Extraordinary Claims

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , , | Posted on 1:21 PM


So my resolution to give myself a rest from the dust-up on FTB lasted about three minutes. It bothers me to see arrogance and ignorance of evidence passed off as surety about the way the world works.

All too often it's used to sandbag feminists who have not, perhaps, been to college or whose specialties are not in statistics and research-- I'm not good at ignoring that for long, because I know what it feels like to perceive the problems but not have access to enough research to prove the problems. It feels suffocating, and I have some strong feelings about that being done to feminists and allies.

A particular strain of reasoning keeps popping up in the push back to modernizing and enforcing harassment rules, typically wielded by people whose sole qualification for rebuttal appears to be having been born male and just 'knowing' that the pervasiveness of sexism and harassment is an extraordinary claim.

On a personal note, this is where I say that I have never had a job, as both an adult and a minor, in which I was not sexually harassed. I'm still getting it from my students: last semester I had a student who had spent the whole semester insisting that women hold power over men, and therefore there's no real reason to study sexism. That same student, toward the end of the semester, suggested that I should get drunk, and speculated on how fun I might be when drunk in front of the entire class, disrupting lecture. I also spent significant portions of last semester with one of my professors staring at my tits whenever we talked. His department head dismissed it when I reported because "I must have misunderstood him/it's normal for Iranian professors to stare fixedly at the breasts of female students."

I asked the Iranians I know. It's not normal.

The statement "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" comes up often during discussion of the -isms. It's not difficult to see why it comes up: here are a set of experiences which contradict the assumption of innocence and good will which privileged persons like to presume exists. They can assume it exists, of course, because they haven't encountered anything in their lives which concerns the issue and puts them at a disadvantage, or they've encountered explanations for it which blame the victim of harassment. System justification explains why even people who are on the receiving end of harassment sometimes buy the idea that they should be at fault for it, let alone those who gain advantage from their relationship to whatever is being discussed. (Pro-tip: historically, it's courtesy of religion.)*

When confronted with the idea that they have participated in a system which makes problems for others and in which they profit from historical and current stratification, these same persons flat out deny the problem. It must be an extraordinary claim: after all, they haven't experienced it.

I am always amused that their experience is fully enough to render a claim extraordinary, but the experiences of people who have been harassed are, of course, not enough. Some of the detractors seem, without the slightest self-reflection, to be comfortable claiming that only their experience is adequate for evidence. When someone challenges this, the epithets start flying. The only reason we might possibly think there's a problem must be hysteria, as is any sort of frustration with their obtuse behavior.

The link storm previous was only the tiniest sliver of research available; I deliberately used only full PDFs, and only things available on google scholar. Through the college at which I teach, I have access to hundreds of thousands of studies, but I have to assume not everyone has access to those kind of resources. The weight of evidence is in, and it does not favor those who reject the idea that there are systematic problems which do not require conscious participation.

I turn the burden of proof over to those who would deny the phenomenon, since making claims on anecdote in defiance of (instead of in compliance with, which I note anecdotes about harassment are) what is known and proved to be true is a far more extraordinary claim than the pedestrian and rather common claim that harassment, discrimination and cruelty based on gender, race, money or orientation exist.

I find the first claim, that this is not a problem, does not exist, is not current or that it is uncommon, extraordinarily extraordinary. I have no reason to believe that it's true.


*Would you believe these same people will argue there's no science to support the assertion that there are systematic problems which they can participate in unconsciously? Every one of those links is to a study and/or dissertation concerning system justification, the effects of system justification, and conscious/unconscious participation in these problems. These are also links to the full PDF, since I've been complained at for linking abstracts.

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