Last night I gave my initial reaction to the dispute between PZ Myers and Michael Shermer. After having some time to digest the issue further, here’s a few more thoughts. If you are interested, here’s the subsequent letter sent to Myers from Shermer’s attorney.
In addition to making serious accusations of rape or sexual predation against someone based on anonymous sources and then proliferating the charges on an open forum like Free Thought Blogs — you know, rather than advising the woman that he is just a professor and that she should get an attorney and go to the police — the other problem that I see with PZ Myers’ recent post is that of accountability.
For Jason Thibeault, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the truth of the claims against Shermer is that a witness, also anonymous, corroborated the evidence — oh and by the way, the witness, in Myers’ words, “doesn’t particularly like me — so no accusations of fannishness, OK?”
Here is Thibeault’s infallible logic:
And the reason I’m willing to trust PZ to have vetted his claims before making the accusation public like he has, is exactly because I know he treats these accusations seriously and trusts the victims but verifies the stories before putting his own sizable bank of trust on the line (emphasis mine).
Essentially, then, Thibeault trusts Myers because he trusts Myers. Brilliant. How can one possibly know with complete certainty that Myers treats the accusations seriously and that he is even capable of verifying the information in a way that would pass legal muster? He is a scientist who runs a blog, for Christ’s sake, no background in law or criminal justice and no amount of support from his fellow feminists will change that. In fact, other than his word, I, nor anyone else, has any way of knowing if Myers is more or less ethical than Michael Shermer. What we do know is that Shermer has basically been written off as an allegedly misogynist hound by a handful of far left feminist bloggers over at FtB for daring to criticize Ophelia Benson and their brand of feminism, thus subsequently raising the ire of the whole group-thinking bunch, not the least of whom was Myers himself, proving once again that not even self-proclaimed freethinking atheists are capable of examining an issue with a clear head without the cloud of parochialism setting in.
Two other things that strike me about Myer’s post was the context in which he outlined the “evidence” by using language like “explosive,” grenade” and the hyperbolic “Boom,” as if he was actually enjoying exposing an alleged rapist, hardly an appropriate tone given the nature of the offense. The second anonymous correspondence was also problematic:
Michael Shermer was the guest of honor at an atheist event I attended in Fall 2006; I was on the Board of the group who hosted it. It’s a very short story: I got my book signed, then at the post-speech party, Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly. I lost count of how many drinks I had. He was flirting with me and I am non-confrontational and unwilling to be rude, so I just laughed it off. He made sure my wine glass stayed full. …
Unless Shermer forced the wine down her throat, I don’t see an offense here, yet to Myers this is “mainly illustrative of his tactics,” with no mention that the woman intentionally kept drinking with Shermer. If this event even happened, the woman was free to stop drinking the wine and leave. Yet, she chose to keep tipping them back. It’s perhaps natural then to expect two people of the opposite sex with some things in common to get a little flirty after a few drinks, yet again, to Myers this episode “tells you exactly what kind of behavior to watch out for with him.” What about her? Does her non-confrontational nature always force her to have long conversations over wine even though she might not be interested?
Perhaps the worst problem in all of this — and the real bugbear about anonymous sources — is that anyone can make an accusation against anyone and a person’s character can immediately be castigated just by the nature of the charge, regardless of whether there is actually any truth to the claim, and since Myers and his “followers,” along with Shermer, have had tensions in the past, forgive me if I’m suspicious of some anonymous claims that would support Myer’s and Benson’s previous allegations that Shermer is indeed the cad they say he is.