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PZ Myers and false rape accusations

2013/08/24

Something that’s been bugging me: Those of you who follow the skepticisphere know that a few weeks ago, Pz posted a report from an undisclosed source that Michael Shermer got her drunk at a conference a few years ago and raped her.This isn’t an anonymous source. He knows her well, so his judgment that this accusation is probably true isn’t just statistical. I’d link to it, but the post was taken down after Shermer threatened to sue. 

A lot of people don’t want to believe this accusation. That’s understandable. There are a lot of good reasons to like Shermer. I used to like him quite a bit. He’s written some good books. Denying History is a big part of what got me into skepticism and a history major in the first place. It’s difficult to believe that someone could you like could do something horrible, like rape. It means you are a bad judge of character and it means you may have inadvertently enabled his behavior.

However, even if you can’t believe Shermer is actually guilty, it makes no sense to think PZ made the whole thing up. He’s risking a hell of a lot for something that, at best, will lead to a slight reduction in Shermer’s fan base. Surely if he were the type of person who makes up malicious allegations (which is not in evidence), there are people he liked far less than Shermer. What the hell would the motive be? All possible motives make no sense and if you think that PZ is a guy who’s irrational would throw away a good deal of his social standing and risk a difficult lawsuit over petty revenge that was unlikely to be very effective, you’ve been reading a different column than I have for the past six years.

Yes he’s sometimes angry and occasionally will go overboard in an argument because he’s emotionally invested, but that’s everybody except Spock, and maybe even him. It’s certainly not the same thing as a reckless, malicious liar.

I’m not saying that the idea that the accuser made the whole thing up and bamboozled PZ, who acted in good faith, is particularly plausible either, because it isn’t, especially when you factor in that large parts of the story were corroborated by third parties. My point is the fact that people who don’t believe the story go straight to blaming PZ is fairly strong evidence that they are either evaluating the situation irrationally because they like Shermer and dislike PZ or are arguing in bad faith and are jumping on this story because it looks like convenient ammo to discredit PZ, not because they give a damn about the accusations. EIther way, it’s a bullshit argument.

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