviction=rape&x=28&y=0

This is only a microscopic sample of the pandemic of false accusation and wrongful conviction in our society.

Unfortunately, even DNA evidence can’t always exonerate an accused rapist as consensual sex inevitably leaves DNA. Also unfortunately, sex is (usually) a private event, making it the word of the accuser against the accused.

Sexual harassment is subjective. Anybody can be accused of sexual harassment and the stigmatization can follow them for life.

@Orac

Every instance of rape accusation/sexual misconduct/harassment, without exception, should be treated as false until proven otherwise. This is innocent until proven guilty. Just because rape has become a hyper-emotional topic does not make it immune from proper jurisprudence.

That being said, I would like to warn my fellow readers that this thread’s topic is at serious risks of being diverted from “conflicts of interest in medicine, science and skepticism” into “false accusations of rape”. Or into another favorite, “it happens to men too, so stop making it all about you, [insert derogatory term here, e.g. feminazi]”

Yup. That’s what always seems to happen with this topic in pretty much every online discussion of it that I come across.

That’s why I tried to be very careful and stick to two key points:

1. Skeptics knowing their own COIs, be they financial, ideological, or personal experience, and the importance of being open about them, both for convincing others and to become better skeptics by knowing their own biases. This is something that Mr. Radford, unfortunately, failed at. Bad arguments in the service of a correct conclusion are still a skeptical fail. How you come to your conclusions matters—a lot.

2. Skeptics, particularly when holding forth on controversial topics, need to use data and evidence, not anecdotes, something Mr. Radford, unfortunately, also failed at.

Regarding the latter part, even if Mr. Radford were 100% correct about false accusations of rape being “common,” his argument would still be a skeptical fail, relying, as it did, on dubious reasoning and anecdotes rather than an attempt to synthesize the best evidence out there. The topic is so controversial that two people looking at the same body of evidence could well come to conclusions that are quite different, but such arguments need to be based on evidence. Mr. Radford’s were not, sadly.

There is no way I can possibly guess what percentage of rape accusations are false.

Which makes your initial claim “It doesn’t take a scientific study to know with absolute certainty that false rape accusations are ubitiquitous” a false statement, agreed?

This is why it is essential to assume that every rape accusation is FALSE until proven otherwise, as everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

It’s certainly correct to assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It isn’t correct to assume that accusations of rape are somehow inherently more likely to be false than accusations of any other accusation of crime–agreed?

Unfortunately, because of people like PoliticalPig, we now live in a society in which every person accused of rape is assumed guilty.

No more so than someone accused of theft or embezzlement is assumed guilty, in my experience at least.

Look at the witch hunt currently being done by the media against Darren Sharper. So far there is zero evidence against him beyond the accusations themselves, yet he is being humiliated and disgraced by the media.

There’s sufficient evidence against him to have secured an indictment, and for at least 3 other states to consider him a person of interest in prior assaults. As for being humilated and disgraced in the media, is the media treating him any differently than they would be if he’d instead been accused of domestic violence, or robbery, or dealing drugs?

As I was eating lunch just now the talking head on the “news” channel at the hospital cafeteria television was raging that Darren Sharper might get off because the prosecution hasn’t found enough evidence. It’s disgusting.

Which might also occur if he had instead been charged with armed robbery or assault and battery, if there were insufficient evuidence to demonstrate his guilt.

You really seem to believe that the testimony of women who claim they have been witnesses to and/ or victims of rape is somehow more likely to be false than that of individuals who have been victims/witnesses to other types of crime.

Why?

@Orac

By divulging that he was accused of sexual harassment, he is incidentally stigmatizing himself. Does he have to say this every time he writes an essay?

Give me a break.

Orac, weren’t you falsely accused of academic misconduct?

Do you divulge this information at the start of every blog?

@JGC

“You really seem to believe that the testimony of women who claim they have been witnesses to and/ or victims of rape is somehow more likely to be false than that of individuals who have been victims/witnesses to other types of crime.

Why?”

Because that is the easiest type of crime to falsely accuse someone of. This is compounded by the fact that there is an ongoing propaganda campaign to encourage false rape accusations.

You can’t walk around a college campus without seeing rape flyers in practically every building. There is even a despicable feminist concept called rape culture.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_culture

It’s worth remembering–because people try to obfuscate this in the case of rape–that the Innocence Project isn’t showing “there was no crime,” it’s showing “this is not the person who committed this crime.”

If there’s proof at John Doe didn’t commit the murder he was convicted of, that doesn’t mean that the victim is still alive. It means that someone else committed that murder: someone who might still be alive and out of prison. Similarly, if there’s proof that he didn’t commit a rape he was convicted of, that doesn’t mean the rape didn’t happen. The most common sort of proof in this case is DNA evidence: in other words, evidence that someone was raped shows that this particular man isn’t the rapist. Counting that as a “false accusation” is like insisting that if Smith didn’t commit that murder, we need to adjust the statistics to show that one fewer murder was committed. But we don’t: not knowing who committed a crime doesn’t mean that there was no crime.

Funny how the people who say ‘Rape culture doesn’t exist’ are often the same people who are quick to use sexual assault imagery to hurt other people.

Sexual harassment is subjective

Citation seriously goddamn needed. Again.

And, as a survivor of sexual abuse and assault, I’m checking out of this thread because it’s just too damn upsetting.

I understand, Johanna. Delysid is one who I ignore. He is among those that in real life I would active avoid.

@Johanna

Please tell me what is sexual harassment. What is your objective explanation?

Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say we work together and you catch me staring at your breasts and it makes you uncomfortable. Is this sexual harassment? Would you report me to HR?

What if I said I was lost in thoughts about other things and not paying attention to anything in particular and that I was not actually fantasizing about you and not staring intentionally?

Who is right? Is the woman right just because she feels harassed?

I, too, am “a survivor of sexual abuse.” That is completely irrelevant to all of this. It’s not my fault that you are upset at this thread. it’s not my fault that you are offended by a past incident that I have no control over.

@AdamG

Sticks and stick may break our bones but words are the most destructive and harmful thing anybody can do to a progressive.

Is that how the saying goes?

@58

I’m right there with you, Johanna.

Ugh, it makes me cringe that I live in the same state as Delysid.

Lovely.

So Maned Wolf cringes knowing that I’m in the same State. Johanna is having flashbacks about sexual abuse. PoliticalPig claims I clearly threatened her. AdamG thinks I’m using sexual imagery to harm her. Chris cited me as an example of something to actively avoid in life.

@Orac

Why don’t you do a blog about “female hysteria?”

This is compounded by the fact that there is an ongoing propaganda campaign to encourage false rape accusations.

Citation needed: what media campaign is encouraging anyone to falsely report the crime of rape?

AdamG thinks I’m using sexual imagery to harm her.

Dude, I’m just going by your own words. You said you made that comment to PGP specifically to offend her, i.e. to cause her emotional harm.

Lovely.

So Maned Wolf cringes knowing that I’m in the same State. Johanna is having flashbacks about sexual abuse. PoliticalPig claims I clearly threatened her. AdamG thinks I’m using sexual imagery to harm her. Chris cited me as an example of something to actively avoid in life.

So either we are dealing with “female hysteria”, or Delysid is a misogynist creep.

How can I ever decide?

@TBruce – given that you’ve proven to have a braiin and think that people with vaginas can do more than pop out babies, I’m sure you will come to the correct conclusion about Delysid.

I’m still trying to figure out why I want to write “slime bucket” instead of Delysid.

PS. Sexual Harassment has a definition. It’s when you are 1)told what you are doing makes someone (male OR female) uncomfortable and to stop it AND YOU DON”T or 2) you are in a position of power over that person and make comments that make that person uncomfortable but they can’t tell you to stop it if it would risk their job. Just staring off into space doesn’t cut it. However, if the woman asks you to stop staring at her breasts and you continue, THAT is harassment.

And few women report actual rapes. False reports of rape are even rarer. So don’t BS me about false rape reports. ANY time you have sexual contact with someone and consent is withheld or withdrawn (even during the act itself), continuing is rape. Forced sexual contact when there is no consent.

Now go away, Delysid, until you can talk without being a MRA.

@MI Dawn

“Now go away, Delysid, until you an tak without being a MRA”

What’s wrong with being a men’s rights activist? You are actually admitting you are against men’s rights? Unbelievable.

Orac have you been encouraging this flagrant bigotry while I was gone?

@AdamG

Now your comrades are calling me a “slime bucket” and a “misogynist creep.”

They are using words to try to harm me! Why aren’t you coming to my defense?!

Delysid, your writing is offensive and makes you sound like a mysoginistic jerk. I’m an older white guy, and you creep me out. I wouldn’t want my kid to be in the same state as you, and he’s nearly 18 with a martial arts black belt. I certainly would not want to be forced to spend time with you in person. Are you detecting a pattern in people’s comments to you? Look left, look right, they’re not where the bad smell of antisocial is coming from so it’s… you.

Cheer up, Delysid; the market is responding to you appropriately, which I gather is the entire point of libertarianism.

Looks like your “Invisible Hand” is working.

@JerryA

Yeah okay older white guy. If you raised your son to be a feminist weakling then it would do him well hanging out with me. I’ll teach him masculinity. The world doesn’t need any more submissive conforming socialist weakling men.

I generally like to avoid tiresome boors who mung up basic history, and think they are actually being clever. Being a text book example of the Dunning-Kruger effect is a repulsive personality trait.

@Chris

How long has this blog been an echo chamber of the same 25 or so regulars?

You people are as hostile and repulsive as a group can get.

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