Donnerstag, 19. Januar 2012

Rape, statistics, criteria and probability

Since this has come up again and again in discussions about Schrödinger's rapist, I thought I'd put together something about statistics and probabilities, which is something most people don't really understand.
Not that I was a mathematician or something, so, it's a layperson's explication for laypeople.
If I make factual errors please correct me.
The latest example of this is in The Crommunist's excellent post on Racism and Schrödinger's Rapist.
Here are the facts people can mostly agree on (I'm too lazy to link the sources right now. Ask me and I'll do so):
  • Between 1 in 6 and 1 in 4 women are raped during their lifetime.
  • They are alsmost exclusively raped by men (98%)
  • Between 1 in 15 and 1 in 20 men are rapists.
  • Most women are raped by someone they know, only about 3% of women are raped by a stranger.
Those are pretty scary statistics, but they look a lot better once you turn them around:
  • 75-86% of women are never raped
  • 93-95% of men are not rapists
  • The stranger on the street is safer than the acquaintance who's giving you a ride home.
Therefore, people argue, it is unfair to contemplate the idea that a random stranger you meet at night in a dark area might be a rapist. The chances of being raped there and then are very small. It's also unfair to make this decision due to the sex of the person. After all, they also all have 2 eyes and I don't treat 2-eyed people as potential rapists.

There are several problems with this which I'll try to show.

1) Probability never hits the individual with 3%. Any risk/chance is calculated on a large number of data. When the actual event happens, there's only 1 or 0: you don't win the lottery 1:480.000.000. You either win it, or you don't. While it is a fact that the chances of winning the lottery are extremely small, people do indeed win the lottery.
Smaller example: When you throw a dice, the chance of rolling a 6 is 1 in 6. And the average number you roll is 3.5. The moment you throw it, the chances break down. The number is cast and you'll never roll a 3.5.

2) 3% isn't a small number. 5% isn't a small number. If you get that much interest, or have to pay it, you notice 3% quickly.
Walk along highstreet and count the women. Statiscally, number 6, 12, 18, 24 have been raped by somebody they know, number 30 by a stranger.
Count the men. Number 20 is a rapist (statistically. Don't do this with a group of people you know, it might drive you nuts). He has raped an average 6 times.
How many times can you repeat that exercise until you reach your office/the supermarket/etc?

3) Those numbers are people. The example above should have demonstrated that we're talking indeed about a lot of people. Above, we just assigned the value rape survivor / rapist by statistics. You have no clue who they actually are. Probably the first man you met was the rapist, maybe none in the first 20 was a rapist, but 16, 17 and 18 in the second set of 20. As long as there are no additional criteria/information, you cannot tell. And you ignore the peril at your own risk.

4) There are necessary conditions, sufficient conditions and red herrings.
The fact that all rapists have (more or less) two eyes is not in any way corelated with rape. It's a logical conclusion of them being humans. As a criterium to distinguish between potential rapists and harmless people, it's absolutely useless, since I cannot eliminate anybody by that.
If I want to be aware of poisonous snakes and be able to tell them from harmless snakes, "no legs" is a useless criterium.
Other criteria make more sense. The fact that most rapists are men is more usefull*. Now, as people rightly pointed out, viewing all men as potential rapists doesn't make much sense either, not any more than all grey snakes when, although all poisonous snakes were grey, only 5% of grey snakes are poisonous. But, honestly, which snake would you be more wary of if you found it on your terrace, the grey one or the green one?
So we add more criteria. Is he trying to isolate me? Is he getting uncomfortably close in a lone area? Does he follow me into confined spaces? Now, none of those criteria necessarily mean rapist. There are perfectly non-rapy reasons for doing so, maybe he doesn't notice that he's isolating me, or he really just wants to be helpfull and make sure that I get home safely. Maybe he's just heading home. Maybe he just confused the doors because he's a bit drunk himself.
Fact is, although those behaviours might be harmless, they are also the exact same behaviours a rapist would show. Those are, so to speak, necessary conditions for a rapist. But they are not sufficient conditions. The sufficient condition is the rape. That's when you cast the die and if it comes down as a six you're raped. So, is it reasonable to wait until that moment, or should you avoid rolling the die?
Maybe this grey, 2m long snake with the checkered pattern is completely harmless and just mimicking the looks of the poisonous 2m checkered grey snake, but since you can't tell until you're attacked, is it reasonable to be carefull with all 2m checkered grey snakes?

*What did I just say about numbers? 4 in 1000 women are raped by women. But I'm lacking data about how many women are raped by strange women. I don't think the numbers are the same, but just for the sake of the argument, let's use the same numbers as for men:
15% strangers: 6 in 10.000 women are raped by a strange woman.
Each rapist rapes about 4 new victims (they rape 6 times, the difference is due to women being victimized more than once), so 1 in 1000 women you meet is a rapist.

5) Schrödinger's anybody
In our daily lives, we engage in a lot of Schrödingers'.
-If you drive a car, you engage in Schrödinger's reckless driver. You monitor those around you for potential mistakes and outright violations. If you have right of way and a car approaches, you assess the situation, you watch it the other driver slows down to yield or not.
Does that mean you accuse the other driver unfairly of being an incompetent idiot who can't drive?

-If you engage in casual sex, you find it reasonable to use a condom for protection. Does that mean that you unfairly accuse the other person of having an STD?

-If you shield the panel while at the ATM, do you unfairly accuse the person behind you of being a criminal?

-If you don't open your door for a stranger while alone at home, are you unfairly accusing the other person of being a burglar?

If your answer is no to all the above, why are you upset at women being wary around strange men in a dark car-park.

Donnerstag, 12. Januar 2012

Boy or girl?

If you know me, you probably know the answer.
If you don't, so what?
Please, don't pressure the kids into some stereotypeor other.

Take the above as a picture of a kid.

Donnerstag, 5. Januar 2012

The rational debate

Well, people engaging in the ongoing debate about sexism in atheist/skeptic communities have been throughly chastized by D.J. Grothe from the JREF:
I think as skeptics, it behooves us to be a bit more generous with others in disagreement, to be slower to vilify, and to engage in less scorched-earthing. I know it may be good for blog hits, but it is bad for skepticism and in my view, is antithetical to our values.
He also thinks that we are too much engaging in groupthink:
And I do believe that much atheist and skeptic blogging engages in far too much in-group/out-group categorizing, us vs. them thinking.
Basically, both sides are equally bad and should just stop. We also have to be nice to people who threaten women with violence that women calling them out are unfair.

So, let's see how actually both sides are equally bad and what the people engaged on the other side are actually making as arguments:

Note: This is intended to be an ongoing collection for handy reference. Please post your examples as comments with attribution.

Tube Worm on the CFI blog #166
It’s nice to see Watson, Myers, and their legions upon legions of  fem-zombies continuing their project to hijack the skeptical movement to push their radical leftist political agenda. Over the last year I’ve seen this movement devolve into a PC-whitewash fest in which dissenters are tarred and feathered as “sexists” and “mysoginists, vitriole has come to replace reasoned debate, and fuzzy PoMo critical-theory reasoning has become a stand-in for science and evidence. If this keeps on, the skeptical movement will have to abandon science altogether, lest we offend anyone with “sexed” equations like E=mc^2, which clearly “privileges” (*vomit*) light over energy.
And that's not the end of it.
Here's his characterization of the whole  debate (#175):

Hi David,
Welcome to the Skeptical Movement’s version of the Cultural Revolution!
I’m not sure what happened, but at some point over the  previous year, skepticism suddenly lost interest in science and critical thinking and suddenly began to resemble a freshman sociology class at a third-tier liberal arts college.  Skeptical discussion became less of a reasoned debate about facts and evidence and more about upholding a far-left PC worldview and purging and ostracizing those who don’t toe the line. As in certain religious movements and cults, those who poke the new Sacred Cows (I.e deviating from the party line on issues of gender, sexuality, and leftist politics in general) become victims of online lynch mobs and character assassination—not unlike the way the Athiest Movement attempted to silence atheists who were opposed to a militant approach to discussion with people of faith.
 At the heart of the shitstorm are certain personalities of questionable motives who are jockeying for leadership, control of the agenda and discourse, and who are attempting to purge the “old guard.” As usual, politics ruins everything and like you, I have lost all interest in participating or contributing to this movement. 
If he could just do as he says...

Liam is very disappointed with us:

Wow, reading the reactions have left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve always considered myself pro-feminist. But looking at the hysterical reactions in these blogs, the attempted character assassination, the extremely disappointing personal attacks in the blog post. And the extremely low level of discourse on a subject that really needs a rational consideration rather than succumbing to the heat of emotion that such subjects as these make it easy to fall into.
But it does seem that such a touchy and important subject like this in this self proclaimed skeptical community are not immune to these horrible non arguments and character attacks by community spokespeople and rank and file alike.
If these are the sort of tools we use in womens advocacy, then count me out.
 Wilt informs us that it's all Rebecca's fault:
Professional victim and blaming 50% of the population is not fair. Plus, it’s now “not my opinion, STFU”.
Rebecca has hurt more people. And turned off more women, that don’t want to associated or represented by the skepchicks, mainly Rebecca Watson. The quality of the posts and posters at Skepchick reflects this change. Yes, women need to be represented more and respected more. But not lectured and nagged… instead included and brought into the discussion.
 He also informs us that (comment #4):

Rebecca lives for the imagined sexist slant from anyone on her “hit list”.  She can’t NOT keep looking for it.  She can’t deal with it in a creative responsible way.  She deals with the slights to women the way the CHURCH deals with slights to their theology.  With GUILT and finger pointing.  Ben, has crossed the Rebeca line, and must pay.  I don’t know where she went to church but she learned her lessons well. 
 And Ben Radford explicitly demands a rational and respectful discussion like this:

...and it's clear Rebecca enjoys being outraged at various things. It's often the case that outrage and insults substitute for truth and accuracy; it's easier to call someone stupid than it is to engage them respectfully.
 Collection ongoing...

Misronen, outraged that somebody could like Rebecca Watson better than Rick Gervais beats the straw rapist:
After being asked by janine: whether
“Is it because I do not have a problem with a rad-fem like Rebecca Watson. (Does that make me a rad-fem?)”
the badly prosecuted misronen asnwers:
I honestly don’t know. Does the fact that I do make me a potential rapist / a rape apologist / full-fledged rapist (apparently on the loose)? I don’t know that either. Maybe I’m just confused.
 Huskvarna gets all upset because the readers of Blaghag gave Rebecca Watson an award. How could they, she did something stupid on the internet 3 years ago!

Here’s a critique for you:
Rebecca accidentally got moderator privileges on JREF following the rescindment of a suspension. She then immediately abused those privileges by banning a bunch of people she didn’t like, then got permabanned by the JREF staff who understandably didn’t want Comrade Commissar Watson running around deciding what opinions people are allowed to have:
 I'm not sure if Emil Karlson isn't a Poe:
It is sad to see that Heina has sunken to the level of pseudoskepticism by primarily using anecdotes in the justification that sexism is a significant problem in the skeptic community.
Just as we reject anecdotes when it comes to claimed “alternative” cures of cancer or the efficacy of psychics, so too must we reject anecdotes when it comes to this subject.
Your initial attitude may be one of disbelief, objecting to this “dismissal of women’s experiences”, but you must understand that we do this without any problems whatsoever in other areas. To be consistent skeptics, we must apply the same rational criticisms to our favorite positions. We cannot shield them from criticism just because they are dear to us.
Anecdotes are not scientific evidence as there is no independent confirmation of the truth of these anecdotes (some are labeled as “anonymous” so they could, hypothetically, have been made up on the spot), and it is not necessarily the case that these anecdotes are representative of the experience of women in the skeptic community overall.
Another shameful entry from people who know better.
A recommendation for the future is to discuss the actual scientific literature on the topic of sexism (using it to support and strengthen your positions), while making sure not to draw conclusions not warranted by the evidence and _only then_ talk about future prospects and directions (e. g. suggesting partial, evidence-based solutions).
That will be a much more persuasive strategy and will leave critics with no where to go.
SkepticAtheist is also very, very disappointed with us:
Freefromthoughts’ blogs never ceases to amaze me. This baboon board has hit a new low. Now there’s even more blogging about problems which Greta created, which her and her minions fueled, with no mention of their attacks on Ryan, how they goaded him, misquoted him, used him as their scapegoat to vent their hostility, and with no mention that Ryan sarcastically posted on his own wall [in his screenshots] about the attacks made against him.
 And then there's Ryan himself.
He became part of the debate when he posted this on Facebook (link goes to Greta Christina):
Fuck you Greta. You’re the troll. You posted for the sole reason of trying to bait a sexist into writing something threatening. You didn’t find one, but I dared to disagree with you, so you and your brainless followers thought ‘eh, fuck it, close enough. We’ll attack him instead.’ You’ve been capitalizing on this for months and perpetuating vicious stereotypes about both men and women, under the guise of ‘feminism’. I used to think you had something to contribute. Now I see you’re just a pathetic attention seeker who isn’t interested in anything other than stirring up shit.
 His excuse? Women made him do so!
I encountered the same hostile insults on Greta’s wall, and you’re actually wondering why I lost my temper? Figure it out

Dienstag, 3. Januar 2012

You can be what you want in your dreams, except a woman

I've been reading and thinking about gender and transgender a lot, lately (I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Skepchick has launched a sister-site called Queerika. What's a straight cis woman like me doing there? Well, shutting up and listening. Learning. I feel privileged to be able to do so.)
And so it came that a little remark made by a friend lately got me all going.
My kids love playing make-believe. We spend half the days as characters from their favourite books/ movies or animals. So, lately we were playing Winnie-the-Pooh and my oldest daughter handed out the roles. She was Tigger, her sister was Roo, I was Rabbit and then she told her dad that he was Mummy Heffalump.
To which she was chastized by a well-meaning, but absolutely clueless friend that "oh, but your dad can't be Mummy Heffalump, he's a boy, not a girl!".
Thankfully, my husband glossed over the awkward moment by saying that he'd love to be Mummy Heffalump, because he loves Heffalumps and because she's so strong .
BUt there were two things about our friend's remark thst struck me:
First, she never said a thing when the three women in the room turned into male characters*.
Secondly, it was absolutely possible that the dad got turned into a purple, giant, elephant-like creature that can tear up whole trees. It was not possible that he got turned into a woman.
Because that's truely unheard of.

*Most series don't even come with three female characters we could use