Monday, May 23, 2005


There's been a minor kerfuffle over a recent Skeptics' Circle. A post at Dean's World responded to a piece I put in my Circle, and it went into the next CIrcle. Dr. Myers of Pharyngula ran the piece, but said that it had
but one virtue: irony. Look at these opening lines in disbelief.
It seems the ignorance of feminists is not only alive and well, but growing at an astonishing rate. Or maybe it’s deliberate, this dissemination of obvious untruth. I vote for the deliberate, as I’ve never met a feminist or women’s shelter advocate yet who could hold an entire conversation without resorting to at least one fabrication.
If you must read further, watch the phony strawman go up in the second paragraph, too. Ouch.

The question of the appropriateness of the editorializing went round and round, with Esmay saying that Myers "couldn't be fair or honest when [his] views are challenged."

Saint Nate is the founder of the Circle, and has watched this spat with alarm. In preparation for his own imminent hosting of the Circle, he started putting together some tighter guidelines, which he hopes will result in A Tighter Circle.

As the person who precipitated the squabble by running the piece on men's rights activists, I figure I should clarify why I ran it.

I didn't care that it was an attack on MRAs. Someone looked at a number of MRA sites and determined that they all used the same dataset from before 1990. In researching why that same study kept cropping up, Ampersand looked at newer data, and found that the new data undermine the claims the MRAs were making.

So, a claim was proffered (women are as likely to attack their male partners as vice versa) backed with data. A skeptic was skeptical, and challenged the data. The data turned out to be cherry-picked, justifying the skepticism.

I'm not sure I'd have run the response because it doesn't seem to address the claim head on. One could be skeptical of the claim that women are more likely to be victims of violence by a male partner, and could present data to counter the claim, but that's not what happened. Instead, the point was made that later studies are cited (but not for the same claim), and that domestic violence shelters have flaws.

Those may well be fair points, but they aren't skeptical. Skepticism has a role to play in politics, but the post in question did not use the skeptical toolkit.

Some would say that since I gave the claim and the politics behind it a platform, the Circle ought to give a forum for a response. I don't think so. If the analysis is flawed, perhaps, and if someone actually found proof of psychic powers, I'd want the Skeptics' Circle to cover it. But MRAs no more deserve equal time than psychics do. If they can offer data or counter the data-driven claim, they deserve equal time, but otherwise they don't. And no wheat grass advocates demanded an opportunity to counter the claims about the indigestibility of wheat grass (though I'm sure they could offer arguments).

That said, a carnival is tricky because it's a system where bloggers self-nominate. If someone really thinks something is relevant, and the host disagrees, how much editorial control is it appropriate for a host to exercise? I don't know that I wouldn't have done what Myers did if I were in his shoes. I think I would have put the piece last and said that it was on the border.