Thursday, October 4, 2018

Science or faith-based ideology - a case study in the classical response "Distinguo"

I came across a new website (new to me) Behavioral Scientist. In sociology and psychology, you always have to be careful whether you are dealing with scientists or social justice Jacobins. They are both interesting fields but overcrowded with purveyors of ideology rather than science.

As is my custom when dealing with a new website, I picked a recent post/article about some controversial topic. In this instance, What the Origins of the “1 in 5” Statistic Teaches Us About Sexual Assault Policy by Alexandra Rutherford.

The summary is, ideology site, not a science site.

The question posed by Rutherford is an interesting one and the article starts out very promisingly.
In 1976, Koss, then a newly minted assistant psychology professor at Kent State University, became intrigued by the difficulty of gathering accurate statistics about rape and sexual assault. As she later recalled, “I had recently read journalist Susan Brownmiller’s book, Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. Using what few data were available at the time, she carefully documented that the scope of rape was underestimated. The challenge of finding these unmeasured rapes pulled me in….”

To rise to this challenge, Koss used her expertise in survey design and measurement to develop a questionnaire, the Sexual Experiences Survey, that would be worded to pick up a wide range of sexual victimization experiences, including rape. In its first version, the survey included thirteen questions. Twelve of those asked about behavior but did not use the word “rape.” For example, one question, which constituted the legal definition of rape, was, “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with a man when you didn’t want to because he used some degree of physical force?” The 13th question was, “Have you ever been raped?”

Koss administered this initial survey to over 3,800 students at Kent State. As expected, she found that rape was prevalent on campus. What was more startling, and what became—and has remained—controversial in ensuing debates, was that over half of her female respondents who endorsed the legal definition of rape did not simultaneously endorse the item in which their experiences were called “rape.” Importantly, participants were more likely to respond with this disconnect if the rape was perpetrated by an acquaintance as opposed to a stranger.

The last item on the survey, “Have you ever been raped?” had originally been intended only as a validity check. But its inclusion actually exposed the wide gap between experiencing certain acts and publicly naming them “rape,” especially if the experience was with someone known to the respondent. This finding was crucial in making date and acquaintance rape visible and helped explain why previous efforts to measure sexual assault suffered from underreporting.
That's the rub - inconstancy of definition. Or variability of definition if you will. There is a legal definition. There is a colloquial definition. There is a personal definition. And there are large areas of undefined overlap.

The colloquial version of rape which would usually include such elements as a stranger, overpowering force, and penetration is fortunately statistically rare and tragically still far too common. Especially among those with unstable or chaotic or impoverished lives.

And that colloquial version doesn't encompass all the elements which most legal definitions include and certainly doesn't include the more expansive personal definitions which can exist.

I had a conversation a little while ago with a neighbor steeped in the social justice ideology. We were discussing whether the mere existence of differences between groups (differential impact) was sufficient to prove malicious discrimination. His position was that any differential impact must be solely the result of malicious prejudice.

I held that differentials arise from all sorts of choices and preferences among individuals in a fashion that has nothing to do with assertive malevolent prejudice. As an example, lenders who deny people with poor credit histories loans are not discriminating against them because of any other attribute that they might have (gender, race, religion, etc.) but solely because of the associated risk exposure the lender is willing to undertake given the empirical probability of default associated with credit scores. The fact that there might be other affiliative relationships based on gender, or race, or orientation, or religion, or country of origin, etc. has nothing to do with stereotype prejudice.

He was having none of it. Differential impact must inherently be the result solely of ignorance, stereotyping and malicious prejudice.

The point is that his definition of demonstrated prejudice was "any differential impact" whereas my definition was "application of unwarranted prejudices against an individual based on group identity, especially when individual distinguishing individual information might be available." Without a shared definition, we could not reach agreement.

So I am thinking that Rutherford is heading in an interesting direction with this origin story of Koss's findings.

But then Rutherford comes off the rail. She doesn't develop the argument. She does not explore why there are differences in definition, whether there are patterns to those differences, what the relative significance might be. She goes with the social justice trope that many women don't know whether they have been raped or not based on those women not having sufficient awareness.

Rutherford tips her hand when she goes after Christina Hoff Sommers as an example of the unwashed her have strayed from the ideological fold. These are difficult and complex issues and to slight those with credible alternative views is to reveal a closed mind.
At their most damning, critics charged Koss with literally conjuring up an experience that simply did not exist. One of these critics, self-dubbed “factual feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers, continues to argue that the “1 in 5” statistic is inflated and leads to exaggerated claims of rape victimization and thus ineffective policies (she has also named it one of five “feminist myths that will not die,” alongside the gender pay gap and stats about the sexual trafficking of girls).
Rutherford misses so many opportunities to explore how we might make progress on understanding what we are talking about and how all people of good faith, abhorring rape as they all do, can both acknowledge the particular trauma and social consequences of rape while at the same time observing due process, equality under the law, etc.

Instead Rutherford falls down the Social Justice Jacobin ideology hole.
It is now over 30 years since Koss first published her work on hidden rape victims. Instead of rehashing whether “1 in 5” is valid and whether women are reliable interpreters of their own experiences, we should be asking why it is so hard for us to hear these experiences and connect them to larger structures of power and domination. The history of “1 in 5” challenges us to critically examine, in the present moment, who has the power to name rape and be believed, under what conditions, and with what consequences.

As the #MeToo movement unfolds and we grapple with how to extend its reach to racialized, gender minority, immigrant, low socioeconomic status, and precariously employed women—all those who have historically been denied the power to name their own experiences or face violent consequences if they do—we should brainstorm policies that will make it possible and safe for more women to speak meaningfully and contextually about all forms of sexual victimization. Only then can we begin both to help individuals and to dismantle the systems that silence them.
Can't help but interpret this as "Instead of rehashing the results of bad research, we should surrender to a warped and discredited philosophy/ideology."

I'll check out a couple of more articles but the first one doesn't bode well.

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